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by John H. McWhorter
In The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, W.
E. B. DuBois famously described blackAmericans as possessing what he calleda double consciousness, caught betweea self-conception as an American and as a
留学生论文网person of African descent. As DuBois puit, “The Negro ever feels his two-ness—an
American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts,two unreconciled strivings . . . two warringideals in one dark body, whose doggedstrength alone keeps it from being tornasunder.”
As they so often do, DuBois’s teachingsapply as well to black Americans over a
century later. In that vein, the double consciousnesshe referred to is often claimedto describe modern black Americans, butwith an implication that this is becauseof whites’ resistance to blacks’ true inclusionin the American fabric.
But analysts who make such claims resistacknowledging that race relations in Americahave undergone seismic changes since1903. DuBois’s conception remains relevant,but only in a reflex evolved from theone that he described.Black America today is permeated by anew double consciousness. A tacit sensereigns among a great many black Americansoday that the “authentic” black personstresses personal initiative and strengthin private but dutifully takes on the mantleof victimhood in public.
For many people, the private orientationtoward personal empowerment will
sound unfamiliar—naturally, because mostof us experience black discourse only from
the outside and hear a discourse in whichvictimhood is enshrined at all costs. Thus
in the last presidential election, all but asliver of blacks voted for the presidentialcandidate committed to treating blacksas victims. When Harvard’spresident,
Lawrence Summers, asked Cornel Westwhy he had not written an academic book
in 10 years, West called him “the ArielSharon of higher education” and left the
school for Princeton, claiming that the Harvardestablishment was afraid that “the
Negroes are taking over.” When MichaelJackson’s fading popularity depresses sales
of his new recordings, he calls his producer
racist. And so on.
But that is only one part of the true story
about black Americans in our moment.
Many of these high-profile events are really
more a kind of theatre than anything
else.PolicyReport March/April 2003 Vol. XXV No. 2In This Issue
John H. McWhorter is an associate professorof linguistics at the University of California,Berkeley, a senior fellow at the ManhattanInstitute, and the author of severalbooks, including Authentically Black: Essaysfor the Black Silent Majority and The Powerof Babel: A Natural History of Language.He delivered these remarks at a

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