Double Consciousness is a term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. As a theoretical tool, “double consciousness” reveals the psycho-social divisions in American society and allows for a full understanding of those divisions. Du Bois’ focus on the specificity of black experience allows for challenging injustice in national and world systems.
The term was first used in an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People” in 1897. It was later republished with minor edits under the title “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “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 ever 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 o9f 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 wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has 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 having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (2-3).
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Publications.