Publicity (1922)

Publicity (1922)

We learned during the Great War what Publicity could do. We saw its good effects in bringing the truth before the people; we saw its bad effects in making millions believe lies. We are thinking of these bad effects so persistently since the war that Propaganda is in bad odor. But let us remember that in pitiless Publicity we have perhaps the greatest militant organ of social reform at our hands.

In our own problem, the N.A.A.C.P. at the very beginning looked upon The Crisis as a first and absolutely necessary step. Until the best black and white people realized the facts concerning the Negro problem, there was no use discussing remedies. It is as true today as it was then.

But further than that, if we want the economic conditions upon which modern life is based to be changed and changed for the better, we need first of all Publicity. The mass of men do not know the facts and there is not today any adequate effort to make all these facts known to the public. Not only that, but law and custom conspire to conceal the truth.

What is the first knowledge which any reformer should have who wishes to improve or rebuild modern industry? It is the facts concerning Income. The income of every human being, far from being a closely guarded secret, should be the most easily ascertainable economic fact. Secondly, the basis of that income should be known. It should be a matter of public knowledge by what work each individual gains his income and the character and extent of this work everybody should know or be able to find out.

If the institution of private property is to persist and if it ought to persist, the fundamental fact concerning it should be easily ascertainable; and that is, its exact and precise ownership and whence that ownership came; and if the property is alienated, to whom the ownership is transferred.

If individuals must be called upon to support the government, as they certainly must, it should be a matter of public information as to how much each individual contributes toward the public support.

These are all simple fundamental facts. Progress, to be sure, has been made in the last few years in making these facts known. It is not too much to say that economic reform has succeeded in so far and only in so far as it was based upon the revelation of such facts. There was a time when a man’s income was considered an absolutely private matter. Today it is at least partially public through the working of the income tax. Tomorrow it will be absolutely public. Today it is only with great difficulty that we can surmise the ownership of anonymous corporations. Tomorrow we will allow no corporation to exist whose ownership and control is not always a matter of accessible public record. Today a man’s occupation is considered his own business. Tomorrow it will be the business and the prime business of each one of his neighbors.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1922. “Publicity.” The Crisis. 24(1):9–10.