To what extent, and how, does the "double consciousness" of the passing figure either "tear the passing figure asunder" or help to suggest viable solutions to the problems in America?

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bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Double consciousness is the sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others." This dual identity of being "Negro" and American doesn't allow blacks to have another source upon which to base their identity. This results in a "veil" between the black man's world and the white world that establishes blacks as both American citizens and American victims. Blacks brought their slave status with them into American society, and the double identity of being both "free" and "unequal". To achieve freedom, progress for blacks should include economic success, education, the right to vote, and recognition of their spirituality, but never were all of these issues addressed at the same time. This "veil" taught blacks in rural communities to accept that what they have is good enough, resulting in the world asking little of them, and the blacks giving little to the world. Urban blacks can attain material wealth, but they must turn their backs on their spirituality that distinguishes them as black people.
Overall, I believe DuBois believes that double consciousness does not offer any solutions for blacks, but by recognizing its existence and getting rid of it, only then can we come up with solutions. When blacks achieving self-respect and respect in their own communities becomes the same as achieving them in white society, only then can real progress be measured.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dubois characterizes the “veil” as a “gift” that provides the American Negro with a “double consciousness,” which results in a “twoness” of “unreconciled strivings” and “warring ideals” between a black identity on the one hand and the dominant white, European culture on the other. It is important that, although he describes the double consciousness as a kind of alienation, he first characterizes it as a "gift." While assimilation or separatism might solve the alienation that such duality breeds (and these were the alternatives presented by other black intellectuals, both in Dubois’s time and later), Dubois refuses the either /or nature of these options by suggesting the double consciousness, if embraced, can increase the insight—the ability of the Negro to know—both himself and the larger culture in which he lives. This is why he calls it a "gift." His argument, then, is neither to surrender his black self in favor of the white culture nor to refuse the white culture to preserve his black self; instead, DuBois argues that the Negro should engage in the struggle to the lift the veil that creates the duality to begin with—to erase the contradiction by acknowledging both identities. In this way, the “double consciousness” results not in alienation but in an expanded way of knowing the world, which can in turn transform the problem of the color line.

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The Souls of Black Folk

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