“How does it feel to be a problem?”

This cuts deep. Succinctly articulates the sentiment of the former American slave in post-Civil War and emancipatory laments. A problem, but a problem for whom? The former masters/mistresses, the historically omnipresent dominion of the White man.

Du Bois posits the “problem of the colorline” as a problem of the freed slaves as being defined by the whites, a problem for BOTH parties, a problem of mutual, and arguably unforeseeable obstacles, and a problem of inconvenience. Perhaps due to the repercussions of the late 19th century emancipation of slaves, the issue is the assimilation process on both ends: black and white. The co-habitation that has been without precedence and mistakenly overlooked, an abrupt change in the social structure with impunity? The problem may be how “unequipped” society has been/will be to handle this change with rationale. The transition proves not to have been seamless.

The “colorline” is the socially demarcated one that obstinately continues to reinforce a segregation between human beings on the basis of skin color, underlined by tradition. One’s emotional life is historical due to the connotations of such a tumultuous journey from being freed from the chains of slavery and duped into the participating in an illusory system of equal opportunity. “The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all”:  the system Du Bois observes to have been built in such a way that is favorable to white people and rigged against blacks. Set up for failure.

Identity is not yours to conclude. “The veil”/”double consciousness.” A dual perception of self simultaneously existing within one entity. Du Bois delineates this state as that of man and African American. Also, two worlds: white world/white privilege vs. the disenfranchised/condescended. He had observed other black boys: growing bitter with all things white. Growing subservient. Playing into a self-fulfilling prophecy of wastefulness, internalizing the perceived ignorance and social inferiority of blacks.

His brethren have grown to be disillusioned, mistaking a latent form of slavery for freedom. They have not been allowed to utilize their full potential, merely exploited and mistakenly deeming THAT as their only potential, and perhaps consequently “to make them ashamed of themselves”.

Instead of vying for one consciousness over the other, Du Bois does not urge for either self to be subsumed by the other, but a future where both selves can be allowed to coexist.

This is not an ephemeral state of consciousness, limited to the context in which Du Bois was writing in and referring to, the concept of “double consciousness” and “the veil” is one that has not lost its potency over time. This resonates today with minorities and the treatment of “cultural/racial/ethnic alterity”. The hegemonic white-ness of our society is ever at play, compounded with the patriarchal exercise of politics, leaving me with a triple consciousness: Arab. American. Woman.

Advertisements