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On Du Bois’ “double consciousness” & Facebook’s banning of Mngxitama

By Yerushka Chetty

Black First Land First (BLF) President, Andile Mngxitama, was banned today for 30 days for quoting W.E.B. Du Bios on “Double Consciousness”.

In introducing Du Bios‘ quote on Facebook the BLF President said:

“Down with apartheid! Viva die Bokke! A case of acute ‘double consciousness’ …

Black South Africans suffer from the same disease as the black people in the USA. The black sociologist Du Bois called it “double consciousness”. Blacks in SA want freedom that would put black pride first. However (a)t the same time they love whiteness”.

He then added the following quote where Du Bois expounds on “double consciousness”:

“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”.

It was Comrade Mngxitama’s reference to this quote on Facebook that irked the social media giant into banning him for a month. Many were perplexed as to why referencing Du Bois’ teachings in this regard was “found not to meet community standards”, as decided by Facebook.

W. E. B. Du Bois coined the phrase “double-consciousness” to describe a person with a divided identity in relation to the black experience. He first employed it in “Strivings of the Negro People” which was published in 1897 in Atlantic Monthly, and subsequently under the rubric “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk.

Du Bios clearly states that black Americans have double consciousness in that they look at themselves through the eyes of whiteness and at the same time have a separate perception of self that is in constant conflict with what whiteness reflects back to them. Ultimately, the external perception of whiteness wins because the society that black Americans navigate through daily is designed and tightly controlled by (and for) white supremacy.

I agree with Mngxitama’s suggestion that the concept of “double consciousness”, as a theoretical tool of analysis in relation to the black experience, clarifies the dilemma of the black person towards challenging and eradicating slavery and all forms of injustice.

Try observing yourself with no judgement. Observe your thoughts and ways in which you receive affirmation of self. Is the affirmation of selfworth coming from the inside going out or is it from the external environment going inwards. In other words, how much does your self worth depend on another person or image affirming you?

We live in a society that reminds us constantly why we are unworthy of anything meaningful, including love. It reminds us that as black people – the broke, the poorly educated, the homeless, the landless – we deserve nothing. We are taught that love and affection, for instance, is something we must chase after another person for, and not something we can produce internally. We are deeply wounded, without tools to heal ourselves. All the platforms we rely on – be it the media, television, film, education, economy, the system – are all controlled and designed by white power to produce images and knowledge that make and perpetuate whites as superior and blacks as inferior.

No matter what we do or say as long as we chase external forces in a white supremacist society to affirm our worth as black people we will always fall short, we will always feel unworthy. The BLF President is correct here. Inasmuch as we want freedom as black people we fall short because we love whiteness more. We live in a white supremacist society. Everything that is loved, affirmed and appreciated as good in South Africa (SA) is white. This is what we as blacks aspire to as well. We see it as the only route available for us to affirm our worth. We must mimic whiteness to stand a chance of being worthy.

This is an oxymoronic existence as whiteness obeys its structural logic – it dehumanizes blacks, it robs us of self worth, of black expression and of everything else! It is the double consciousness that Du Bois speaks of and Mngxitama expounds – blacks want freedom while at the same time we love whiteness.

Du Bois elaborates this point further in the context of the blacks in the U.S.:

“The history of the American Negro is the history of 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”

Coming back to the banning order on the BLF President – Facebook like the other social media platforms Twitter and Google have been consistently contemptuous of the radical, black consciousness leader, (who clearly doesn’t suffer from “double consciousness “), expressing black radical thought. Freedom of expression it seems is a fundamental right that’s the preserve of whiteness. To this extent the social media technical companies are proving to be instruments of control, not of freedom of expression.

This is not surprising. Cde Mngxitama has been suspended and banned by Facebook and Twitter, on numerous occasions for simply calling out racism. He is now banned by Facebook for just quoting Du Bois. How can that be a violation of community standards? Oh, there’s two community standards – one for whites, another for blacks. It now seems that no prior transgression is required for the BLF President to be banned by Facebook.