Looking backward toward progress: Re-evaluating whiteness through Puritan texts

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

This thesis takes a look back historically to link the Puritans’ ideological construction of whiteness to contemporary theoretical ideas of whiteness using Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark (1992) and Richard Dyer’s White (1997). The introduction begins with me detailing the theoretical frameworks that I’ll be applying to Puritan texts in order to show the legacy of whiteness. Through these theoretical frameworks, I discover that Puritans formed one foundation of the systemic racism which still exists in America today. This helps me uncover the racial and social injustice that American society has conveniently ignored. If Americans continue to ignore these habits that privilege whiteness, then these habits will continue to replicate themselves in the social, political, and economic spheres. I use whiteness as a lens to focus on the construction of a collective consciousness of white identity that John Cotton, Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, and Robert Cushman used to form communities and exclude others.

Using Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, the Black Witch, published in 1992, and Morrison’s A Mercy 2008, I read the novels in relation to a long tradition of black feminist thought, specifically, as outlined in Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought. These novels provide an insight into the psyche of colonial America and illuminate important questions regarding racialized legitimization, privilege, and transnational dimensions of slavery. Black women acquire a perspective that Collins calls the ‘outsider-within’ stance where black women are able to “have a distinct view of the contradictions between the dominant group’s actions and ideologies” (11). In effect, I am using Condé’s and Morrison’s novels to discuss issues of diasporic identity and memory that are important to the tradition of black feminist thought.

Puritans, Whiteness, Black feminist thought, White privilege