W.E.B Dubois: Double Consiousness

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The information below was pulled from my literature discussion board. Seems relevant, considering it was during the George Floyd trial that this discussion board occurred. I only point out the trial as it was likely something all participating students were very much aware of regardless of their age, ethnicity, or background. Now, the trial is complete.

The assignment, as written by the professor.

W. E. B. Du Bois: “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from The Souls of Black Folk


The very well-known and often referenced concept of double consciousness comes from Chapter 1 of Du Bois book, The Souls of Black Folk.  This entire opening chapter, titled “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” focuses on explaining this idea of double consciousness.  You will almost certainly encounter the term double consciousness again in your college career, either in a sociology class, a history class, an African American studies class, in another literature class, etc.

(I’m providing this for context, the assigned reading was the entire introduction). Excerpt on double consciousness from the reading. 

“… the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of other, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness an American Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideal in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of strife, this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows the Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed in spit upon by his fellows, without having doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”

FOR YOUR INITIAL POST: Write a 150+ word response to ONE of the following discussion questions:

I Chose Question 3:

Du Bois writes “One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings in one dark body.”  Being specific, explain what he is talking about here. (NOTE: do not just say he is talking about double consciousness.  That’s too obvious.  Give a deeper answer).

My Response:

What a profound statement from Du Bois, “One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings in one dark body” (Du Bois 11). The Negro existed before America came to be, and with that existence comes history. Du Bois emphasizes the importance of Negro history and how it must not be lost in this new form of the American Negro. Du Bois himself states, “He would not bleach his negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world” (Du Bois 11). We see one of the two sides represented in this statement. There is no need, nor should one aspire to separate themselves from history and identity. Existing makes history and identity more than worthy of being remembered. The other side, represented by Du Bois, demonstrates his understanding of the human contribution toward progress. According to Du Bois, “He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa” (Du Bois 11). Though Du Bois had no say in how his existence came to be in America. He is nonetheless left to exist as an American and a Negro. However, he recognizes that America is not without positive contributions that the world should know despite its faults. While this explanation shines a brighter light on America than the America Du Bois had to deal with his entire life.

Professor Notes:

This is the way I explain double consciousness in my face-to-face class:

For Du Bois, double consciousness meant the inability to be both “black” and “American” at the same time. This relies on a specific definition of what it means to be “American.” Here’s the deal: when Du Bois wrote this, society and culture was dominated by white people (some might say it still is, but anyway…), so to be “American” meant to, basically, act like white people do (today, this is often referred to as “assimilation”). However, even if black people “acted like white people” they would never fully be accepted by a white (racist) society who saw blacks as inferior to white people. Therefore, black people would never truly be accepted by–or feel like they were–“Americans.”

To further complicate this identity crisis Du Bois called double consciousness, black people who did try to adopt a “white identity” (for lack of better words) and “act like white people” would be despised and treated as “sellouts” by other black people! So if black people try to become “American” they must give up their “blackness” (i.e. black identity, heritage, cultural practices, etc.) and they are not only treated as outcasts by (some) members of the black community, but they are also still treated like outcasts by white society (who are the arbiters of what it means to be “American”).

So, you can see that this is a real identity crisis that has no easy solution–it’s a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” type of scenario.

Really, gif

Yup, all of that just happened

W.E.B DuBois writing about double consciousness as a Negro American is a popular text and concept. While new to me, I see there’s a lot said about this idea of double consciousness. Either way, this professor has taken quite a few freedoms in describing what Du Bois meant by double consciousness. The professor notes I shared were the complete analysis of the piece shared with the class. The professor’s opinion was solely on this concept of double consciousness.

Read more like an emotional attachment to an idea, with minimal and reaching support from the text than opinion based on the text itself. Some might say it still is, but anyway…

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