The Gift/Curse of “Second Sight”

  • James W. Perkinson
Part of the Black Religion / Womanist Thought / Social Justice book series (BRWT)


In his 1903 publication called The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois articulates the pain of enduring racial oppression in terms of the affliction of “double-consciousness” that he also describes as the experience of “being born with a veil and gifted with second sight in this American world” (Du Bois, 1961, 16). This latter description (“born with a veil,” “gifted with second sight”) is itself a veiled reference to being born with a “caul” (or gauzy film covering the eyes) in African American culture—sign of a peculiar shamanistic ability to see beyond the ordinary (Bambara, 310). Much as chapter 2 read European race discourse as a modality of modern witchcraft practice, this chapter will read this famous Du Boisian formula as a poignantly “African” reformulation of the peculiarities of American racialization and its “discontents” as a (modern or even postmodern) mode of shamanic struggle. If shamanism can be theorized as (among other things) a trope pointing to certain kinds of transgressive practices, the negotiation of situations of social contradiction and psychological trauma, in which techniques of ecstasy are solicited to force affliction to yield healing and vitality, then African American transformations of the experience of being made black in America may be productively examined as a form of shamanic combat.


Black Community Dominant Culture White Supremacy Cultural Innovation Black Identity 
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© James W. Perkinson 2005

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  • James W. Perkinson

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