Life Behind the Veil in Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk
Du Bois' metaphor of double consciousness and his theory of the Veil are the most inclusive explanation of the ever-present plight of modern African Americans ever produced. In his nineteenth century work, The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois describes double consciousness as a "peculiar sensation. . . the 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" (Du Bois, 3). According to Du Bois assertions, the Black American exists in a consistent "twoness, - an American, a Negro"(3). Further, he theorizes, the African American lives shut behind a veil, viewing from within and without it. He is privy to white America's perspective of him, yet he cannot reveal his true self. He is, in fact, protected and harmed by The Veil.
Nearly a century later, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., himself a Harvard scholar, addresses the anomaly of the Afro-American as he has existed for the past two centuries; that the Black American's greatest obstacle is the lack of self determination. The inability to define oneself will undoubtedly lead to an unhealthy dependence upon the definition of a biased party that will apply an erroneous definition. Gates states that "the Afro American's attempt to gain self-consciousness in a racist society will always be impaired by the fact that any reflected image that he or she seeks in the gaze of white Americans is refracted through 'the dark veil-mirror of existence'..."(Du Bois, xx).
Since 1945, in what is defined by literary scholars as the Contemporary Period, it appears that the "refracted public image"(xx) whites hold of blacks continues to necessitate that blacks "veil or mask their cultural selves whenever they cross or enter into the larger public discourse, engaging in a shared ethnic or cultural schizophrenia (xx)". Even today Blacks exist as dual personalities, unable to escape the confines of the veil. The writings of Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez each address the irony of the simultaneous thriving of the souls or awarenesses of Afro-Americans. Yet, within their writing, one is able to transcend the hold of the Veil while the other fails.
In "the National Identity of the United States: The Revolutionary Ideal", the Author (Lake) defined the collective American Identity as being "ironically composed by the American's Ability to operate freely as an individual". Such a definition would suggest that an American should have the ability to function as such without fear of being perceived as one existing outside of mainstream American culture. This assumption would be reasonable, yet incorrect. In actuality, living within America as an African American, for instance, stunts that natural ability. During the nineteenth and twentieth century, it has been all but impossible for an African American to function as an American who happens to be an African an well. It is...