An American Tragedy
Chapter Seventeen: How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Case and the American Idea
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?
Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Case and the American Idea
GLEN ANTHONY HARRIS
At the opening of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois tells us of a question “ever…unasked”: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Well-meaning White people “flutter round it,” but it dies on their lips for fear of insult (p. 363)1. They avoid asking directly, as if intuiting that to be a problem is to be less a human being than an entry in an “endless cataloguing” of “statistics, slums, rapes, injustices.” To regard the Black American as a problem is to feel “virtuous, outraged, helpless, as though his continuing status among us were somehow analogous to disease—cancer, perhaps, or tuberculosis—which must be checked, even though it cannot be cured.”2
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