Decentering Whiteness and Building Multiracial Community

At CSWAC we believe white American cultural values occupy the central position in US society, and white culture governs access to power and resources. We feel this is unfair; no single racial group should have exclusive hold on the central values of society. We believe that whiteness needs to be taken out of the center and the center replaced with multiracial values such that no single racial group controls access to power and resources exclusively.

That, in a nutshell, is our philosophy. We call it “decentering whiteness” for short, although a more complete title is “decentering whiteness and building multiracial community.” More about that in a moment. First, a short history.

Soon after CSWAC was founded by Charley Flint and Jeff Hitchcock, the founders set out their views in a strategy paper titled Decentering Whiteness. Sometime after, CSWAC’s board of trustees adopted the mission of building “an equitable society in the United States by decentering white culture and centering an anti-racist multiracial culture free of white supremacy.” Since then our work has always been directed to that purpose, often implicitly and sometimes explicitly. Our current and explicit projects include a workshop offering on Decentering Whiteness, and of course, this blog.

Decentering whiteness is a strategy, a vision, a model, and a guide to action. CSWAC is decidedly anti-racist in our approach, but we feel it’s not enough simply to oppose racism. Decentering whiteness and building multiracial community gives us a positive vision of the future we’re working toward. We acknowledge that other people are using the term “decentering whiteness” but to our knowledge no one else has described what it means in detail as we have sought to do.

We believe it’s not enough to say that whiteness needs to be decentered. Something must take its place and we assert that “something” should be a set of multiracial values and a multiracial center that controls access to power and resources. Conversely, it’s not enough to say that the center of our society needs to be multiracial. One cannot create a new center when the center is already occupied. There needs to be an active process of decentering whiteness so that a multiracial center might emerge. These two processes — decentering whiteness and creating a multiracial center — go hand in hand. Each is necessary, but neither can be accomplished without the other. Hence the importance of the full title of our philosophy: Decentering whiteness and building multiracial community.

One might wonder what we mean by the “center of US society.” By that we mean that any society will have a core set of values that inform its institutions and characterize its culture. These values are reflected in the society’s leadership, its body of laws, procedures and practices, and the way it manages its resources. Any society will also have margins, where people are less connected to the core values and may adhere to alternate values and cultural perspectives. Anthropologists and sociologists sometimes refer to the “dominant culture” of a society. The term acknowledges that while several cultural influences may be present to one degree or another in a given society, one culture, the dominant one, takes the central role.

Cultures and societies may vary in how widely power is held and shared. Some may be very hierarchical and others very egalitarian. Some may be highly centralized and others more diffuse. But we do not envision an idealistic scenario in which no center exists at all. Our view is pragmatic in this regard. Some center must exist. We assert that in the US, that center should be multiracial.

Others might wonder what we mean by multiracial values. We’re working on it. We know this much: No single racial group – and this includes white people – can answer the question of what those values are. They need to be worked out across several racial groups, and accordingly, they need to protect the safety and hold open opportunity for members of each group.

Finally, some might ask how whiteness can be decentered? Why should white people allow that to happen? That’s one of the biggest questions of our times, and we won’t answer it in this post today. But to start, we believe the system of race and white supremacy no longer works well even for white people. We admit there is still some distance to go. We’ll share more ideas on this in future posts.