Black and White Workers (1928)

Black and White Workers (1928)

The struggle for the liberation of the working classes in general and of the Negro race in America in particular is, of course, at bottom the same struggle. But great difficulty faces both the workers because the essential identity of the problem is not recognized either by white workingmen or black. Black workingmen are the heirs of every effort which the white working masses have made toward freedom: the bestowal of universal suffrage; the shortening of the hours of labor; the protection of women and children in industry; the recognition of the right to collective bargaining; and all the rest of the victories more or less completely won by the working class movement. Through these victories Negroes were emancipated from slavery in America; partially enfranchised; and given at least a fighting chance for a living wage. On the other hand, all this story has not been told Negroes and they are not born knowing all about it. The working class movement has seldom attempted any intelligent propaganda to let them know of the past struggle; the Negro home does not know it; and the Negro school does not teach it. And to make the matter worse, both white and black workingmen have come under the sinister influence of the white employer.

The white workingman has swallowed the white employer’s race prejudice, lock, stock and barrel; so that he doesn’t want to work beside Negroes; he doesn’t want to live in their neighborhood; he doesn’t want to vote for them or with them; he doesn’t want to share the same parks, movies, street cars and railway trains; and he doesn’t want anybody to think that he is as low as a Negro.

The black workingman has taken from the white employer a different set of beliefs, but equally composed of prejudices and assumptions. If he hunts a job, he is told that the white employer is willing to employ him but that the white workingmen will not work with him and that his only chance to work is to “scab.” And the difficulty is that this is largely true. He finds the white workingmen voting against his schools and civil rights and excluding him from his trade unions; and the white employer is not at all loath to let the Negro know these facts in detail.

In addition to this and on the positive side, through the white employer and capitalist the Negro receives many of the things which the City and State backed by the white workers’ vote refuse to give him: all of the Negro colleges; most of his secondary and high schools; a large part of the better school buildings have been the gift to him from white philanthropists and they stand as a tremendous bribe to make Negroes hate white fellow workers and look upon them as his enemies.

All this would be important if it affected only the United States where the Negro forms perhaps one-ninth of the working class. But with local differences all this is essentially true of the colored workers throughout the world and a majority of the world’s workers today are colored. White workers are today as yesterday voting armies and navies to keep. China, India, Mexico and Central America in subjection and being paid high wages to do this while “niggers” and “dagoes” and “chinks” starve, slave and die.

What chance is there then for the real liberation of any working class until the white and colored workers who now compete for each other’s bread understand each other and know the history of the labor movement? And what better medium is there for understanding than periodicals, monthly, weekly and daily, widely disseminated, which tell the truth to both groups?

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1928. “Black and White Workers.” The Crisis. 35(3):98.