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
Chevette Alston

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

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

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.


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.

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Additional Activities

Writings Activities for Double Consciousness

Prompt 1:

Double consciousness is the feeling of belonging to two different groups, each leading to a different social identity. It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the conflicting perspectives. Do you personally experience double consciousness, in that you identify with two somewhat conflicting groups? For example, are you a person of color in a Caucasian society? Are you a gay person who was raised in and identifies with a strict religion? Think of your own life where you may experience double consciousness. Write a reflective journal entry on how this affects you. For example, does it affect your self-esteem? Do you identify with one group more than the other? Do you try to reconcile the two identities, or do you keep them separate?

Prompt 2:

Double consciousness still exists in society, even though stereotypes, prejudice, and bias are not as overtly pervasive as they once were. How do you think that we as a society could hasten the demise of double consciousness? Is it even possible to do so? For example, is this something that parents and elementary schools could address with young children, helping them to avoid seeing their social identities as conflicting? Is this something that should be taught as a mandatory college course so that young adults gain this awareness and stop perpetuating it? What, if anything, do you think can be done? Write two to three paragraphs explaining your position and providing recommendations for change.

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