“Glances Curiously and Walks On” - Racializing Visibility and Double Consciousness
I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love.
W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater (1920)
In recent years, a cadre of sociologists have uncovered and elaborated upon W.E.B. Du Bois’s concepts, theories, and methods that are foundational to urban and community studies, and race and ethnicity studies (Hunter 2013; Morris 2007; Morris and Ghaziani, 2005; Morris 2015; Loughran 2015; Itzigsohn and Brown 2015; Wortham 2011; Zuberi 2004). Yet, sociology still has not fully realized Du Bois’s importance as a sociological theorist. In particular, across empirical studies, theoretical essays, and journalistic commentaries, Du Bois conceptualized the fusion between colonialism, capitalism, and racialization (Bobo 2015; Gilroy 1993). In the theory of Double Consciousness, Du Bois links racialization and capitalism by connecting visibility and racialized self-formation to the processes of social differentiation that organize racialized and capitalist societies.
In Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois develops the color line to underscore the processes of racial differentiation that fundamentally anchor the exploitation and expropriation of racialized labor. As Du Bois declares, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line, —the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” (Du Bois 1903, 1). Du Bois uses the color line to signify that racialization structures the economic modes of production, culture, and more broadly, society. Throughout society, racialization, at its root, is sustained through the processes of intersubjectively creating racial categories and meanings to shape the experiences of groups and individuals (Omi and Winant 1994; Itzigsohn and Brown 2015; Lemert 1994). As an index of racialization, the color line, as Du Bois conceives it, establishes the visualization of racial difference as the problem of the modern world. Darkwater features further evidence of the connection between racialization and economic exploitation. As Du Bois asserts, racial differentiation reinforces economic exploitation: “They are not ‘men’ in the sense that Europeans are men. To the very limited extent of their shallow capacities lift them to be useful to whites, to raise cotton, gather rubber, fetch ivory, dig diamonds, — and let them be paid what men think they are worth—white men who know them to be well-nigh worthless…” (Du Bois 1920, 43). For Du Bois, racialization, works alongside the capitalist oligarchy that forecloses the possibility of creating a democratic society.
In the theory of Double Consciousness, Du Bois argues that racialization organizes the social relationships between racializing and racialized individuals. These racialized relationships lead to a unique phenomenological position for racialized individuals. Under the social conditions of racialization, Du Bois asserts that seeing and looking occur through “the veil,” a view that generates two selves for racialized individuals or a sense of “twoness,” and endows them with a “second sight.” Previous scholarship on the theory of the Double Consciousness understands it as a theory that explains how the lack of mutual recognition between racializing and racialized individuals shapes racialized individuals’ self-formation (Itzigsohn and Brown 2015; Lemert 1994; Rawls 2000; Reed 1992). This paper advances this understanding of the theory of Double Consciousness with specific attention to visibility as a constitutive factor in the formation of racialized individuals’ phenomenology and the processes of racial differentiation that bolster capitalist modes of economic production.
Du Bois cultivates the theory of Double Consciousness primarily in the works of The Souls of Black Folk and Dusk of Dawn (hereafter, Souls and Dusk, respectively). Yet, Du Bois developed his analysis of self-formation in racialized modernity across many texts. For this reason, I blend passages from both Souls and Dusk with some examples drawn from Darkwater. These works, taken together, exemplify how Du Bois’s conceptualization of racialization relies on instantiations of visibility. The theory of Double Consciousness reveals visibility as a complex system of presence and absence, permission and prohibition that emerges through acts of seeing and looking between racializing and racialized individuals (Gordon 2004). In Du Bois’s personal experiences across the color line, he is intimately aware of the ways in which glances and visual avoidances coproduce his visibility and invisibility. Du Bois’s formulation of the interlocking relationship between racialization and visibility points to “racializing visibility.” I use racializing (in)visibility to refer to a technology of social control through which acts of inspection and ignorance define and demarcate social boundaries. The racializing character of visibility further contributes to processes of social differentiation that uphold capitalist modes of production and reproduction.
This paper outlines the theory of Double Consciousness as explaining racialized individuals’ visibilities that give rise to and reinforce their racial differentiation and more broadly, capitalist modes of production. I argue that the theory of Double Consciousness points to racialized individuals’ complex experiences with visibility that serve as a site of racial differentiation. Racial categorization is fueled, in part, by instantiations of visibility and works in tandem with the separation of capitalist and proletariat, subject and object, capital and labor. Visibility then punctuates racialized individuals’ social experiences to buttress the macro-structure of the racialized and capitalist society. I rely on the term “racial capitalism” to emphasize Du Bois’s argument that racial categories and differences support the development, organization, and elaboration of capitalist system of production (Robinson 2000). Du Bois establishes the theory of Double Consciousness in the context of Black Americans, yet, his later works understand racialization as a global phenomenon. Thus, in this paper, I write about Black and white and racialized and racializing individuals interchangeably. I begin by highlighting how Du Bois’s uses experiences with visibility and invisibility to illustrate the processes of racialization. Second, I discuss the three elements of the theory of Double Consciousness and how they further enable and constrain the racialized looking practices that dominate racial and capitalist society.
Visibility as a Constitutive Factor in the Process of Racialization
In traversing the racialized boundary of the color line, Du Bois conceptualizes visibility as a constitutive factor in the elaboration of racialization and racial subjectivity. Du Bois’s theorization of visibility begins with the opening essay in Souls entitled “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” By recounting a series of childhood and adult experiences with white individuals in his hometown, Du Bois emphasizes the ways in which instantiations of visibility structure processes of racialization. In order to demonstrate the visual dynamics of racial society, Du Bois describes how racializing individuals “approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately” (Du Bois 1903: 1). For Du Bois, it is racializing individuals’ looking practices that racialize him, thereby reminding him of his subordinated social status. His perceptive ability, furthermore, reveals the ways in which racialized individuals can understand racializing individuals’ underlying intentions. This initial scene illustrates visibility as an organizing factor in racialized individuals’ intersubjectivities.
Following Du Bois’s description of his adult experiences across the color line, he returns to his childhood to consider a white girl’s racializing glance. In his “rollicking boyhood,” Du Bois exchanges a set of “gorgeous visiting-cards” with his classmates. During the exchange,
“one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card—refused it peremptorily with a glance [emphasis added]. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil…” (Du Bois 1903: 2).
As Du Bois explains, the white girl’s glance informs him that he is socially different from other children. In writing about Du Bois’s development of this scene, Shawn Michelle Smith (2007) argues, “It is the white girl’s look that racializes Du Bois’s self-perception, opening his eyes to the force of the color line” (350). Du Bois uses this scene depicting the white girl’s racializing glance to exemplify the ways in which visibility sustains racialization that forces racialized individuals to “look at one’s self through the eyes of others” (Du Bois 1903: 2).
In the context of persistent racializing looks and glances, Du Bois reveals the theory of Double Consciousness:
[A] sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world—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 twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body (Du Bois 1903: 2).
In this passage, Du Bois describes the phenomenological position of racialized individuals. This passage also introduces the three elements of the theory of Double Consciousness as: the veil, twoness, and second sight. Each element explains a critical component of the social processes of visibility and invisibility that undergird the social relationships between racializing and racialized individuals.
The first element is the veil that serves as a distorting prism that separates racializing and racialized individuals. The veil organizes how individuals perceive the social world. Racialized individuals’ internalization of racializing looks, and glances fosters the second element of Du Bois’s theory: the sense of twoness. Twoness refers to racialized individuals’ perceptive ability to inhabit both a Black and white world. Racialized individuals’ twoness enhances their optic sensibilities such that they possess a “second sight.” Second sight enables racialized individuals to resist and contest the distorting projections of the veil and observe the possibility for restructuring society. In the following sections, I look closely at how each element of the theory of Double Consciousness intersects with instantiations of visibility that sustain the processes of racialization and buttress racial capitalism.
Of the Veil
In the theory of Double Consciousness, the veil divides and defines the communications between racializing and racialized individuals. The veil, thus, organizes the lived experience, self-formation, and perceptions of the world for both racialized and racializing individuals. As such, the veil sustains the visual differentiation between races. As Brown and Itzigsohn (2015) argue, the veil is “a constitutive structural element of racialized modernity and it also structures the way in which individuals situated in different sides of the veil see and experience their social world” (237). As a central structure of racialized modernity, the veil acts as an obscuring optic that mediates the looking relationships between racializing and racialized individuals. The veil patterns racialized individuals’ experiences with racializing visibility that fortify the social segregation required for capitalist expropriation of labor. First, I show how the veil structures racializing visibility and invisibility respectively. Then I discuss how the veil simultaneously shapes racializing visibility and invisibility and the racialized and capitalist climate.
In Dusk, Du Bois shows that racializing individuals’ observations through the veil rendered racialized individuals visible. It is these intermittent moments of visibility that maintain the separation of the races. Drawing on personal experiences, Du Bois describes life behind the veil as being under constant observation: “…that White world often existed primarily, so far as I was concerned, to see with sleepless vigilance [emphasis added] that I was kept within bounds” (Du Bois 1940: 69). Du Bois highlights how the veil facilitates seeing practices that racializing individuals use to confine racialized individuals to their self-crafted social world. At the core of the experience of being constantly being made visible, for Du Bois, lies the racialization of white individuals’ consciousness: “...color had become an abiding unchangeable fact chiefly because a mass of self-conscious instincts and unconscious prejudices had arranged themselves rank on rank in its defense” (Du Bois 1940: 2). Du Bois describes how visibility and racialization, in a mutually reinforcing fashion, structure the lived experiences of racialized individuals.
The veil also shapes instantiations of invisibility for racialized individuals that avow their socially subordinate status. In Souls, Du Bois identifies how the veil structures social invisibility that contributes to the prison-like experience of racialized individuals:
It is difficult to let others see the full psychological meaning of caste segregation. It is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of an impending mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it; speaks courteously and persuasively, showing them how these entombed souls are hindered in their natural movement, expression, and development; and how their loosening from prison would be a matter not simply of courtesy, sympathy, and help to them, but aid to all the world (Du Bois 1903: 66).
By being rendered un-visible and contained, racializing individuals are able to exploit racialized individuals’ labor. The invisibility of racialized individuals is a direct product of the veil that constrains and contains racialized individuals to their self-crafted world.
Both racializing visibility and invisibility work in tandem to create racialized individuals subordinated social statuses. In Dusk, Du Bois further conceptualizes the veil as an optic that organizes the processes of racializing visibility and invisibility. As he notes,
One...notices that the passing throng does not even turn its head, or if it does, glances curiously and walks on [emphasis added]. It gradually penetrates the minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear; that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass is between them and the world (Du Bois 1940: 66).
In this scene, the veil coordinates racializing individuals’ cursory visual acknowledgement of racialized individuals in the form of a glance. Moreover, the veil enables invisibility as racializing individuals can easily evade racialized individuals and “walk” through the rest of their day. This brief, but important, glance through the veil captures the visual sorting of individuals along racial lines. The veil, thus, projects racializing individuals’ preconceived perceptions onto racialized individuals. As a tangible plate of glass, “the veil works as a one-way mirror those on the dominating side of the veil see their projections of racialized individuals reflected on it” (Brown and Itzigsohn 2015). Ralph Ellison (1981) also examines the relationship between race and visibility and identifies the coproduction of visibility and invisibility: “…high visibility actually rendered one un-visible (xv).” In a similar manner, Du Bois develops the veil to underscores visibility as a system of presence and absence that fortifies and fosters processes of racialization.
The veil, more broadly, explains how the processes of racialization are integral to capitalist processes of social differentiation that minimize social relationships between racializing and racialized individuals (Gilmore 2012; Melamed 2016; Robinson 2000). In this sense, the veil structures a system of uneven communication that corresponds with and coordinates the exchange of labor, money, and value. Du Bois builds on this system of uneven communication in a scene where racializing individuals quickly pass by a racialized individual:
And there in the King’s Highways sat and sits a figure veiled and bowed, by which the travelers’ footsteps hasten as they go. On the tainted air broods fear. Three centuries of thought has been the raising and unveiling of that bowed human heart… (Du Bois 1903: 30).
The veil then not only projects racializing individuals’ looks and glances, it also deflects racialized individuals’ desires and dreams. As an obscuring optic, the veil constrains racialized individuals’ phenomenology, “but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other” (Du Bois 1903: 2). The social relations produced through the veil cement the social relationships of racializing and racialized that interlock with uneven economic categories. The veil structures the racialized visual dynamics that work in tandem with the social forces of capitalist production that seek to accomplish differentiation and socially segregated networks. By cultivating partitioned perceptions, the veil enables and constrains processes of visibility that collectively reinforce the color line and the capitalist appropriation of racialized labor.
In twoness, Du Bois refers to the processes of visibility that configure racialized individuals’ dichotomous reality as both American and Negro. As Du Bois writes, racialized individuals hold “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” (Du Bois 1903: 2). Du Bois uses twoness to convey the special difficulties that emerge from racialized individuals internalizing American identity. Twoness addresses the social positioning of racialized individuals as situated between the dominant community that challenges their humanity and their self-crafted community that provides social support. In this section, I explain racialized individuals’ sense of twoness as instigated, in part, by the processes of racializing visibility that collude with the capitalist feature of social segregation.
Across the two racially segregated worlds separated by the veil, racializing individuals often use looking practices and acts of violence to racialize and marginalize racialized individuals. As Du Bois observes, “...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” (Du Bois 1903: 3). By identifying racializing individuals’ violent actions toward racialized individuals, Du Bois asserts that moments of high visibility also mark them as outsiders. This sense of twoness accounts for the limited form of American citizenship to which racialized individuals are confined.
The double strivings of racialized individuals also manifest through their experiences being rendered invisible. These experiences with invisibility allow racialized individuals to cultivate their two distinct selves. In elaborating upon his own sense of twoness, Du Bois writes:
...first into a world composed of people with colored skins who remembered slavery and endured discrimination; and who had to a degree their own habits, customs, and ideals; but in addition to this I lived in an environment which I came to call the White world. I was not an American; I was not a man; I was by long education and continual compulsion and daily reminder, a colored man to a White world…All this made me limited in physical movement and provincial in thought and dream. I could not stir, I could not act, I could not live, without taking into careful account the reaction of my White environing world (Du Bois 1940: 69).
Twoness, because of the veil, prevents racialized individuals from making individually informed decisions. Despite their inability to serve as full participants in the dominant world, racialized individuals still behave with racializing individuals in their minds as their imagined audience. The invisibility and ignorance racialized individuals experience when interacting with racializing individuals forces racialized individuals to take the position of the two communities that they inhabit.
The relationship between invisibility and twoness is also explained by the creation and maintenance of racialized individuals’ self-crafted world. In this case, racialized individuals actively work to make a distinct social world that emerges through and is sustained by invisibility. Du Bois is mindful of the intimacy within racialized individuals self-crafted world where the “Negro American has for his environment…touching him usually more nearly and compellingly, is the environment furnished by his own colored group” (Du Bois 1940: 73). In Souls, Du Bois positions Black religion and the Black church as “the social center of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African character” (Du Bois 1903: 123). Religion and the church serve as the primary sites of racialized individuals’ world-building, as Du Bois reflects:
Various organizations meet here—the church proper, the Sunday-school, two or three insurance societies, women's societies, secret societies, and mass meetings of various kinds. Entertainments, suppers, and lectures are held beside the five or six weekly religious services (Du Bois 1903: 123).
Although Black churches serve as a hub for social activities and a source of sociocultural support for racialized individuals, the church is largely invisible to racializing individuals. Yet, it is this invisibility that lies at the construction of racialized individuals’ self-crafted world. As Katherine McKittrick and Clyde Woods (2007) argue, “racialized production of space is made possible...as invisible/forgettable at the same time as invisible/forgettable is producing space—always, and in all sorts of ways” (4). Invisibility then serves as a generative mechanism that penetrates and produces the dichotomous phenomenology of racialized individuals.
This sense of twoness situates the embodied effects of processes of racial visibility and invisibility that punctuate racialized individuals’ self-formation. Their twoness, moreover, reflects the consequences of the processes of racialization and capitalism that seek to distinguish and differentiate individuals. In twoness, the theory of Double Consciousness demonstrates how interactions between racializing and racialized individuals establish the process of racialization that reifies social segregation. In this sense, twoness is a result of the processes of visibility that give rise to racialized and capitalist modes of social sorting and differentiation.
Of Second Sight
In order to transcend racial oppression and stop taking on the role of racializing individuals, Du Bois suggests that racialized individuals are “gifted with a second-sight” (Du Bois 1903: 2). Second sight refers to racialized individuals’ ocular sensibility that results from their twoness—that is, their social standpoint as both American and Negro. As a product of their structural position, second sight enables racialized individuals to identify ways of achieving group solidarity based on their observations across the two racially segregated social worlds. Second sight also speaks to racialized individuals’ ability to oppose racializing individuals distorting and dominating perceptions. As a way of looking back against the dominating perceptions projected through the veil, Du Bois defines second sight as a tool to counter racialized visibility and invisibility. As an oppositional optic, racialized individuals’ second sight serves as a perspectival way of reconciling their double consciousness to recognize racializing individuals’ inner-thoughts and potentially transform the racial and capitalist society.
Second sight enables racialized individuals to critically observe the dominant world and move closer toward reconciling their double consciousness. As Du Bois notes, “This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius [emphasized added]” (Du Bois 1903: 5). This latent genius relates to Du Bois’s earlier description of the second sight as a gift. The latency of second sight reveals the ways in which racialized individuals surmount their internal conflict at different times, periods and stages. Second sight provides an alternative way for racialized individuals to observe themselves, racializing individuals, and society.
In Souls, Du Bois shares a story about a racialized man that represents racialized individuals’ enactments of agency transforms twoness from a curse to a gift. As Du Bois describes a racialized man, who through his education experiences a “journey that at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect” (Du Bois 1903: 6). Through this process, it is the second sight that empowers this racialized man to see “himself, —darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself and not another” (Du Bois 1903: 6). Putting both the veil and second sight into conversation, Du Bois emphasizes the way that the latter transcends the former. Second sight enables racialized individuals to oppose the optics asserted by racializing individuals’ veiled viewpoints. The gift of second sight emerges only when racialized individuals can exert ownership over their bodies. As Perkinson (2002) argues, “Double consciousness as a positive critical awareness emerges only when the slave can say emphatically ‘I am my own body.’ Only when the victim refuses any longer to see the body in a detached fashion...” By declaring self-agency racialized individuals can connect their two selves and “make it possible to for a man to be both a Negro and an American…” (Du Bois 1903: 3). Second sight illuminates the way racialized individuals refute the shame that is associated with their subordinated social status.
While second sight facilitates the reconciliation of racialized individuals’ dual cognition, it also allows them to peer into “The Souls of White Folks” (Du Bois 1920). In critically considering an interaction across the color line, Du Bois recognizes the underlying meanings upholding these interactions:
even the sweeter souls of the dominant world as they discourse with me on weather, weal, and woe are continually playing above their actual words an obligato of tune and tone, saying: “My poor, un-white thing! Weep not nor rage. I know, too well, that the curse of God lies heavy on you. Why? That is not for me to say but be brave! Do your work in your lowly sphere, praying the good Lord that into heaven above, where all is love, you may, one day, be born—white!” (Du Bois 1920: 30).
Armed with his second sight, Du Bois peers into the veil and discerns the true intentions of racializing individuals. He understands the ways racialization shapes the phenological processes of racializing individuals and responds to these unstated expressions: “I do not laugh. I am quite straight-faced as I ask soberly: “But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?” (Du Bois 1920: 31) In this way, Du Bois uses thoughts and gestures to resist and refute racializing individuals’ act of privileging whiteness. Second sight accounts for racialized individuals’ distinctive awareness of the ways in which racialization organizes social interactions.
Du Bois’s conceptualization of second sight also speaks to racialized individuals’ ability to envision a radical restructuring of American social institutions. Du Bois positions second sight as racialized individuals’ ocular ability to partially suspend the optics of the veil and see other possibilities for organizing the world (Blau and Brown 2001; Smith 2007). Second sight pertains to racialized individuals’ capacity to envision the transformation of America’s racialized social and economic structures. In Dusk, Du Bois’s second sight leads him to envision and propose a plan for Black consumer cooperatives:
…this inner economy of the Negro serves but a small proportion of its total needs…and what I propose is to do so plan and guide it as to take advantage of certain obvious facts…Nevertheless, it is also possible that this smaller part could be so important and wield so much power that its influence on the total economy of Negroes… (Du Bois 1940: 100).
Du Bois suggests that the cultivation of these Black consumer cooperatives would place the purchasing power of the Black community at the service of community economic development. While in Dusk Du Bois imagines a racialized and socialist economy, in Darkwater he also carefully coordinates this imaginary with the eradication of processes of racialization that privilege whiteness: “Either the white world gives up…the plan of color serfdom which its use of the other adjective “white” implies, as indicating everything decent and every part of the world worth living in, — or trouble is written in the stars!” (Du Bois 1920: 60). In this passage, Du Bois’s second sight or the ability to comprehend constraints imposed by processes of racialization propels his desire for resistance. Through second sight Du Bois imagines a socialist world that is firmly rooted in an anti-racist praxis.
Second sight symbolizes racialized individuals’ capacity to envision strategies of action for gaining recognition, emancipation, and equality. In applying Du Bois’s insights about second sight to resistance, Debanjan Roychoudhury (2018) argues that second sight serves as a framework of resistance against state-sanctioned racial surveillance and punishment. Second sight attends to racialized individuals’ ocular ability to see things twice, through their own eyes and the eyes of the racializing world allows them to anticipate and (sometimes) avoid police surveillance, violence, and punishment. Second sight, as Du Bois conceives it, allows racialized individuals to create solidarity in opposition to racializing individuals’ beliefs, values and culture. Second sight serves as a tool of de-alienation for racialized individuals’ self-formation and potential for insurgence and resistance against the persistent social inequalities structured by racial capitalism across the globe.
The theory of Double Consciousness explains the emergence of racialized individuals’ phenomenology in a predominantly white society. This paper shows that the theory of Double Consciousness reveals the way that instantiations of visibility and invisibility solidify processes of racialization. The three elements of the theory of Double Consciousness: the veil, twoness, and second sight along with the color line highlight the complexities of visibility under conditions of racial capitalism. More specifically, the theory of Double Consciousness reveals the way that visibility is a complex system of presence and absence, a point Mychal Denzel Smith (2016) takes up in his reiteration of the rapper Mos Def’s well-known lyric: “invisible man, got the whole world watching.” Thus, racialized individuals negotiate visibility by and through experiences of high visibility and invisibility that reflects their racially marginalized worth, value and positioning. As the theory of Double Consciousness makes clear, visibility, like the processes of institutional processes of surveillance, helps to structure the social interactions and institutions to privilege whiteness (Browne 2015).
Du Bois’s theory of Double Consciousness is at once a dialectical theory of racialized and classed differentiation as well as one of amalgamation. As an optic that obscures social relationships between racializing and racialized individuals, the veil reduces collective life to racializing relationships that sustain the system of racial capitalism. The looks, glances, and visual avoidances that occur through the veil congeal into racialized relationships that produce and reproduce capitalist modes of production. In this way, the veil maintains visual practices that foster discrete identities and distinct geographies for racializing and racialized individuals. By separating the racializing from the racialized, the valued and the devalued, the veil attests to the ways in which race functions at the core of economic production, culture, and society. Moreover, Du Bois develops twoness to describe the phenomenological consequences of racial capitalism. However, Du Bois identifies second sight as an oppositional optic that allows for racialized individuals to resist the racializing projections that seep through the veil and to imagine a transformative restructuring of economic modes of production, cultural ideologies and society. As a socially located capacity for perceiving, Du Bois defines second sight as the potential for critical consciousness that can transcend differentiation to topple the structures of racial capitalism.
By centering visibility, Du Bois reveals the role of glances, looks, and visual avoidances in producing the phenomenon of double consciousness in social interactions between racializing and racialized individuals. Visibility, more broadly, ebbs and flows through the veil and coproduces the consequences of twoness and the benefits of second sight. Du Bois then highlights racializing visibility as one of the depersonalizing effects fostered by racial capitalism. Du Bois, furthermore, asserts that racial capitalism can be toppled through second sight, that is, by inverting the separatist dimensions of race and class into unifying agents against capitalism. The theory of Double Consciousness demonstrates the ways in which the conditions of racialization transform the minute interactional phenomena of glance or visual avoidance into racializing and marginalizing practice that significantly influences racialized individuals’ phenomenology.
The various scenes Du Bois describes across Souls, Dusk, and Darkwater, coalesce through their unified portrait of the ways in which (in)visibility encroaches on racialized individuals’ phenomenology and the American principles of democracy and equality. As DuBois contextualizes the visual dimension of racialization, he also carefully imagines a socialist democracy that avoids reproducing racist and sexist oppression by centering anti-racist and anti-sexist ideals (Carby et. al 2007). With dual focuses on anti-racist and anti-sexism, Du Bois envisions that the societal transformations would lead toward democracy and coincide with socialism (Marable 2015). By centering racialized individuals’ phenomenology, Du Bois clarifies the ways in which racialized individuals’ perceptions are marginalized, but still hold a special significance in the transformation of society. With interactional phenomena like visibility, Du Bois yokes together racialized subjectivity, interactions, and social systems. The theory of Double Consciousness explains the ways in which visual interactions between racializing and racialized individuals work in tandem with racial differentiation that sustains the racial capitalist social order.
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