W.E.B. DuBois Double Consciousness and Brittany Howard’s One Drop of Three-Fifths

Recently in my course “African American Childhoods” we’ve been reading literature ranging from pre- Harlem Renaissance to earlier work on the black existence in the Jim-Crow South. In Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk my class has been working on this essential idea of “double consciousness.” Inevitably, it wasn’t until I was sitting in my room listening to some awesome music on my crappy ten-dollar speaker that I realized a connection between two brilliant minds that I just had to make. 

Some of the books we’ve read in this class thus far are: 

Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson, and Passing by Nella Larsen.

So how does this theory of double consciousness relate to a song released in 2019? The brilliant Brittany Howard released a solo album called Jaime after a great run with her infamous band, Alabama Shakes. Jaime, meant to be a personal expedition of Howard’s personal life is full of bangers, but “Goat Head” is by far my favorite. Immediately this song examines the historical and personal legacy of racism in this country and in Howard’s own family. So often is the idea of being “mixed race” fetishized, stigmatized, and completely misunderstood in contemporary art. Weirdly racist tones of; 

I don’t care if you’re black, green, or white…

White girls wanting to have sex with black men so they can have a “mixed kid” with “blue eyes, light brown skin, and long eyelashes”

Which side of your family do you like more?

With “Goat Head” I got the first couple of metaphors: I got the green tomatoes and that god has blue eyes. But it wasn’t until I listened to this song repeatedly until I heard that last meaningful line: “I’m one drop of three-fifths, right?” 

It is not my position to speak on the actual personal implications of this subject but this post is meant to amplify Howard’s insane intelligence. Howard who’s a raging lesbian, rockstar, and black woman, is the first artist I’ve heard use such a complex theory of “double consciousness” and turn it into a line of lyrics in an insanely rhythmic and catchy song. While a class full of mostly privileged white kids talked about DuBois in my English class for 80 minutes, Howard summed up the true, whole experience in this one line. So as I go back to the beginning of my story, you know, sitting on my floor in my room listening to my shitty speaker as I was doing homework… I can’t help but think how blind Academia is, or perhaps students like myself, how blind we are when we don’t include voices like Howards? Or maybe, maybe I’ll just have to ask my professor if I can aux next class. 

See, tomatoes are green

And cotton is white

My heroes are black

So why God got blue eyes?

My daddy, he stayed

My grandmama’s a maid

My mama was brave

To take me outside

‘Cause mama is white

And daddy is black

When I first got made

Guess I made these folks mad

See, I know my colors, see

But what I wanna know is…

Who slashed my dad’s tires and put a goat head in the back?

I guess I wasn’t s’posed to know that, too bad

I guess I’m not ‘posed to mind ’cause I’m brown, I’m not black

But who said that?

See, I’m black, I’m not white

But I’m that, nah, nah, I’m this, right?

I’m one drop of three-fifths, right?

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Goat head in the back

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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