“The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. 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 Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
This next month, we celebrate all of the achievements and contributions of African Americans to American society, yet we still ignore some of the perils that blacks face on a daily basis.
“Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness,” writes Du Bois.
The problem goes much deeper than me maliciously generalizing a young black mother and her three children riding the CTA via Facebook, and my friends generating a 20-comment thread about my stereotyped assessment. It is much more severe than young girls profusely using profanity within earshot of elderly people or boys continuing to make fashion statements with Department of Corrections’ identification numbers.
I believe it boils down to the idea of a double-consciousness resting within blacks that Du Bois writes about, a feeling of limitations within a world that has proven to not fully accept the strivings of young blacks unless fortunate enough to entertain or in some way excel abundantly. The same two worlds stand in contrast like Austin and suburban Oak Park, where property taxes fuel the school system.
I told of how I made a judgment about the young lady on the CTA, but the statement is as follows: “Damn, all three o’ them rugrats yours? You don’t look a day over 24! Do you realize that you are just a sperm depository? You stupid!”
A flurry of comments came in condemning my status.
At the start of the semester of graduate studies at Loyola University, I wondered how many black men would be in my class. One.
That was one more than I had anticipated.
I accept that I am a product of two realities and can easily maneuver between both. As a result, I try to build a bridge to express to others of the despaired place that the other world is just a parallel complete with its own problems.
“The Souls Of Black Folk” speaks candidly to me about trying to wrestle with being black and being an American without all of the implied benefits of being white. And before anyone says that I am trivializing the election of a black president, I am also aware that he has to work with Congress; so, not allowing him to address a black agenda — things like 40 acres and a mule, that could have been handed down to generations, and closing the gap between owning and renting. It would have also been used for access to higher education for earlier generations and maybe many of these young folk would not be as limited.
As we reflect on the leaders of African-American history, we must also realize the “two-ness” within ourselves and find a way to extinguish the hated reflection cast by the larger society.
And if nothing else I suggest reading “The Souls of Black.”