comment on dubois, morris, and julian go
I have yet to read Aldon Morris’ The Scholar Denied, but Julian Go has written an extensive review of the book at the Berkeley sociology blog. In this post, I’ll offer some comments on how I view DuBois and then discuss Go’s opinions. Also, if someone (ahem) were to send a review copy of A Scholar Denied, I’d like to do a book forum on it later this semester.
My views on DuBois: Unlike a lot of sociologists, I’ve always been of the opinion that DuBois was a major figure in American intellectual history. As an undergraduate, I saw that many classes assigned The Souls of Black Folk, which is a seminal discussion of the psychology of race. In grad school, I read The Philadelphia Negro, which is also a seminal work in urban studies. I also discovered that he was a founder of the NAACP, consulted with the Federal government on educational matters, and founded an important research group at Atlanta University. After graduation, I learned tidbits about his biography such as being the first Black Harvard PhD and also being a well regarded historian of the Atlantic slave trade. Clearly, DuBois’ is a major intellectual figure, activist, and writer. This isn’t to say that DuBois is beyond reproach (e.g., check out his late career Stalinism – ugly, ugly, ugly) but he’s clearly earned his place in the intellectual hall of fame.
DuBois’ intellectual importance was so obvious to me that I always include him in my undergrad theory course and I never thought of it as odd. However, what surprised me is that for sociologists outside of critical race studies, DuBois is a non-entity. This struck me as bizarre. One time, Tukufu Zuberi gave a talk at IU about DuBois and one my junior colleagues even said afterward, “I still don’t see why DuBois is important for theory.” Later, I learned that there was a discussion among specialists about how much White sociologists of his era had hindered DuBois’ career. Honestly, I didn’t delve into it much further. I was neither a specialist in the history of social thought, and I trusted my own opinion of DuBois’ importance.
Julian Go’s essay: The Scholar Denied is a book by Aldon Morris that makes the case that DuBois was a (the?) founder of American sociology, that he was actively and indirectly hampered by other White academics, and that the history of the sociology needs serious revision. I am sympathetic, but I will address the book more directly once I have read it. Here, I want to explore Julian Go’s essay. In his essay, Go reminisces on his education at Chicago and how we should rethink the discipline given Morris’ new account of DuBois’ career:
If Aldon Morris in The Scholar Denied is right, then everything I learned as a sociology PhD student at the University of Chicago is wrong. Or at least everything that I learned about the history of sociology. At Chicago, my cohort and I were inculcated with the ideology and ideals of Chicago School. We were taught that American sociology originated with the Chicago School… The Scholar Denied suggests that Park plagiarized Du Bois, and that venerated sociologists like Max Weber were perhaps more influenced by Du Bois rather than the other way around.
It would be comforting to think that Du Bois was marginalized because of the narrow racism of the white establishment – the result of white racists who suppressed Du Bois out of their own deep prejudices against African-Americans… Still, there is another explanatory current amidst the flow. It is not only that Du Bois was black and other sociologists were white, or that Du Bois suffered from lack of capital, it is also that he had dangerous ideas. To be sure, Du Bois innovated by his empirical orientation and methodology. But Du Bois also innovated substantively, birthing a sociology of race that aimed to wrestle discourse on race away from the Darwinistic, biological and frankly racist sociological episteme of the day.
Here, what I find interesting is that collective memory, of which intellectual history is a part, is recognized as having individual components (quality of DuBois’ scholarship), structural components (DuBois’ location in the academic field), and larger context (DuBois’ non-biological and non-paternalistic approach to race conflicted with the rest of society). If you need an introduction to the debate that The Scholar Denied engages in, you can’t do better than Go’s essay.
My only criticism of Go’s essay is that he directly engages with rumor websites. If he is truly interested in the writings of anonymous cowards, he should go to the University of Chicago’s bathroom stalls where the griffiti has wit and substance.