"It is a peculiar sensation," the black historian, W. E. B. Dubois observed, "this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others. ... One feels his two-ness -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
Since those words were written 87 years ago, the acculturation process that turns people of all nationalities and races into Americans has erased many manifestations of that duality. Integration, for all the demagoguery to the contrary, is an unstoppable impulse in the society.
Still, the "peculiar sensation" of "double consciousness" persists to one degree or another among both blacks and whites. It is brought to the surface by such episodes as the marathon saga of Mayor Marion Barry. It was visible in the courtroom and in the aftermath of his trial and was evident in muted form in The Post's newsroom where "warring ideals" created tensions and disagreements over how and by whom the sordid tale would be handled.
Did the telling of the story require a "black perspective" or a "white perspective"? The Post is a "white" newspaper in a city that is 70 percent black; but its far larger metropolitan (and cosmopolitan) constituency is 70 percent nonblack. To which "sensitivities" should the newspaper be responsive, the Puritan ethic of the middle classes both black and white, or the cultic loyalty of people who, some editors feared, might react to the mayor's problems with rioting and rampage?
Journalists, despite some of the mythology surrounding this business, are not anesthetized robots who lose their souls or racial identities upon issuance of a press card. We are infected by the same passions and prejudices that infect the larger societies in which we live and to whose pressures and pleadings we are vulnerable. Black reporters and editors, for example, tell of being regarded in "the community," even before Mr. Barry's troubles, with suspicion and a certain hostility because of their affiliation with The Post and its "white masters."
Nevertheless, we are presumed to be endowed with the ability -- most often attributed to surgeons, priests and policemen -- to cage our personal furies and demons and, like Sgt. Friday, give you nothing but the facts. I would be a fool to claim that we always achieve that divine state of detachment. It takes no theologian to find doctrine seeping into the news columns. The temptation is heightened in cases such as the Barry affair that are racially divisive; the black editor of a local weekly went around the bend a few weeks ago, clamoring for "a good old-fashioned, blood-soaking race war."
The editorial relationship between The Post and the mayor has been a complicating factor. Mr. Barry was perceived for a number of years as a political prote'ge' of the editorial board, which endorsed him for mayor three times. But in January, after his arrest at the Vista Hotel and after his various addictions -- booze, cocaine and satyriasis -- had become both an international scandal and a joke, an editorial reappraisal occurred. He was called on to resign, an act regarded by some blacks as a form of betrayal. The Post, in their eyes, had now become a collaborator with a powerful federal establishment determined at any cost to crush a mayor and discredit black rule in the city. A sense of alienation infected some black staff members, but it produced no serious rift. Interracial squads were assigned to the trial and to the people and events surrounding it with the result that the coverage, with minor exceptions, tended to be race-neutral; "beige" is perhaps more descriptive.
That is mere opinion, of course, but it is reinforced by a Post poll a few days ago indicating 60 percent approval of its coverage. That poll, unfortunately, is of limited usefulness. It was based solely on a telephone sample of the District's 500,000 adults, who are overwhelmingly black. The opinions of 2 million suburban, exurban and rural Virginians and Marylanders who make up the bulk of The Post's readership, and who are overwhelmingly white, were not solicited.
It was an odd omission, suggesting, perhaps, feelings of guilt or uncertainty or apprehension in the newsroom about the paper's standing with its black audience, while assuming that white approval is automatic.