Social Justice Usage
An internal conflict when a member of an ethnic minority group feels caught between their membership in the dominant culture and their membership in their ethnic group.
Source: W. E. B. Du Bois, “Strivings of the Negro People,” 1897.
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. 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. One feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does not wish to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes—foolishly, perhaps, but fervently—that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. 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 losing the opportunity of self-development.
New Discourses Commentary
Perhaps confusingly, this term seems to have two meanings at once in Critical Social Justice, but they are related rather closely as can be read in the example from W. E. B. Du Bois, above. The first of these meanings is described in the straightforward example given first, and the second (and interlink between them) can be read in the second example: that being in a state of oppression gives the capacity to know about two cultures at once: the dominant culture and the oppressed culture, including the experience of oppression itself.
Underlying the concept in Theory is an assumption that there is an authentic way (and inauthentic ways) to be a member of a particular demographic group (e.g., race). (See also, essentialism and strategic essentialism.) This term insists that, say, black people know that they should be true to being black, by which is meant adopting “black” cultural norms and the proper understanding of black oppression (see also, blackness), but they feel a pressure from society, education, workplaces, etc., to adopt “white” cultural norms (as those are theorized as dominant—see also, acting white and cultural racism). That is interpreted as a demand for them to act inauthentically (or cynically)—which is interpreted as a form of racial oppression, discrimination, and/or disenfranchisement—and, moreover, to adopt the alleged dominance of whiteness for themselves (see also, white supremacy, internalized oppression, and internalized racism).
Of note, this concept is the result of an identity-first approach to race issues (famously: claiming “I am Black” as opposed to “I am a person who happens to be Black,” per Kimberlé Crenshaw and bell hooks, inter alia). It also proceeds from a reification of social constructions of race, ultimately taken up as a form of strategic essentialism (Gayatri Spivak, following Jacques Derrida’s theorizing), putatively in order to reduce racism. This renders it postmodern in orientation as well. (Critical race Theory and intersectionality, both projects of Crenshaw, represent a fusion between postmodern Theory and identity politics.) We have every reason to believe this approach gets the approach exactly backwards and places people in this alleged conflict rather than offering them a resolution from it.
As noted above by Du Bois, and profoundly Theorized since (see kaleidoscopic consciousness), this “double consciousness” is believed to give members of minoritized groups (and oppressed people more generally) unique insight into the nature of society, the “revelation of the other world.” This is an invitation to standpoint epistemology, which roughly insists that one’s social position with respect to systemic power in society lends unique and specific insights to the marginalized and oppressed that are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain from a position of privilege, dominance, or power (see also, epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, white ignorance, white innocence, and internalized dominance).
Acting white; Authentic; Blackness; Critical race Theory; Cultural racism; Derridean; Dominance; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Essentalism; Identity; Identity-first; Internalized dominance; Internalized oppression; Internalized racism; Intersectionality; Kaleidoscopic consciousness; Knowledge(s); Lived experience; Marginalization; Minoritize; Oppression; Postmodern; Race; Racism (systemic); Social construction; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Strategic essentialism; Theory; White; White ignorance; White innocence; Whiteness
Revision date: 7/13/20