In the early nineteenth century W. E. B. Du Bois vividly summarized the challenges that African Americans faced by asking “how does it feel to be a problem?” To come to terms with being treated as a “problem,” he wrote, is a “strange experience,” a “peculiar sensation” that leads to “double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of the others.” Du Bois captured the feeling of stigmatization, noting that “the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate” (1903, Chapter 1). He demonstrated that coping with the “color-line” problem had a dramatic impact on both self-identification and group categorization. “No Negro,” he wrote, “has failed to ask himself at some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and be an American?” (1897).
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