How does it feel to be a problem? – W.E.B. du Bois on Race and Double Consciousness

What African-American scholar W.E.B. du Bois called the condition of ‘double-consciousness’, the ambivalence and ambiguities that come with a position of liminality, refers not only to being caught by the white gaze, but also to a potential of overcoming the binary racial constructions of black and white. He describes “double consciousness” as follows:

“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 two-ness, 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. The history of the American Negro is the history o9f this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face”

(pp. 2-3).


Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Publications.

How Does it Feel to be a Problem from Patrick Maddox on Vimeo.

In his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois discusses continually being asked in indirect ways, "How does it feel to be a problem?" Three African American seniors at the University of Alabama– AJ James, Amanda Bennett, and Elliot Spillers– came together to answer that question.

Director Cinematographer Editor: Patrick Maddox
Written By: Anthony James Amanda Bennett Elliot Spillers
Colorist: Billy Causey
Music By: Austin Woods

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