W. E. B. Du Bois's Photographs
for the 1900 Paris Exposition
Shawn Michelle Smith
In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois describes “double-consciousness” as the “sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others,” andthereby draws upon a visual paradigm to articulate “the strange meaning of being black” in the Jim Crow United States.1 For Du Bois, African American subjectivity is mediated by a “white supremacist gaze, ”2 and it is therefore divided by contending images of blackness—those produced by a dominant white culture, and those maintained by African American individuals, within African American communities. It is the negotiation of these violently disparate images of blackness that produces the “twoness” of Du Bois's double consciousness, the psychological and social burden of attempting to assuage “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals” (11).
This essay was first published in African American Review 34:4 (2000): 581–99, and I am grateful for permission to reprint it here. I am indebted to Laura Wexler for encouraging me to pursue this argument, andto Joe Masco for his careful critiques of several versions of this essay. I am also very grateful for the generous support I have receivedto continue my ongoing research on these images from an External Research Fellowship at the Center for the Humanities at Oregon State University, an Irene DiamondFoundation Fellowship at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, anda Visiting Research Fellowship from the Obert C. andGrace A. Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah.