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Double Consciousness & Du Bois: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:02 What Is Double Consciousness?
  • 1:30 Examples
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chevette Alston

Dr. Alston has taught intro psychology, child psychology, and developmental psychology at 2-year and 4-year schools.

This lesson describes W.E.B. Du Bois' concept of 'double consciousness.' A definition of the concept is provided and explained. There is also an example given in terms of our modern society.

What Is Double Consciousness?

Double consciousness describes the feeling that you have more than one social identity, which makes it difficult to develop a sense of self. It is a concept that W.E.B. Du Bois first introduced in his book, The Souls of Black Folk, which was written in 1903. Du Bois believed that African Americans lived in a society that was oppressive and devalued them as equals. At the same time, the African-American culture encouraged equality and dignity. This type of double consciousness forced the race to view themselves from the perspective of both cultures, making it difficult for them to unify their African-American subculture with their overall American identity.

Du Bois believed this was damaging to how one's identity and self-esteem formed because of the negative perceptions and treatment of Caucasians. The internalization of such anti-black sentiment from outside their subculture begins to shape their life experiences, due to stereotypes perpetuated by the mainstream culture. According to Du Bois, these prejudices encourage doubt, being self-critical, and being inhibited.

Double consciousness is still a very relevant concept in our society. Many people of all cultures would like to believe that we live in a post-racial society. However, there are still many covert inequalities and biases that are based upon race, making it difficult for African Americans to overtly resolve current issues with double consciousness.

Examples

The media promote images of African-American men as criminals, rappers, or professional athletes. As a result, other subcultures perceive African-American men in this limited capacity. Not only do others outside the race carry this perception, but young African-American males may believe these limited paths are their only options for making a better life for themselves. Within the family or culture, they may be encouraged to aspire to more than just these professions. Yet, a more powerful entity challenges this by continuing to assume the role of shaping the perceptions that minorities have of themselves, as well as how others view them.

As long as these internalized and unspoken double standards exist, double consciousness will continue to be an ego dystonic concept. Ego dystonia is similar to double consciousness because aspects of one's behavior or attitudes are inconsistent with one's fundamental beliefs and personality.

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