In his 1897 article, originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, W.E.B. Du Bois offers his idea of double-consciousness to the public. He opened the dialogue (whether internal or external is of no real import) for people to not only recognize, but to try to understand, the difficulties, despite the progress made, by the “American Negro.” Not only is this work still relevant in current times, it is applicable to any group of persons, throughout history, who are not, nor have ever been, a part of the dominant culture.
As a middle-class, white female in 2016, it is difficult to say I comprehend the horrible strife of the late-19th century “Negro American,” however, I do believe double-consciousness to be something that must be felt within all minority groups. Du Bois first describes double-consciousness as:
“…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.” (2)
The world has come so far, America especially (or do I just think that because I live here?), since the time in which Du Bois lived, yet there are so many ways in which his words still ring true.
In over 100, years the white man has not lost his superiority complex, and the “Negro American” man has not learned how to own his slanderous titles. It was Du Bois himself who wrote, “a Negro by any other name would be just as black and just as white; just as ashamed of himself and just as shamed by others, as today,” (3) in his response to Roland Barton, over 30 years after his original article. Perhaps it is naivety, but his words seem to scream, “If you own it, if you take their slanders and insults and pre-conceived ideas and turn them to dust, meaningless dust, all any of it is, from now until the end of time, is dust.” While this country has progressed incredibly since the time of this article’s publication, there is still prejudice and resistance in certain areas: specifically, equality, and even more so, admitting that there is inequality. There is a blindness, a “veil,” if you will, that remains over the eyes of the majority, and until everyone else, both individually and together (as a combined effort), comes forth to own, accept, and defeat that which they are shamed for and that which (perhaps secretly) shames them, that veil can never be lifted. It can never truly be “united we stand” until we are willing to recognize and accept the truths of history and the wounds it still continues to inflict.