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The Color Line: Racism in Dubois’ and Zinn’s Works

Despite the long and active process of development of society, even in the modern world, people often encounter racism. This problem is especially acute in America because it was there that slavery arose in the most widespread form. Undoubtedly, significant progress in the fight against this problem can be noted over the past decades. Black people have more and more opportunities to get an education, enough to earn and build a career. However, many of them continue to live below the poverty line in disadvantaged areas. In addition, unfortunately, racism can be met in society even now. Many white people still cannot calmly relate to representatives of other races, although their contacts today are commonplace. Even despite all the efforts of the media and the state that they are making for solving the problem, they cannot ultimately manage it.

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Racism is under scrutiny by many modern scholars and scientists. One of the crucial concepts for their works is the color line – a kind of invisible border that exists between representatives of different races. The existence of this border at the level of mentality impedes the productive life of these people. In particular, Dubois and Zinn discuss this topic in their articles. They describe it from different angles, talking both about the historical context and the current state of the problem. The authors write not only about the racism itself but also about the positive changes that are noted today. The purpose of this paper is to compare these two articles and discuss the problem of racism raised in them. The works of Dubois and Zinn agree on the issue: they consider this phenomenon to be truly harmful and to be eradicated. However, the approach to its description is different for these researchers.

The work of Dubois can indeed be called quite optimistic. From his point of view, even despite all the shortcomings of racism, now the Negros has much more opportunities than before. Dubois lists various areas of life in which he notes positive changes, such as living conditions or education. He also writes that with proper attention to the problem, the world can get rid of it. In general, his point of view is understandable and correct, but in some regions of America, the situation is much more complicated than he describes. Unfortunately, many blacks still live in adverse conditions and have no development opportunities. Neither a good education, nor a well-paid job, nor adequate housing are available to them (Alleyne, 2017). Even looking at the problem optimistically, its quick solution is not possible.

Zinn’s article seems far more complex and even dark. One of its key features is historicity. The author describes the entire chronology of the development of racism and slavery in America. This historical perspective allows readers to find the roots of the problem and to understand it more deeply. Zinn also describes the state structure of African countries in contrast with the American and compares the types of slavery in these states. An interesting fact is that slavery was common in Africa, but it was much more loyal. According to Zinn (1980), the reason was a different social structure: if the Americans just needed work, then the Africans paid much more attention to social ties and justice. In addition, African slaves even had the opportunity to have their own slaves, as well as families and property.

Dubois’s article presents many compelling arguments showing the lives of black people from different angles. He lists various aspects of life, pointing out the achievements and failures of Negro in these areas. For instance, he states: “we not only did not get justice in the courts, but we were subject to peculiar and galling sorts of injustice in daily life” (Dubois, 1978, p. 291). Even despite the difficulties that exist to this day, this progress has indeed been noticed. Dubois (1978) also notes the development of science, arguing that “real accomplishment in biology and medicine; in history and law; and in the social sciences has been notable and widely acclaimed” (p. 296). Dubois bases his statements on statistics, so they are correct and fair. However, as already noted, some of his ideas are sometimes filled with excessive optimism. In contrast, in reality, the process of harmonization of a society can take much longer than it might seem.

Zinn’s article also contains many arguments and historical facts that depict racism in detail and allow the reader to understand the issue better. Historicity is, undoubtedly, one of the strengths of this work. At the very beginning, Zinn asks questions about how racism began and what to do to destroy it. He claims that “if history can help answer these questions, then the beginnings of slavery in North America — a continent where we can trace the coming of the first whites and the first blacks — might supply at least a few clues” (Zinn, 1980, p. 30). Indeed, thanks to a detailed study of the historical basis, the essence of the phenomenon can become clear. However, in general, his work comes down more to historical analysis than to answer the questions posed. Thus, the reader must draw his own conclusions about the problem, taking into account the information received. It is useful because it develops critical thinking and allows people to approach the solution of the issue differently. Unfortunately, this approach still does not give people a clear answer to the question of how to get rid of racism.

Researchers show the reader different points of view on the issue of racism. Notably, Dubois approaches him from within, describing, in particular, his own life. His work is more filled with feelings of disappointment in what happened and hope for the future. He sees racism as a kind of bewilderment that will surely someday be corrected. Zinn talks about racism more abstractly, analyzing this phenomenon in stages. His approach makes the reader more likely not to sympathize, but to start a mental process aimed at solving this problem. Thanks to various historical facts, the whole history of racism is presented in Zinn’s article as a chain of actions and their consequences. If people correctly understand what and how each action of white and black people affects, they can probably come to some decision. However, until now, a comprehensive solution does not exist, and the world is trying to get rid of racism in stages.

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Thus, both studies are a comprehensive analysis of the history of racism and its functioning in the modern world. The authors agree that this problem should be solved as soon as possible, but so far, this has not been possible. The reason for this is some factors that may not yet have become obvious to humanity. In addition, the phenomenon of racism is based on many years of various harmful processes, which are not so easy to get rid of. Therefore, only painstaking analysis and competent work on society can help in solving this problem.


  1. Alleyne, M. (2017). Anti-racism and multiculturalism: Studies in international communication. Routledge.
  2. Dubois, W. E. B. (1978). The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. In D. Green & E. Driver (Eds.), On sociology and the black community (pp. 281-289).
  3. Zinn, H. (1980). Drawing the color line. In A. Jackson (Ed.), A people’s history of the United States, 1492-present (pp. 23-38).

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