“Double Consciousness” was first defined by W.E.B. Dubois in his book, The Souls of Black Folks. In short, the term centers around the notion that Black Americans have to toggle between the two words that define them; “Black” and “American”.
Back in 1903 when the book was published, everything associated with the black race had a stigma of being second-rate, immoral, foul, stupid, silly, fruit-less, etc. And for a people who have just been set “free” into a society that wasn’t ready for them, it was difficult for black people to adapt/fit-in to the American standard, yet maintain their identity as Black.
Some, maybe most, would say that we’re still fighting that stigma today in some fields.
This post may seem to be about defining our positive/negative stereotypes or to address the status of the African-American in our society, but don’t be fooled — it’s not.
This post is meant to stimulate thought on the “etiquette of being Black” that African-Americans have set for ourselves. As if it wasn’t good enough to just pursue being good in the first place, being born into the Black race comes with a list of unofficial laws, expectations, taboos, etc. Yes, I imagine every culture has this concern, but I’m not certified to write on those –but I do welcome insight.
You probably sense a slight tone of resentment from me on this subject. Well, that’s because I’ve been call out for not meeting the Black standard of being Black. And for most of my adolescence, I’ve struggled to titer on the spectrum of blackness that resides between the two extremes of being labeled an “oreo” or a “coon”.
This post won’t do this topic justice or give you a checklist of what to evaluate in every racially-based awkward situation, but I do hope to simulate thought & discussion on the matter.
The following situations/scenarios are just a few situation that I’ve discussed with the Threaders & others throughout my life on how conscious us blacks should allow ourselves to be about our “blackness” in certain social situations.
- Have you ever been on the dance floor when a hip-hop/rap song comes on, then everyone looks at you and expects you to dance? Anyone ever ask you to teach them how to dance?
- Have you ever returned a company vehicle and changed the radio station before you got out car?
- Have you ever been picked first for a pick-up game of basketball?
- When asked by a groups of friend where you’d like to eat, do you avoid mentioning a chicken serving establishment?
- Have you ever been asked why you didn’t go to an Historically Black College University for your education?
- Have you ever been too intimidated to join a group or organization because you didn’t feel Black enough?
- Have you ever been put on the spot with a question you didn’t know the answer to during the month of February?
- Have you been told you ‘talk’ white?
- Have you ever cowered from disagreeing with a decision made by Obama amongst others?
- We all enjoy chicken, but how enthusiastic should you really be about chicken?
Sure, each situation has its own context.
For the questions I’ve proposed above, I don’t want to take the risk of telling you what the right thing is to do, if there is one. ‘To eat or not eat watermelon in front of your peers’, personally seems like a senseless question to ask yourself.
I will acknowledge that there is a limit to which certain activities can be done before one ends up embarrassing themselves. Too much of a “good” anything can be a bad thing, right?… And anything can be exploited.
I’ll also try to empathize those particular situations when folks expect you to do something simply because you’re black, and perhaps try to exploit [Is there a more innocent word for ‘exploit’?] your culture for their own entertainment. (Also see Definition of a “Sambo”)
“You – shake your junk!”
For the most part, I think most of us [as adults] are secure enough with ourselves to not allow double consciousness to greatly affect our self-esteem or every single action that we do. However, double consciousness can greatly affect how we judge others –which in turn can affect one’s view of themselves.
It’s a difficult line to draw. And most of the time I don’t think its worth even drawing a line. The debate itself just ends up being more shameful than the act.
There definitely are characteristics within the black culture that we may tend to embellish or indulge in that isn’t good for the image or progression as a people. And I suppose that only WE have the power to improve that. The ability to call out any culture on its “true faults” is an art in itself, and probably too big a task for anyone short of MLK Jr. to accomplish.
We shouldn’t give others[including our own] the power to mock and patronize the traits that shouldn’t be in the equation of our character.
Happy MLK Day, Everybody!