CSWAC Blog

Building Multiracial Community

We have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.

Audre Lorde

We’re observing a growing excitement among racial justice practitioners about decentering whiteness. CSWAC’s approach to decentering whiteness involves over twenty years history and practice on our part. Now we ask, “What will bring us to embrace multiracial community building?” As racial justice activists engaging in the struggle and putting the “move” into the movement, where might we find an emerging excitement about building multiracial community?

There are examples, although few and far between. Scarcity is not the only quality of these seminal efforts at multiracial community building. They might also be characterized as modest, humble, fearful, unrecognized, honest, authentic, and lived out with intention and commitment. At CSWAC, we’re keeping our eyes open for examples, and we suggest you do, too. Maybe we can share stories.

We believe multiracial community building is one of the two necessary things needed to decenter whiteness. And vice versa. Decentering whiteness and building multiracial community go hand in hand, and each will suffer if the other is not done well.

The current struggle for racial justice is multifaceted and takes place on many fronts. But there is a singular nature to these efforts, which is to free communities of color from the grip of white supremacy. There’s is also growing recognition that white supremacy negatively affects white people, too. For people of color, it may be enough to live unencumbered by white supremacy and find autonomy in the unfettered cultural expression of one’s own people. So, the end of the struggle, if one is to envision it, may just be to be free of white culture.

The political fact is that, given our history and current conditions in the United States, we are unlikely to dissolve into free standing communities, either as communities of color, or as the white community, who conduct our own business independent of one another. Our fate is likely to remain as one society, however fractured and contentious that society may be. For many, the implicit vision is one in which various communities of color and the white community extend equal rights to each other within a single, overreaching governmental and societal framework. So, the question is, “What will that framework look like?” The immediate struggle against white supremacy is so pressing and demanding of our attention and resources that little thought has been given to the final outcome. Not only that, there are serious trust issues at play. Will the lion truly lay down with the lamb? Will a lamb become the lion? One is not encouraged to go out on a limb in speculation. But we must. We contend in the end, we must aspire to and achieve a multiracial society.

CSWAC believes there are two important characteristics of multiracial society. In a multiracial society:

  • Race does not determine how a person will fit into the overall structure of the society. Physical attributes such as skin color and hair texture will remain a matter of personal difference, and perhaps stylistic preference, but not a determinant of social position, including access to resources and power.
  • Multiracial settings are the norm. It might theoretically be possible to have a society in which people of various racial backgrounds had equal access to resources and power, but where monoracial groupings (families, communities, work settings) were still the normal and accepted way of life. In a multiracial society, as CSWAC understands it, this will not be the case. The normal and expected way of life will be one in which people of different racial backgrounds intermingle in families, workplaces, churches, neighborhoods, legislative bodies, governing boards, leadership cohorts, and other settings throughout the society. Monoracial groupings, while not precluded, will be seen as marginal, and not consistent with the central values of the society.

Racial progress is uneven at best, and it’s doubtful we’ll suddenly arrive at all of society becoming multiracial as we have defined it. Rather, we anticipate that smaller multiracial communities will emerge as we begin to learn how it’s done. The patterns that Audre Lorde referred to in the epigraph above need to be created and developed. Now is a good time to begin.

So, what is “building multiracial community” to us? Let’s break it down. “Building” means to intentionally create something with some advance sense of design and purpose. That something is “multiracial community.” “Multiracial” can be broken down to “multi,” meaning more than one, in this case more than one “race” represented in significant number in the community. This representation can include people of both multiracial and monoracial heritage. And “racial” means this community is dealing with race, not passing it off as class, ethnicity, or individual cultural differences, or as some fictive social construct that has nothing to do with our contemporary and immediate lived reality. Race needs to be on the table for public examination and discussion. Finally, “community” describes some form of interrelatedness and shared identity among those who are members, with a shared concern for fairness and broad purpose. A multiracial community could be centered around a residential neighborhood, a workplace, a faith community, or any number of other settings where community is experienced.

Here are two things we believe this community needs for it to grow strong.

  • The community needs to be color conscious, with an informed anti-racist outlook. It needs to provide its members education regarding its values. It needs to uphold a value of examining and discussing racial structure in the United States, with an understanding of how it operates locally as well.
  • The community must be concerned with both love and justice. This is our way of saying it must give attention to developing sound relationships among members and seeing everyone is fairly treated. It must take some pride in itself and affirm its members as well.

Whether it is known to the community members or not, the multiracial character of the community is necessarily one of co-creation. Suppose there is a multiracial community comprising two races, for instance. If either withdraws, both have lost their multiracial character and exist separately now as monoracial communities.

Finally, there needs to be something of having each other’s back. Multiracial communities often face assault by forces set in motion by the larger racial structure, that of US society, in which they exist. This assault may be soft, as in social critique, or hard in terms of actual economic, political, or even physical opposition. In the mist of those greater societal tensions, usually among monoracial communities, members of the multiracial community will be drawn into the fray. If they are not careful, the tensions may begin to dissolve the multiracial community. Given that the community is one of co-creation, there needs to be some value given to remaining in relationship when outside racial tensions may demand other actions and loyalties among members.

We don’t envision a wonderland. We expect there is as much muss and fuss to be had in multiracial communities as in others. But we do think the conditions we named are important for building and maintaining a multiracial community. And on the upside, we think it’s an attractive idea as an imagined or, hopefully, real lifestyle. It’s something to be worked toward. We can tell you, in our experience, people who enter into multiracial community find it worth the effort.

For the purpose of clarity, here are two things we don’t think are multiracial community.

  • When two or more races are represented in an organization or neighborhood, but one holds the economic and political power at the exclusion of the other. This might include an organization where the line staff are multiracial in composition, but the management is effectively in the hands of one race, usually white.
  • Any place where norms of colorblindness operate such that they preclude in depth acknowledgement and discussion of race. Under such circumstances, if one accepts those norms, one could not claim the community had a multiracial character because they would have to see race to do so. More important, blindness to race often defaults to uncritical acceptance of white norms. A multiracial community needs to guard against this.

That rules out a whole lot of places that might otherwise want to characterize themselves as multiracial.

We’ll continue to explore multiracial community building as an ongoing theme in this blog.