In The Souls of Black Folk, arguably W.E.B. DuBois’ most famous work, he introduces and addresses two concepts that describe the quintessential Black experience in America— the concepts of “the veil” and “double-consciousness.” Though DuBois uses these terms separately, their meanings and usage in his works are deeply intertwined. These two concepts gave a name to what so many African-Americans felt but previously could not express due to a lack of words to accurately describe their pain. The implication and connotation of these words were far-reaching because not only did it succinctly describe the plight of being Black and American then, it rings true to the core and essence of what it means to still be Black and American today.
For DuBois, the veil concept primarily refers to three things. First, the veil suggests to the literal darker skin of Blacks, which is a physical demarcation of difference from whiteness. Secondly, the veil suggests white people’s lack of clarity to see Blacks as “true” Americans. And lastly, the veil refers to Blacks’ lack of clarity to see themselves outside of what white America describes and prescribes for them.
Any socially-aware, present-day African-American has had at least two life-altering experiences in life— the moment he/she realized he/she was Black, and the moment when he/she realized that was a problem. Like DuBois, many African-Americans can pinpoint the exact instance at which both of these life altering encounters took place, and they too came to this realization at a young age. For DuBois, these realizations came during a youthful ball, at which his card was “peremptorily” refused by a Southern, white girl simply (or rather, not so simply) because he was Black. Of this encounter he writes the following: