Wednesday, September 20, 2006

When I was in high school and again in college, I remember reading about a term that W.E.B. Dubois called, "double consciousness". In his book, The Souls of Black Folk, he describes it as: "..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 warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder". At various points in my life I have felt what Dubois describes, and my boy Cliff and I were talking about this yesterday.

Cliff is a pilot, and he basically said that as he got off the plane a group of brothers shouted towards him. Since there aren't many black pilots, they were happy to see him, so they showed their love. Instantly, Cliff was in a quandary. Since there are so few brothers who are pilots, he is constantly aware of how he carries himself in public, and how important it is to maintain that image while his uniform is on. And he does this towards white and black employees no matter how high or low they are. At the same time, he can't alienate the brothers either. They may not have been eloquent enough to greet him in the politically correct way all the time, but that doesn't make their greeting any less sincere or genuine. And all the while, Cliff's white co-workers are watching as well to see how he will interact with the brothers. If Cliff lets his guard down too much, the his white colleagues will say, "See, I knew he was one of them". But if he reacts in a muted way, they'll breathe a sigh of relief and say "YES, he's still one of us". And THEN, Cliff doesn't want to be put in a position where he's disrespecting the brothers in front of his white co-workers, because that is just downright humiliating. Now of course I'm generalizing a bit here, but not by much. Now Cliff took the easy way out, and pulled out his cell phone, so that he wouldn't have to acknowledge the brothers..that's an act of avoidance that I have used many times, and Cliff is to be commended for that. There have many times when I have used my cell phone to avoid people and uncomfortable situations. It is a tried and true formula that I highly recommend.

But there have been times when I was in Cliff's predicament with some of the brothers in various mailrooms where I've worked over the years. I had this one situation where this brother from the mailroom would greet me in a loud fashion, totally oblivious to the fact that work was going on, and we were in a work environment. If I ignored him or told him to use his "inside" voice, he would hint that I was a sellout; if I engaged him too much, I'd get funny looks from my co-workers. Now there would be times when I talk to him for about 10-15 minutes, without caring who saw me. I had to be in work mode all day long, and sometimes it was nice to cut loose. But then there were other times, I'd pull him aside and say look man, I'm being watched constantly, you can talk to me, but keep it down. Now some people may say I'm being a snob, or I'm being paranoid, and they can kiss my entire black ass. In SOME workplaces, the margin of error is extremely small, and everything must be accounted for..even double consciousness. Anyway...

3 comments:

Miss Black River said...

I definitely feel you on the double-consciousness. The good whites can make it difficult to be down with the people. This week in court I've had some affirming interactions based on race and gender. The baliffs in the court room - average age 75 went out of their way to make sure I knew how proud they were of me being an attorney. It was nice to have them fawning over me and so excited about my achievement.

Jo said...

I hear ya with the double consciousness thing - thank God I have surrounded myself with minority environments . . . although that, too, has its downside at times. But, back to your comments . . . I can understand the two-sidedness of it all, but unlike your friend, who you really did call out, I would have done the muted thing . . .they REALLY were giving him the big ups . . .and any white person who has a problem with that SHOULD kiss his black ASS! I generally choose to take the high road . . . on the other hand, like you, I don't have any problem yanking my kinfolk to the side and saying hey . . . you need to be professional. Because I gotta admit . . . although I am from the hood, I left that behind long time ago, and I can't handle ghetto in the workplace. Professional is professional, no matter what the color of your skin. So, that's a hard place to be in . . . to have to mute your love for your kinfolk . . .yeah, I can feel Cliff's pain.

lovetheskinuin said...

I thought this was an excellent blog that you wrote today. I dare say one of your best? I agree that there does exist a double consciousness, what we project about ourselves and then the way that we truly feel. The way we feel in "uncomfortable" situations, is nothing more than learning about those parts of ourselves that we have repressed/ignored at one point or another. That loud person in the mailroom is not the root of why we may feel uncomfortable. That's the stimulus. I hate to sound like a broken record, but when one is truly comfortable with themselves, they can handle any situation with comfort and ease. . . . because they understand that it is truly during these times that we demonstrate our sincere character. . . not when things are going well. . .