Analysis of W.E.B. Du Bois' "Double Consciousness and the Veil"
Continuous Struggles and Inner Turmoil in Minorities
In “Double Consciousness and the Veil”, by W.E.B. Du Bois, the author explores the struggle for freedom and the path to prejudice that African Americans have taken in the United States up until 1903. He acknowledges that while progress has been made, society is still far from the equality he hopes to experience. Furthermore, Du Bois attempts to explain the inner struggle felt by African Americans attempting to fit into a Caucasian-dominated culture. I believe that Du Bois’ work, although it is about African Americans, could apply to any minority or discriminated-against group, specifically women.
Du Bois claims that although slavery is over, African Americans are still not full and equal citizens. African Americans are constantly faced with struggles to overcome and ideals to achieve: “The bright ideals of the past, – physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,– all these in turn have waxed and waned” (Du Bois 182). As each problem is resolved, a new one presents itself; for example, as soon as slavery was over, African Americans fought for the right to vote. Once they acquired voting rights and their situation did not change significantly, they felt the need to become as educated as possible. While each achievement brings them closer to their goal, it does not fully solve the problem of inequality. Du Bois believes it will be a continual battle until African Americans succeed on every level: “All these ideals must be melted and welded into one” (Du Bois 182). When African Americans are equally competent in every field as Caucasians, then they will be truly equal.
Although equality is the goal, Du Bois describes an inner turmoil felt among African Americans that causes them to be hesitant when attempting to attain the status equal to that of a Caucasian man. He claims that there is an identity struggle between the need to hold on to one’s African heritage and the wish to be considered a full American: “One ever feels his twoness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” (Du Bois 179). Rather than attempting to hold two conflicting identities at once, Du Bois hopes that one day, the African American and American labels can coexist peacefully: “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” (Du Bois 179). According to Du Bois, this would be the mark of true equality.
In addition to African Americans, there are many minorities today against who are discriminated. These include groups such as gays, non-Christians, the elderly, and women. Even though women are not technically a minority, they are not given the same opportunities as men and have to face many unnecessary hardships brought on by society. For example, the media negatively influences women by causing them to strive for an unrealistic, and oftentimes unhealthy, body image so that they will be “more valuable” to men. Not only does this strain the physical and emotional health of women, but it also materializes them and takes away part of their human dignity. This can cause women to have poor self esteem as they try fruitlessly to keep up with society’s standards. Du Bois’ theory of double-consciousness and inner turmoil in African Americans can be applied to women in this situation: “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” (Du Bois 179). Even though there is no quick fix to this discrimination and second-class treatment, we must attempt to slowly change society over time in order to create an accepting, friendly environment where all citizens feel equal and comfortable.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “Double Consciousness and the Veil.” The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam, 1989.