Decentering Whiteness: What it Means to be “American” in 2014

Date of Award


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First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez


Recent studies on the demographics of the United States show a dramatic shift in the amount of non-Hispanic whites that comprise the country. Whereas in 1960, whites made up around 85% of the population, it is predicted that in 2050 the white population will shrink to less than 50% (Taylor and Cohn). As previous research focuses on the assimilation process of immigrants and how their language and identity have been affected in a new culture, there has been little research done on how non-white, US-born citizens culturally identify. A new definition of US culture, as well as what it means to be an “American”, is necessary – how do first, second, and third generation US citizens self identify culturally and racially in the United States? How are other cultures able to express themselves in the US? With critical shifts in demographics of the nation, I assess how the dominant social and cultural power structures are altered, if at all. This research uses qualitative interviews with Whittier College students who have been racially and linguistically marginalized to gain an understanding of cultural hegemony during this ethnic shift. The majority of the respondents show that, even though the hegemonic power of whiteness is still the dominant culture of the US, the elimination of the white habitus in some parts of southern California make it a leading city in the attempt to make whiteness visible.


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