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White Supremacy Culture & Individualism

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

A detriment to social justice

(copyright Ben & Jerrys corporation)

We’re aware that white supremacy touches all aspects of our lives - it is entangled in the fabric of our society. The characteristics of white supremacy culture have permeated the multitude of cultures that make up the United States. One of the ways to go about breaking down white supremacy culture is to understand its components, and then actively work to disengage from and dismantle them.

Our plan going forward with the next few newsletters is to briefly break down one characteristic of white supremacy culture, and discuss how it is detrimental to social justice work. Our guide for this discussion will be: Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001. Tema Okun and the late Kenneth Jones made, and are making, great contributions to anti-racist social justice work.

The characteristic that we’ll be discussing this week is “individualism”. As discussed by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones,

individualism is primarily defined by the assumption that you are able to complete any task without help. This trait leads to isolation, and a lack of comfort with, or inability to, work as part of a group or team. Individualism results in a lack of ability to delegate and share responsibility, as well as a strong desire for individual recognition and credit.

Organizations that emphasize and encourage individualism will often see a lack of accountability, because people are expected to get things done without assistance or oversight. Finally, a focus on individualism encourages a competitive rather than a cooperative environment and doesn’t incentivize learning to work together collaboratively with others.

These characteristics directly stand in the way of successful social justice work. First of all, social justice movements are just that, movements. They require mass cooperation amongst a large group of people. Affecting societal-level change cannot be accomplished by an individual, it takes teamwork and solidarity. People who isolate will burn out and hit dead ends because they won’t be able to draw on the strength of the collective. Burnout is also a danger if you only trust yourself to complete tasks and cannot, or will not, delegate responsibilities. Emphasizing cooperation and collaboration will increase both accountability and the effectiveness of actions. Luckily there are some antidotes to individualism within organizations! Make sure to focus on evaluating people based on their ability to delegate tasks and work as part of a team! People working together are more powerful.

That's why we crowdsource politics because we all need to be engaged, and share in the werk of social justice.

Our phrase at SJPC is


How has individualism shown up in your life? What do you think we can do to combat it?

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