Introduction: Postwar Theories of Identity
Human beings are infinite in variety, and when they are agglutinated in groups, great and small, the groups differ as though they, too, had integrating souls. But they have not. The soul is still individual if it is free. Race is a cultural, sometimes an historical fact .... I recognize it quite easily and with full legal sanction; the black man is a person who must ride "Jim Crow" in Georgia. (665-66)
A man lives today not only in his physical environment and in the social environment of ideas and customs, laws and ideals; but that total environment is subjected to a new socio-physical environment of other groups, whose social environment he shares but in part .... I was not an American; I was not a man; I was by long education and continual compulsion and daily reminder, a colored man in the white world .... All this made me limited in physical movement and provincial in thought and dream. (652-53)
Du Bois is a precursor to the writers discussed in this study, Richard Wright, Simone de Beauvoir, and James Baldwin. During the 1940s and 1950s, Wright, Beauvoir, Baldwin, and others whose status as citizens was vitiated by their identities as outsiders, adopted social constructionism to interpret the myths of identity-what Beauvoir refers to as notions of "the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character" (TSSxx; LDS 1: 12)- that shaped their lived experience.4 Although Beauvoir analyzes gender rather than race, her work shows the importance of American research on
absurd and paradoxic as it may sound, the psychic structure of woman does not consist exclusively in the "eternal feminine." It is true that femininity is her essential core, but around this core there are layers and wrappings that are equally genuine elements of the feminine soul and frequently very valuable ones .... We find that they stem from the active, sometimes masculine components that, even though always more or less present in woman, originate in the masculine part of the bisexual disposition. (1: 141-42).