Overview: The development of identity and double-consciousness in African-American adolescent males through multicultural curriculum and literature:
Double consciousness is an idea developed by W.E.B Du Bois. In his historic work, The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois states, “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” (Du Bois, 1903). A pioneer in his field, Du Bois championed the idea of race is a social, not biological construct. Du Bois writings emphasize that historical, social, and economic conditions inform race.
During the adolescent period, many often experience role confusion and questions who they are and how they fit into the world. During this period, adolescents experiment with different actions and attitudes. “Most adolescents eventually achieve a sense of identity regarding who they are and where their lives are headed” (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010).
Using the lens of double-consciousness to analyze the development of black adolescent identity, Harrison asserts that “black adolescents always looking at one’s self through the eyes of other [therefore] are not blind to their reality nor are they unaffected by the way they are represented (Harrison, 2010). How can educators encourage and develop the double consciousness of black males?
Gates & Mark assert, “all children need to see themselves and their culture depicted realistically and authentically in picture books and novels” and goes on the say, “multicultural literature should be defined in a comprehensive and inclusive manner; that is, it should include books that reflect the racial, ethnic, and social diversity that is characteristics of our pluralistic society” (Gates & Mark, 2010).
Horace Hall asserts that outside of school African-American males endure a range of adverse conditions including, “low-socioeconomic status, culturally biased stereotypes, home and community violence, and joblessness—especially living in neglected and disjointed communities with scarce economic resources and support systems” (Hall, 2015).
Multicultural curriculum is a must in schools, it benefits all students, particularly those of color. Students of color are in need of seeing images of themselves and others that break stereotypes and misconceptions. As educators, in order to truly educate a child, we must educate the entire child. For some children that means assisting in counteracting society’s image of their development. Multicultural curriculum that reinforces their awareness of social issues, “U.S. education settings can leverage an interdependent self-schema associated with African-American culture through inclusive multicultural practices to facilitate positive academic consequences” (Brannon, Markus, & Taylor, 2015).
As a teacher in one of the country’s largest urban school districts, I am very familiar with teaching students of color. As an African-American woman, I attended a primarily white school my entire life, until I enrolled at Spelman College. In my primary schooling, I saw very few images of myself and an even smaller amount of images of African-American men. At one point, I remember being assigned a project to tell a story of how my family may have come over on the May Flower. I remember my parents writing a long letter to the teacher and not doing the assignment. However, there was never a discussion about it school. On presentation day, I simply didn’t present. There was no acknowledgement that I was different from my peers, and it was okay for me to tell a different story. If it were not for the cultural awareness provided by my family, I would have only developed my sense of self through the eyes of someone else.
When I became a teacher, I knew I was needed by children of color. I choose to work in the Philadelphia School District because I felt my presence was needed more there than in a primarily white school district. Due to my own education experience, I was able to compare and understand that the education that many students receive doesn’t make them competitive. There is a lack of passion and empathy in many classrooms. As a teacher, I struggle to find an array of books that are truly multicultural. And more importantly, I struggle to find books that acknowledge and develop the double-consciousness of black adolescent males. Adolescence and young adulthood are pivotal moments in life. During these periods, child learn how to interact with the world in order to establish their own identity and sense of self.
I am particularly interested in this group and topic because it is rarely talked about. Double consciousness is rarely discussed in education circles, however, it is very real. Teaching young Black traumatized males is difficult, and few have mastered the art. I once attended a literacy conference, where a speaker asserted that in a reading class if the black males are engaged, everyone will be engaged. While I am unsure of the research backing this statement, I very much agree and am intrigued by the idea. Education and incarcerate rates show that Black males are losing. As an educator if I am to truly educate black males, I must educate them wholistically. Feeding them the classics is not enough.
Annotated Book List:
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois (1903)
- This book revealed the ground breaking idea of a dual identity, double consciousness, of African-Americans. When initially written this book was revolutionary. While written in 1903, many of the ideas and concepts are still applicable to the present mental state of African-American.
- This book is high quality because it builds self-awareness and social awareness by building historical knowledge and context for African-American. Du Bois outlines the definition and cause of double-consciousness.
Students should read this book with a teacher or parent. Conversations around race many time involve historical context and experiences. Teachers and parents may share their experiences with students in order to help them make sense of the complex ideas presented by Du Bois. For younger students, it will be important to give multiple opportunities to synthesis new information. No unit on double consciousness is complete without this text.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
- Written by a Nigerian writer and set in Nigeria, this book is about resistance and coming of age story. Highlighting the relationships between sons and fathers and he complexity of these relationships, this books should the effects of generational trauma and grieving.
- This book teaches social and emotional learning through relationship skills. The main character struggles with making responsible decisions and establishing positive relationship.
This book can be read as a part of a unit on Africa or about relationships between a father and a son. There is a character adopted and his acceptance and relationship is different with characters. This book may be used to have conversations around adoption as well.
- Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper (2006)
- Written the form of letters, this book accompanies Letters to a Young Sister. Author Hill Harper offers real world advice and guidance for young African-American boys. This book can aid in opening lines of dialogue between parent and child.
- These letters teach all core social and emotional competencies. Hill Harper’s book helps young man to tap into their self-awareness and self-management to “manifest [their] destiny.”
This book should be used in a class that teach social and emotional learning. The text is not difficult to understand and it is very realistic. The author’s tone is that of an older brother. I would suggest pairing this book with journaling and structured conversations to get the full benefit of the text.
- The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton (1985)
- A series of short stories exploring African folktales and stories of slave escape. This book is written for young children and teaches the lessons of resilience and determination.
- This book is high quality because it teaches resilience and gives student historical context. Self-determination is a very important skill for success and it is built with self-management and responsible decision making.
This book is for younger children and emphasizes the importance of oral history. This book can be used for a variety of ages and adapted to be made purposeful and beneficial. Students could learn resilience and the tradition of resistance during slavery. This book can be used to teach about slavery, social awareness, folklore, and determination
5. Monster by Walter Dean Myers (1999)
· Written the form of a movie script, this book is narrated by a teenage boy preparing to face a murder trial. This book highlights the implications of the “justice system” on the lives of African-American men. Portions of the book are written in the form of a diary entry.
· This high quality book explores social awareness and self-awareness. The main character must maintain himself through a variety of situations and when being seen multiple different ways by multiple groups of people. Perception vs reality is an important factor when understanding double consciousness.
This book can be used to explore the school-to-prison pipeline and the justice system. Students may participate in a mock trial to act out scenes from the book. Teachers may also use the prison industrial complex.
6. The Day I Saw My Father Cry by Bill Cosby, Illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood (1999)
- Part of the Little Bill series, this book strives to break down common misconceptions about men and emotion. After a neighbor’s death, Little Bill and his father must work through the grieving process together.
- The title of this book indicates that it is centered around relationship skills and self-awareness. This book is high quality because it helps students recognize and manage their emotions as well as build empathy for others.
This book could be used after someone’s death. In the book a neighbor’s death effects everyone including Little Bill and his father. Teachers and parents may be able to use this book to initiate a conversation about death and the feelings afterward.
- SLAM by Walter Dean Myers (1996)
- The main character, Slam, in this book deals typical pressures and problems of living in the inner-city. Slam is passionate about basketball but endangers his future with a poor attitude and bad grades in school to match.
- This book highlights a teen having to make decisions about his future. Teens are developing their identity and gaining freedom, it will be beneficial for them to read about a character facing similar issues.
There are a lot of examples of alliteration, simile, and metaphors in this book. Along with teaching decision making skills, teachers may use this text to teach writing conventions. This book opens up dialogue about healthy friendships and relationships with teens as well.
- The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (1995)
- A black family from Flint, Michigan decides to take a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama. During their trip a church is bombed and four little girls are killed. While a fictional text, this book explores true historical events through their effects on the characters.
- This book will give students a narrative version of history. Students will not need a lot of background information to understand this text. This book will give students a history lesson without lecturing them.
Teachers and parents may use this book in a conversation to compare and contrast the current with the past political and racial climate in America. The family in book travels from Flint to Birmingham, students may be able to compare the 1960s in both the North and South. This book also highlights a family relationship and how racism had an impact on those relationships.
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1976)
- This book is about a Black family living in the South during the Depression. This fictional text explores law and justice in the relation to race in America using historic events.
- Similar to The Watsons Go to Birmingham, this book is centered around family relationships. Students will be able to explore the complexity of family relationships as well as seeing each character as an individual contributing to a group.
The characters in the book struggle with perception vs. reality, this easily lends the book to discussions about the topic. This book may be used in a social studies unit about the South in the 1930s. In the face of astounding adversity this family is able to stay strong, teachers may use this a lesson of self-awareness and determination for students.
- Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans (2006)
- A collection of short stories written from the perspective of young men and women who are African-American or biracial. This book is set in the present day and explores race, class, and gender through an emotional lens.
- Coined “political prose” this book explores race and gender in the period of adolescent. Evans’ characters are attempting to establish their identities as young adults and are faces with common problems including racism and sexism. This book with serve as a comfort for some readers and as a mirror into the lives of others for other readers.
This book can be used in a variety of subject areas. Used in a health class, this book lends to discussions about sexual healthy and healthy relationships. Used in a history or social studies class, this book has open dialogue about sex, politics, and the female body in history. An English teacher may use this book to discuss perspective and short stories.
- Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama (1995)
- Written by President Barack Obama, this book explores his troubles as a biracial young man. Young Barack struggles to find himself until he is able to meet his father’s family in Kenya. The initial meeting was therapeutic.
- This text explores Obama’s struggles with his identity as a bi-racial man. This books speaks of his resilience and determination in the face of adversity. Readers will learn of Obama’s personal history and the path that lead him to the Presidency.
Teachers may use this book in a social studies unit. Discussions around race and politics will be initiated by the book. Students will see the president more humanized by reading this book. Humanizing a great feature such as Barack Obama may inspire students to become interested in politics.
- The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)
- Written by a slave, this narrative gives a first-hand account of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Equiano was an early advocate of the abolition of slavery. There are questions surrounding birth place and date of Euqiano.
- This book will give students a history lesson from a first person narrative. This text is one of the few
This text would be primarily used in an English or Social Studies class because of its content. Teacher can use this narrative as a primary source document. Journal writing may be useful as an enrichment activity in addition to this book.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates (1995)
- Written as a series of letters from a father to a son. This book attempts to explain many of the hardships that many adolescent males may experience during their lifetime in America. Coates shares with his son and readers his perspective on race in America as a black man.
- This book is high quality because it promotes a conversation between an often severed relationship of father and son. Acknowledging common situations and building resilience in these circumstances is very important for success in life.
This book can be used in a variety of settings. I believe this book would be very powerful in an all-male setting. Readers should be able to have frank and open conversation about the topics discussed and their own personal experiences. This book can be paired with an open journal or letter writing to deepen students’ understanding.
- Ode to Ethiopia from The Complete Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1896)
- This poem is salute the Africa and a call for racial pride amongst African-Americans. Dunbar presents Africa as a mother from which all African-Americans have come from. The speaker acknowledges the hardships faced but is also remindful of causes to be joyful as well.
- Dunbar creates a metaphor from which the reader can claim racial pride. This poem can be used to develop confidence in the face of racial discrimination.
I would suggest using this poem in tandem with the poetry of Langston Hughes. The strong metaphor of Africa as mother and racial pride resonate through the entire poem. This poem may be used in a unit that emphasizes the connection between African-Americans and Africa. Dunbar’s poem may be used in an English or social studies class.
- We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1913)
- This poem illustrates double consciousness. The speaker alludes to people of African descent living two lives in order to survive.
- This poem illustrates resilience to readers. The entire poem is a metaphor for double consciousness.
This poem can be used in an English class or a social studies class. This poem is a metaphor for the African-American experience and it can be used in multiple ways. A unit on double consciousness must include this poem as well as The Souls of Black Folks
- Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945)
- Richard Wright’s fictionalized memoir Black Boy retells the author’s childhood. The book follows his moves from South to the North with his family. Wright experiences violence, racism, and prejudice.
- Black Boy gives a narrative experience to double consciousness. Readers will gain insight through personal experience. If students struggle with The Souls of Black Folk, this text may help them understand the concept of seeing yourself in two ways.
This book can be used with a journal to deepen and personalize student learning. Examining internal and external conflict, and character analysis, historical significance of the book and how it impacts the character are all very good ways to utilize this book.
- The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes edited by Arnold Rampersad (1995)
- This book contains over 800 poems and spans across five decades. Using art as political commentary Hughes celebrates all aspects of African-American life in America. The poems are arranged in the order in which they were written allowing the readers to experience history with Hughes.
- These poems promote social awareness and political awareness. Poems are a useful differentiation tool that will make content more accessible to some students.
This text can be used to illustrate art as political commentary. This book may be used to show poetry as art and as powerful as any other written text. Hughes poetry celebrates all aspects of African-American life.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois
We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes edited by Arnold Rampersad
I suggest the above five books to be used in a unit about double consciousness and the African-American experience. This unit can illustrate African-American experience through historical and narrative text. This unit will include poems, books, and excerpts from texts. The Souls of Black Folk is the staple to understanding double consciousness. I would suggest a close reading of excerpts from this text. High school students may struggle with this text and will need comprehension strategies in order to gain knowledge from the text. Comparing the Talented Tenth to Black celebrities and discussing code-switching are two activities I would suggest to use with this text. To incorporate art into the unit, I would use We Wear the Mask. With this text, students can create other representations of masks and discussion around the functions of masks in our everyday lives.
Black Boy and Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny can be used together to write letters. Students can use these text write letters to their younger or older self. This activity will promote emotional awareness. Students will be able to use Black Boy as retold history to inform their letter writing. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes will demonstrate that art can function as political commentary. Students can trace the African-America experience through history in art. For this unit, I would not suggest trying to read all books in their entirely.
Brannon, T. N., Markus, H. R., & Taylor, V. J. (2015). “Two Souls, Two Thoughts,” Two Self-Schemas: Double Consciousness Can Have Positive Academic Consequences for African Americans. Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology, 108(4), 586-609. doi:10.1037/a0038992
Gates, P. S., & Mark, D. L. H. (2010). Cultural journeys: Multicultural literature for elementary and middle school students. Scarecrow Press.
Hall, H. R. (2015). Food for Thought: Using Critical Pedagogy in Mentoring African American Adolescent Males. Black Scholar, 45(3), 39-53.
Harrison, L. (2010). Black Adolescent Identity, Double-Consciousness, and a Sociohistorically Constructed Adolescence. In Developmentalism in Early Childhood and Middle Grades Education (pp. 131-147). Palgrave Macmillan US.
McDevitt, T. M., & Ormrod, J. E. (2010). Child development and education. Pearson College Division.
Rogers, L. O., Scott, M. A., & Way, N. (2015). Racial and Gender Identity Among Black Adolescent Males: An Intersectionality Perspective. Child Development, 86(2), 407-424. doi:10.1111/cdev.12303
Shaw, S. J. (2015). W. E. B. Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk. : The University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com