born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this american world, a world which yields him no true self consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. it is a peculiar thing, this double consciousness, this sensation of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by a tape of the world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. one ever 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. the history of the american negro is the history of this strife,
this longing to attain a self conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. and in the merging, he desires neither of the older selves to be lost. he would not africanize america, for america has too much to teach the world and africa. he would not bleach his negro soul in the flood of white americanism, for he knows that negro blood has a message for the world. he simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a negro and an american without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows and without having the door of opportunity closed roughly in his face. so...no matter the smile, no matter the grin, no matter the bow, there is no safety.
no hiding place. no matter what mask we wear, we blacks are damned if we do and damned if we don't. as ralph ellison says in the beginning of his novel, invisible man, we black americans have no guarantee that we exist at all. i am an invisible man. no, i'm not a spook like those who haunted edgar allan poe nor am i one of your hollywood movie ectoplasms. i am a man of substance, of flesh and bones, of fiber and liquids, and i might even be said to have a mind. i am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. like the bodiless heads you see sometimes
in the circus sideshows, it is as though i have been surrounded by mirrors of hard distorting glass. when they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination-- indeed, everything and anything except me. nor is my invisibility exactly a matter of a biochemical accident to my epidermis, that invisibility to which i refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom i come in contact. a matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality.
i'm not complaining nor am i protesting either. it's sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves. then, too, you're constantly being bumped against by those of poor vision. or again, you often doubt if you really exist. you wonder whether you aren't simply a phantom in other people's minds. say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his might to destroy. it's when you feel like this that because of your resentment, you begin to bump people back. and let me confess, you feel that way most of the time,
you ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you are a part of all the sound and anguish. you strike out with your fist. you curse and swear to make them recognize you. and alas, it's seldom successful. whatever mask we wear is a matter of public convenience. it maintains the peace. it keeps us in our place. and on the surface, it seems, for the most part, to work. we smile, we grin, we shuffle, and all is well, but only on the surface and only for a moment. the truth of what we are might be quite different. like if we were walking into a peaceful-seeming landscape
and suddenly overturned a rock, the mask for the moment has been suddenly ripped away, and we are startled and frightened by the anger, the fury, the hostility that we see and feel from the creatures hidden beneath. that's how i felt when first i saw john kani and winston ntshona do sizwe bansi is dead, a play which they themselves had written along with athol fugard, and at first presented in south africa. hey, come in. come in. come in. it's a dream. come in. mr. styles. welcome, brother. welcome at styles. oh, you've come to take a card.
[imitates camera shutter] a snap. well, it's the same thing. have you got deposit? 40 cents. yes. oh, never mind. you don't have to pay me now. you can pay me later. you see, the trouble, if you don't have the deposit, the card doesn't come out. let me take your name and address down. i just keep record of people that visit me. what is your name, sir? name? now, look at least, my brother, you still have your name. - yes. - now what is your name? robert zwelinzima. - robert... - zwelinzima. zwelinzima. where do you stay? address? 50 mapija. - 50--50 mapija street. - mapija. are you staying with mr. buntu? - yes. - oh, no. never mind. his card was there, but he took it last saturday. mr. buntu is a very kind man. always ready to help the people when they are in troubles. if that man was white, they would call him a liberal.
robert, tell me, how many cards do you want to take? one. - just one? - one card. oh, robert, what a wonderful suit especially designed and tailored to fit you. - where did you buy it? - sales house. sales house, where the black people buy. six months to pay, pay as you wear, they never repossess. robert, tell me, how do you want to take your card? you can take your card sitting down. robert, you can take it standing. robert, you can take it anyhow. how do you want to take it? anyhow. sit down, robert. sit down. that's lovely. robert, you can put your hat on. put your hat on. relax, robert. feel at home. this is the only place that belongs to the people. lovely. now, robert, get ready. that's it. ready, robert. robert, are you ready? robert, tell me, what are you going to do with this card? send it home to my wife, nowetu.
where is your wife? king william's town. oh, that's a man. that's a man with responsibility. i know they do not allow you to bring your wife and stay with her in the big city, but that doesn't mean forget her. robert, take that card. put it in an envelope. the wife opens it, what does she see? look, robert zwelinzima with all the troubles of this world on his neck. what does the wife say? "oh, no. "my husband is not happy in the big city. he must come back." don't do that, my brother. we all have troubles. we all have problems. but i tell you one thing, my brother. smile at these people. smile at the world. robert, make a fall. make a fall, robert. how lovely. put this arm on the table. beautiful, robert. now, robert, smile. that's it, robert. smile. here we go. jesus christ, what is it, robert?
you can use your pipe. this is not a railway station. now right, robert, a little bit down, just towards the mouth. that's it, robert. lovely. now, robert, smile. smile, robert. lovely. robert, it's finished. it's finished, robert. beautiful, robert. oh, lovely. robert, what about another card? no. just one card. one card. what if it gets lost? you know what, robert, i've heard stories about the postman. if those bastards don't strike, you know what they do? they sit down on the way, open all the letters. "dear my wife," the letter goes to hell, the money here. he opens another one, "dear my wife," the card goes to hell. he puts the money here. oh, robert, if you take another card, you don't have to pay me the money now, just the deposit. like sales house. exactly, robert. where do you work? feltex. felt & textiles consolidated spinning mills?
- yes. - they pay good there. - not bad. - robert, tell me, have you ever walked down that long passage that lead to the big glass offices, the manager's office? oh, robert, imagine in 15 years time to quit promoting the felt & textiles, you can become the best chief senior messenger boy. robert, imagine yourself sitting behind the desk like a white man with the phone ringing, another phone ringing. robert, an ashtray, a vase of flowers and you, robert, giving orders to the junior messenger boys. why wait 15 years? styles can make your dream come true. now, robert zwelinzima, chief senior messenger boy at felt & textiles. in time to come an ashtray, robert, a vase of flowers. robert, let me show you something. robert, every time i walk into a manager's office, i laugh myself sick.
the bastards, because they run the factory, sometimes they think they run the world too. they always hang the map of the world behind them, all of them. here it is, robert, the map of the world. lovely, robert. this whole part, robert, is united states of america. nixon is somewhere here. he's in big shit. the papers say so. robert, this is south america, argentine, chile, somewhere here. there's been a lot of trouble in chile, but the papers are quiet about it now. robert, great britain. very small on the paper, but bloody strong and clever. robert, this is africa. petrol nuisance was somewhere around here. we've got nothing to do with it. we are here, robert. just here. robert, you know this one? russia. shh. robert, you know this one? - vietnam, vietcong. - no. - you don't read the papers? - uh-uh. jesus, that was once a hell of a fight between the two brothers. america was watching it on tv. [imitates shutter clicking] robert zwelinzima, chief senior messenger boy
at felt & textiles. in time to come, sit down, robert. sit down, with the world behind you. sit down, robert. robert, make a fall. put that arm on the table. hold it, robert, chief senior messenger boy smokes cigarette. that's a symbol of status for us these days. lovely, robert. just about to tap it on the ashtray. that's beautiful. what a lovely background. lovely, robert. now, robert, ready. smile, robert. beautiful, robert. here we go. lovely. [click click] lovely. robert, it's finished. robert, when the machine goes [click click] it's finished, robert. beautiful, robert. how beautiful. robert, what about a movie? move. you don't know what a movie is? - uh-uh. - easy, robert. i will explain it to you. look, robert, when i say come, all you do, walk straight towards me and i take the card. [clicking]
robert, felt & textiles is closing down this december for two weeks holiday, eh. take a piece of paper. write to your wife. "dear my wife, "i'll be coming to spend the christmas holiday with you and my children at last." the wife gets the letter, she opens it. what does she see? "oh, no, come my neighbors, look at my husband, robert. he's walking to me. my husband is coming to me." he gives the card to the little children. the kids look at the card and then look at the card and they say, "daddy's coming home. mama, daddy's coming home. mama." don't you want it, robert? don't you want it? robert zwelinzima, man about town, with a white suit that have never seen even the parliamentarians wearing. robert, here is a walking stick to match the color of your suit. beautiful, robert. a newspaper under your arm. i can't read. oh, your wife will see that in the pictures.
robert, you think these bloody fools that walk up and down with the papers, they can read? you'll be surprised, they're just looking, get the pictures. they don't want to talk to you. robert, let me show you something. what i do with the money that people pay me? i do not sit on it and be comfort like they do. robert, i do things that develop my people's dreams. robert zwelinzima, man about town, will walk in front of the great city of the future. the city of the future. lovely. ok bazaar. that is where we also. ok bazaar, main street, johannesburg building society for whites only. stren street, barclays bank all over the bloody world. mutual insurance company, john foster square. be careful, they run the country there. now right, robert, just get ready. beautiful, robert. robert, just a little bit in front of the great city, just right in front of barclays bank.
lovely, robert. now when i say come, just walk straight to me, robert. now, ready. come, robert. come, robert. one more time. come, robert. hold it, robert. smile. smile. smile, robert. nowetu. dear nowetu. i've got wonderful news for you in this letter. my troubles are over, i think. you cannot believe it but i must tell you. sizwe bansi, in a manner of speaking, is dead. i'll tell you what i can. as you know, when i left the railway compounds, i went to stay with a friend of mine called zola, a very good friend that, nowetu. in fact, he was trying to get me some job. after a week with zola, i was in big troubles, nowetu.
the headman came around, and after a lot of happenings, which i will tell you when i get back home, they put a stamp in my dom book saying i must leave port elizabeth at once. three days. i was a very unhappy man, nowetu. i couldn't stay with zola because if the headman found me there again, my troubles would be bigger. so zola sent me to a friend of his called buntu and asked him if i could stay with him until i decided what to do. i am buntu. sizwe bansi. sit down, sizwe bansi. i've been expecting you. i met zola in town. he explained to me you need a place to stay until saturday when you go back to king william's town. you can stay with me. well, as you see, this is a two-roomed house. perch yourself in that corner there. i'll be in this other room. i'm not staying with my wife at the moment. she's a domestic servant in town. she helps to sleep with a white madam.
jeez, it's a bloody hot day today, eh? what is your trouble, actually? i've got no permit to stay in port elizabeth. where do you have permit to be? in king william's town. how did they find out? - as you know-- - yeah. - i was staying with zola-- - mm-hmm. --and i was very happy at zola's place until one night as i was sleeping on the floor, i heard some noises. then there was a loud bang on the door. there was a raid again. there was a raid at zola's place. ah, shit, these people. the headman walked in and pulled me out of the table. - yeah. - i was wearing my pants and i finished dressing in the van. you were lucky. they drove straight to the administration office-- yeah. and from there they went to the labor bureau. uh-huh. later, i was taken into an office-- yeah. and made to stand next to the door like a pole. yeah. a white man sitting behind the desk-- yeah. looking at me and also shaking his head--
that's what they bloody know. and just then-- yeah. another white man walked in carrying a card. was the card pink? the white man was carrying a pink card. that's a record card. your whole life on that card in detail and they keep it. the first white man started writing something on the card. yeah. and just then, another white man walked in-- yeah. - carrying... - a stamp. he was carrying a stamp. what did he do with the stamp? he used it on my dom book. let me see your book. what did they tell you? they wrote something on the dom book-- yeah. and then they told me to get out. jesus christ. you know what this stamp means? i can't read. listen. "you are required to report "to the bantu affairs commissioner "of king william's town within three days
of the abovementioned date--" one, two--jesus, brother. you should have been at home yesterday-- "for the purpose of repatriation, influx control." brother, you've been endorsed out. i don't want to leave port elizabeth. maybe. if that stamp in that book says go, you must go. can't i burn this book and get a new one? you burn that book and get a new one and the bloody white man sees you doing that, huh? you'll have to tell him how many books you've burned before. and what do you think you're going to do, walk up and down without a book? you will have to apply for another one and you'll make it a point before that new book comes, no policeman stops you and ask for the book. you'll be back in those courtrooms, five rand, five days in jail, right? the new book comes. you'll never get a job, anything, without the right stamp in it. so you will have to go back to the labor bureau. the white man takes your book at the labor bureau, he goes straight to those big machines-- what do they call those bloody machines
they've just bought from britain? the computer, yeah. he feeds the computer with your dom book number. n-i-- [imitates typing and processing] record card. pink. sizwe bansi, born in king william's town, endorsed out of port elizabeth. that date, the white man picks up the same stamp. this one is finished. you can forget about it. throw it to hell, if you like. apply for another one, back to the labor bureau. the white man grabs your book. he doesn't even look at your face. it's not important. what he wants is the number. that's what he wants. back to the big machine. n-i... record card. pink. sizwe bansi, born in king william's town, endorsed out of port elizabeth. that date and that date, and this time, straight with an escort to the magistrate court, 10 rand fine, back to the railway station. you'll be in king william's town. you will serve in jail for the train fare. can't i find some jobs in the gardens?
- jobs in the gardens? - yes. you know what those white ladies say when they want a garden boy? can you read the paper? i can't read. eastern province herald, page 18, swap column, domestic vacancies. "we want a garden boy, very well-mannered, "wide knowledge of season and flowers. book in order." your book is not in order with that stamp, and what do you bloody know of season and flowers? tell me, isn't there a white man you know here in port elizabeth who might perhaps give you a job? i don't know any white man in port elizabeth, no. the white man i used to know is-- he is now in-- pity. we might have been able to work out a point there. you see, if you knew the white man, i would ask the white man to write a letter, stating in the letter that he's got a job for you here in port elizabeth, right?
now, you take this letter from the white man in port elizabeth who's got a job for you straight to the native commissioner of king william's town. the native commissioner of king william's town will read the letter from the white man in port elizabeth who's got a job for you and write another letter. now, take the letter from the native commissioner of king william's town, plus the letter from the white man in port elizabeth, straight to the native commissioner of port elizabeth. the native commissioner of port elizabeth will read the letter from the native commissioner of king william's town, letter from the white man in port elizabeth and then write another letter. take the letter from the native commissioner of port elizabeth, native commissioner of king william's town, letter from the white man in port elizabeth who's got a job for you straight to the senior labor bureau officer in charge of the influx control and the endorsement stamp. the senior labor bureau officer will read the letter from the native commissioner of port elizabeth, native commissioner of king william's town, letter from the white man in port elizabeth who's got a job for you and then take your book and re-endorse it with section 10 1a1b, the right to stay and work in a white prerescribed area while employed. listen, sizwe.
once the white man puts that stamp in your book, it's done, brother. no one can undo it. forget about it. all i can do is to try and get a single train fare ticket to king william's town, that's all. now, why don't you go back to king william's town? - uh-uh. - hey, i've got it. you go back to king william's town. - no. - listen first, man. go straight to those big offices-- what do they call this office if you want to go and dig the gold for them? whatever, the labor recruiting office. tell the white man behind the desk you want to sign the three years contract and dig the gold for them. they don't care, man, whether your book has got the right stamp or not. what the white man wants, you must go down and bring the gold up to him. i don't want to work in the mines again. i once worked in the mines. there's no money at the end of the month. and it's dangerous working down in the mines because you start boring those rocks and pieces of rocks start falling on your head. you can die any minute there because black men get killed
in the mines. and you don't want to die? i don't want to die. are you married, sizwe? yes. children? i've got four children. boys? girls? three boys and one girl. i'm married too, my brother. you've got children? one. only one? yeah, my wife attends this birth control rubbish clinic. you know what, sizwe? if i were to tell you the troubles they gave me before they could put the right stamp in my book, born in this town, the troubles they gave me before i could get a job to stay alive, born in this area, the hell i went through before they could give me this two-roomed house, born in this country. jesus christ, you'll start screaming the whole bloody night. why is there so much trouble, mr. buntu? last saturday,
i went to a funeral of an old man just on the other side of port alfred in those small farms. you know the way it is with us men. when an old man dies, there is always that service at home, another service at the church, another service at the graveside. all the priests present that day selected one phrase from the bible. [speaking african language] "we are all going home one day." but my moment was at the graveside, when they gave a chance to a lay preacher. he was a very tiny man, with a thin trimmed moustache. he wore one of those double-breasted suits, which -- wore. and every time this man called upon the lord, he had a wonderful gesture for me. [speaking african language] this reminded me of my kieri days. standing next to that little black coffin, he started by saying, "here lies jacob." that was the old man's name. here lies jacob at the age of 101 years old.