“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” ~ James 1.8, KJV
“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 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.”
Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, a harbinger of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism, a leader in the Niagara Movement, which would later merge with European American liberals to become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the first and most prominent editor of the Crisis magazine and author of The Souls of Black Folk, a sample of the chapter “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” is provided above and describes the life of the “American Negro” as “double- consciousness.”
American Negro. The identity is partly rooted in the earth. It seems that in our dividing up the land, we have also divided up our self into multiple and conflicting selves. America is a country and Negro, etymologically derived from the Latin word niger means black. Black is a color and is used to describe persons of African descent based on the “color” of their skin. One is based on place while the other is constructed on appearance; one is quite literally rooted in soil and the other founded upon skin. One designates citizenship while the other reminds persons of the need to civilize (the African heathen, to bring light to the “Dark Continent”). American is up (highly esteemed and praised) and the Negro is (to be kept) down. American is in (side) and the Negro is out (side). American is the center (of attention) and the Negro is marginalized. So, of course, there is conflict as to how to merge the two.
While the reality may be true, the definition of double- consciousness is problematic for me for several reasons. Primarily, one’s perception of self is based on the “eyes of others.” Self- understanding and subsequent, self- worth should never be acquired through someone else. Secondly, the measuring of the soul is done by an unjust party that is entertained by its hatred of the socially defined Negro or black person. And the soul is not something to be measured, which leads me to my third and final point. The identity is solely natural and does not take into account the spiritual nature, identity and purpose of the believer who is African American.
Double- consciousness produces instability, uncertainty and insecurity. James writes that one who is double- minded is “unstable in all (their) ways.” Being an American Negro, a Black American or even an African American for that matter still leaves persons who identify as such unstable. This sense of two-ness produces a vague social existence and a self- perpetuating sense of doubt that causes one to live hesitantly. But, we, as believers, have an identity rooted in the very “Ground of Being.” It is a solid foundation upon which to build our lives and purposes. We can be one in Christ Jesus as there is neither “Jew nor Greek” but “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28).
Du Bois concluded his point about double- consciousness by saying:
“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 would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul 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. This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius.”
Du Bois died in a self- imposed exile in Accra, Ghana on August 27, 1963 as “a co-worker in the kingdom of culture.” Having used his best powers and genius, he was still uable to reconcile the two.