By Aiyana Ma’at
Growing up, the 4th of July wasn’t really a big deal in my house—but then again it kinda was. We weren’t flag saluting super patriotic folk. Don’t get me wrong most of my family and friends didn’t have to go to work so we often all got together at someone’s house for a BBQ or the women would sometimes take advantage of Independence Day sales and take off to the mall. Living in Maryland, right next door to the Nation’s Capital meant going down to the Mall in DC and watching the best fireworks you’ve ever seen in your life. We did this almost every year. Playing with my cousins. Getting to spend time with my favorite Aunties. I can still smell the food, hear the voices of my family, and feel the warmth that comes from being connected to other people who look like you and love you too. Those were good times.
As I got older and went away to college (Ceeeeeeee–Aaaaaaaaa-U-U-U-U-U….had to rep for my alma mater!) I was exposed to some things—no, a lot of things that I had never really taken the time to pay attention to. I had the opportunity to truly study concepts and realities like slavery, Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, racism, internalized oppression and so much more. One of the things I learned about that I really felt quite powerfully during that time (and for many years after college) in my life was the reality of Double Consciousness that W.E.B. Dubois so brilliantly and pointedly described and defined so many years ago. I was amazed at how true something could ring for me as a young black woman when it was written in 1897. It absolutely moved and floored me. This had to mean that America had obviously changed a lot—and then again it hadn’t.
A little history
The term “double consciousness” originated from an 1897 Atlantic Monthly article of Du Bois’s titled “Strivings of the Negro People.” The term is used to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. Double consciousness is an awareness of one’s self as well as an awareness of how others perceive that person. The danger of double consciousness resides in conforming and/or changing one’s identity to that of how others perceive the person.W. E. B. Du Bois used the term to describe the felt contradiction between social values and daily struggle faced by blacks in the United States. Being black, Du Bois argued, meant being deprived of a “true self?consciousness”. Blacks often perceived themselves through the generalized eyes of white America.
Du Bois referred to ‘double consciousness as “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 two-ness,–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”
This “two-ness” of being African and American leads to psycho-social tensions in which individuals or groups are forced into identifying themselves into two social worlds and viewing themselves as insider and outsider refers to their split consciousness and disadvantageous social position. Du Bois said “the history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious (wo)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.”
History lesson concluded 😉
Coming into knowledge like this was not only profoundly challenging and liberating for me but it was a necessary part of my evolution and maturation as a young African American woman. For many years my husband (well, back then he was my boyfriend) and I did not recognize the 4th–meaning we did not go to any celebrations and didn’t pretend to want to. We had our own Juneteenth cook outs, raised the red, black, and green in lieu of the red, white, and blue and dared someone to say something. Now, we didn’t go around talking about “The white man this or the white man that….” But, I was clear I didn’t want any part of this Double-Consciousness. I wanted one–which meant I picked my ancestors. I was of African descent. I was black and that was that.
Fast forward…… a marriage and 4 babies later….my boyfriend is now my husband and a leader to people, particularly men, everywhere. The intense anger I used to hear in his voice when he talked bout being black in America has evolved into a cool confident self-awareness that comes from taking the time to know and learn himself in ways that many of us do not. It comes from knowing that there are still many ills that this country needs to address but at the end of the day taking personal responsibility for your life , your destiny, and your future is where it’s really at. It comes from knowing that black men need to channel years of anger into action and DO something significant with their lives. It is their right and their responsibility.
As for me, I have a clearer understanding of who I am today. I am absolutely positive that the purpose of living is to move closer to the Creator. I believe we come into the world with particular issues that the Creator already has chosen for us to work out and lessons that we specifically came to learn. My having an on again off again father and learning how to forgive and trust him and other men was a part of my Divine assignment here on earth. My learning to love and accept myself and not fear and create rejection in my life is a part of my Divine assignment here on earth…..and my being born African in America with a legacy of Kings and Queens and Masters and Slave Ships is a part of my Divine assignment here on earth. My blackness is a part of my human existence. It does not define me. It helps to teach me about who I really am. I am Spirit FIRST having an earthly experience.
And, I am so thankful that I am free and at ease today to say that I am black and proud. I am African and American. I rock the red, black, and green and honor the red, white and blue. I give thanks, honor, and respect to the land that my ancestors come from and at the same time wouldn’t want to be in any other place than in my country: The United States of America.
So, tonight as me and the fam are hanging with friends and loved ones at my girl’s 4th of July cook-out and watching the beautiful fireworks burst into the air I’ll be holding my hubby’s hand and sneaking peeks of the awe in my children’s eyes as the sky lights up. I’ll be resting easy (as I imagine the President and his family will be too….smile) with a knowing in my heart that this is my 4th of July too.