Double-consciousness and the war for social identity. An essay for the people!
“The history of the American Negro is the history of this 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 to 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 that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”
Excerpt From: W. E. B. Du Bois. “The Souls of Black Folk.”
In this century, navigating America’s public hemisphere requires the affirmation of our most valued asset as human beings; our ethnic/social identity. Black as an identity, although limited, is a definitive consciousness which encompass a group of people with a set of history, experiences, and evolved cultural expression. Black arrives only out of the context of an American social-construction that never intended for its very existence. It’s a soul that declared its presence within a hostile pyscho-social environment. If I can summon the echo of Dubois, I believe he would maintain “Black” as an antonym to whiteness, yet it is as much American as the ink on the constitution. As a social ethnic make-up, Blackness is the rejection of whiteness, but it is not anti-white. Dubois’s observation and interpretation of the Negro identity of the early 20th century, which I covered in part 1, is the frame for this reiteration of Black.
Using Dubois’ dichotomy of the double consciousness theory, I have to bring into critical examination some recent confessions from a couple popular profiles whom both separately confessed their identity views on an Oprah segment. On a limb, I will say most Black loving individuals may have found it disturbing to listen to Raven and Pharrell discuss their personal identity definitions. Well for me, I found it revolting, irritating, hilarious, and problematic in so many ways. Problematic in the sense of its implications on the current generation as well as it being indicative of a possible current development.
“the new Black is a mentality, not a pigmentation…it’ll either work for you or work against you and you gotta pick which side you wanna be on ..Pharrell”
Raven defines herself as being “American”, this colorless person that connects with many cultures. Although she refuses to be labeled (rejecting society’s gay category), she tries to combine her heritage to encompass every possible ‘race’ connection imaginable, notwithstanding the strong rejection of identifying as “African American.” Raven admits that she is unaware of her roots and only knows of her Louisiana heritage. In his interview, Pharrell responds to his album cover critics by defining his “new Black” identity. According to him, “the new Black is a mentality, not a pigmentation…it’ll either work for you or work against you and you gotta pick which side you wanna be on”; someone who does not blame other races “for our issues.” He elaborates “I don’t live my life trying to be black, I live my life being ‘me’, because I’m proud of what my mom and dad made.” Prodded by Oprah, he extensively expounds that some people find delusions in the mirror, “in their own mirror” and share their issues with others. Lastly, the billboard climbing artist, summates his point with “don’t find your confidence in your color, find your confidence in the mirror.” The span of his soapbox lecture on race lasted a whole two minutes and forty something seconds. My sound bites do not offer justice so please watch the segment for yourself.
Let me mention, If you have read up to this point, maybe Raven and Pharrell struck a cord of reason, possibly agreement with you. Allow me to un-package the complication of both entertainers identity view (crisis?) in light of Dubois’ double consciousness theory. In doing this, by no means do I claim authority over anyone’s personal identity, nor do I entitle myself to cast judgement with a perceived rule of ethnic ownership. Pop-culture figures, such as Raven and Pharrell, professed views have a level of influence upon young developing minds. The only thing I hope to measure is whether our ideals, philosophy, or perspectives actually build or deter collective identity and awareness.
History demonstrates that the process to becoming “American” is a process of denying any all ethnic origins and essentially bleaching one’s soul in the fallacious whiteness of orientation.
Both Raven and Pharrell represents two opposite polarities between the contention Dubois’ outlined in 1904, the “American” and “Black” identity strife (Negro in 1904). A century after Dubois’ presented his argument, we find a thought process, between the two entertainers, that challenges his assumed intention of the Black man, “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 that Negro blood has a message for the world.” Within Raven’s identity beliefs we see a Black woman who does not want to be categorized as an “African” American. She denies any linkage proclaiming herself to be categorized only as an “American”. In her self-perceived “colorlessness”, she acknowledges her “nice, interesting grade of hair” but fails miserably to see the skew nature of this statement. Like many white-minded individuals, Raven believes by adopting this liberal “colorless” approach to social relations it will allow her to become more human, fulfilling this American dream of melting pot identification. Ridiculous right?. History demonstrates that the process to becoming “American” is a process of denying any all ethnic origins and essentially bleaching one’s soul in the fallacious whiteness of orientation. In the case of Black people, its the complete rejection, minimization, or denial of our African lineage that becomes preliminary to our national “American” absorption, which she clearly stated firmly. Far to often, if not entirely, well establish Black individuals with popularity or fame, usually within sports or entertainment, compromise or reject collective identification with their larger ethnic group. Of course, one can make the argument whether they identified with the group from the beginning. However, I question whether Stephen A. Smith, Charles Barkley, or Raven Symone actually believe that Black folks have something to offer to America, let alone the world.
White mentality stems as a result from the dominate ideal of America, white-supremacy, while Black is a healthy natural rejection of the white effect.
Pharrell, on the hand, is peculiar angle being that he can articulate ideas that that can come off persuasive and strong. If the “new Black” is a mentality, than I’m assuming that anyone can adopt its orientation and make it work for them, correct? Does this mean white people can have a black mentality? If Black folks problem is that they project their “own issues in the mirror” on other Blacks, than only thing we need to do is destroy the mirror, I’m assuming? Here’s the thing. While I agree that Blackness, like whiteness, is a mental orientation, it is more than just a collection of ideas or thoughts. This is why I opened with a social definition of Black. You can’t just think Black. Black as an identity is grounded in history, experience, and social context. Pharrell, bro: Black is away of life, essentially culture, which you appropriate so well for your musical success. Just in the same way white-mindedness exist in the context of American development. The difference between the two is that white mentality is cemented in institutions, cultivated in active experiences, and inflicted upon everyone across the world. White mentality stems as a result from the dominate ideal of America, white-supremacy, while Black is a healthy natural rejection of the white effect. A little time with with Ralph Ellison, Asha Bandela, James Baldwin, or Franz Fanon will help anyone understand that most of our “mirrors” are constructed by permeating images of white-supremacy. Black folks aren’t projecting personal issues on Pharrell or anyone, they are purging systemic dehumanizing psychological images that extends from a violent past to the current DVD release of Disney’s “Frozen.” Also, to claim that Black folks struggle against white supremacist scripts are merely reflections of “our own mirror” is to deny the very historical and current visceral toll of racism in America. If Pharrell possessed any social historical awareness, which we’ve accepted isn’t the case, he would understand how images, corroborating with his album cover, continues the onslaught of demeaning rank of Black women in this country. Pharrell wouldn’t classify as a Black trying to “Africanize” his American identity, simply because he certainly accepts the ideal of being American. However, he suffers from a grandiose misconception that argues Blackness as a mental space that an individual can choose to manipulate for one’s own benefit while excluding the social and psychological burden accompanied with being Black in America. Pharrell, you can’t give away Blackness that easy and simple Bro!
What they all have in common is a narrow concept of the impact of racism, opting to minimize its effect on Black lives.
Is Dubois’ double consciousness strife theory relevant in 2014? I think so, perhaps more than ever. On opposite sides of the polarity, you have a Raven Simone who releases all African connection to melt herself into an American colorlessness, and on other end Pharrell Williams affirming his “new Black” identity by appropriating it for anyone to adopt, stripping it from historical context. On the spectrum between the two, the strife manifest other extreme internalized manifestation that take form in idiotic perspectives of Charles Barkley, Condolezza Rice, Stephen A. Smith, Ben Carlson, Don Lemon, Lissa Fritsch, and countless others Blacks who conveniently measure themselves and society by the rod of white supremacy. Barkley’s recent remarks denying violent law enforcement tactics not only indicates that he chooses not see racism, but that he is willing to act as an agent to decrease Black solidarity. What they all have in common is a narrow concept of the impact of racism, opting to minimize its effect on Black lives. Appropriating Black identity by diluting the history, rejecting African heritage and adopting a colorlessness frame, minimizing racism and its historical and relevant effect on Black lives, and projecting these views on media outlets all becomes a formula for dismantling any effort of Black collective identity.