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  • World Romance:Genre, Internationalism, and W. E. B. Du Bois
  • Madhumita Lahiri (bio)

Ardent internationalist and progressive icon, W. E. B. Du Bois in 1929 requested a note from Gandhi "to the American Negro," to be included in the NAACP journal The Crisis. Gandhi's note was published in the July 1929 issue, reproduced in a facsimile of his typed version:

Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grand children of the slaves. There is no dishonour in being slaves. There is dishonour in being slave-owners. But let us not think of honor and dishonor in connection with the past. Let us realize that the future is with those who would be truthful, pure and loving. For as the old wise men have said, truth ever is, untruth never was. Love alone binds and truth and love accrue only to the truly humble.

(Du Bois and Gandhi)

Du Bois, in commenting upon it, configured a meaning for The Crisis that is hardly a simple translation of Gandhi's note. His note, in much smaller, italicized print to the left of Gandhi's big typeface, acts as both biography and pedagogy. It begins, quite literally, with "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the greatest colored man in the world, and perhaps the greatest man in the world." Du Bois then provides some details about Gandhi's education in England and his public life in South Africa, where "He gave up the law and devoted himself to the Indian people who were being persecuted along with the natives in the land." During the Boer War, Gandhi served with the Red Cross, "attending friend and foe alike. . . . For twenty years he toiled in South Africa to remove race prejudice." Upon returning to India, Gandhi was disillusioned by the repression following the First World War, "the massacre of Amritsar, and the infamous Rowlatt bills," at which point

He came out for Home Rule and announced his great Gospel of conquest through peace. Agitation, non-violence, refusal to cooperate with the oppressor, became his watchword and with it he is leading all India to freedom. Here and today, he stretches out his hand in fellowship to his colored friends of the West.

(Du Bois and Gandhi)

Du Bois here acts as both interlocutor and introducer, as much explicator as translator: he introduces and contextualizes Gandhi, but he also defines for his readership the note and the man who wrote it. He transfigures Gandhi into a specifically Christian and United States idiom: a colored man preaching a "great Gospel of conquest through peace." Du Bois's [End Page 537] gloss partially reconfigures the sentences that Gandhi had put together, and it mistranslates the impulse of Gandhi's energy, for "agitation, non-violence, refusal" is a somewhat particular trinity to label as "Gandhi's watchword." This transfiguration, however, is both the conversion (the production of new objects) that makes Gandhi's work available for Du Bois's project, and the failure of translation that preserves Gandhi in his particularity. Instead of translating Gandhi with perfect fidelity, Du Bois translates Gandhi with what we might think of as "audience fidelity": with relevance to the audience for whom The Crisis is written, and the space within which it takes its political stance.

In the same year, Du Bois also solicited a note for The Crisis from Rabindranath Tagore, which he included in the October 1929 "Children's Number." The note reads:

What is the greatest fact of this age? It is that the messenger has knocked at our gate and all the bars have given way. Our doors have burst open. The human races have come out of their enclosures. They have gathered together.

We have been engaged in cultivating each his own individual life, within the fenced seclusion of our racial tradition. We had neither the wisdom nor the opportunity to harmonize our growth with world tendencies. But there are no longer walls to hide us. We have at length to prove our worth to the whole world, not merely to admiring groups of our own people. We must justify our own existence. We must show, each in our own civilization, that...


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pp. 537-552
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