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Placing Women’s History in History
‘Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question; . . . How does it feel to be a problem?’  Thus writes not Simone de Beauvoir, but W.E.B. DuBois. He is speaking, not of women, but of black people—a black male intellectual—within a white world. And he answers his own question: ‘. . . the Negro is . . . 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.’  DuBois poignantly insists upon his unwillingness to forgo either side of his twoness: he claims for himself and his people the freedom to be a black American. But fidelity to that twoness requires holding fiercely to both its elements. It is the tension itself, the dialectic of his sundered identity, that he wishes to live: distinct, but equal; of, but not wholly assimilated to. And the free living of that tension necessitates full recognition of the Black past, of a discrete Afro-American history.
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