summary of double consciousness by du bois

The term “double consciousness” originated from an 1897 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 collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk. This was a concept developed by the American sociologist and intellectual W. E. B. Dubois to describe the felt contradiction between social values and daily struggle faced by blacks in the United States. Being black, Dubois argued, meant being deprived of a “true self?consciousness”. Blacks often perceived themselves through the generalized contempt of white America.

Being a black as well as an American raised contradictions between American social ideals, which blacks shared. However, DuBois saw blacks as disassociated from main-stream American life. Du Bois referred ‘double consciousness as “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 warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” [1] This “two-ness” of being African and as well as Americans leads to psycho-social tensions in which individuals or groups are forced into identifying themselves into two social worlds and viewing themselves as insider and outsider refers to their split consciousness and disadvantageous social position.

Having such consciousness can harm the psyche of these black people as this dual existence is damaging to their sense of morality. “Double consciousnesses,” according to Du Bois, means a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others. ”[2] Du Bois views 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.

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