The Notion of
Double-Consciousness and the
Involvement of Black Athletes
in American Sport
David K. Wiggins
W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his classic book, The Souls of Black Folk, that blacks in this country have always felt a sense of being "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 of this strife." 1 This double-consciousness of being both black and American, which Du Bois pointed out in 1903, was evident in the careers of the most successful black athletes involved in American sport since the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Outstanding black athletes in this country were similar to other members of their race in that American discriminatory practices compelled them to live split existences. On the one hand, black athletes were proud of their race for its forbearance and ability to survive, and fought against the negative images of black inferiority. At the same time, black athletes aspired to success in American sport which necessitated that they adhere to values upheld in the dominant society. This duality was intertwined with a number of other important considerations, including economic issues, questions of gender, and the fact that black athletes strove for success in an institution not only controlled by whites but whose basic structure was defined by white standards.
The likelihood of maintaining a black identity, let alone gaining admission into sport, was made difficult for black athletes because the white American's stereotype of blacks inverted their own Protestant ethic. Blacks were variously categorized as docile or savage, faithful or tricky, pathetic or comical, childish or oversexed. This broad range of black character deserved no rewards and did not accommodate the ideal white image of the athlete. In addition, black athletes were involved in an institution which fashioned itself as the great