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Race in the Modern World

The Problem of the Color Line

Hindu devotees in Mumbai, August 10, 2012. Danish Siddiqui / Courtesy Reuters

In 1900, in his “Address to the Nations of the World” at the first Pan-African Conference, in London, W. E. B. Du Bois proclaimed that the “problem of the twentieth century” was “the problem of the color-line, the question as to how far differences of race—which show themselves chiefly in the color of the skin and the texture of the hair—will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.” Du Bois had in mind not just race relations in the United States but also the role race played in the European colonial schemes that were then still reshaping Africa and Asia. The final British conquest of Kumasi, Ashanti’s capital (and the town in Ghana where I grew up), had occurred just a week before the London conference began. The

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