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.

Works Cited

Du Bois, W.E.B. “Double Consciousness and the Veil.” The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam, 1989.

Comments 4 comments

ReverieMarie profile image

ReverieMarie 2 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama Author

S Leretseh - Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I appreciate hearing the views of other people and taking pieces of them to shape my own views. If I understand correctly, it seems that you are saying that everyone would be better off if they kept to groups of similar people, instead of trying to fit in with other groups. I do understand that this would be easier, however I feel that it would have a very negative effect in the long run. I would propose that allowing all kinds of people to have the same opportunities and criteria would spur further innovation, progress, and success than could be possible by keeping people in separate groups. On this vein, I do agree with you that some minorities have minority-exclusive groups, which I believe is almost as detrimental as majority-exclusive groups. To make progress, every voice needs to be heard and all kinds must feel welcome. I do not feel that this is a politically-sided view; rather my main philosophy is that we must do what is most efficient and successful, and I think that by having everyone work together, we can reach this goal faster than we could if we all remained separated by societal standards.

S Leretseh profile image

S Leretseh 2 years ago

After the Civil War and the complete emancipation of the Black race and all the way up until 1964, Black males in America DID NOT “suffer discrimination” in a pejorative sense. What they faced was a completely normal human condition called Historical Group Recognition (HGR). In other words, throughout human history male groups created their own status environments and reserved entry into these environments for members of their own male group (males racially, linguistically and religiously similar). Blacks also practiced HGR prior to 1964. Few examples: 1) all Negro- owned business typically only employed Blacks; 2) Negro baseball only employed Blacks; 3) Pullman Porters (96% Black); 4) Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (1925 to 1964), all Black leadership.

Blacks were supposed to be a separate and a self-reliant people after the Civil War. The construct of human history dictated this reality. Instead, blacks chose compulsory integration - dependency and attachment. White Christian males, in what they believed was a great and magnificent magnanimous gesture in 1964...gave the black man his "DREAM"...his race-nullification law i.e. his compulsory integration rights into the status environments of white males - and with no QUID PRO QUO! WOW!

As for women, all of human history demonstrates that males and females within a societal structure were separate. Males had created ALL societies in human history (females procreate) . The purpose for the creation of the society - a dictate of human nature- is to create a status environment for male group who created the society. This structure maintains stability for the society.

The historical structure of a society was altered with civil rights laws ((specifically the 1964, 65 & 68 civil rights laws). All of human history tell America what constitutes a proper structure to a society...and America - thru its civil rights laws - is marching in the opposite direction.

ReverieMarie, not surprised to see you're a college student espousing these views. Straight from the Democratic Party's integration - victimization - playbook. The DEMS playbook comes from the Dept. Of Education and its literature is insisted upon for schools who want to qualify for Gov't Guaranteed Student Loans.

Blacks were NOT victims in America from 1865 to 1964 ... and neither were women (white or black). Indeed, American white females in 1960 had reached the highest standard of living ever achieved by a female "group." Their males (white Christian males) gave them his lifestyle. It is rapidly disappearing...

ReverieMarie profile image

ReverieMarie 3 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama Author

Thank you for your comment and thanks for reading! Du Bois' work was definitely interesting and brought to light many points that I may have known, but had not actively thought about.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

Good insight that the double consciousness of which Du Bois spoke applies to any group forced to see themselves through the eyes of the majority culture. I enjoyed reading your analysis. Thanks.

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