From OUR FOUNDERS
In April 1995, Charley Flint and Jeff Hitchcock founded the Center for the Study of White American Culture, Inc.
Welcome to our website. We hope you enjoy what you find. CSWAC has grown over the years and we now comprise a group of dedicated individuals. You can learn more as you view these pages. And if you would like to know more about our story as founders, we've taken time to set out our views and recollections below.
Charley Flint and Jeff Hitchcock
It’s been more than twenty years since we started CSWAC. Back then we felt there was a need to begin a conversation about how all of us have been racialized and how that impacts our lives. We wanted to focus particularly on how it impacts those who have been racialized as white.
We believed white people needed to understand they are part of the racial structure of the United States. They needed to talk about how their racialization as white people gave them certain kinds of privileges. We also wanted white people to understand how this was done in a systemic way, how it manifested itself in institutions, and how their racialized status as white tended to perpetuate the system without them being aware of it. This level of awareness was (and still is) especially important for those white people who are in institutions and agencies that are working with people of color.
As a team, we’ve had a number of influences. We’re not just partners in founding CSWAC, but life partners as well for over 40 years. Being interracial partners, we are able to speak from personal, experiential and political levels. CSWAC is not just an ideological exercise for us. We believe in what we’re doing. We live it. This is part of who we are.
Being in a relationship where we can discuss things from two perspectives helps form our approach. Our individual influences have been just as important.
As a person of African descent who grew up poor in the South, Charley has been very much aware of her racialization and how it impacts everything in her life, both professionally and personally.
At the time we founded CSWAC she saw the multicultural movement, as a whole, failing to understand that dealing with racism required a structural change. “I was influenced by what was going on with women. They were still trying to bring people of color into the center, which to me was a new way of assimilation, asking us to give up who we are to fit in that center. I didn’t think they were dealing with the white skinned privilege held by women racialized as white. People would say how you got it good because you’re black and female and I would look around and say well where are all the black women?”
Jeff’s experience as a white, middle class male growing up in the North was equally formative. “I was raised to be colorblind, and it took me many, many years to understand how race, and my own race especially, impacted my life and the lives of others.“
In the 1990s he became active in the “multiracial movement,” in which interracial couples and families and persons of mixed-race heritage formed support groups, engaged in consciousness-raising, and undertook political advocacy that led to multiracial identity being recognized in the US Census of 2000 and since. “All of us, we would share stories of individual racial incidents impacting our lives and families. There was a shared sense of community.” But he came to understand there was a larger story the multiracial community was not confronting, and “that was how whiteness impacted even those of us in interracial relationships. True, we were subject to racial insults, but we were privileged as well by virtue of our whiteness.” This larger picture was being ignored.
Keeping our focus
Our goals today remain much the same as when we founded CSWAC. We’re not pushing people to be in personal interracial relationships just because we are. We know many people who are not, and yet who are working across racial lines to create a multiracial society. And there are some people in interracial relationships that still have to come to grips with how whiteness and white centeredness bears upon their lives. Nor is it just white people who need to understand this. It’s important for people of color to understand how white culture operates and what can be done to foster a society centered on multiracial values.
So it’s not just being in relationships with people of other races, nor is it the experience of being racialized as white or as a person of color that is important, although those things have an impact on one’s perspective. Rather, people need to develop an informed, critical, and humanistic perspective on whiteness, white privilege, and white American culture. These topics need to be open to discussion in cross-racial relationships, and in institutions and agencies dealing with a multiracial workforce and client base. All too often there’s a complicit agreement not to discuss these topics — to not question the status quo.
As our practice has developed, we have focused on how people can integrate an understanding of whiteness, white privilege, and white American culture into their intellectual careers, their personal lives, their activism and working for change. We want people to ask “How am I situated in an institution?” “How can I serve as an agent of change within that institution?” We see CSWAC as not just imparting knowledge to people but also giving them some skills to become agents of change.
And not just individuals. Organizations can become leaders and agents of change within their particular area of operation. Some organizations lead, and others lag behind to later follow their example. It’s clear to us that those organizations that proactively work on understanding whiteness and how to foster a multiracial society are those who will lead our multiracial future.
When we started out, people laughed and poked fun at us, even folks who called themselves liberals, progressives, and said they were working for social justice. Now many people understand what the racialization of white people has meant, and the impact it has. Not all white people, but enough in terms of a conversation around race. Over time many people and organizations have had a hand in that growing understanding, but CSWAC was one of the first. We’ve helped ignite the conversation to include white people and in particular the role whiteness plays in the continuing saga of race in the US.
CSWAC has grown as a collective effort. We have several longstanding members on our board, and our staff and pool of trainers have slowly increased in number. We have many supporters among the general public, some of whom have followed us and helped sustain us for years. It’s good to have people sharing the work and the burden, and the joys.
And the future
We have some challenges before us. As a small operation, sustainability is always a challenge. Traditional funders of nonprofits have not woken up yet to the needs we address, although we continue to look in that direction. We support ourselves on fees for service, sale of publications, and individual donations.
We are concerned that some people may take on CSWAC’s concept of “decentering whiteness” without really acquiring an understanding of how it works, but then go out and claim they are doing it. We don’t want it to just become a commonly used phrase, but rather a strategic guide to action.
But we look to the future with great excitement. Our network of board members, staff, trainers and supporters is committed to what we’re doing. Time has shown that people are catching up to where we’ve been headed all along. We are exploring some very exciting avenues and seeing opportunities opening before us. It’s been a long hard journey, but it’s been worth it.