Gonzales 1 Gonzales, Analysa M Professor Ernest Tsacalis English 1301 7 July 2010 The Double Consciousness

³There are forces which, by segregating the American Negro socially, economically, and culturally, make him long for some avenue of escape from the stifling atmosphere he is compelled to breathe.´ - Charles I. Glicksberg The truth in this statement is difficult to deny, if not impossible. The evidence of its validity lies throughout our vast country¶s history of involuntary servitude, violence, and abuse. Perhaps the only phrase or statement to be made that has contained in it more fervor than even Glicksberg¶s, is that of W. E. B. DuBois when he coined the phrase double consciousness. The sheer power evoked by such a seemingly simple term is both wondrous and extremely thought provoking. Understanding exactly what DuBois was referring to, however, proves a challenge all its own as it requires the understanding of the history that derived it. Identifying with the true horrors of which so many African Americans experienced ±even in the century after their emancipation in 1863- can prove to be a difficult task for those who have never experienced the kind of adversity that plagued society throughout the duration of the early twentieth century (as well as those preceding it). Running its course like a pestilent disease, society¶s unwillingness to change lead to the tragic and rather long segment of history that America is least proud of. Even sadder is that today, many of the symptoms of those turbulent times are often overlooked, and

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consequently deter many from obtaining a true comprehension and appreciation of those ingenious minds such as W.E. DuBois and Ralph Ellison. Today, it is no wonder why Ellison¶s Invisible Man received the honors it did after its 1952 publication. The first chapter alone retains a remarkable and unyielding strength about it in the way it captivates the true meaning of the double consciousness concept while addressing the real social problem that plagued society. In order to fully grasp the concept presented within Ellison¶s work, one must trace the steps back in history from which the African American male derived this sense of two-ness that made him neither African nor American; but rather, a being caught in between two conflicting worlds -or as Stonequist phrased it, a man ³placed simultaneously between two looking-glasses, each presenting a different image,´ (7). One should begin in the early 1900¶s, when data published by Morris Viteles suggested that children of the Negro populace were largely a year or more behind others their own age in terms of education. Consequently, the stereotyping of black people as unintelligent might as well have been an established fact during the time period, considering that the idea of an ³intelligent negro´ was virtually nonexistent. In addition, debate on the issuances of civil rights, was heated as ever after the war in which so many had fought valiantly for freedom (which arguably, was never truly achieved). While the Emancipation Proclamation declared their release from involuntary servitude, it expressed nothing of those God-given rights that the white community so thoroughly enjoyed. With this realization, the majority of African Americans -regardless of their levels of education- agreed that the direction in which the country was headed was one of continuous strife for the black community. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why the rise of Booker T. Washington created such a stir among American society. As DuBois pointed out in his criticism of Washington¶s Atlanta Exposition Address, ³it startled the nation to hear a Negro advocating such a programe,´ (par 4) ±a program

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that had been the source of the deep and chaotic debate. The white populace, of course, loved the man and his idea that so fittingly matched their own. So long as he complied with the white population, he was seen as the intellectual of the black community. The response, however, wasn¶t one that would be shared unanimously among both blacks and whites. Contrary to what numerous text books claim, Booker T. Washington¶s Atlanta Exposition of 1895 did not generate the wonderful and completely positive response many have been taught to believe. Yes, the white community adored him, but in no way did the black community champion him. As DuBois said in his criticism, Washington¶s speech did little to advance the black community in the rigid caste that was American society; it instead stunted their growth and arguably took them ten steps back. The problem, then, ultimately resided in the three things Washington was willing to give up, the three things that the black community had suffered so much for in order to gain: political power, insistence on civil rights, and higher education for their youth. His suggestions evidently backfired on the black community as it disenfranchised them and legally made them inferior to the white race. Those who refused to support or accept him as their spokesman argued that he was a leader through lack of selection by the white supremacists. Having advocated equal rights preceding the Exposition, it angered his fellow African Americans that he was taking such a passive stance and accepting that they were a lower race. It¶s no mere coincidence, then, that Ellison framed the narrator¶s grandfather as a meek and ³traitorous´ character to his own people; and it is from this realization that one of Ellison¶s intentions in writing his novel becomes extremely clear: to express why a passive philosophy would not work. Due to the ambiguity of his grandfather¶s story, it isn¶t immediately obvious whether the allusion to Booker T. Washington is intentional since the reader does not yet understand what exactly makes one a ³traitor to their race.´ However, by the time the narrator is giving his speech right after the Battle

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Royale, it becomes strikingly and painstakingly obvious that the narrator, who is so often likened to his grandfather, serves as a role-playing example of what happens when Washington¶s philosophy of idealism ±rather than one of realism- is adopted and applied. To say the least, it is highly important that one seriously consider if Washington was even conscious of the fact that by taking such a stance, he was affirming the concept of White Supremacy. Ellison undoubtedly raises this question within his story at the end of the chapter when the white men present the narrator with a briefcase. It would seem that the narrator ±even when his grandfather hints at it in his dream- remains blind to the fact that the men are simply amusing themselves when they present him with the gift. ³Keep the Nigger-Boy Running,´ (1511) the letter says in his dream; yet the narrator doesn¶t seem to fully comprehend what his grandfather is so desperately trying to communicate to him. Perhaps it is right to assume that ignorance is bliss; sadly, the boy doesn¶t even realize that his good deeds have amounted to nothing more than a reminder from the white men: that they still maintain complete control over his life. And as if to symbolize Washington¶s naivety, Ellison used the briefcase to symbolize a type of Pandora¶s Box, which Washington opened during his address. The monster unleashed was one which would haunt the black community for generations to come; and it didn¶t merely come in the form of lost rights. While what little respect they received from the white community was now lost, their own self-respect, most importantly, was now diminishing as superiority became reality. Truly, the briefcase in the story might as well have held a dog leash; a reminder to the black community of the severe limitations that resulted from passivity. Regardless of whether naivety or narrow-mindedness served to be the culprit, however, metaphorical blindness seemed the inevitable result. It was DuBois who described this blindness as the ³singleness of vision,´ the inability to see beyond the masks and guises of the so called

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good intentions that laid the foundation for so much of the discrimination. Such ignorance essentially stemmed from the belief that playing the role of the good slave would eventually win one the respect and praise of the white community. The drawback in this, as DuBois pointed out, was that by being solely passive in one¶s rhetoric, those on the opposing side of the debate would never take one seriously. On the other hand, however, Washington¶s approach may only be criticized to the extent by which he was not aggressive in his rhetoric. Frankly, it would be inhumane to suggest that Washington was, in any way, a coward for not stating the need for social equality. At the time, blood was still boiling in the advent of Reconstruction and tensions were high. To put it into perspective, if Ellison¶s narrator received the fearsome response he did in 1928, one can only imagine how terrible the response may have been 33 years earlier if Washington had made such demands. Ultimately, Washington did made a necessary contribution and that should never be forgotten ±but in light of the events that transpired thereafter, his lighttreading and passive philosophy seemed to have proven ineffective just as the narrator¶s grandfather recognized in his similar nature. It is at that time, when he lays upon his deathbed, when the grandfather speaks his last words. Out of the interest to protect his family and all future generations to follow, he advises his son to carefully maintain two distinct identities: one who shall inhibit his behavior and remain obedient to the white man ±his former master; and one who shall ±with every strain of his beingdetest and resent the other false half. Essentially, the grandfather viewed this as the ultimate method in which one could retain their own self-respect while maintaining unity among those like him. This idea was a direct interpretation of DuBois¶ double consciousness philosophy. At the time, those like DuBois, who criticized Washington, were equally criticized for being narrow minded or short sighted. It was easy for a Negro to disagree, they argued; after all, it was their

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people who were affected. Regardless, however, of whether his intentions were to enlighten or to disprove, DuBois retaliated by stating that the black man was anything but blind. He argued, rather, that the Negro was stuck between two very distinct worlds. He was stuck between ³Africa, once lost, and yet to be recovered; and America, an ideal, yet to become home,´ (Gomez, 44). He was stuck between choices of equal negative consequence: tradition or conformity, culture or obedience; and he was imprisoned by the fact that he was limited to only being half a man regardless of his choice, limited to always seeing themselves ³through the eyes of a world that looked in amused contempt and pity,´ (DuBois, 1). The solution, then, could only be found in maintaining this double identity and using it to one¶s advantage. The narrator in the story, for example, lacked that true sight as a boy. He viewed Booker T. Washington as his hero and whole heartedly believed in his philosophy: that if he conceded to the wishes of the white man and continued to bend to their will, he would eventually obtain their respect. It was made evident though, by the haunting memory of his grandfather, that the harsh lesson the boy would eventually come to learn is that viewing the world through others¶ eyes could only deepen the wounds he and his people had previously suffered. Continuing to live on in a world of fantasy or idealism could no longer suffice without one losing his last chance of salvaging his own selfrespect. The effectiveness of DuBois¶ more realistic philosophy and more aggressive rhetorical means evidently proved great in its inspiration to key figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. who would eventually lead their people to justice and the Promised Land they had sought for so many centuries. These leaders, among all others in history, all had one distinct characteristic in common: their unyielding faith to their cause that shone through their refusal to sit and wait. Rather than taking the passive stance and waiting for society to change on its own,

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they stood up for what they believed in and refused to back down. That isn¶t to say that Booker T. Washington was unsuccessful by his own means. Though his methods differed greatly from those of DuBois, their intended destinations remained one in the same; and ultimately, it was Washington who took the first step forward ±often the most difficult step of all. It is important to remember that just as it took the birth of an entirely new nation to establish the right to religious diversity; it also took a long and tragic war to free the enslaved from their menacing shackle and, still, longer to heal the scars of their turbulent pasts. Ultimately, it is within these scars ±no matter how shocking or shameful they may be- that lies the key to comprehending the words of those whose light shone the way for the rest of us.

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Works Cited Dodson, Dan W. "Toward Integration." Journal of Educational Sociology 28.2 (1954): 49-58. JSTOR. Web. 4 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2263820>. DuBois, W.E. B. "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others." Print. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago, 1903. 1-8. DuBois, W.E. B. "Of Our Spiritual Strivings." Print. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago, 1903. Ellison, Ralph. "An American Dilemma: A Review." Rev. of An American Dilemma, by Gunnar Myrdal.1944: 1-10. Print. Ellison, Ralph. "Invisible Man: Chapter I." An Introduction to Literature. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, William E. Burto, William E. Cain, and Morton Berman. 14th ed. New York: PearsonLongman, 2006. 1531-541. Web. Glicksberg, Charles I. "Negro Americans and the African Dream." Phylon (1940-1956) 8.4 (1947): 323-33. JSTOR. Web. 7 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/271742>. Gomez, Michael A. "Of Du Bois and Diaspora: The Challenge of African American Studies." Journal of Black Studies 35.2 (2004): 175-94. JSTOR. Web. 4 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4129300>. Jefferson, Ruth B. "Some Obstacles to Racial Integration." The Journal of Negro Education 26.2 (1957): 145-54. JSTOR. Web. 4 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2293340>. Stonequist, Everett V. "The Problem of the Marginal Man." The American Journal of Sociology 41.1 (1935): 1-12. JSTOR. Web. 5 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2768176>.

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Taylor, A. A. "Accepting the Situation." The Journal of Negro History 11.2 (1926): 310-26. JSTOR. Web. 6 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2714176>. Viteles, Morris S. "The Mental Status of the Negro." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 140 (1928): 166-77. JSTOR. Web. 4 July 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1016845>. Washington, Booker T. ³1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech.´ Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. Atlanta, Georgia. 18 September 1895. Speech.

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