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Who are we?

The Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association (ACRAWSA) is an independent, incorporated, professional association for scholars researching in the inter-disciplinary field of critical race and whiteness studies. The goal of the Association is to provide a network for established scholars and early career researchers, both Indigenous and non-indigenous, and to provide opportunities to develop the field. The Association promotes scholarship and other activities which:

  • Respect the existence of and continuing rights deriving from Indigenous sovereignties in Australia and elsewhere
  • Critically investigate and challenge racial privilege and the construction and maintenance of race and whiteness, both past and present

ACRAWSA runs the online open access journal Critical Race and Whiteness Studies, as well as distributing a regular newsletter to members, and convening conferences and symposia for those with an interest in understanding the workings of race and racism, in historical and contemporary contexts, within Australia and elsewhere.

More information on ACRAWSA's beginnings is available here.

 What is critical race and whiteness studies?

 The ‘critical’ in ‘critical race’ refers to the guiding principle of Critical Race and Whiteness Studies (CRAWS), namely that racialised categories are taken not as reflecting ‘real’ differences in the world, but rather that such categories are made to matter in social contexts where racialised hierarchies are rendered salient.  Historical research on race and whiteness, for example, has shown that the boundaries of who is classified as ‘white’ are flexible, with different groups of people qualifying as ‘white’ at different times – while Irish and Southern European people are now commonly accepted as white, this was not always the case. Hence we speak about ‘racialisation’ to indicate that race is an ongoing process of definition rather than a pre-existing ‘fact’. The concept of ‘racialisation’ helps us to explain why certain groups of people, ideas and spaces become associated with ‘race’ at different historical and political moments. With these points in mind, CRAWS aims to understand how and why racial categories came into existence and to challenge the ways in which these categories continue to operate in contemporary society, and especially their role in either perpetuating discrimination against some groups of people or according privilege to other groups.

‘Whiteness’ is mentioned specifically in order to challenge the common perception that ‘race’ is only a problem for people who do not qualify as white.  This perception is common because whiteness often goes unmarked, being presented as the ‘norm’ against which other categories are defined as different. This often produces assimilatory policies in which not being white is seen as a ‘problem’ that needs to be fixed by encouraging non-white people to become more like white people. It is rare that the ‘race’ of white people is commented upon in media and political discourse – generally race is seen as an issue for people who are ‘not-white’. White people can, if they choose, live much of their lives under the impression that race is not relevant to them. Naming whiteness enables a critique of the ways in which it operates as unearned privilege. Showing whiteness to be specific, rather than universal, also opens up opportunities for valuing non-white ways of knowing, thinking and being.

Finally, and whilst acknowledging the social construction of race, we also acknowledge the fact of Indigenous sovereignties and the ontological relationship to land through which Indigenous people carry their sovereignty. As noted by Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, founder of ACRAWSA, critiques of the social construction of western categories of race cannot be mapped over Indigenous worldviews and accounts of culture. Taking Indigenous sovereignty as fact and recognising the ongoing claims to land of the many Indigenous nations is thus not counter to the constructionist and critical approach typically adopted within CRAWS. Rather, it recognises that the very need for such approaches stems from the effects of colonisation, empire, and globalisation, which come after, rather than pre-date the existence of First Nations.

For an indication of the range of topics researched by CRAWS scholars, explore the Critical Race and Whiteness Studies journal.  

Updated: 3rd March 2015