The “Twoness”

W.E.B. Dubois once said that the african american or black man or you can input woman if you so choose had to deal with a concept of “twoness”. His point was that not only does he have to be American but he also had to maintain his blackness or his African side if you will.

Over the years, more intelligent people than me have tackled this, hefted it and come out with different results. Some have called it a blessing to have two sides or be multidimensional while others think it’s a curse because it is very confusing and is hard to come up with an identity.

Here is my take: “Twoness” isn’t something that pertains to African Americans. It is something every immigrant minority has to face. Blacks who migrate from Africa or another country might have to deal with it but African Americans or Blacks who have lived here all their lives do not even have that luxury. To illustrate my point, I’ll tell a story:

I was at work the other day when a black man came in. He started to chat me up and while we were talking he notices the slightest hint of an accent on me so he asked where I was from. When I responded, he asked my name and then asked what it meant and from there we started talking about Africa. I asked his name and he told me. Then he wanted to know if I could tell what part of Africa his slave ancestors had come from when they were brought here just by looking at him. Of course I couldn’t. I saw how disappointed that made him so I told him to figure out his ancestor’s names and we could go from there and trace. He couldn’t do this as his ancestors had been given what he called “slave names”. So he stood there visibly disappointed that he couldn’t even point to what part of Africa he would have been from. In other words, he had no clue of his heritage because it had been totally wiped out. He didn’t even have a real name that was African. As he left he would turn around and ask me more questions about Africa and I’d gently and patiently answer. He was amazed. He told me he was going to buy some African music because he liked and enjoyed it.

Thus is the dilemma of the African American. He or she supposedly comes from Africa but Africa is a continent with thousands of tribes. What part? Which tribe? All of that history is gone and it was removed on purpose by other people. So they are cut off and floating. There isn’t much of a history here for them and there isn’t any history elsewhere. No other ethnicity has to deal with this loss of history and identity. The brief history they do have here is not even focused on properly and celebrated but continue to be distorted by other people’s agendas. For instance, we celebrate Martin Luther King (and he deserves it) and Rosa Parks (so does she) but our kids aren’t taught of Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X. I mean even Hitler gets a history lesson but we won’t even mention Paul Robeson?

I wish I could have told that man the great stories of his tribe. About the brave African Kings, the wonderful sculptures in Igbo Ukwu, how democracy and civilization really started in Africa (and Mesopotamia) but the Greeks get the credit, of the beauty of the land he sprouted from, the love his tribe would have for him even after all these years and so on. But I couldn’t. He couldn’t even give me a name.

9 Comments to “The “Twoness””

  1. U know, he wrote another essay/book for whte folks called the souls of white folks examing the same thing with respect to them

  2. No. I didn’t know that. What conclusions did he come to?

  3. Wow, Ghettophillosopher, you never fail to amaze my mind. In reading your blog today, tears came down my eyes; because what you say is so true; We can’t trace, we don’t have a name; but we need to begin the story here and now – because when I look at my own community, and my own family, we don’t even have a name, other than sometimes, baby’s momma’s daddy; how many young children are separated from their fathers, and sometimes even mothers. Today’s separateness is not because a white man said, “hey brotha, you can not see your son,” today’s separateness might be formed from the days of slavery ships; but that cycle was broken at one time since we arived; so how much can we still put it on others. I know whole blocks of young black children who do not know what their father’s look like; hell my son, only saw his father for the first time since he was four years old this year; and he’s 15 now. That shit brought tears to my eyes, his eyes, his father’s eyes, and some more eyes too. It wasn’t my son’s fault, it wasn’t the white man’s fault; it was my fault, my fault for my pride; and his father’s fault, also for false pride. Until we can get the fathers and mothers to be fathers and mothers, we will have generations and generations who won’t know grandmothers, aunts, uncles, let alone somebody from africa who lived 200 plus years ago. Peace, Light and Love, CordieB.

  4. CordieB,
    It wasn’t my goal to play the white man for our troubles. On the contrary. I was hoping that by pointing out a lack of history, we might start afresh and build our history here and celebrate it. Maybe if the rappers know that they are our history and our heritage, they’ll be inclined to behave better and set better examples. My point is that the connection to Africa has been lost so our history here is what we have. We should strive to share it appropriately and set great examples for folk to come because we all we got.

  5. That’s so true. Forgive my degress; We know so little about our history, and if don’t take the time out to research it and learn it, no other race will do it for us.

  6. Hey GP… maybe you should update this blog… I think this issue has legs and can be continually examined. Especially your point about building a fresh history.

  7. Yeah I dropped the ball on this one so long ago. This is a topic definitely worth continuing.

  8. Word up! Thank you for sharing this post with me. This story reflects the feelings I have had for most of my life – seeking to come from somewhere and yearning for a connection to Africa, but feeling like I’m creating a path back to a place after the footprints have long since been erased. I’ve traveled to Africa, Ghana specifically, numerous times. And each time has become more and more of a challenge, as my title of obruni (white person/foreigner) becomes more numbing and feels more real (well, not the white part…but the foreign part).

    But on the bright side, my genealogy project has debunked the myth (which I never before even questioned) that black Americans can’t trace our ancestry. It’s certainly not as direct as looking up the 1820 census records. But there are records that can get us much further than we think.

    I’m about to apply for a fellowship that will hopefully allow me to research the importance of ancestral knowledge and its connection to self esteem and personal motivation, particularly for young people who descend from the survivors of slavery. If I can play any role in opening up the doors for young black people to know more about themselves and acquire a greater respect for their (direct) ancestors, I’ll be satisfied.

    Glad you’ve opened up the dialogue. It’s such an important, yet too often overlooked part of the bigger picture.

    • I knew your response to this wouldn’t disappoint. Thanks for taking me up on the offer. I am definitely interested in your efforts to discover your history and I want to see where it takes you. How did you like Ghana?

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