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Double consciousness

Double consciousness is a term describing the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. It was coined by W. E. B. Du Bois with reference to African American "double consciousness," including his own, and published in the autoethnographic work, The Souls of Black Folk[1]. The term originally referred to the psychological challenge of "always looking at one's self through the eyes" of a racist white society, and "measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt". The term also referred to Du Bois' experiences of reconciling his African heritage with an upbringing in a European-dominated society.[2] The term has since been applied to numerous situations of social inequality, notably women living in patriarchal societies.



The term originated from an Atlantic Monthly article of Du Bois's titled "Strivings of the Negro People." It was later republished and slightly edited under the title "Of Our Spiritual Strivings" in his book, The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes double consciousness as follows:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, 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. One ever feels his two-ness,—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.

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 does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood 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.”[1]

Gilroy and the Black AtlanticEdit

Paul Gilroy used theories of culture and race to the study and construction of African American intellectual history. He is known especially for marking a turning point in the study of the African diasporas.[3] His book "The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness" (1993) introduces the Black Atlantic as a source for cultural construction.[4] He based this on the Atlantic slave trade and marked it as the foundation for the diaspora. He recognized the significance of European and African transnational travel as a foundation for double consciousness. Gilroy used Du Bois' theory of double consciousness to suggest there exists an internal struggle to reconcile being both European and Black, which was his main focus in Black Atlantic.[4] He even characterized the Black Atlantic by the influence of slave trade "routes" on black identity. He aimed to unify black culture with the connection to the homeland as well the cultural exchanges that occurred afterward. He was also influential in the political black British movement, in which he popularized his theories.[5]

Franz Fanon and double consciousnessEdit

Very similarly to Du Bois, Franz Fanon touched upon the term of Double Consciousness in his life. In his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, where he expressed his hopelessness at being neither white nor black. Fanon identifies the double consciousness that African Americans face and its source; he claimed the cultural and social confusions of African Americans were caused by European culture.[6] He gave examples of things that he has encountered that demonstrate the double consciousness. He talks about people who preach about completely conforming to being white and says that they are wrong. He also says that the people who believe that complete rejection of whites are also wrong.[7]

He then proceeds to talk about why the African American adopts cultures that are so strange to him. He talks about how when an African American leaves for Europe, they come back speaking a language different from their own. He also talks about how African, mostly the wealthiest, tend to have insecurities of not being European enough because they are African. This manifests in buying European furniture and buying European clothes.[8]

In addition to this he talks about the way white men talk to African Americans and how it contributes to this problem of double consciousness. He says that when a white man talks to an African American man he is changing his language to a way in which a stereotypical black man would talk, similarly to how one would talk to a child, with different language sophistication and slang. He says that this angers the African American because he feels as though he has been categorized and imprisoned into a box from which he cannot escape due to this judgement. He gives an example of a film where this stereotype is portrayed and then talks about how African Americans need to be educated to not follow the stereotypes displayed by white culture.[9]

Stephen Greenblatt also uses it to describe the peculiar quality of Shakespeare's consciousness in his biography of the bard, Will in the World (2004).[10]

Triple ConsciousnessEdit

Within the last fifteen years, DuBois’ theory of double consciousness has been revisited to develop a more inclusive concept of triple consciousness. This triple consciousness may include another intersecting identity that impacts someone’s social experiences. Additional identities that may affect the already present double consciousness experience might include ethnicity or gender. For example, Juan Flores identified ethnicity as a potential aspect that influences double consciousness by speculating Afro-Latinos in the U.S. experienced an added layer discrimination that combined skin color with ethnicity and nationality[11]. Anna Julia Cooper similarly references the intersectionality of race and gender within her work A Voice from the South where she states: “Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole… race enters with me”[12]. Finally, Jossianna Arroyo explains that triple consciousness brings “spaces, culture, and skin…[to] recontextualize blackness"[13] in the case of black Puerto Ricans.

Double consciousness for women of colorEdit

Among the double burdens that feminists faced was fighting for women's' rights as well as rights for people of color. Frances M. Beale wrote that the situation of black women was full of misconceptions and distortions of the truth. In her pamphlet Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, she claimed that capitalism was the direct forebearer of racism because the system was indirectly a way to destroy the humanity of black people. [14]

"In any society where men are not yet free, women are less free because we are further enslaved because we [African American women] are enslaved by our sex." Many African American women turned towards feminism in their fight against oppression because "there was an awareness that they were being treated as second-class citizens within the Civil Right's movement of the 60's." Due to this many women felt that they were being asked to choose between "a Black movement that primarily served the interest of Black male patriarchs and a women's movement which primarily served the interests of racist white women."

Black PowerEdit

The first portion of Black Power labeled "White Power" by Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton provides evidence backing up the ideology of double consciousness in regards to blacks in the United States. The book opens up by defining racism as "the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group" (Hamilton & Ture, 3). Therefore the subordinating group, blacks, must think of themselves in terms of the oppressive population, white. Individual racism and institutional racism both contribute to double consciousness. On an individual level double consciousness is practiced within every day interactions and on an institutional level it impacts how blacks function throughout society. "Black People are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relations to the with society."[15] Therefore, while the black population in the United States are essentially equal to whites under written law, there remains deeply rooted inequities between the races and therefore reinforce double consciousness. Because these differences are not evident under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they are an experience.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York, Avenel, NJ: Gramercy Books; 1994
  2. ^ Wamba, Philippe (1999). Kinship. New York, New York: Penguin Group. p. 82. ISBN 0-525-94387-0. 
  3. ^ Chivallon, Christine. "Beyond Gilroy's Black Atlantic: The Experience of the African Diaspora". Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (Winter 2002): pp. 359–382 (p. 359).
  4. ^ a b Braziel, Jana Evans and Mannur, Anita. Theorizing Diaspora. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 49.
  5. ^ Shukra, Kalbir. "The Death of a Black Political Movement", Community Development Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July 1997): p. 233.
  6. ^ Moore, T. Owens (2005). "A Fanonian Perspective on Double Consciousness". Journal of Black Studies. 35 (6): 751–762. .
  7. ^ 1925-1961., Fanon, Frantz, (2008). Black skin, white masks (1st ed., New ed ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0802143008. OCLC 71286732.
  8. ^ 1925-1961., Fanon, Frantz, (2008). Black skin, white masks (1st ed., New ed ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0802143008. OCLC 71286732.
  9. ^ 1925-1961., Fanon, Frantz, (2008). Black skin, white masks (1st ed., New ed ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0802143008. OCLC 71286732
  10. ^ Nehring, Cristina. "Shakespeare in Love, or in Context". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 April 2017. 
  11. ^ "Triple Consciousness? Afro-Latinos on the Color Line". 
  12. ^ >"Anna J. Cooper (Anna Julia), 1858-1964. A Voice from the South". Retrieved 2018-02-02. 
  13. ^ ""Roots" or the virtualities of racial imaginaries in Puerto Rico and the diaspora". 
  14. ^ Beale, Francis M. Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female. Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female.
  15. ^ Carmichael, Stokely; Hamilton, Charles V. (1992). Black power: the politics of liberation in America (Vintage ed ed.). New York: Vintage Books. p. 6. ISBN 9780679743132. OCLC 26096713. 

Further readingEdit

  • Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic : Modernity and Double Consciousness / Paul Gilroy.Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.
  • Ture, Kwame. "Black Power The Politics of Liberation." New York, New York.: Random House, 1967. Print.

External linksEdit