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“A Form of Insanity Which Overtakes White Men”

“A Form of Insanity Which Overtakes White Men”

(p.15) Chapter One “A Form of Insanity Which Overtakes White Men”
The Souls of White Folk
Veronica T. Watson
University Press of Mississippi

This chapter theorizes white double consciousness by analyzing W.E.B. DuBois’ and Charles Chesnutt’s engagements with the late nineteenth and early twentieth century discourse of neurasthenia. Neurasthenia, a medical diagnosis that encapsulated a range of symptoms and ailments experienced by elite white Americans of the time, was being used to justify the uneasiness white Americans had toward shifting social realities and expectations related to race, class, and gender. DuBois and Chesnutt, understanding that science and medicine were being used to legitimate resistance to that social change, especially as it related the pursuit of racial equality in the U.S., intervened in the discourse to demonstrate the true cost to white subjectivity as well as the nation of their continued investment in white supremacy as a social organizing principle. They theorized a white schizophrenic subjectivity in which moderation toward social and racial justice would emerge as a desirable subject position for white Americans.

Keywords:   Double consciousness, White schizophrenic subjectivity, Neurasthenia, W.E.B. DuBois, The Colonel’s Dream

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