W.E.B Du Bois, Double Consciousness, Double Standards

         This semester, one of our required course texts was W.E.B Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk. In the text, we were introduced to the term “double consciousness,” although perhaps some of us were already familiar with the term. However, for those who might not be familiarized with the concept, the term “double consciousness” works as a tool to express the complexities of the black experience. It delves into the assertion that as a person of color, one will always have a multi-faceted identity due to the injustices penetrated in the United States. Du Bois’ best describes this as the following:

“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. 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 (Du Bois).”

As I had already expressed my love for Kiese Laymon in my previous posts, I would like to continue the conversation and relevance of Laymon’s writing with that of the classes. One of the articles I had stumbled upon was Maria Bowler’s “Blackness is not a probable cause.” In her article, Bowler describes Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (also an amazing read) as a “portrait of the destructive forces in our communities and in ourselves.” What Bowler does then, is raise the discussion about the controversy behind the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown. Through his work, Laymon is able to portray the injustices and prejudice that comes attached to being an African-American in America. Through his collection of essays, Laymon is able to delve into the realities of being young, black and male; specifically in the South, by embedding his own personal experiences as a person of color. His work remains intimate, raw and innovative through short anecdotes of his own personal experiences as a black man in the U.S.

His work remains unfiltered, allowing emotions of “pettiness, anger, generosity, stubbornness, and courage” to strongly illuminate through his writing. What Laymon does then, is acknowledge how toxic our institutions and society can be (and is) by outlining his frustration vividly. Laymon explicitly discloses the mere fact that he is not perfect, (no one is) and by doing so, he is challenging the stigma that blacks need to behave, or act a certain way in order to, as Bowler says, gain equal treatment under the law.

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