Race, Empire and Identity: Du Bois’s Transnational Political Subjectivity
In this chapter I make the normative case to recuperate identity for cosmopolitanism. I do this by tracking the transformation of the political subject at the center of Du Bois’s project of emancipation between the early twentieth century and the 1930s. In particular, I pay attention to two features in this trajectory. First, I examine the way in which, despite Du Bois’s early transnational outlook, his early conceptualization of the question of consciousness is predominantly centered in the domestic sphere. Second, I examine and make sense of a new transnational consciousness that appears in Du Bois’s 1920s writings and his seldom-studied writings on segregation in the 1930s. Third, I explore how transnational consciousness emerges through new forms of identification with transnational colonial subjects. The identity that emerges from this process is based on common (yet heterogeneous) experiences of racial oppression but is also determined politically through process of exchange with and learning from others affected by imperial and capitalist oppression, and is thus inherently subject to contestation. This form of consciousness can fuel new ways of being in the world that can in turn underpin an emancipatory political subjectivity. Transnational identity in this account relies on difference not as a source of antagonism or rejection, but as an attempt to build a composite picture of domination that supports projects of emancipation; it is oppositional toward imperial projects without containing a will to dominate. In closing, I contrast this picture with the way in which identity is theorized in the cosmopolitan literature.