Double-consciousness and the war for social identity. An essay for academia!
“…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 not 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 others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One never feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two souls two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
—W.E.B. Dubois, 1904
Dubois’s illustrious theory popularly coined “double-consciousness” demonstrates his profound ability to poetically describe the psycho-social complexity of African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. His description of African American internal and external behavior offered readers a psycho-analytical explanation decades before “psycho-analysis” arrived as a focus of study. As a social scientist, Dubois pierced the realm into an existential philosophical reflection to guide his readers into the psychic space of African American perception.
The premises of the analysis rest upon the existence of the contention, the strife between the aims of two opposing social identities. The polarity of the social constructs are two conflicting variables. On one end of the spectrum is the social claim and struggle to identify is an ‘American’, and the other end is the simultaneous proclamation and destitute acceptance of the ‘Negro’ status. Both social constructs superimpose their vary existence within the mental (internal) and socio-political (external) creating a calamity of depressed function and longing to arrive at one state. Dubois remarks with his astound admirability of the African American’s capacity to maintain the two opposing variables, “whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” (Dubois, 45)
The author further elaborates that there exist a profound desire to merge the double-consciousness into one social identity. In desperate need to reconcile the dichotomy of his social state, the African American seeks to blend both variables extracting only the best parts of both worlds: “In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost….He would not Africanize America,…..He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism.” (Dubois, 45) Dubois resounded the notion that African American unwavering struggle for emancipation, the pursuit of political liberty by way of ballot, and the quest for enlightenment via education all became the focused means of attaining this reconciliation. However, the prevailing tendency to perceive one’s make-up from America’s lens of contempt and disdain “wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds” of early 20th century African Americans and often “seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.” (Dubois, 47) Have African Americans satisfied this internal struggle? Have the political and social gains remediated the conflicting struggle of the two awarenesses?
The aim of this essay is to offer consideration of the relevance of Dubois’ theory. I argue that Dubois’ double-consciousness theory predates the current analysis of internalization of white-supremacy that has maintain current cognition of African American subconscious behavior. Dubois’ psycho-analytical description offers an early depiction of a psychic trauma which is a direct effect from contending within white-supremacy ideology. Famed psychiatrist and revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon articulated in terms of racism as leading to “alienation, alienation from self, from significant others, from one’s culture and history, and from self-determination and access to various forms of social power.” (Fanon, 1961) Fanon arrived at his conclusion from his investigation into the mental complex phenomena of Blacks in St. Martinique and their abrasion of white-superiority from French colonial rule. He argued the position of racism being a ‘systemic’ violence linking economic, cultural, psychological, and social means of oppression. The mid-twentieth century psychological term ‘internalized racism’ is a theory that speaks to Fanon’s argument. Dr. Helen Neville stipulates that internalized racism “refers to the acceptance by marginalized racial populations, of the negative societal beliefs and stereotypes about themselves.” (Neville, 2007) Evidence demonstrates that Dubois observation of African American conflict of two warring identities is in fact a poetic description of consequential effect of white-supremacy. In 1904, Dubois observed what Fanon had later termed “alienation” which was formulated from America’s social formation predicated upon white-supremacist policy and economic relationship. The author poetically described the 19th and early 20th century African American strife and resignation toward negative societal beliefs and stereotypes, perpetuated by cultural apparatus, social restrictions, psychological imagery, and economic policy. Yet, this contempt is rivaled with its staggering patriotism toward an national ideal that never fully included the image of a “slave” population. One may argue that contemporary African American awareness harbor the existing discontent toward their social grouping with the manifestation of negative “hood” or “ghetto” labeling while placing upon his/her chest the badge of “americanism” in the face of perceived threats from “others”. Conclusively, the argument for relevance becomes ascertained when one takes into account the continued redefinition of the same phenomena over the course of the previous century.