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A Lil' Theory Series: Double Consciousness

Every month Melanin Voices will decode an inter-sectionally BLACK philosophy, theory or concept as part of the 'A Lil' Theory Series'. It’s gonna be dope the next time you have a Facebook argument because you’ll have enough ammo to clear an entire thread.


 "Solo that I am no rookie but feel like a kid...Lookin' at the other kids...With astonishment while I'm on punishment, watchin' the summer come close to an end." – Andre 3000

 

Understanding that:

1. Western society is saturated with anti-black racism,

2. Black people are confronted with these pervasive ideas in this society and are judged based on them, inhibiting their opportunities for upward mobility and

3. these harsh, pervasive judgments inhibit the self actualization, making it difficult to understand oneself through one's own experiences when they have to constantly reassure that they aren't some replica of these judgements

is necessary for our survival.  It's also pretty integral to understanding the concept double consciousness.

Time to debunk a myth: racism is not the elephant in the room. There are extravagant displays of white supremacy throughout American culture including: allowed pipe corrosion that's contributed to water with higher lead percentages in lower income communities, lack of emphasis on various histories and contributions of minority peoples in our curriculums, gentrification, Eurocentric beauty standards and Donald Trump. America has no real problem with listening to White Supremacy at the dinner table, even to quarrel with her for a little while, because she's the matriarch of the American family. As long as she has been alive, she has been cared for and respected because the family's name begins with her. Acting like racism is some  anachronism is not only intellectually irresponsible, it’s pointless. Racism is challenged to change, but destined, due to the general contentment of the white population, to stay. Instead, there is a polite nod to the one of newer additions to the American family – the black citizen.

The politeness is there as Black people idly watch folks maneuver around our tusks and try not to linger as they step gently over our trunks. The politeness is so thick that it's awkward reflection from your smile to ours only strengthens the line between friend and Black friend, employed and Black employee, patient and completely-the-hell-over it. It's time we just admit we know racism isn't America's closeted sin, that we know racism has a seat in the room where we find ourselves standing awkwardly in view but out of the line of vision. The sole benefit developing under the hateful gaze of this matriarch is that, like any abused person, we learn how to navigate this hate with as little evocation as possible. This kind of navigation became part of our universal heirlooms. As a result, Black people became experts on the very white disgruntlement that established our problematic space in American society and vice versa. For instance, our parents learned to soften their voices and sharpen their "-ers" when talking to your white neighbors to not increase any suspicion.

W.E.B Du Bois used the concept of double consciousness to explain black people’s general experience in America, explaining it as "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." Modern perceptions of (and experiences in) blackness have cultural and historical roots under the U.S.'s cultural and historical boot. When a Black person finds out they are black, and that blackness is a thing of scorn, of study, of fetishization, of interest, they become hyperaware of western culture's perspectives of them. Suddenly, aimless items are politicized – eating watermelon becomes too black and being too black risks one’s acceptance in American society. Being Black is wicked – the shucking and jiving, ignorant, angry, hyper-sexual, lazy, uninspiring – and is at direct odds with being the bootstrap gripping, freedom and justice loving, non vulgar America. Black people have been the elephant in the room in the room since their place in society – once ubiquitously understood and rigorously enforced – has been obscured. Since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when the government and citizens alike began the difficult process of trying to marry Black and American while accommodating their matriarch.

According to a survey called Civil Rights Data Collection, released by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year, Black students are nearly 4 times as likely as white students to be suspended. Black girls are suspended at higher rates than other girls, with being 14% of recipients of one or more out of school suspensions. In 2014, the same survey found that Black preschoolers recurve 42% of all out of school suspensions despite making up 18% of enrollment. From the beginning Black people, through some mix of operant conditioning and cultural manipulation, are othered and taught that there is something inherently wrong with them. While double consciousness was coined in the early 20th century, drawing analysis from slavery and efforts afterwards its abolition, the concept is firmly established by the parents of these children, worried that a track record of bad behavior – one of the first inhibitors of upward mobility – is being set. It makes Black parents sit their perfectly normal children down and restrict them into precautions that limit their ability to be misjudged and punished. The survival mechanism doesn't come without its cost. Black people sit by their windows and watch similar actions garner lighter, fairer punishments, some in silence and others in protest, but most within their spaces with a new summer fading away each year.