Philosophical Topics

Volume 49, Issue 1, Spring 2021

Social Visibility

Robert Gooding-Williams
Pages 13-33

Beauty as Propaganda
On the Political Aesthetics of W.E.B. Du Bois

This paper considers W.E.B. Du Bois’s short story, “Jesus Christ in Texas,” in the perspective of his analysis of the concept of beauty in Darkwater (1920); his exposition of the idea that “all art is propaganda” in “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926); and his moral psychology of white supremacy. On my account, Du Bois holds that beautiful art can help to undermine white supremacy by using representations of moral goodness to expand the white supremacist’s ethical horizons. To defend this thesis, he relies on an image of “the cross and the lynching tree” to revise imagery that he draws from Albrecht Dürer’s 1504 painting, “The Adoration of Kings.”