94 Foreign Aff. 1 (2015)
The Race in the Modern World: Problem of the Color Line

handle is hein.journals/fora94 and id is 279 raw text is: 




Race in the

Modern World

The Problem of the Color
Line

Kwame Anthony Appiah


n 1900, in his Address to the Nations
    of the World at the first Pan-African
    Conference, in London, W. E. B.
Du Bois proclaimed that the problem of
the twentieth century was the problem
of the color-line, the question as to how
far differences of race-which show
themselves chiefly in the color of the
skin and the texture of the hair-will
hereafter be made the basis of denying
to over half the world the right of sharing
to their utmost ability the opportunities
and privileges of modern civilization.
   Du Bois had in mind not just race
relations in the United States but also
the role race played in the European
colonial schemes that were then still
reshaping Africa and Asia. The final
British conquest of Kumasi, Ashanti's
capital (and the town in Ghana where
I grew up), had occurred just a week
before the London conference began.
The British did not defeat the Sokoto
caliphate in northern Nigeria until 1903.
Morocco did not become a French
protectorate until 1912, Egypt did not
become a British one until 1914, and
Ethiopia did not lose its independence

KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH is Professor of
Philosophy and Law at New York University. His
most recent book is Lines of Descent: W E. B.
Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity.


until 1936. Notions of race played a
crucial role in all these events, and
following the Congress of Berlin in
1878, during which the great powers
began to devise a world order for the
modern era, the status of the subject
peoples in the Belgian, British, French,
German, Spanish, and Portuguese
colonies of Africa-as well as in inde-
pendent South Africa-was defined
explicitly in racial terms.
   Du Bois was the beneficiary of the
best education that North Atlantic
civilization had to offer: he had studied
at Fisk, one of the United States' finest
black colleges; at Harvard; and at the
University of Berlin. The year before his
address, he had published The Philadelphia
Negro, the first detailed sociological
study of an American community. And
like practically everybody else in his era,
he had absorbed the notion, spread by a
wide range of European and American
intellectuals over the course of the nine-
teenth century, that race-the division
of the world into distinct groups, identifi-
able by the new biological sciences-was
central to social, cultural, and political life.
   Even though he accepted the concept
of race, however, Du Bois was a passion-
ate critic of racism. He included anti-
Semitism under that rubric, and after a
visit to Nazi Germany in 1936, he wrote
frankly in The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading
black newspaper, that the Nazis' cam-
paign of race prejudice ... surpasses in
vindictive cruelty and public insult
anything I have ever seen; and I have
seen much. The European homeland
had not been in his mind when he gave
his speech on the color line, but the
Holocaust certainly fit his thesis-as
would many of the centuries' genocides,
from the German campaign against the


March/April 2015      1


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