The Black Man’s Burden

It sounds obvious, but it’s worth saying: the world was a very different place back in 1903, pre a couple of World Wars and all their geopolitical ramifications, before meaningful broadcast media, household telephones, petrol-driven cars, CCTV, pop music, space travel, personal computers. And let’s not get started on the internet, smartphones and the cornucopia of communication technologies they’ve since spawned.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which producing something as commonplace as an iPhone from one’s pocket would be akin to sorcery. Where access to international travel required months-long transit times and thousand-tonne seaborne vessels.

That was the world circa 1903, a place as alien and far removed from our twenty-first-century post-postmodernism as land is from ocean fauna; subject to laws and customs wholly incomprehensible to the millennial mind, which is why it’s strange to think there’d be much from that time that would resonate with today’s reader in any meaningful way.

And yet it was back then, in 1903, whilst writing his seminal collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, that the African American sociologist and essayist, W. E. B. Du Bois, first coined the phrase ‘double consciousness’.

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