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Patricia Aufderheide: Du Bois Would Revise His Famed Sentence From ‘The Souls of Black Folks’

[I recently asked these four questions. Below is one reply, from Patricia Aufderheide. Please join the conversation either by tweeting @Digital_Du_Bois or by leaving a comment at the bottom of this or any other post on]

1.What do you think Dr. Du Bois’ reactions would be to our transition from an industrial to a post-industrial, networked knowledge society? How has the introduction of new social media and other communication technologies affected the African American community?

“I think he would note that technology merely reinforces inequalities that no one calls out or challenges.” 
2. What impact is this transition having on the internal conversations within African American communities? Have they contributed to, or detracted from, a vibrant ‘black public sphere’?

“I would love to know what he would say about this. I hope he would be a huge fan of Michael Eric Dyson and his use of a wide range of media both to energize African-Americans and to cross cultural boundaries. I think he would admire African-American public media talents like Glynn Washington, Al Letson, and Michel Martin, and online talents such as Jay Smooth and LaToya Peterson. At the same time, I think he would note the significant barriers, which are not technological, that Dyson and others face in being national voices recognized beyond African-American communities.” 
3. What have been their impacts on African American engagement with other communities – other communities of color, and with the larger national society?

“I hope he would say, ‘Not nearly enough.’ I think he would return to question one answer.” 
4. Finally, to what extent are the trends we are seeing within the black community simply the local manifestation of changes occurring the world over? What, if anything, is unique to the changes in the African American community?

“I would need to have much greater confidence in my knowledge of African-American communities’ cultural and communication habits, although I think Angela Tucker’s Black Folk Don’t webisode series does a good job of introducing non-African-Americans to some diversity there. However, I do think that Du Bois would revise his famed sentence from The Souls of Black Folk, ‘The problem of he 20th century is the color line,’ to the 21st century.” 

– Patricia Aufderheide

Patricia Aufderheide is University Professor in the School of Communication at American University, and director of the Center for Social Media. Her books include Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press), and Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press).

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