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Black Studies and Jewish Studies in Conversation

Du Bois Before Warsaw, Fascism Before Racism

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In the summer and fall of 1936, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois spent four months in the Third Reich writing correspondence for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. In contrast to Du Bois’s postwar reflections on fascism in general and Nazism in particular, this correspondence, in its form as serialized columns, produced neither a definitive nor discrete analysis but offered an ambivalent and mercurial elaboration of comparison across time. While Du Bois’s stated intention for his Courier column was “to prevent the American Negro from considering his problem as local and provincial, but rather as a part of the whole international development of the modern world,” the elaboration of this international perspective was marked by unsettlement, incoherence, and contingency as Du Bois struggled across the columns to stabilize an international relation, let alone similitude, between regimes of race in the United States and the Third Reich. These serialized columns move us away from unearthing a static and complete comparative perspective toward the assembling and disassembling of different vantage points that retreat from the comforts of analogical orthodoxies. Du Bois’s unsettlement of comparison is an inventive mode, generating multiple diachronic and synchronic trajectories of white supremacy and fascism and rehearsing various relations across anti-Black and antisemitic processes of racialization while nonetheless maintaining their incommensurability.

Ben Ratskoff is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies at Hebrew Union College and the University of Southern California. He completed his dissertation, Waltzing with Hitler: Black Writers, the Third Reich and Demonic Grounds of Comparison, 1936-1940, at UCLA in June 2021. His writing has appeared in Jewish Studies Quarterly and Studies in American Jewish Literature as well as the Los Angeles Review of Books, Truthout, and Jewish Currents.

Amelia Glaser is Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, where she holds the Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies. Professor Glaser is the author of Jews and Ukrainians in Russia’s Literary Borderlands (Northwestern U.P., 2012) and Songs in Dark Times: Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine (Harvard U.P., 2020). She is the editor of Stories of Khmelnytsky: Competing Literary Legacies of the 1648 Ukrainian Cossack Uprising (Stanford U.P., 2015) and, with Steven Lee, Comintern Aesthetics (U. Toronto Press). She is currently the Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study where she is working on a book about Ukrainian poets and translators since the 2013-14 Euromaidan Revolution.