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’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. W.E.B. DuBois—The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
I believe we are all born with some sense of the double consciousness, a second sight. Most people don’t experience it as acutely as DuBois describes in the quote above. Through my experiences in Bosnia I am struggling to understand what it means to be of the war and apart from the war. I believe if we choose to embrace it, the double consciousness becomes a gift. It is how we see the world, and thus, what affects our behavior. As we see DuBois goes on to reflect that,
(h)e would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both Negro and an American…” (DuBois, 1994, p 5).
This example, a reciprocal relationship, is how we constantly evolve and change. I used to think the goal of all humanity was to eradicate this binary system to become a uniconsciouness world, but have come to realize we should all be required to embrace the binary. It is going to be there whether we like it or not; it’s written into our DNA. We cannot escape it. The reality is, the binary loses its negative power if we embrace it, celebrate it. If we all expose our “two-ness” a liberation occurs that holds a great sense of power. Normalize the experience and it even might challenge us all to take on other consciousness’s to become multi-conscious, a value for which we all are made. A tape measuring one’s soul. This kind of awareness speaks to a system of values, how our world and our societies shape and form us.
I met a Bosnian woman recently who survived the genocide, the remainder of her family did not. I was able to have lunch with her about a week ago and it blew me away. I spent a great deal of time trying to appreciate who she is, the integral role she plays in sharing the story of genocide while also not letting the losses she experienced in the war be the totality of who she is. I wanted to fully embrace and value her double consciousness. It was very difficult because my Bosnian is nonexistent but through Hasan I was able to learn that she loves to garden, cook and sew. After lunch we walked around looking at scarfs and picked out a beautiful one for her to wear when she goes to London. She seems to like soft pink colors. They looked beautiful against her skin and she found one made of silk that will look very nice. I wanted to make sure those things about her were as integral to who she is as are the horrible tragedies she’s experienced.
People who have a profound sense of twoness, who live with unreconciled strivings and two warring ideals posses a unique appreciate for the realities of the world. Being forced by society to recognize otherness lays the groundwork for redemption. It is because of people like the woman I mentioned above that I strive for my own double consciousness, my second sight. By being of the war and apart from the war she teaches the world about truth, grace, compassion, perseverance, integrity and social justice.
It seems like people in Bosnia often feel forced to choose, to be of the war or apart from the war, that they must find a uniconsciousness. The uniconsciouness that many are striving for radically impacts individual and societal issues. Trying to destroy the binary system wastes time and energy of people who could be doing good work. Most often people cannot help but try and make a uniconsciouness because that is what is perceived to be politically correct and a more simple way to exist, one doesn’t have to live in the tension. To get the Negro to feel fully American and fully Negro all in one package some believe to be the answer, but as DuBois points out, one can never be fully both at the same time. Here, in this country, to require a Bosnian to become either fully of the war or fully apart from the war diminishes the reality of both. Neither option sufficiently honors the horrors that exist nor does it honor the aspects that exist apart from the war like a beautiful soft silk scarf.