WEB Dubois has been instrumental in using the concepts of double-consciousness to explain the involuntary strange position that has encompassed the Black Americans’ experiences in the United States over the years (Pittman, 2016). Dubois employs this term to explore this peculiar state that African Americas find themselves in and the specific tools that they can use to elevate their circumstances. It is a form of living behind the veil where one becomes segregated from certain privileges enjoyed by those on the other side of the veil (Pittman, 2016). Basically, this concept of double-consciousness is experienced by an individual who finds themselves in both sides of a similar coin and their limitation to the social realm is based on the dominating systems in place. Therefore, in the process of acquiring validation in this system, black people endure frustrations in claiming full equality and citizenship.
Because of their skin color, African Americans are unconsciously forced by their society to stick and continually live within their self attained definitions (Boxill, 2020). This condition happens while they still get to experience lots of opposition and hostility in their quest for freedom of expression and absolute enjoyment of equal rights like their white counterparts. Black people have been forced to live within the societal limitations and boundaries that are not only defined but controlled by white supremacy (Pittman, 2016). Attaining equality and even being accepted into these white-dominated societies is a struggle that never seems to end. Racism advanced by the white supremacist society seems to always have the upper hand in the self-actualization journey of the black man. The black person is left to gamble between loosely defined, undefined, and overlapping definitions about himself (Meer, 2018). Eventually, the black individual has no choice but to settle for these uniquely perceived positions.
DuBoisian Double Consciousness
Double consciousness from the lens of WEB Dubois boils down to a black individual who has to endure moments of racial struggles, possibly in the entirety of his or her life, due to the views imposed on him or her by a white mind (Pittman, 2016). An African American still has to endure the self-perception imposed by the hostile white Americans whilst maintaining their convictions and beliefs. Clearly, it is subjugating to struggle with the internal conflict of accepting yourself as an American with an additional negative clause that expounds your true American status as that of having your origins in Africa. Though this concept of double consciousness has helped to unravel the under-explored interracial dynamics in the United States, black people still have a long way to go in achieving full equality and citizenship (Pittman, 2016). A valid nationality document that confirms one’s legal connection to his or her country is not enough to attain full acceptance. Even with nationwide campaigns to sensitize people and familiarize them with racial dynamics, positions, and tensions, the racial struggles of the black people are always lurking within.
Dubois expounds on this divided pattern of life in his book, which reflects the unchanged state of lifestyle currently experienced by a 21st-century black person. He states that every Negro must live a double life, that of being a Negro and an American (Boxill, 2020). A historical analysis of American society reveals that a Negro was a black person whose social standing among other public affiliations was downgraded. His claim for equality and acceptance into society was a thing he had to fight for. Dubois illustrated that the pain of past injustices and slavery made a Negro first fight off those thoughts so that they can attain a positive sense of personality (Meer, 2018). Every black person needed to arise from the past mistreatments which had defined their self-consciousness to have a more different, decent, and profound outlook of their lives. Otherwise, they would suffer a fatal blow to their self-confidence and eventually self-esteem. It is actually for this same reason that over the years, black lives have persistently pursued their claim for equality in matters of natural interest. Refusing to settle for a lesser position in the chain of life can be attributed to the motivation behind the success of black men in the white-dominated world of technology, inventions, and discoveries. In the words of Dubois, the double life of a black person coupled with double thoughts, double duties, including double social classes, have an eventual turnout which gives rise to double words and double ideals (Meer, 2018). He adds that this double-consciousness has a ripple effect that causes the cognitive thoughts of pretense or revolt, or in other cases, the mind can resort to hypocrisy or radicalism.
The validation process of double consciousness for a black individual occurs within their thought process (Boxill, 2020). The fight to be viewed differently by the outside world is won by changing the lived experiences in the mindset of a black person. A black person can only elevate his status by oppressing the labels placed on him or her by the white mind. Suppressing these thoughts is always one of the major ways towards personal liberty (Boxill, 2020). The main goal is changing one’s thought process and starting to look at oneself through the eyes of the creator and not settling into the world’s notions. This approach is what has led to the major achievements of most black folks through the ranks of white supremacy, such as the former United States President Barack Obama. Instead of dwelling at the already spelled out definition by the white mind, it begs the black person not to confront the oppressor nor the system but to change their mindset. This undertaking is less cruel because facing the system has revealed a different American reality where the evil of racism still limits the achievement of equality to all citizens in the United States. A black person may think that since they are living in a first-world country where the notion of “freedom” is emphasized, they can easily get access to the same privileges enjoyed by a white person. However, the story is rather different on the ground.
In conclusion, the black person still finds himself placed racially inferior in the white supremacist society partially because of the color of their skin. But more importantly, he or she is placed in such a position because of the negative double consciousness imposed on him by the white mind. Therefore, black people have no option but to continually struggle to validate and fight for their positions to achieve the desired equality and citizenship. African Americans have no choice but to continually negotiate their way through life to achieve equality in a world that is still embedded in marginalization and subordination of black lives. Black people have to look for alternative ways that encourage positive retention of self-defined mechanisms in a more humane and accurate approach.
Boxill, B. R. (2020). W.E.B. Dubois and William James on double consciousness. Journal of Social Philosophy. https://doi.org/10.1111/josp.12329
Meer, N. (2018, April 19). W. E. B. Du Bois, double consciousness and the ‘spirit’ of recognition – Nasar meer, 2019. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0038026118765370
Pittman, J. (2016, March 21). Double consciousness (Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-consciousness/