Du Bois questions Trump: Column

A few days ago, I found myself reading about the great American intellectual, W.E.B. Du Bois. As he approached the end of life, he asked a question still pertinent to today: “What shall honesty do in the face of deception, decency in the face of insult, self-defense before blows?”

This fully captures the predicament that faces those most affected by the current political climate. Ideally, when faced with deception, these people respond with truth; when faced with insult, they respond with a suffocating love; and when faced with blows, they turn the other cheek and bless their aggressor.

In doing all this, they become a moral compass for those around them. But the conversation is limited when the person they are talking to does not listen to the truth. Even with an inexhaustible supply of love, one will inevitably realize that the love is wasted, and the love itself, rather than being a mirror for the person being loved, becomes a burden for the one who is loving. Yet turning the other cheek can’t go on forever. One will either run out of cheeks to turn or, worse, break one’s neck and lose the very ability to turn.

It seems that, for some, the correct response has been to protest and show solidarity with those who are most impacted by the ills Du Bois decries. And yet his questions go unanswered, and, in failing to answer them, we who live in these strange and scary times seem defeated. What then is the proper response to the Trump presidency? And what should this response try to achieve? These are difficult questions that need to be reflected upon seriously, lest we rush into ill-considered actions, which will do more harm than good.

Du Bois foresaw our dilemma, and warns us that “there are so many answers and so contradictory” that “such differences for those on the one hand who meet questions similar to this once a year or once a decade, and those who face them hourly and daily.”

In the coming weeks and months, as the resistance grows and the opposition hardens, we must keep Du Bois’ musing in mind. An African-American spiritual says, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time.” Du Bois dealt with the water, and, if we forget to answer the questions he posed, we will not be able to deal with the fire whose time has come.

Written by Mwangala Simataa ’18