The Sociology of Race: Du Bois's Challenge to Biological Explanations of Racial Inequality

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Book Chapter

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W. E. B. Du Bois was the first scholar to develop a sociology of race—a social science based on scientific principles and methods that could analyze the social causes of differences between the well-being and status of Black people versus white people in America. Defining race as a social category, he refuted the dominant claim that Black people’s subordinate social position stemmed naturally from innate biological traits. His writings promoting a “talented tenth” of Black people as a strategy for political advancement has sparked disagreement among scholars of Du Bois over whether he completely renounced a biological definition of race. Examining the Du Boisian sociology of race helps to clarify Du Bois’s insights on the distinction between a biological and constructionist definition of race, his rejection of eugenics, and his pathbreaking understanding of the relationship between race and racism more broadly.


birth control, eugenics, health disparities, race, racism, social construction, social determinants, sociology, talented tenth

Publication Title

The Oxford Handbook of W.E.B. Du Bois