The culture shifts we need to build stronger movements

IssueDecember 2014 - January 2015
Feature by Catalyst Project

ImageCatalyst Project works to consciously create a culture that helps white people take strategic and effective anti-racist action as a part of multiracial movements.

We think that white anti-racist organising requires that we move away from competitive, individualist thinking, and instead support as many people as we can to be effective change agents, working in accountable relationships with people of colour-led organisations. These shifts in organising culture help create more sustainable and vibrant movements to win transformative change.

These are some of the ways Catalyst is working to shift white anti-racist culture.

We draw these concepts from our own experiences and mistakes, as well as feedback from mentors of colour and white people we’ve organised with.

The tendencies in the ‘Shift From’ column produce individuals whose primary concern is being the quickest to critique everything – a practice often encouraged within higher education that fosters distancing or dismissal of people or practices. This practice tends to feed ego, not justice.

We cultivate the ‘Shift Towards’ qualities in order to become bold, grounded leaders who look for opportunities, seek growth for themselves and their communities, and are committed to building the leadership of more people.

Will you help us build irresistible movements with these qualities?

In Love and Struggle,

Catalyst Project


  • Call-out culture: Shaming people for making mistakes, focus on regulating each other’s language, ostracising members of a group for not automatically knowing the norms of that group, etc.
  • Critiquing from the sidelines: Critiquing people, organisations, or movements that we aren’t a part of working to change. Inability to work with contradictions and complications.
  • Deficit-based thinking: Constant focus on identifying weaknesses and pointing out what is lacking.
  • Individual focus: ‘How can I be the single best white, anti-racist activist with the sharpest critique/most specialised language/busiest schedule?’
  • Obsession with productivity: ‘I am worth as many hours as I put in, meetings I go to, events I plan.’ Focus on ‘deliverables’ rather than quality of work and relationships built.


  • Build-up culture: Appreciating and lifting up principled action and leadership when we see it, while offering constructive feedback to strengthen anti-racist practice.
  • Leading from the centre: Recognising that we’ve all internalised oppressive ideas, and engaging people and organisations to make necessary changes whenever possible.
  • Asset-based thinking: Seeing and building on strengths, nurturing what is working, acting on opportunities.
  • Collective action: ‘How can we find ways to bring more and more people into social justice work, from lots of entry points, to grow vibrant mass movements?’
  • Whole movements: Valuing whole people and varied participation in building liberatory movements. Building relationships with integrity.