Double-Consciousness in the Book “The Soul of Black Folk”

Posted: September 6th, 2013





Double-Consciousness in the Book “The Soul of Black Folk”


Having fought for their rights since the nineteenth century, African Americans continue to experience instances of servitude and oppression, albeit in different ways and forms. They continue to have the highest rates of crime in the country, the highest incarcerations, and the highest number of people with stress related conditions and diseases such as high .blood pressure and diabetes in the country. There is more violence among the African American communities than in other communities in the country, and the people record the highest levels of poverty in the country (Cunningham). They fight against each other, and against those who are different from them. African Americans fought to gain their liberty, in a country that claimed to be democratic and free, yet they remain oppressed by the maladies facing them. Historians, sociologists and other professionals have tried to theorize the reasons why these maladies continue among the African American communities. The concept of the veil or double consciousness described in Du Bois, “The Soul of Black Folk” seems to have the most relevant answer. African Americans are a divided people, among the rest in the country. The idea of double consciousness reveals the different perspectives that African Americans have on themselves. They have learnt to see themselves through the eyes of others, and through their own eyes. Double consciousness is prevalent among African Americans, and it has caused them to believe that other people’s perception concerning them matter more, leading to them living a lifestyle that tries to conform to those rules.

The Effect of Double Consciousness on African Americans

Double consciousness discourages African Americans from realizing their potential and believing in themselves. African Americans have had this kind of mentality for long that even the most prominent ones have continued to use this reasoning. Du Bois singles out one of the most prominent African American leaders, Booker T. Washington, who encouraged segregation, and encouraged the idea of blacks giving up the idea to vote for the sake of maintaining peace. Washington is one of the most prominent African American leaders, and he was able to achieve much, despite him being black. He was able to overcome barriers and obstacles to achieve a level of greatness that many African Americans did not think possible. He was evidence that despite the hardship that the black people faced at the time, they could achieve much, and would even equal their white oppressors. Yet, because of the attitude of double consciousness, Washington ended up proposing ideals that would continue binding the African American people.

Therefore, the idea of the veil has perpetuated and has affected blacks as well as whites. Had Washington’s idea developed among blacks in the country, they would not have realized the gains of civil rights liberties in the sixties. There were those among the black community who believed that African Americans could achieve more. These people rose up during the sixties and they managed to convince African Americans to fight for their rights and defend their freedom. Because some people dared to lift the veil, they were able to realize the equality and justice of the African American community in the country.

The idea of double consciousness has had more impact on African Americans than they care to admit. Du Bois observes the idea of double consciousness in the beginning of his book. He notes, “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 a tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity (Du Bois 12).” Over the years, African Americans have tried to blend in with the white American society. While there has been some progress over the years, the white Americans have often rejected the African Americans’ attempt to assimilate. This culture of rejection has grown within the black community, and it has affected generations (Cramer and Cramer 148).

The black people now see themselves as white people have done over the years, with eyes of rejection. They believe that they are not worthy of any recognition, at least in a positive manner, and they reflect this by how they lead their lives. This has led to the development of self-hatred, which they pass to those who are like them. Their actions and lifestyle portray this in different forms including music and other forms of art. Most of the rap music by black artists is derogatory and full of violence (Cramer and Cramer 150). The music reflects the way the artists’ opinion of themselves and their race. The artists rap to tell how they live their lives. They live in a violent world, where they have to struggle to make a living. They do not know, or they do not believe that it is possible to have a better life (Cramer and Cramer 152). This idea prevails in other areas of their lives, where in most cases; it has resulted to a negative perception of the African American community.

Double Consciousness and the Stereotype Threat in Education

African Americans have fallen prey to the stereotype threat, especially in education, which has hindered their progress and resulted to failure. During the years of segregation, African Americans had their own schools, and the system did not allow them to study in schools with white population. The white people then, felt that blacks were not good enough to use their schools, and they did not have enough intelligence. Years later, this mentality has changed in most parts of the country. In many public and private schools, both black and white students learn in the same institutions, where they have the same privileges. However, the perception that blacks are not as intelligent as white seem to continue affecting people.

African Americans continue to suffer from stereotype threat that they are not as intelligent as their white counterparts are, and this affects their academic performance negatively (Cramer and Cramer 143). This is clear from the statistics in schools, showing the dismal number of black students who graduate from institutions of higher learning, and the majority of those who do not excel. African Americans perform poorly when they become conscious of their race as a determining factor. They have grown with the mentality that they are not good enough to learn in formal institutions. Du Bois criticized Washington because of encouraging a system of learning, where blacks learned differently. Washington emphasized the need for black people to get an industrialized education, and give up higher education. According to him, this would benefit them more.

Double Consciousness and Internalized Racism

African Americans suffer from internalized racism, which causes them to oppress, find fault, and criticize each other (Lipsky). This has in turn contributed to self-hatred among some of the members in the community. This pattern of faultfinding and oppression begins from childhood, and continues to adulthood. Although the white people oppressed the black people and enslaved them for many years, the blacks did not let the white people in their midst kill their hope and vision. They did not let them limit their creative abilities, and they continued to fight for their rights in different ways. They believed that they could be better, and the more the white person oppressed them, the more they became zealous towards achieving their freedom. This led them to become more interested in learning. They enrolled in schools and many of them were able to change their economic situation and improve their communities. Yet when the segregation ended, when the people had nothing to fight for, they seemed to relax on their original purpose. This has changed in this era, where white people are not the ones oppressing blacks. Black people have developed a culture where they have learnt to oppress their own. They have lived with the mentality of oppression, to the extent that they feel the need to oppress each other. They do not trust each other, and they sometime fear each other. This leads to people developing feelings of shame towards themselves and their communities.

In every instance of racism, there has to be some people perceived as more superior and dominant by the minority. This happens even in instances of internalized racism. Some African Americans continue to believe in, and advocate the idea of white supremacy. They believe that the white people are more superior than they are. Because of this, they will often not support an African American in leadership. When one happens to work hard and succeed in life, they will accuse him of trying to be white. This starts at an early age. In a school setting, black students accuse other black students who are smart and work hard of trying to be white. Du Bois has strong sentiments over white supremacy, and he differs with Booker Washington, who encouraged the black people to submit to white supremacy. Most blacks seem to have accepted the idea of white supremacy, and this has led them to believe that they cannot come close to achieve what the white man has achieved. It has led them to believe the idea that there is no need of working hard, since it is of no use. The idea of seeing white people as the supreme and greater race has reduced the chances of African Americans supporting each other.


As long as African Americans continue to see themselves through the veil, they will always be concerned about how the others see them. The points above illustrate how double consciousness affects African Americans. Although Du Bois spoke of double consciousness in early twentieth century, the problem continues to affect many African Americans today. Granted some African Americans are able to see beyond the veil, but others are still behind the veil. They will work towards fulfilling what they think is other people’s expectations. This will make them compromise on any beliefs that they might have. It will deny them a chance to become what they can become, if only they are concerned with how they see themselves. While African Americans continue to look for ways to please other people, especially those who are different from them, they fail to observe the way in which these people see them. They fail to work towards realizing their potential, and they fail to support each other in leadership. African Americans should be aware of the double consciousness that continues to affect them. They should accept that double consciousness is not just present among other races, but that they practice it as well. This will enable them to find ways of overcoming double consciousness and finally lifting the veil that hinders their vision.









Works Cited

Cramer, S. Kyle and Ks Cramer. American Frankenstein: How the United States Created A Monster! United Kingdom: Xlibris Corporation, 2010. Print

Cunningham, Gerald. Internalized Racism and Oppression. 2004. Web. 16 July 2012

Du’Bois, W. E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor LLC, 2008. Print

Lipsky, Suzanne. Internalized Racism: A Major Breakthrough has been achieved. 2010. Web. 16 July 2012

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