Tuesday in Mooseville – White Centering: It’s A Thing (and we need to recognize it) 3/26/19

Boston cream donuts: white center[ing] acceptable. Elsewhere: problematic.
I recently downloaded Layla F. Saad’s, me and white supremacy workbook (Me and White Supremacy) and have been working through the 28 daily challenges. I recently completed Day 16, “You and White Centering,” so the topic has been very much on my mind. When I involved myself in twitter conversations at the end of last week and over the weekend because I saw white centering happening, it became very clear to me that it’s one of the most difficult white supremacist paradigms to identify and relinquish. Because of that, this may be an uncomfortable post to read. I will be intentionally defusing it by using less personal examples and pointing out instances where white centering is something that other people do. I’m making that choice because this format does not lend itself to the type of constructive back-and-forth conversations that lead to growth. I will also be framing the post in terms of the primary campaigns, assuming that they are a common area of interest that most of us have been following. That also creates several degrees of separation, which allows for a sense of safety. But make no mistake: these are conversations that anyone who wants to claim the name “Ally” needs to be having, both internally and in small group settings, if possible. Comfort and safety are privileges of whiteness; if one wants to be part of deconstructing white supremacy, it will ultimately be necessary to choose to walk away from that refuge and address inequality and injustice with unflinching honesty, a whole lot of humility, and the willingness to fight back against one’s own internalized white supremacy.

What is White Centering? …White centering is the centering of white people, white values, white norms and white feelings over everything and everyone else. …Whiteness is so used to taking up space in all spaces, that when it is restricted or a boundary is put in place to center and protect BIPOC, its reaction is often one of white fragility, tone-policing, white superiority, white exceptionalism or just straight up violence (whether verbal or physical). (Saad, p. 89)

On the surface, white centering would seem to be easy to recognized and correct; it’s the “well, actually” of white supremacy, so how hard can it be to stop oneself or to recognize it when given voice elsewhere? But white folk like me have been so conditioned to see whiteness as the end-all and be-all of a hierarchical system like white supremacy that we often miss the subtler moments. Just like internalized misogyny, it can be staring us in the face and we still miss it. The point came into focus for me this weekend when someone on Twitter asked me why Julián Castro hadn’t had a townhall on CNN yet. I didn’t know the answer; I still don’t. It does seem curious, however, that Rich White Man With No Other Qualifications Howard Schultz has had a townhall, while a former mayor and Cabinet secretary has not. It’s easy enough to merely say that it’s the usual media obsession with the latest shiny thing or horserace politics or a chase for ratings, but what if it’s more? What if it’s internalized white centering?

A CNN insider has said this, “A CNN source, who asked not to be named discussing internal procedures, said the network invites candidates who have demonstrated they are running a serious campaign, though invitations are offered on a case-by-case basis.” CNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary Who decides the parameters and definition of “a serious campaign”? My gut tells me that it’s not a group of Brown and Black men and women at CNN who are making that decision. If a serious campaign is the criteria, why did the previously-obscure Mayor Pete Buttigieg already get a time slot at a townhall? Why did Rep. John Delaney (who?!), but Sen. Cory Booker will only get one this week? And yes, I can hear the “well, actually” already, because Sen. Harris has had a CNN townhall; of the women Democratic politicians in the race, she and Rep. Gabbard have had townhalls (and were also the earliest to officially announce their candidacies). Was that a move away from white centering, or was it a response to the criticisms leveled at CNN that in 2016 they would eagerly cut away from Sec. Clinton to cover an empty podium in advance of a tRump rally? I know what my gut is telling me on this topic too.

This thread by Jamil Smith discusses the topic from the perspective of a black man working in the media:

It should be obvious that part of my reason for addressing this topic now is because of the conflicting reactions to Mayor Pete Buttigieg that came to a head over the weekend. His new supporters are adamant that he’s the “real deal,” while a good many people were pointing out that his comments were centering whiteness and edging very close to embracing economic anxiety as the reason for tRump’s win. Having followed him for years, read his book, and seen some of his statements, I am, quite frankly, confused. His history and book clearly indicate a man who lives the Democratic core values of racial and social justice; his statements over the weekend were ambiguous enough to invite a variety of interpretations, including the accusation of dog whistling to a white audience that felt the need to be centered. Both things can be true about Mayor Pete, by the way, but this is an important question for him and his supporters to be prepared to answer:

The question is a brutally frank description of centering whiteness (and patriarchy), and any campaign that features the WWC as part of its message needs to be prepared to address the concerns. The danger of alienating BIPOC voters is real:

Is it possible to talk about issues of rural America or the Midwest without centering whiteness? I think it is (in fact, I think Hillary did a lot of it in 2016, but for a variety of reasons, her message was lost in the noise and the chaos). The starting point is to remember that “WWC” is a subset of “WC”, and addressing the working class is the inclusive approach. Challenging what is too often defined as normative takes practice but is essential for deconstructing white supremacy:

Decentering whiteness also means leaving behind claims to victimhood. Victimhood assumes that if one is elevated, the other must be lower. Decentering destroys a hierarchical view of humanity and celebrates the inclusiveness of gifts, strengths, and perspectives. The tweet below isn’t specific to decentering, but it illustrates what happens when hierarchy takes a backseat to inclusiveness:

Listening and looking for the positive, the unique, and the special with both compassion and gratitude is the most effective way to recognize and decenter whiteness and recenter inclusivity. We can do this.

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. {{{DoReMI}}} – yes. Hardest to see, hardest to do. For us white folks it takes constant vigilance because it’s so “normal” – to start training oneself to hear the clarion warning…first you/we have to admit it’s a thing. And that you’re/we’re doing it. I know if my first response is “but” or “well” or “not me” or even just to feel hurt, I’m doing it. And to keep my fingers off the keyboard until I’ve shut it down. And even then maybe keep my fingers off the keyboard unless I’m boosting the signal or defending and not “white savioring” (another form of white centering). Being white I doubt I’ll ever totally “get it” – but I’ll keep working on it as long as I have a functioning brain cell. Thank you for writing this.

    • I think that’s why I appreciate the opportunity the workbook affords. In many ways, it’s Anti-Racism 101 and not new information. But because it’s formatted with daily reading/journaling activities, it keeps white supremacy at the forefront on your mind, so you get ongoing practice at recognizing and breaking down one’s internal biases and resistance. That’s invaluable.

  2. Hi Do! I wanted to ask something and it seemed like a better idea to do it over here. My question is, in general, with your Tuesday blog posts, who are you talking to?

    It appears as if you are talking to a white audience, is that a fair guess?

    • Yes, both here and at the Village the readership is largely (but not exclusively) white and middle class, so that’s my starting assumption. If I were writing DK posts that were not Village posts, I would operate differently. And as primary season heats up and we get more visitors, I’ll probably adjust accordingly.

        • It’s possible…or it’s a realistic assessment of the known demographics of the people most likely to read my posts. Most likely, it’s a bit of both.

          • I get the assessment of known demographics… but if I may suggest, being inclusive might look like making sure every post invites all readers in, and doesn’t look or sound like it’s intended for a racially or culturally specific audience. One way to do this might be for example, title “Tuesday Hangout – White Centering: It’s A Thing (and white folks need to learn to recognize it) 3/26/19”

            Use of the word “we” in your title and elsewhere in your post makes it clear who is being addressed… and who is not.

            Folks of color don’t need to learn to recognize white centering, they already know about it.

            And they might drop in to comment more comfortably and easily if they aren’t asked to ignore this framing and include themselves, which is what they are expected to do everywhere.

            When white folks isolate themselves in their workshops, they are missing the best opportunity to do rather than conceptualize. It would be so awesome if the Village could become a place like that. :)

            And it does not mean you need to change anything about your subject matter, simply how you address the audience. From the perspective of a person of color, it can be an incredible relief to find open discussion of these issues, but might not feel as inclusive if it seems like their point of view is being talked about, but they are not included because only one group is being addressed directly.

            I hope I am making sense. I do not mean to disrespect anything that you do and have been doing.

  3. Thanks, DoReMI, greatly appreciated your intelligent, thoughtful post. This is something I need to keep in mind as I go about my daily round.

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