Testing for Du Bois’s ‘Double Consciousness’ in Contemporary South Africa
This paper (written with colleagues from Cardiff University in the UK) provides what we think is the first empirical testing using experimental data of W.E.B. Du Bois’s classic theory of ‘double consciousness’ and ‘second sight’, and is certainly the first such test in South Africa. Du Bois argued that black people in the USA were compelled to understand the mores and behaviours of white Americans in order to survive their subordination, whereas white Americans had no such need to understand the mores and behaviours of black Americans. Using the ‘Imitation Game’ experimental method (developed at Cardiff) with a large sample of UCT students, we tested the hypothesis that black South African university students are better able to understand the world of white South Africans than visa-versa. The results falsified the hypothesis. We then examined why Du Bois’ predictions do not hold among university students in South Africa. We conclude that the cultural fluidity and diversity experienced by black students undermines the ability of black students to distinguish between white students pretending to be black and genuine black students, whilst the deep-rooted cultural capital of white students allows them to distinguish black students pretending to be white from genuinely white students.