Updated: Jan 26, 2021
White supremacy shapes how we see the world. It influences what we believe in and what we care about. It affects everyone and only benefits the privileged. It's reach often seems inescapable due to how deeply it is rooted in our society. Sometimes, it feels like an impossible fight, but it is important to remember how we can take action in our daily lives to enact change. It’s an enemy that can be defeated with collective action. One way to approach this activism is by taking a closer look at what characteristics of white supremacy are being continually enforced in our day to day lives. Once we have them identified, we can work to push back on them.
Tema Okun has created a workbook that examines, explains, and provides remedies for the characteristics of white supremacy culture. The document is called Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups and it provides the foundation for our ongoing discussion surrounding white supremacy. We are incredibly grateful to Tema Okun, and all the contributors, to this piece of work.
So far we’ve discussed “individualism”, “perfectionism”, "paternalism" and the concept that there is only “one right way”, in regards to their impact on social justice movements. We’ve also talked about how to fight them! These various characteristics result in isolation and place far too much emphasis on the individual, when we should be talking about the community.
This week’s topic is feeling a “sense of urgency” - let’s take a deeper dive into why this concept is detrimental to anti-racism work.
What is a “sense of urgency”
According to the workbook, having a “sense of urgency” is a toxic cultural characteristic because it makes it challenging to make thoughtful, inclusive decisions.
When people feel rushed into coming up with “results,” it becomes difficult to make sure that the process for arriving at conclusions is democratic, fair, and inclusive of all communities and allies. Following the impulse to push through decisions as quickly as possible also stifles the ability to think long term about what impacts the decision might have, and often silences members of non-dominant communities. While this technique does produce quickly visible short-term results, it is unlikely to provide the ability to maintain long-term stability due to the unrealistic expectations of everyone involved. In terms of movements needing financial backing, encouraging this characteristic to flourish will further solidify the dynamic of funding requests promising too much work for too little money and with funders also expecting too many results from too little money.
So how does this relate to social justice issues? Well, as is clearly evident, rushing through decision making and drawing snap, sweeping conclusions is a great way to ensure that white supremacy maintains intact.
Because it is the dominant culture, if voices of a more diverse community are overrun, then the views of white supremacy are fallen upon. Furthermore, failing to make thoughtful, deliberate choices because of a desire to quickly present results will strip the people making these resolutions of the ability to consider the long-term and non-immediate consequences of their behavior. This is even further exacerbated when funding is involved. Continually promising, and receiving, too much work for too little funding will result in over-reliance on the dominant culture and power structure, and will not allow the space for learning and growth.
Luckily there are some antidotes to this characteristic of white supremacy. According to the workbook, the main way to push back is to allow the space and time for realistic decision making. It is important to factor in time for hearing all voices and allowing a democratic process when drawing results. If you are in a leadership position this means taking the time to set realistic goals and expectations. If you are not in a leadership position it means demanding that time from your supervisors.
Most of all, it’s important that we all can recognize and name, in ourselves and in others, when we are simply forcing a quick and easy answer/solution because we feel pressured to perform in a certain way. Let your values dictate the decision making process, rather than your stress-response....That. Part!