I have been pondering the concept of tresconsciousness for approximately a year and a half. And, I have come to the conclusion that my older brother is correct, as he often is, I should edit an anthology on the Black identity as it pertains to triple consciousness. Most people edit anthologies because they are an acclaimed expert in a respective field; expert I am not. Others edit anthologies because they have been selected by a particular publishing company; selected I am not. I am editing an anthology simply because I am afraid that if I do not complete the task, then no one else will. As Morrison has said, if there is a book that you want to read, that hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.
And so I write. And so I edit.
Tresconsciousness is an expansion of Du Bosian double consciousness. Simply put, it is the intersection of race and class within the Black identity. Tresconsciousness is the balance of European/western ideals, Black upper middle ambition and values and the struggle of the greater black community. As Du Bois spoke of two “warring ideals” one century ago, we examine three ideals and hope that they can coexist safely, healthily within one person.
The greatest example of tresconsciousness of the twenty-first century is found within hip hop. Every major hip hop and R& B artist of the twenty-first century is an example of tresconsciousness. Each artist who sings or raps on behalf of the black community in the ‘hood must confront two simple facts. First, most of their fans are not black and are not in urban settings. Second, in most cases they are no longer in the neighborhoods which they represent.
However tresconsciousness is not simply a black upper class and upper-middle class phenomenon. Every person of acknowledged African decent has ideas of success and authenticity in the Black community. And often those two ideas are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. As if that was not enough, in addition to the rift amongst what it means to be Black, African Americans must deal with the fact that they are indeed Americans. And, what exactly does that mean? Thus each person of color who identifies as Black is torn between Black success, Black authenticity and American patriotism, ideals and identity. And each person must find an identity within themselves that satisfies all three.
I first became aware of tresconsciousness when I moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to New York City. Growing up and being educated in Southeastern Michigan one can feel as if all socio-economic issues are issues of race. The Detroit metropolitan area is one of the most segregated areas of the country. With Detroit being over 80% Black and many of it outlying suburbs being over 80% white it is easy to ignore class-related issues and blame all discrepancies on race. Ling in New York was the first time that I realized that race and class together are part of the internal and external matrices that each Black person must face.
Moving to New York to work in publishing, I found that my salary was less than the amount that I owed in student loans. Thus I faced my own personal quandary; how can a person, a Black woman raised with Black middle class value come to terms with the face t that they are not middle class? Thus I had to face tokenism within a UK based corporation, elitism within myself and my college educated peers and the reality of my own financial situation.
Currently, I am residing in Detroit and I am calculating all of my acquired experiences from the four years I spent at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor through the two years I spent living in Harlem and working in SoHo. Tresconsciousness is the best word I can think to describe the summation of my young adulthood. Where the world once appeared to be Black and White, I have realized how much class impacts who one is, who one decides to be.
Why did I apply to Columbia University? Why did I attend the University of Michigan? Was it for the education, or was it for what they represent? Why did I join Delta Sigma Theta? Why did I become a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council? Was it for the community service, or was it for what they represent?
Each African-American has rhetorical questions pertaining to their life which only they can answer. Their answers determine where they lie on the spectrum of tresconsciousness. There are three dualist personalities which I have identified: the Du Boisian dualist, the Black biopolarist and the Wrightian outsider. The Du Boisian dualist is a person who acknowledges their American identity and their Black upper class values while ignoring the impact that the greater Black community has on them, their identity and their life. The Black bipolarist acknowledges and identifies the Black majority as well as the Black middle class while ignoring the extent of their own westernization. And the Wrightian outsider ignores and/or shuns the elitism and separatism of the Black middle class while embracing both westernization and Black Nationalism.
I have found that each of these dualist personalities can be hazardous because they deny one crucial element of the Black identity. Upon reflection I have realized that I am a Du Boisian dualist. It has in its own way, wreaked havoc upon my life. By not acknowledging the concerns and needs of the Black community, I have shut out al to of people from my own life including family members, neighbors and former friends. It is my own personal goal to find a form of tresconsciousness and balance that works with my lifestyle.
Tresconsciousness is not only my story. Tresconsciousness is our story. It is, in full, an American story. And, I am editing the Three Minds of Black America because it is time that we revisit the Du Boisian conversation of what it means to be Black in America and this time, everyone has a say.
Lhea J. Copeland
September 23, 2008