Double Consciousness

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, 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”.


W.E.B. Du Bois\' classic 1903 work, The Souls of Black Folk, explores the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of black people\'s souls, as well as those "soul" feelings that intimately bind black people together. My essay will primarily focus on one of Du Bois’s very famous passages form the souls of black folks. In this essay I will discuss the ideologies behind Du Bois’s concept of the veil and Du Bois’s assumption that tearing down the veil will allow people to achieve freedom and gain self-consciousness. In addition I will attempt to explain Du bois’s theory of ‘double-consciousness’ and what he meant by the term ‘two-ness’. I will further discuss why Du Bois criticizes Booker T. Washington for accepting the veil and accepting white\'s ideas of Blacks.

In The Souls of Black Folk he introduces and addresses two concepts that describe the quintessential Black experience in America— the concepts of “the veil” and “double-consciousness.” Though du-Bois uses these terms separately, their meanings and usage in his works are deeply entwined. These two concepts gave a name to what so many African-Americans felt but previously could not express due to a lack of words to accurately describe their pain. The implication and connotation of these words were far-reaching because not only did it briefly describe the dilemma of being Black and American then, it rings true to the core and essence of what it means to still be Black and American today.

Du Bois metaphor of double consciousness and his theory of the Veil are the most inclusive explanation of the ever-present troubles of modern African Americans ever produced. In his nineteenth century work, The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois describes double consciousness as a "peculiar sensation. . . the 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" (Du Bois, 3). According to Du Bois assertions, the Black American exists in a consistent "two-ness, - an American, a Negro"(3). Further, he theorizes, the African American lives shut behind a veil, viewing from within and without it. During the nineteenth and twentieth century, it has been all but impossible for an African American to function as an American who happens to be an African as well. It was even a more ridiculous notion that he can function as an African who happens to be born into the American nationality

Although there is a veil that shades the view of both Blacks and Whites, the reason why Blacks traditionally have a better understanding of whites than the reverse is because of this “two-ness” lived and felt by Black Americans. In other words, upon coming to the realization of being Black and what that has historically meant in America (or arguably presently means in America), Black people have long known how to operate in two Americas— one that is white and one that is Black. du Bois describes this phenomenon as “double-consciousness”, which is the awareness of the “two-ness” of being “an American and [an African-American]”.

The veil is a metaphor for the separation and invisibility of black life and existence in America and is a reoccurring theme in books about black life in America. du Bois claims that as long as one is wrapped in the veil their attempts to gain self-consciousness will fail because they will always see the image of themselves reflect back to them by others. Du Bois applies this by claiming that as long as