Dr. Kafi Kumasi, of the Library and Information Science Department at Indiana University, recently spoke to a UM SI/MIX audience in an expansion of her dissertation “Seeing White in Black,” a narrative of 10 African-American participants (14-16 years old) in the Circle of Voices Book Club at the Monroe, Indiana, Public Library. The major points of the discussion involved Whiteness Theory and Double Consciousness Theory. Tension and challenges were employed as integral, constructive components of these racially-centered book discussions to tease out social and cultural emotions and impressions.  As the library “hook”, Dr. Kumasi quoted Audre Lord (librarian/poet/activist) who believed that librarianship should be part of social and cultural perspectives.
Using Dr. Kumasi’s thoughts and presentation as a jumping off point, it occurs to me to hypothesize that the Whiteness Theory may be used as an allegory for other ethnic marginalized groups. This theory encompasses the concept that whites hold privileges automatically that they don’t even realize they have and, further, that whites are not considered a race but are defined by their not being included in one of the marginalized races that are subordinate to them. This theory, by another name, can, I think, readily be applied to other groups as well. For example, we might propose: “Seeing Christianity in Judaism.” This would work perfectly well on several levels: sociologically, psychologically, and biblically.

The theory of double-consciousness is similarly fungible. As an example, the Germans and Italians of Jewish ancestry in their own countries often did not think of themselves primarily as Jews until they were so defined dictatorially by Hitler and Mussolini, respectively. They identified themselves by their citizenship in the first place and by their culture only in the second place.   However, when the “Racial Laws” took hold, there was the sense of being both a citizen of one’s native country and a member of a subordinate special group, in effect fitting the theory of a double consciousness.  Identification with country was then superseded by designation of members of the group as a cultural subset with, as history tells us, subsequent catastrophic effects.

I think that both these two theories might also be applicable to various other populations with which I am much less familiar—the Hutus and the Tutsis, perhaps, or the Bosnians and the Serbians, as well as to most other marginalized and therefore disadvantaged ethnic groups  As is often said in the concluding lines in papers of scientific research, these theories may well bear further scrutiny.