Genealogical Shifts in Du Bois’s Discourse on Double Consciousness as the Sign of African American Difference
How valid and viable today is W. E. B. Du Bois’s nineteenth-century discourse on double consciousness as the sign of African American racial and cultural difference? Had Du Bois “considered the issue of gender,” states historian Darlene Clark Hines, “instead of writing, ‘One ever feels his twoness,’ he would have mused about how one ever feels her ‘fiveness’: Negro, American, woman, poor, black woman.”1 Prominent white feminists like Catherine MacKinnon and black feminists like bell hooks contend that patriarchy is the central problem in the social construction of contemporary human identities. Clearly, inquiries into processes of subject construction and the politics of differences, as critic Joan W. Scott reminds us, should examine “the relation ships between discourse, cognition, and reality, the relevance of the position or situatedness of subjects to the knowledge they produce and the effects of difference on knowledge.”2 Although race, ethnicity, gender, and class are
interrelated major forces in the construction of human subjects, history has vindicated Du Bois’s prediction that the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. Contemporary global ethnic conflicts also suggest that the correlative problem or sign of double consciousness will be central to identity formations in the twenty-first century.