Free Literature Review About Double Consciousness And Modern Appropriation
Symbolism in The Souls of Black People by W.E.B. Dubois
In his seminal work. The Souls of Black People, written by civil rights leader and liberal W.E.B. Dubois, stated “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousnesstwo souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Dubois). W.E.B Du Bois, the founder of the seminal civil rights groups known as NAACP, launched a liberal and vitriolic campaign against Booker T. Washington and the conservative doctrine that Washington espoused in order to achieve racial progress and racial empowerment (Bracey 34). His notion of the double consciousness formed the basis of all kinds of intellectual thought and epistemologies aimed at giving voice to the lived black experience and provide solutions for racial progress. Dubois’ notion of the double consciousness captured the idea of having to be raised into hustle, which forces nonwhites to deal with the legacy and conquest of slavery, historical anti-blackness, and the legacy of white supremacy and white hegemony. Symbolism amplifies the ontological and epistemological dimensions of Dubois’ work. The symbol of the veil and the metaphor of the double consciousness form the central tropes of this work. This veil is a threading trope that underscores the social, political, psychological, and racial boundaries that have rendered black souls invisible throughout the United States since the nation’s inception. The double-consciousness further conveys the lived black experience in the United States a result of the presence of the veil that grounds the black experience and ontology as cloaked under this metaphorical veil wrought by white supremacy and white hegemony.
Rather than approaching racial progress through politics of supplication and an accomodationist methodology in the same way that his contemporary Booker T. Washington did, Dubois promoted a civil rights agenda and politics of confrontation. He posited that social change could only material for blacks if they procured a higher education. Dubois alludes to in his Soul of Black Folks for a “Talented Tenth,” or a group of college-educated African Americans deemed exceptional and key for rescuing the black race. His philosophy clearly grafted acts of protest and agitation into his blueprint for acquiring racial progress. In Souls of Black Folk, Dubois discusses his view on race and race relations, which developed amidst his personal experiences as an African-American male in an unjust society constructed on the pillars of white hegemony, capitalism, and oppression. Dubois contends that southern blacks must secure the right to an education, enfranchisement without harassment, and social and economic equality. More famously, Du Bois articulates his conception of the double consciousness that African Americans struggled with. Du Bois unequivocally disagrees with Washington’s philosophy of blacks receiving a vocational and industrious education. Rather, Du Bois postulated that blacks needed a classical education rooted in the liberal arts in order to prepare and raise future leaders for the African-American community (Du Bois). This foundational text clearly proffers an intellectual contention for freedom in the blacks’ civil rights struggle by articulating the lived black experience shaped by quotidian interactions and affairs.
Furthermore, Dubois contends that the “souls of black folks” represent the souls of the American nation. By inference, Dubois argues that the progress and trajectory of U.S. society is intrinsically connected to the racial progress of blacks in the United States. Dubois’ theoretical framework—the so-called problem for the color line—in his monograph, although such an analytic framework remained a fluid one that shifted according to epochal contingencies and the state of race relations in America. Both the veil and double consciousness emerge as both philosophical and psychological categories that have been rendered by philosophers, artists, and social critics alike as sites of interest that ripe for the study of African-American subjectivities during their lived experiences. Blackness becomes a source of knowledge rather than a problem in this paradigm.
Representing a double consciousness through a cultural expression coded with black intellectual thought, Nas’ track Tribes at War featuring Damien Marley offers a critique of race and racism via the metaphor of warring tribes within the United States to promote racial solidarity that recognizes the existence of racism and sexism in America today. Although racial solidarity will be difficult to coordinate due to the historical categorization of and treatment of individuals according to their skin color, the notion of the double consciousness calls for African Americans to accept the historical legacy of their enslavement and anti-blackness in the US and form cross racial alliances in order to reject the possessive investment in whiteness and dismantle the racist foundations latent in American society.
Robert Shapiro’s book The Hidden Cost of Being African American in America: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality alludes to the role of materiality in the future formation of racial solidarity through his exploration and critique of the racial wealth gap. In Tribal Wars the phrase “Every child deserves to earn/and every child deserves to learn” is often repeated by Damien Marley, expressing to the listener that rather than fighting one another on the streets, people should focus on the central problems at hand which create widespread inequality and poverty among the Black population. The term “deserves” connotes an entitlement of all children in the U.S. regardless of race, class, or gender to be given the opportunity to receive an education and thus the ability to earn money and accumulate wealth in subsequent generations. This hints at the myth of meritocracy inherent in the notion of the American Dream whereby those who work hard would reap the benefits by a boost in wealth and status (Shapiro 87). Nas juxtaposes this phrase amidst stanzas expressing discontent with the state of black America today as hindered by a faulty belief that homeownership—conflated with the American Dream—has been achieved. His reference to “standardize housing” as making the “back youth rampant suggests the fallacy of believing in the American Dream just because standardized housing enabled blacks to own homes at a higher rate. Even though all children in the US supposedly have access to an education that would allow him or her to become upwardly mobile, institutions such as housing projects only give the illusion of the American Dream as available for everyone. Shapiro debunks this myth of meritocracy through his in depth discussion of the racial wealth gap using several case studies that show a direct correlation between the wealth of an individual or family with their race. By juxtaposing the myth of meritocracy with the reality of racial inequality embedded within US institutions, Nas pushes for a reformed consciousness in both whites and blacks of the hypocrisy of America and the ideals it espouses. His frustration with the black youth suggests that both whites and blacks are accountable for enacting social change that could possibly make the American Dream a reality in the future.
Although Shapiro explores the widening racial wealth gap in American, thereby indicating that economic and educational opportunities at the present provide little opportunities to take down whiteness, he discusses the possibilities presented by hip hop culture to take down the possessive investment in whiteness which Jeff Chang expounds on. Hip hop culture responds to the historical oppression of African Americans with a type of enlightenment: they could create for themselves spaces of freedom in places that are not meant to be free (Chang 34). Personifying Africa in the first person, Nas declares “I [Africa] vomit diamonds/I gave you Mandela, black dalai lamas I gave you music/You enthused in my kindness/So how dare you reduce me to Donny Imus.” This stanza indicates the anger of blacks in America that the US exploited African economy for the diamonds and demeaned Africans who gave them great political leaders such as Nelson Mandela as well as widespread religion by charging blacks as racist and sexist; the Donny Imus allusion refers to a contemporary radio show host now infamous for his racist and sexist remarks towards a predominantly black women’s college basketball team. Thus, juxtaposing Chang’s vision of the role of hip hop in promoting change addresses the need for white America to devalue colonial means of subjugation politically, culturally and economically in order to achieve social justice. Blacks in America deal with their often precarious existence by forming black thought and expression that is antithetical to the possessive investment in whiteness. Participation in underground culture of hip hop represented one way to do so, as hip hop gave space for black youth to resist possessive investment in whiteness and participate in black thought via coded social critique and without threat of prejudice by whites as conveyed by Nas. Hip hop has literally always been a battleground, a “tribal war,” where rival gangs ready themselves to battle on the dance floor that in a sense unites the gangs by projecting a common enemy for them all in poverty and racism. During the post civil rights movement situation era in the US, black youths only exercised a limited control over their lives within the cultural realm. Realizing how radical they could be to challenge the total power structure ideologically, youths of all backgrounds and nations felt they could work to dismantle the possessive investment in whiteness and shared this philosophy of moving beyond difference in the case for social justice which had truly begun 500 years prior to the civil rights movement. Thus, hip hop represented an arena for cross-racial alliances to be formed, as white men were the number one purchasers of hip hop songs. DJ Kool Herc asserted that he thought, “Hip hop bridged the culture gap. It brings white kids together with Black kids, brown kids with yellow kids. They all have something in common that they love. It gets past the stereotypes and people hating each other because of these stereotypes” (Chang xi).
Bracey, Allan. Savior or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, Booker T. Washington to Condoleeza Rice. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008. Print.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “Souls of Black Folk.” 1903. Web 10 Feb. 2015 http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/dubois/ch03.html
Kelley, Robin D. G. To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
Shapiro, Thomas M. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Wise, Tim J. Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama. San Francisco: City Lights, 2009. Print.
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