Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Double Consciousness

            In my African American literature class we had a discussion about W. E. B. Du Bois and his influence within the African American community and I would like to share some of these points. W. E. B. Dubois was one of the most renowned intellectual figures in the history of the American society. He was considered the “Renaissance man of African American letters during the first fifty years of the twentieth century. He was the most multifaceted, prolific, and influential writer that black America has every produced, with one of the widest-ranging intellects of any of his American contemporaries” (Gates Jr, and McKay 686). Disturbed by the fundamental problems of race and justice in the United States, specifically “the incidence of white violence against blacks in the South and the chafing against the restraints of segregation, (Gates Jr, and McKay 687),” Du Bois became an advocate and oracle of his people. Du Bois is noted for his book, The Souls of Black Folk, One of the central themes stressed by Du Bois in this book is the idea of double consciousness.

            According to Du Bois, the paradox of African-American identity is this idea of double-consciousness. Du Bois describes double-consciousness as the “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” (Gates Jr. and McKay 694). African-Americans in this time period were wrestling with their identity. They were grappling with their personal views of themselves and the American society’s views about African-Americans. For a very long time, African-Americans had defined themselves by what the American society defined them to be. Whereas the white American was considered American, they, being black, were considered a separate entity from the American. As a result, they continually struggled with these two distinct identities: “Negro” and “American,” identities which possessed their own consciousness. Du Bois points out that in the African-American’s search for self-consciousness, he constantly strives to amalgamate these two identities. He (the African-American) is coming to the realization that he is not just a Negro; neither is he just an American, rather he is both an American and a Negro, and thus these two identities cannot be separated. Regarding this identity-struggle, Du Bois states, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain  self-conscious manhood, to merge this double self into a better and truer self” (Gates Jr. and McKay 694).

1) In your opinion is this idea of double consciousness still in effect today. (2) Based on the documentary we watched, would you say that the struggle between two identities could explain how the African American male is portrayed in Hip Hop?

Citation: Gates Jr., Henry L., and Nellie Y. McKay. The Norton Anthology of African American
            Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2004. Print

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