The Concept of Two-ness
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a 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.” W.E.B. Du Bois (DuBois, 1903)
Over a hundred years ago in his book “The Souls of Black Folk” W.E.B. Du Bois tried to describe an issue that African Americans still wrestle with today as they try to navigate majority culture while still maintaining the identity forged in the culture that they were raised in. Du Bois called this struggle “double-consciousness” or “two-ness.” (DuBois, 1903)
Two-ness is of particular concern when considering the success of black pilots in SUPT. Black students enter SUPT in such small numbers that it's often a radical cultural shift from the environment in which they grew up or went to college. I tried to describe in “Black Ceiling” the cultural impacts on black students in pilot training. In the concept of two-ness, I have found a better way to portray what many black students experience in SUPT.
In her amazing book “The Unchosen Me,” Rachelle Winkle-Wagner describes the pressure of two-ness in detail. I have included an excerpt from her book in Appendix C that describes the specific challenges and stresses of two African American women as they attempt to navigate the culture of a predominantly white college campus. It’s not difficult to see how these same pressures and challenges would be experienced by black pilot training students in a typical SUPT environment. These pressures leap out in the black pilot survey comments that I collected for this book. Here’s a sample of the discussion from “The Unchosen Me”:
…Both expressed a feeling of “two-ness.” That is, as Black Women, they have to behave or “be one way on campus and a different way in other settings…The primary literature about college student success ignores the effect of the pressure of two-ness…Ultimately, the effect of this isolation and the pressures that the women felt regarding a sense of who they had to be on campus in order to succeed remains an open question—more than a hundred years after the issue of two-ness was first considered by Du Bois.
Ms. Winkle-Wagner goes on to pose a few very intriguing and relevant questions that are extremely relevant to the discussion of the success of black students in pilot training: “Do African Americans in the United States still negotiate this double-consciousness? If so, how is it manifested with social institutions such as higher education, especially when current understandings of college success ignore it?” (Winkle-Wagner, 2010)
The answer to Ms. Winkle-Wagner’s first question, “Are African Americans still negotiating double-consciousness?” is a definitive “Yes” and comes through heavily in survey responses from black pilots. The answer to her second question “If so how is it manifested?” lies in the manifested impacts upon the student. I believe that the additional pressure directly correlates to higher washout rates in minority students.
The primary point of including so much discussion on the impact of culture on student performance, and issues like two-ness in this book and the previous one, is that the Air Force as a “social institution” seems to ignore its impact on black student success in pilot training. Until the current Chief of Staff acknowledgment of the need for a more supportive culture in pilot training, the Air Force had shown a reluctance to acknowledge the significance of cultural impacts on minority student performance.
As previously stated, most of the studies on increasing the success of black students in pilot training place a greater emphasis on the academic caliber of the student coming into SUPT than on the suitability of the culture that black students experience. It is astonishing to me, because the research available on the impacts of culture is plentiful in academia and has existed for decades. The following quote highlights other potential adverse impacts of the current SUPT culture:
Minority UPT students often find themselves engrossed in a cultural environment where they have few common interests and bonds with their peer group (if it were not for UPT, would these group of individuals have this intimate, intense socialization?). This low connectivity results in minority students potentially not receiving all of the "gouge," critical information, and overall general support as do other members of the "in group." The reality of this issue stems from basic sociology and for a contemporary view of the effects of racial/ethnic differences see the book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?” (Ruffin, 2017)
Lt Col Ruffin’s point that minority pilots need to successfully navigate the social elements of SUPT in order to be successful is echoed in this survey excerpt from a 1989 SUPT student:
Yes, there is a difference. A major one, in some instances. I’ve seen it from both sides; as a UPT instructor and as a student. Blacks who “joined in” socially, were very successful…not because of any racial reason, but because “cooperate and graduate” is a philosophy that worked very well at UPT. Whites who separated themselves washed out too. However, I feel there were certain “expectations” and self-fulfilling prophecies that affected people in pilot training. Blacks seemed to experience the most negative ramifications of those ideologies. UPT is simply a microcosm of the world at large. The same dynamics are at play. They are magnified in the dynamic and varied environment at UPT. You literally could be gone in a week. The Air Force spends well over a million to train a single pilot. The “machine” deals with elimination quickly (1989 SUPT Student).
Unfortunately, since the focus has long been on the student and not on the SUPT culture, the historical lack of success of blacks in pilot training continues. Even more unfortunate, however, is that this history of poor performance and its faulty explanations continues to negatively influence student performance and instructor expectations.
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