Critical Race Theory, W.E.B. DuBois, and "Double Consciousness"
This week we’re taking a look at another big tenet of Critical Race Theory—the Voice of Color Thesis. According to the Voice of Color Thesis, People of Color have a unique perspective to offer when it comes to issues of race because of their distinct histories and experiences with oppression in the United States. As stated by CRT writers Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic:
“…the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism” (Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, 10).
What are our distinct experiences as of People of Color which shape our unique perspective on issues of race? There are many, but one of them is called “double consciousness.”
W.E.B. DuBois originally coined the term “double consciousness” in 1903 to describe the common African American experience of feeling caught between two social worlds—white and black:
“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.”
(For more on W.E.B. DuBois, see: http://www.bartleby.com/114/1.html and http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/w/w_e_b_du_bois.html#7rMOCpB9TGhXImUe.99)
Although the concept of “double consciousness” was originally developed more than a century ago, it applies equally today in the case of African Americans and other ethnic minority groups in the U.S. such as Latinos. As People of Color, we live our lives between two worlds, and we shuttle between two identities. On the one hand, we live part of our lives in the majority—mostly white—culture of America.
I experience the majority white culture when I go to the local Pavilions grocery store down the street, or to Panera Bread to eat a hip Panini breakfast sandwich, or go to a chic Thai restaurant in Pasadena. I live in white culture when I go to present an academic paper at a conference of the American Historical Association and am surrounded by older white men from the East Coast wearing tweed sports coats and not-so-hip wool slacks from Macy’s. I also experience white culture in the academic context when I am treated rudely by the UCLA Faculty Center because I want to re-establish my membership after starting and stopping it several times in order to save money for my family.
As expressed by these examples, my first “consciousness” consists of my American identity and the life I live in the majority white culture of the United States. Most of the time I’m treated fine—in fact it would be relatively easy for me to “sell out” and bust a “Marco Rubio.” I could go on and live my life in relative luxury as a professor, think of only my personal professional aspirations, and forget about the vast gulf of inequality which is experienced by the majority of Latinos and African Americans in this country. But my Christian conscience would not allow me to do this.
The racism I continue to experience would not allow me to do so either.
This leads to a discussion of my second “consciousness.” Despite my two doctorates from Berkeley and UCLA, my social status as a tenured professor at UCLA and an attorney, I continue to experience racism as a regular occurrence in my life.
The extra long stare I got while leaving the park yesterday with my son in Orange County, the condescending comment I got while using the elevators at Bunche Hall at UCLA recently (see my past blog post on “micro-aggressions”: http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/critical-race-theory-and-christianity-part-i-racism-is-ordinary/), experiences of racial profiling by police—and other forms of “micro-aggressions”—make me realize that I am not fully accepted in America for who God made me to be. Much more significantly, however, when I look around at my neighbors, both literal and figurative, I see that a vast racial divide still exists in this country. There’s a predominantly “white America” (sprinkled with small numbers of African Americans and Latinos) which benefits from healthy institutional resources like schools, hospitals, legal and banking services, etc.; and then there’s a different kind of America experienced by millions of urban folks of color—lack of access to quality public education and health care services, ineffective political representation, a dearth of affordable and competent and legal services, etc. These many inequalities were the focus of last week’s blog: http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/colorblindness-overlooks-structural-inequality/
My “second consciousness,” therefore, consists of my realization that I do not fully fit in the majority white culture, and that the vast majority of brown and black folks in the United States don’t either. As People of Color we carry this second form of consciousness around with us wherever we go. We feel it when we see the inequality of our urban communities on a daily basis, and we especially feel it when we wander off into “white spaces.” This is our double consciousness.
As a follower of Jesus, however, I’ve got a third form of consciousness, a “triple consciousness,” if you will. As a follower of Jesus, and as a pastor who is acquainted with the Bible, I realize that all racism is immoral and against God’s plan for humankind. God is upset by the fact that millions of people in America have to live a life of “double-consciousness.” As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, racism in America has very specific historical roots, and this racism—on both an individual and institutional level—has replicated itself and trickled down into the 21st century. For more on this, see: http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/colorblindness-overlooks-structural-inequality/
Racism of every form is antithetical to all the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, and is deeply offensive to God. This truth forms the basis for my “Triple Consciousness.” In accord with W.E.B. DuBois and Critical Race Theory, I recognize that we People of Color live lives of double-consciousness in America. The historical and contemporary reality of racism forces us into this duality. My “third consciousness,” however, understands that racism is unbiblical and offensive to God, and it drives me to seek God’s wisdom and empowerment to eliminate racism on both an individual and institutional level. Indeed, my “third consciousness” forms the basis for my entire life calling—to be a humble and broken vessel God may use to fight against racism and promote racial reconciliation and racial equity.
Will you join me?
I’d like to close this week’s blog post with specific Scriptural truths which have shaped my “triple consciousness.” I hope that they might influence others reading this blog as well:
1. Every individual uniquely reflects the image of God. The Bible teaches that “God created human beings in his own image” (Genesis 1:27 NLT). Every person holistically reflects God’s image in terms of his/her: (1) individual personality, gifts, talents (Psalm 139: 13-16); (2) cultural heritage (s) (Revelation 21:26) ; and (3) gender (Genesis 1:27).
2. God created every human being--beautifully, deliberately, and skillfully. One of the most beautiful declarations of our inherent individual value and worth to God is found in Psalm 139: 13-16:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
3. By God’s design each of us is given a cultural heritage that helps make us who we are. In other words, our ethnic background is not an accident! God gave it to us! In his famous speech to the Greek Areopagus, the Apostle Paul reminds us of this truth:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “(Acts 17:26-27).
4. Not only has our cultural heritage been given to us by God Himself, but the Bible teaches that our various ethnic cultures are viewed by God as “treasure” which will last forever!
The inherent and eternal value of our national cultures is described in Revelation 21: 22-27(NIV):
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
This passage states that the “glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into God’s redeemed creation for eternity. (For more on this topic, see: http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/category/mixed-race/)
The word “glory” which is used in this passage can also be translated as “treasure” or “wealth” of the nations. Surely John is not describing literal currency or national government coffers. I believe that he is talking about the cultural treasure or wealth of the different ethnic groups of the world. This cultural treasure includes food, music, dance, literature, architecture, etc., as well as the unique cultural personalities of the world.
5. What’s more, the Bible also teaches that as children of God in Christ, all people are equal, regardless of ethnic background, socio-economic status, or gender:
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28.
In the “Triple Consciousness” of Christ,