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White challenge
Cultural competence
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Will your predominantly white organization be left behind in a multiracial world?

Let’s face it. Our nation is changing. Everyone’s heard the statistics. By the year 2020, or 2032 or 2049 — take your choice — we’re going to be a majority non-white country. In fact, the change is already here. As of 2014, among children ages 5 or less, children of color are the majority.

Everyone is adjusting to this trend, but not all adjustments are the same. In the political sector we’re seeing increasing instances of xenophobia and attempts to limit the influence of people of color through voting suppression. On the other hand, many groups — including many funders — are encouraging predominantly white organizations to become multiracial. Some organizations are learning how to do this. Yet many people, especially white people, remain detached, hoping things will work out somehow. They are not coming to grips with the fact that they are becoming increasingly insular and outmoded in a world where the future labor force, professional class, and client and student base are multiracial.


The future belongs to those organizations that successfully change from a predominantly white composition and organizational culture to a multiracial one, and to those multiracial organizations that arise anew and replace the predominantly white organizations that fail to make the change. And that’s not an easy change to make.

Those organizations who will make the change are the ones who begin early. This is not something that can be purchased overnight, or even over a period of months, not even with an unlimited budget, a fully committed management, and an army of consultants. The learning curve is long, and examples of present organizations that have met the challenge of becoming multiracial are few. But some organizations are working on it already. They’re beginning to move along the learning curve and make wise use of their time while they have it.

So, yes, many professionals and organizations now know something about “white privilege,” and maybe “structural racism.” These terms are not unfamiliar. If they are terms in use in your organization, you may have started to do some work. If not, then you need to begin. But simply naming white privilege and structural racism is no longer at the forefront of developing a multiracial organization. The organizations that are moving forward now are coming to grips with “the white challenge.”


The white challenge has many facets, but to put it simply, many organizations fail to recognize how their organizational culture reflects white cultural values, practices, norms, and expectations. Some people — white people in particular — may not feel this is a challenge. Having grown up in white American culture, they have an inside understanding and experience of the culture. For many, it simply appears to be “business as usual” and “the way things are.”

For others — people of color in particular — unexamined white cultural values in predominantly white organizations are often problematic and limiting. At a minimum, people of color need to be bi-cultural, conversant both in their own culture and in the prevailing white organizational culture as well.

If you hear people say “We can’t find qualified people of color,” or “Why talk about race — there’s no problem here,” or if you have difficulty retaining skilled employees of color, or if staff of color complain of an unsupportive work atmosphere, or if you cannot get traction in communities of color or even figure out how to begin, or if people tell you you’re “too white,” or if you suspect that yourself, then you are facing a white challenge.


A truly multiracial organization cannot be built around the cultural framework of a single racial group. Rather, it needs to be open to the cultural practices of all groups. While there needs to be some central agreement as to how things are done, this should not default to white cultural practices. It needs to be worked out over time so that all are equally well versed and able to understand and act upon the values inherent in the organizational culture.

Becoming a multiracial organization is not easy. But you can begin. Take a look at how white American culture impacts your predominantly white organization. Let our training services help your staff and workforce begin to see, acknowledge, and understand how white American culture shapes your organization’s experience. When the “white challenge” becomes open to discussion, your ability to consider alternatives and introduce planned change becomes enhanced. And you will take that first step along the learning curve to becoming a multiracial organization.

Copyright ©2001, 2009. Center for the Study of White American Culture, Inc. All rights reserved.