This beautiful book, written in 1903, is about race and America. It is a collection of essays; some history, some critique, some stories, some journals. They are gathered together to form a comprehensive picture of life for the African American at the turn of the 20th century. It’s author, W.E.B. De Bois was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor.
Reading this book shook me and, more than once, left me speechless. However, this book is not a shocking book, full of the horrors of racism and America’s dark past. What shook me was the shear strength of character, integrity and humanity of De Bois. His prose is elegant, his observations keen and balanced, his conclusions measured, his stance humble. However, he is not passive, not content with the status quo and not very interested with sacrificial compromise.
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 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 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 of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.
Du Bois has much and more to say about race in America over 100 years later. Similar to Between the world and me, it builds an unshakable picture of life for people of color in the United States. DuBois describes the internal mindset and self image that has developed in a culture with the baggage America has with race. This clearer understanding forced me to wrestle with my own self image and and acknowledge the role being white plays in my understanding of the world. That is why I find this book so important. Genuine opportunities for personal insight as a result of the lived perspective of another person are a gift. I am extremely thankful for the gift that I found in this book.