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 true 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.
– W.E.B. DuBois in “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from The Souls of Black Folk
When I was a student in college, I remember taking a class on the Harlem Renaissance where I read from an anthology of works from Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and many others. One of the writers that I remember the most was W.E.B. DuBois. My professor classified him as the first black academician in the United States at that time, gaining the first Ph.D. from Harvard University. Something struck in me about his history and ideology.
As a natural intellectual, DuBois challenged young people to raise above their circumstance to achieve greatness. While the debate between Booker T. Washington and himself was challenging (because both sides are very valuable points), I remember feeling empowered to answer that call. I knew I wanted to be MORE than my skin color, age, and gender. Whatever my career would be, I wanted to be the best – not the best BLACK FEMALE professional, but the BEST professional!
Sometimes in class, I have to catch myself when selecting supplementary materials for my class. I tend to be unconsciously drawn to traditional black film (you probably can tell from my new pictures on my blog’s homepage) and literature. But to be the BEST, I need to diversify (and ultimately challenge) my selections, reflecting the multicultural fabric that is the American experience. In other words, there are many other people besides white and black, right?
However, the concept of assimilation into a dominant culture is not new; it is an experience that is shared by people of many different genders, sexual orientations, cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities. So how can I as an instructor tap into this issue without being superficial in my exploration through literature? Embrace the diversity!
Literature by nature is based on personal experience and who would say that this experience is uniform?! No way! Just as we all have different connotations what love is, we have equally varied interpretations of literature and storytelling.
So I will embrace “double consciousness” and expand it to reach every student in each of my classes. Let’s see how this works!