Beauty as Propaganda: On the Political Aesthetics of W.E.B. Du Bois
Featuring Robert Gooding-Williams, M. Moran Weston/Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies and Professor of Philosophy and of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and Director of the Center for Race, Philosophy, and Social Justice at Columbia University
What has art or, more exactly, beautiful art, to contribute to a politics that would break the color bar and dismantle racial hierarchy? In this essay, I explore W.E.B. Du Bois’s answer to this question, which he adumbrates through a series of publications extending from the 1910 appearance of “The Souls of White Folk” to the well-known “Criteria of Negro Art,” an essay that initially appeared in the October 1926 issue of The Crisis. The substance of his answer, I propose, is that beautiful art, by casting moral goodness in a unfamiliar light, can help to undermine racial oppression.