he Negro, has been said many things. Things ranging from the subtle to the perverse, but most often than not, the balance of criticism leaned towards the latter. We are left to believe of him as a backtracker whose ideas have slacked down those of previous leaders who aimed at equality of social rights for the Negro. Certainly if we are to judge Mr. Booker T. Washington by the mere way he portrayed his ideas, it would be no wonder for us the downpour of criticism that fell upon his back. But it would be very irrational and narrow-minded to limit one’s perception to what he projected and not see that, in the face of the times and his position, he sought a shrewd way to achieve a goal, a goal very akin with his contemporaries and previous leaders, differing only in the extent to which he was willing to go to fulfill it. I suggest then the deep analysis of Booker T. Washington’s speech to reveal he was a mere trickster that knew how to best satisfied the skewed mind of the white in order to save the future of his people. Booker T. Washington in his address delivered at the opening of The Cotton States’ Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia meant to attain at least three goals. The first was of course the most clear-cut, that of winning white advocates that would sponsor his cause (albeit by the use of trickery). The second was that behind the purpose of the trickery itself, advancing his fellow brothers. Trying to bypass whites’ mindset and actually making whites help the black cause. And the third and last but not least important was that of delivering a moral speech on dignity and pride for both blacks and whites. All these three goals show Booker T. Washington’s aims, by means of trickery. These ideas will be more fully exposed and dealt with in the coming sections of this paper.
Washington understood the white mind
The most clear-cut goal of Washington’s address was that of winning definite support of whites towards his cause. Washington not only understood the white men’s mindset, but also his history, how they interacted between them and what sort of things move them. Humans, Sigmund Freud once said, are egocentric, they won’t do anything for other humans unless there is any rewarding or satisfying outcome to what they are about to invest their time and energy into. Perhaps Sigmund Freud, been white himself, stated a theorem only applicable to his own race, more specifically to the Western culture conditioning he was raised in. Washington understood this , he knew what whites’ aims were and that they were based on individual egos, not in a cultural ego. From this point on it was all too clear to him what he ought to do, he ought to exploit that egocentrism of the white for his race benefit. Like the saying goes: “If you can’t go against them, join them”.
Understanding the whites’ mindset was the first step. How to satisfy their ego was the next. Washington was a very courageous man and a smart one too. He had too, or otherwise he would have reduced himself to the level of the others fighting for the same cause. He had to leave pride aside, (“Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities”(p207) and prioritize things based on the whites’ mindset. He figured, quite correctly, that most whites hated black or in the least look down on them, and he was more than willing to play along. He said what they wanted to hear, what they wanted them to do, relinquish their rights. Washington made them feel superior and that they have won. Of course this hurt the black people, but what was pride after all if at the end Washington would get them some benefits. Now, when Washington prioritized things he realized how history works how civilizations come to be.
Advancing his fellow brothers
A human develops in steps. A baby first crawls, then jerkily walks, masters it and finally runs. It is highly unlikely if not impossible to see a baby run right after it came out the womb. Along the same lines, a civilization, a race, a culture, must go through certain steps in its development in order that in each step it fulfills it to capacity. Missing one step can mean disaster in its social structure, and the consequences usually last for generations. Some examples of this are most modern nations of Africa. The tribes that live on such territories when the colonist from Europe came, were imposed new social, political and economical structures, they were forced to skip several steps in the economical scale. After the colonist left these Africans were left with a system they could hardly manage themselves, for they omitted the steps required in mastering it. Furthermore it was probably not the same line of development they would have come to by their own evolution alone. The consequences speak for themselves. In an otherwise willing and helpful society it would have been possible for blacks to skip some steps and go right into education. The truth was that their “partner society” was neither willing nor helpful to them.
Washington understood this too. He knew that in order for blacks to achieve success there would have to be an order of things. He prioritized them. What he concluded was that economics and basic skill would have to come first. In his own words: “It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top” (p207). This order fitted perfectly with what whites expected and wanted of blacks. He saw it as the perfect plan. Blacks would gain economic success and have basic skills that were more necessary at the time. It is important to understand that having an economic foothold at that specific time in history was primordial in achieving everything else and was quite connected to having industrial skills. Most blacks couldn’t afford to send their children to college anyway. So having economic success would have a twofold result. The first would ensure the stability of black families on been able to sustain themselves and afford things, say college for example, for their children. Second it would guarantee a foothold of black representation on the labor force, big enough to have an impact such that whites would have to depend on it eventually. Higher education of blacks, thus, would come as a consequence.
A moral message to all Americans
It was in his moral message to all Americans that Washington mostly proved his trickery, and his aim at a higher goal, that of unifying blacks and whites into a nation. He tried to point out the general dignity of men had to come to senses and realize what is really important, and that everything has a purpose; “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem” (p.207), “we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor” (p.207). His unifying idea is seen when he said: “Cast down your bucket where you are- cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded” (p.207). It is very clear to me what his intentions were, and what goals lurked underneath.
Trickery at its best
A particular excerpt from the speech that really draws my attention and I moves my conviction that he is a trickster goes like this:
“Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upwards or they will pull against you the load downwards. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic” (p.208-209).
He states clearly that helping his cause it is not really a matter of choice. He is saying, either you help us or else, or else you go down with us. The burden of a segment of the population with the condition that blacks were in would have been a real disaster to maintain for a long term; it would have slacked down the general prosperity of the nation. That he was a trickster clearly is portrayed in this admirable and powerful statement.
After evolving the several underlying ideas and tactics on Booker T. Washington’s speech discussed here is easier to understand and come to appreciate his real aims. We can see he was been a strategist in dealing with the Negro problem, finding a way more subtle but still powerful enough to accomplish his goals, the goals of all leaders that fight for the cause of the Negro. Washington’s trickery pretended to fool the white, but in a courteous manner. The lesson to be learned here follows that we must learn not to judge a person by what he or she portrays but by what his real intentions are behind all that nicely sounding cover, for no matter how a thing looks, looks are not all one gets.
On Mr. Booker T. Washington’s