The Measuring Tape of the World Revisited: African Americans and Global Reconciliation

By Moore, Alicia L.; Neal, La Vonne I. | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Measuring Tape of the World Revisited: African Americans and Global Reconciliation


Moore, Alicia L., Neal, La Vonne I., Black History Bulletin


More than a century has passed since W.E.B. Du Bois wrote the decisively insightful book The Souls of Black Folk, wherein he described how the successes and abilities of African Americans were marginalized within the greater society. Yet, while his book thoroughly explored the disturbing realities of marginalization, more revealing was his acknowledgement that African Americans, though resilient, were also coping with an internal struggle between their own socially constructed identity and the dilemma of a double-consciousness. (1) Du Bois wrote:

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. (2)

Du Bois went on to write about this internal struggle and reveal its genesis in the American Negro's quest to comfortably and successfully reconcile his place in two worlds--America and Negro racial identity--without being impugned for his African heritage or having his mere existence looked upon as a pitiful spectacle. He explained the essence of this quest as follows:

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 would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. (3)

Du Bois "simply wishe[d] 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." (4) He longed for the day that the American Negro would be able to proudly embrace his own identity through eyes that were not clouded by the contempt of society--contempt which plagued the Negro through the lack of opportunities, the negative effect on his identity development, and the subsequent internal strife. In response, Du Bois's work provided an understanding of the dilemmas that infiltrated the Negro psyche and stood as barriers to his success.

Today, researchers such as A.W. Boykin, Beverly Tatum, Gwendolyn Webb-Johnson, and Claude Steele have similarly provided greater understanding of the African American consciousness and identity development and have provided action-based research to revisit the standards of measurement of success. For example, Boykin identified nine dimensions of African American culture: spirituality, harmony, movement, verve, affect, communalism, expressive individualism, orality, and social time perspective. (5) These dimensions not only provide credibility to African American identity, they go a step further and impact the globalization of African American culture, which is evident in financial markets throughout the world. This financial impact can be observed through an increase in international investments in hip-hop music, spoken word poetry, fashion, etc. In other words, the quest to be a part of two worlds (American and Negro) has resulted in an expansion of the African American identity into a globally recognized influence on world trade.

On another note, African American identity has been recognized by world leaders. One instance of this is former President Bill Clinton's vision for African American contributions to be more integrated in the global community. The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), established in 2005 by Clinton, brings together governments, non-governmental organizations, private businesses, and global leaders to collaborate and solve some of the world's most challenging problems. As well, the initiative facilitates the commitments of various entities involved to direct action toward solving a variety of problems.

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