An Overview of The Talented Tenth and Locke in the Essay Enter the New Negro

While Alain Locke and W.E.B. Dubois certainly differ in their views, they do agree in their essays that there is a social stigma attached to the black man and there is a way to fix it. W.E.B. talks about this in his article “The Talented Tenth” and Locke in his essay “Enter the New Negro”.

Dubois cites the problem as “Talented Tenth” and it “is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races”.

The issue of synchronizing a race into a society that has marginalized them for so long also comes with the large challenge of preparing those people who are ready to change.

DuBois argues that the way to do this is to center the focus of education on Manhood and not simply on technical skills. In order to achieve this agreed upon and intensive scholastic purpose, Dubois outlines two main things; 1) that those who occupy the Talented Tenth are worthy of leadership and 2) that they can become educated and developed.

By using the past to show their worthiness of leadership DuBois makes a credible point: “for three long centuries this people lynched Negroes who dared to be brave, raped black women who dared to be virtuous, crushed dark-hued youth who dared to be ambitious, and encouraged and made to flourish servility and lewdness and apathy.

But not even this was able to crush all manhood and chastity and aspiration from black folk”.

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If they can survive such a gruesome past they will continue to prosper, as it is the nature of human progress. He contends that it starts with the youth. If tradition follows, they will be industrial changed and while that is important, it is more sufficient to academically train them first. If you teach them at a young age they will be the leaders of those who cannot be educated. They will have the highest morals, ideals and will lead social movements.

In order to do this, the teachers of these men must be taught and trained. This was criticized and in his defense he warned if this is neglected then people will, “suffer the evil consequences of a headless misguided rabble”. Someone who thinks they have power and knowledge, who has a following, but will not use either in the right way. In the end, DuBois notes that the masses of African-Americans will be there either way and must be pulled up or else they will be brought down.

Locke’s article begins positively, saying that the New Negro is no longer stifled by the social generalizations and isolation. Up until now, Lock notes, “His shadow, so to speak, has been more real to him than his personality” (Locke, 1). The issue with this new integration into social life is that the adjustment of it has brought on a class issue, instead of race. There is a new segregation. Locke then outlines what to do to make this transition easier as to achieve the greater good for everyone.

The New Negro does not take condescension and will not excuse himself for “his” shortcomings when barraged with prejudice. Locke fears that both races are ignorant to the new change and that this will only suppress advancement. Locke argues the opposite: “the Negro is being carefully studied, not just talked about and discussed. In art and letters, instead of being wholly caricatured, he is being seriously portrayed and painted” (3). And later also notes that “he has contributed not only materially in labor and in social patience, but spiritually as well” (6).

He asserts that this drive for scholarship and to be taken seriously was not only to be understood in a social context. It was an intrinsic motivation for self-expression, knowledge. It was the realization that social segregation was asphyxiating and to be intellectual that barrier must be broken. He emphasizes that charity and pity mustn’t be the incentive of those who are socially advantaged. It must be a mutual understanding for a patronizing-free environment is the only one in which all can be seen, improved, and understood purely.

Finally he writes, “only the steadying and sobering effect of a truly characteristic gentleness of spirit prevents the rapid rise of a definite cynicism and counter-hate and a defiant superiority feeling” (5). One mustn’t get too negative or volatile.

If the two men met, they would be mostly in debate. The one thing that they would agree on is that the black man is capable of reaching a higher potential if given chance. Their difference in argument comes in how that is done. DuBois is patronizing in his argument. He argues that this pity is what is warranted to get the education they need. This comes through in his urgent tone and different understanding. DuBois implies that they are ready to be educated, but aren’t as advanced as Locke argues.

This is also evident because his argument is geared towards white people. He begs for the training of black educators. At that period in time, there were very few colored teachers, never mind those who can train the teachers. There was close to no black men in education, as students or teachers. DuBois also contends that the blacks must educate themselves and that is how best they will harmonize into society. DuBois argues that intelligent black men must lead their communities and set black morals.

Therefore, DuBois basically argues for continued segregation. The voice Locke writes in is powerful and almost stubborn. He generalizes, which makes his article seem more like a list or guide to the Negroes than to both races. This is what Locke argues against. Segregation is toxic to the social development of his race. DuBois would argue that Locke’s urgency in integrating would only lose him the credibility he so needs to obtain that mutual understanding. DuBois is similar to the views of Booker T. Washington in the idea that in order to get to the top from the depths of society, one must start slowly from the bottom.

Despite their many differences in argument, both W.E.B. DuBois and Alain Locke were right in the assertion that their race is capable and ready to be put up to the challenge. Both were right that that is the only way the Negro Problem will be answered.

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An Overview of The Talented Tenth and Locke in the Essay Enter the New Negro. (2023, May 05). Retrieved from

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