Double Consciousness

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Sociology 444

My Double-Consciousness as an African American College Student

Despite the enduring popularity of DuBois’ double consciousness metaphor, Adolph Reed views it as an anachronism rooted in DuBois’s Jim Crow segregationist period and thus deems it not applicable to post-segregation Black America (Shaw 9). Some sociologists, however, possess a very different outlook on “double consciousness” that affirms its existence and application in the present day. Although the racism that exists today is a different type from that which existed in Dubois’ era (1868-1963), his term of “double-consciousness” and notions concerning blackness are still very much applicable to today’s society. In fact the term “double-consciousness” can be applied to my, and several other black students experiences within the black student populations of large predominantly white universities.

Roughly sixty-two years after DuBois first wrote about double consciousness and “the veil”, his demands of Black political, economic, and social equality were fulfilled by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now almost forty years after those reforms, we have witnessed a fundamental change in the specific manifestations that race and racism have assumed since the days of strict Jim Crow segregation (Shaw 15). Bonilla-Silva argues that a less blatant “new racism” and accompanying “racial structure” has emerged. Omi and Winant also see the “veil of race” as a meaningful social construction, asserting that it objectively suppresses African American life chances (Shaw 20).

This paper will explore the ways in which “double consciousness” still exists by drawing on my personal experiences and findings at UNC as an African American student, research done on black students in predominantly white universities and theorizations of other important sociologists and the paradigm of race and double consciousness.

To begin, we must first identify exactly what this term of double consciousness means. DuBois defines “double-consciousness” as a “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 (Lemert 2004 p. 164).” There is an idea of being the “other” or an “outsider” represented here in the sense that you are different from the individuals in this larger world looking on at you with pity. He refers to this consciousness as a “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 (Lemert 2004 p. 164).” This means blacks are both African and American at the same time but the two sides are constantly colliding. Du Bois argues that the history of blacks in America has been a struggle to gain self-consciousness, bringing both the American and African parts of him together to establish a “truer self (Lemert 2004 pp. 163-168).”

This concept of “double-consciousness” can be thought of as having three parts. The first being the power of the stereotypes white America has imposed on black life and thought. Second, there is the racism that excluded black Americans from the mainstream of society, being both American and not American. Lastly, and most applicable to my own situation, is the internal conflict between being African and American simultaneously (Du Bois 1903 p. 98).

In his biographical book “Darkwater” Dubois describes his experience within society by saying “I have been in the world, but not of it. I have seen the human drama from a veiled corner, where all the outer tragedy and comedy have reproduced themselves in microcosm within (Du Bois 1920 p. 50). In other words, he is saying that his blackness has prevented him from being a full participant within society. The span of Du Bois’ life is critical to his observations of society; this is a...
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