Sociological Issues in the Concept of “Double-Consciousness” by Du Bois

The Concept of “Double-Consciousness “

Du Bois’s book became a sensation of the time and is still a work that shows the view and feelings of black people in America from historical and sociological sides. The concept of “double-consciousness” reflects the state of African Americans who are forced to identify themselves through the eyes of white people. This concept still exists and is relevant in 2020, and it also expands, since all people who do not fit into the “standards” with their appearance, gender, orientation, or race can experience this state.

The main feature of the book is that it represents a sociological and psychological view of the life of black people in the United States. One of the basic concepts is the “double-consciousness” that every African American has experienced. In the chapter “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the author explains the meaning of this state by saying that black people are forced to consider themselves through the prism of white and black society at the same time. For this reason, two sides coexist at once in such a person: “…An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings.”1Such a vision of black people can harm them as their “white” part forms the image of an African American with all the stereotypes that have formed over the centuries.

However, the author insists that these stereotypes should be erased in the minds of white, and especially black people. The most truthful reflection of the history and feelings of former slaves is their songs2. Over the centuries, they convey the truth about the suffering and fate of black Americans and do not allow them to forget about their pride and the real meaning of their lives.

The concept of “double-consciousness” still resonates in society, and in those people who feel unaccepted, estranged, not belonging to any community. Moreover, although Du Bois proposed this concept as applied to black Americans, today, it has a broader meaning. According to researches, this trend is expanding, and more people may experience “double-consciousness.”3 These people include representatives of LGBTQ +, who must continuously note how they look in the eyes of society and fight stereotypes.

People with disabilities, mental illnesses, or unusual appearance, also often hear questions that Du Bois characterized by the succinct expression, “How does it feel to be a problem?” 4The concept of “double-consciousness” is also relevant for black people for whom it was invented. Afro-Americans are arrested and accused of crimes more often, which is a result of stereotypes. 5 Although today, legal rules and norms guarantee equality and rights for all people, unlike the beginning of the twentieth century, behind all the laws are people who still cannot accept all someone different from them.

In conclusion, the concept of “double-consciousness” created by Du Bois is relevant to indicate the state of people who are different from most of society. This concept today covers not only black people, the stereotypes of which have been formed over the centuries but also all representatives of the LGBTQ + community, people with physical and mental limitations, and non-standard appearance. However, not all people who are different from the society in which they live should experience this state, since it is not a natural but a stereotyped and stigmatized feeling. Thus, although laws protect US citizens from prejudice, this wrong attitude is a part of a historically shaped vision of society that needs to be erased and changed.

Endnotes

  1. Du Bois,”The Souls of Black Folk”, ed. David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997), 38.
  2. Du Bois, 187.
  3. Rios, Victor, Nikita Carney, and Jasmine Kelekay, “Ethnographies of Race, Crime, and Justice: Toward a Sociological Double-Consciousness,” Annual Review of Sociology 43, no.1 (2017): 508.
  4. Du Bois, 37.
  5. See note 3 above.

Bibliography

Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt.The Souls of Black Folk. Edited by David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Rios, Victor, Nikita Carney, and Jasmine Kelekay. “Ethnographies of Race, Crime, and Justice: Toward a Sociological Double-Consciousness.” Annual Review of Sociology 43, no.1 (2017): 493-513.