Seeing Double: A Look at Double Consciousness for Black Americans


Two representations of a black cat – one real and one false.

Double consciousness is W.E.B Dubois’ idea of what it’s like to be always aware of how other people view you; constantly measuring yourself through society’s eyes.Inner conflict arises upon realizing that you do not fit the mold you were given.

At first glance, this image depicts two black cats. They are seated side by side in what appears to be a house, possibly a bedroom because of the head board of a bed in the background on the right side. The cat on the right is placed on what appears to be a speaker, so that both cats are approximately at eye level with each other.

It is clear that there is a difference between the two figures with the bright green eyes. The creature on the left is an actual cat – a living breathing pet. It wears a collar and has a belly that looks to be well fed. It sits calmly for the camera that took this photo. We can tell that it is real by the details in the fur and whiskers as well as the posture and expression that are not seen in replicas.

But the figure on the right is not a live cat. It is a stuffed animal that is meant to look like a black cat. The clearest indication that it is supposed to be a cat is by the catlike green eyes with black slits in the middle. It is much smaller than the actual cat, which is why it must be placed on the speaker to be at the same height. It is slumped over the speaker and its tiny front legs dangle lifelessly. It has a somewhat sad and comical face with such exaggerated large eyes, ears slouched to the sides, and a pink dot nose. It is clear that the fur is a very different texture and the cat on the right is generally less detailed and lifelike.

The stuffed cat represents society’s perception of the real cat. As I described earlier, the perceived cat is very different than the real thing. This can also be translated into terms of racism. Society’s perception of black people is different than the actual people. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, black people are portrayed negatively – as bad people, lazy workers, dumb, uncivilized. But from the perspective of the main character, who is a black man, the people do not fit under the labels that society ascribes to them.

In Cast-iron Negro BankEllison’s novel, the main character finds a cast-iron bank that portrays a “very black, red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro, whose white eyes stared up at me” (319). The figure wore an enormous grin and had its hand out in front of its chest so that a coin can be placed there, and when a lever is pulled, the satirical Negro pops the coin into his mouth. Like the stuffed cat, this bank symbolizes society’s perception of black people, and turns it into a nasty joke.

The reason it is important to recognize symbols and how they represent a group – whether it’s people or cats – is because these things can lead to a stigma on the group. For example, there is a negative stigma on black cats. It is said to be bad luck if a black cat crosses your path. Black cats are also thought of during Halloween and are often shown with witches. But why not grey cats – or any other color?

The color black in general carries a negative connotation. Black is associated with darkness, which is often compared to evil or bad things. As already mentioned, black cats bring bad luck, and witches wear black pointy hats when casting spells or using “dark” magic. Black is associated with death; it is the color worn in mourning. The “black market” means that stolen or illegal items are sold and bought illegally. And finally, there was a time when black people were considered less human, if not human at all.

The cat in this image is lucky, because it has no idea that people may avoid it because of its color. And it is ignorant of its own bad luck. But humans are not so fortunate. A black person, such as the main character of “The Invisible Man” is fully aware that society looks down upon him because of his skin color. And he is also aware that he personally does not fit the stereotypes he is given. The tragic part is that there is little he can do to break away from the stigma that he had no place in creating. This is the ultimate double consciousness.


Hurd, Ryan. “The Doppelgänger: facing the otherworldly mirror.” 9 Nov. 2011. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <;

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