W. E. B. Du Bois and the Articulation of the Black American Double Consciousness: Social Fact or Fiction?
Keywords:Emile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, social fact, race
Emile Durkheim wrote extensively on the implications of sociology in our society in The Rules of the Sociological Method. More specifically, he coined the term “social facts,” which consist of “manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him” (Durkheim 51). As explained in The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois, social facts continue even today to wreak havoc on the development of African Americans in a largely white society, and the significance of this problematic development cannot be downplayed. In this paper, I argue that we can use Durkheim’s conceptualization of social facts to understand the African American experience of double-consciousness as described by Du Bois. The social facts in relation to race at the time were: (1) Du Bois’s concept of African American double-consciousness and duality in the form of the problem of the “color line”; (2) the internalization of anti-black sentiment by black Americans; (3) Du Bois’s concept of the Veil and the separation of the white race from the black; and (4) Du Bois’s concept of “the Negro,” which was seen as a “problem” by the white society surrounding him. I will argue that Durkheim helps us understand not only the concepts that Du Bois introduces but also the nature of these concepts and how they affect both races, regardless of skin color. A comprehensive examination requires a deeper look at the four main social facts as well as an analysis of their effect on both races.