Free Essay On African-American Political Thought
The issue of double consciousness within black political thought is an incredibly complex one, which affects virtually all aspects of modern black life in America. According to W.E.B. DuBois, the term “double consciousness” refers to the conflict African-Americans have between fealty to their African roots and the white-dominated American culture and history in which they have been raised (DuBois, 1994). Double consciousness complicates black lives in America, as they have a greater number of conflicting identities and cultures to reconcile; double consciousness could be said to have deprived America of “a shared understanding of commonly experienced political events” because of this divide in perspective (Dawson 3). When forming black identities, African-Americans must struggle to determine how much of themselves is defined by their blackness and African heritage, and how much owes a debt to the Anglocentric culture they grew up with in America.
As such, double consciousness plays a crucial role in the forming of black political ideologies. Interacting in a major way with the political world of America asks African-Americans to deeply consider how willing they are to accept and reconcile the disturbing past of racism and discrimination that white-led America has as its legacy. This is particularly true of black nationalism – the school of thought in which blacks have a distinct sense of self-love and self-determination, and are able to establish a black cultural identity with as little European influence as possible (Shelby 24).
In many ways, black nationalism is the political ideology that is furthest from the spectrum of double consciousness, in that it works to minimize the white influence on black lives and culture in favor of a more Afro-centric perspective. Historically, Black Nationalism is often associated with more militant black political groups, which makes it a somewhat outmoded idea – this suggests that blacks are coming to terms with their double consciousness in greater numbers than in the heyday of the Black Panther party and other Black nationalist groups. However, the continued discrimination and racism present in America today can make the appeal of black nationalism fairly high, as conservatives “believe that the fight for racial justice has already been won” (Shelby 5). Furthermore, black nationalism proved quite useful during the Civil Rights Movement, as the double consciousness of the black experience allowed black servicemen to stay “unbowed to white supremacy” (Parker 58). In addition to all of this, black nationalism does not have to strictly entail reductive identity politics and militancy, instead providing a means for African-Americans to explore the more wholly black elements of their character to help them reconcile their double consciousness.
While the appeal of militant black nationalism is understandable, it (in its most extreme form) does little to address the issue of double consciousness, in its purest form arguing that the ‘white’ part of African-Americans need not apply. In order to truly make peace with the complex array of principles, histories and cultural traits of African-American life, a more egalitarian and pluralistic approach must be given to allow blacks the chance to navigate their own sense of blackness (or whiteness) and achieve an individual sense of catharsis.
Dawson, Michael C. 2001. Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American
Political Ideologies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York, Avenel, NJ: Gramercy Books; 1994.
Hord, Fred Lee, and Jonathan S. Lee. 1995. I Am Because We Are: Readings in Black
Philosophy. University of Massachusetts Press.
Parker, Christopher S. 2009. Fighting for Democracy: Black Veterans and the Struggle Against
White Supremacy in the Postwar South. Princeton University Press.
Shelby, Tommie. 2005. We Who are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press.