The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

What Does ‘White Supremacy’ Mean?

Posted on | February 4, 2022 | Comments Off on What Does ‘White Supremacy’ Mean?

Four people wasting their time (and yours, too).

This is a question I have been thinking about for a while, but never found the right entry point for exploring it until today, when Instapundit linked to this article at Campus Reform:

The Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis hosted an event that made headlines before it even began, called “Is Professionalism a Racist Construct?”
In the event, the presenters characterized various qualities of workplace environments such as “perfectionism,” “a sense of urgency,” “defensiveness,” “worship of the written word,” and “quantity over quality” as characteristics of White supremacy culture.
One presenter, Assistant Dean for Field Education Jewel Stafford connected these alleged characteristics of White supremacy culture to the idea that “even though we’re working really hard, there’s a narrative that we’re not enough, that somehow who we are, what we do, it’s just not enough.”
The host, Associate Dean for External Affairs Gary Parker, noted that “there were some media outlets that portrayed this talk in a less than flattering light.”
Another presenter, Assistant Dean of the Office of Community Partnerships Cynthia Williams, addressed this controversy in her speech, noting multiple times that she was “getting into good trouble” with her colleagues, and specifically addressed the “provocative” nature of the question, “Is professionalism racist?” . . .
The presenters began their presentation with a land acknowledgment, noting that the Brown School “is within the ancestral homelands” of various “tribes that have resided, occupied, and called this region home.”
Williams then said, “We acknowledge the 1,252 black American men and women who since January 1, 2015, unjustifiably died due to police brutality and anti-black violence.

Let’s start with that last claim, which is self-evidently false. The source of that 1,252 number is a Washington Post database but — excuse my white supremacist “perfectionism” — Dean Williams cited it wrong:

You see that the 1,252 refers to the total number of black people who died in police shootings between January 2015 and late May 2020 (see this NPR piece for a contemporary citation), but the cited source did not claim all these people “unjustifiably died.” In fact, nearly all of the people shot by police, whatever their race, were “armed or otherwise dangerous,” as Heather Mac Donald explained in June 2020:

In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops last year (235), a ratio that has remained stable since 2015. That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects. In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.
The police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to a Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015. The Post defines “unarmed” broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, N.J., who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase. In 2018 there were 7,407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019. By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.

Do the math: In 2019, of the 235 black people fatally shot by police, 226 of them (96.2%) were armed. A detailed examination of the circumstances in which the 3.8% unarmed black suspects were shot might reveal incompetence or bad training as the explanation, but if there is among those nine cases a clear-cut example of “anti-black violence,” I’m unfamiliar with it, and certainly that label cannot be applied to all 1,252 police shootings of black suspects between 2015 and mid-2020.

Dean Williams was simply wrong about this, and yet she holds a position of authority at a prestigious private university where the annual cost of attendance is $76,766, including room and board. Maybe professionalism is “white supremacy,” so it’s racist to expect a university dean to be careful about citing data correctly. More importantly, however, what is this offensive nonsense about “white supremacy culture”?

This became a subject of controversy in 2019, when it was included in a slide presentation that was “was part of mandatory training sponsored and funded by the [New York City education] department’s Office of Equity and Access and . . . administered to principals, central office supervisors and superintendent teams.” The source of this is a 2001 book, Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. The full list of “white supremacy culture” characteristics, as listed on that 2019 training slide:

1. Perfectionism
2. Sense of urgency
3. Defensiveness
4. Quantity Over Quality
5. Worship of the Written Word
6. Only one right way
7. Paternalism
8. Either/or thinking
9. Power Hoarding
10. Fear of Open Conflict
11. Individualism
12. Progress is Bigger, More
13. Objectivity
14. Right to Comfort

While Jones died in 2004, Okun is still alive and has explained her authorial intent:

The original list is really a list of white supremacy characteristics that define and express white middle and owning class values and norms. White middle- and owning-class power brokers embody these characteristics as a way of defining what is “normal” and even “aspirational” or desired – the way we should all want to be. We know this because of how those who do not belong to the white middle and owning classes are required to adopt these characteristics in order to assimilate into this desired norm (when such assimilation is allowed). As a result, many poor and working class white people report they have not and do not internalize some of these norms. For example, fear of open conflict does not reflect the lived experience or value of all people in the white group.
These characteristics are not meant to describe all white people. They are meant to describe the norms of white middle-class and owning class culture, a culture we are all required to navigate regardless of our multiple identities.

Now, I’m not going to go through this entire list of characteristics — my “sense of urgency” tells me this would be a poor allocation of my valuable time — but rather will observe that it is by no means clear to me either (a) why these all these traits are deemed harmful, or (b) in what sense they are “white supremacist” either deliberately or in their unintended impact on minorities. No doubt it is true that anyone who aspires to success in a competitive environment (i.e., with “middle and owning class values and norms”) would manifest some tendency toward “perfectionism” and a “sense of urgency.” That is to say, you want to do the job exactly right, and do it as quickly as possible — quality control, productivity, and efficiency, in other words. These are basic values necessary to success in any business, but I suppose if you’re in the world of tax-exempt non-profit “social justice” activism (which is Tema Okun’s career), you can work as slow and sloppy as you want, and it doesn’t make any difference. As for “worship of the written word,” let me quote Jones and Okun:

Worship of the written word shows up as:

if it’s not in a memo, it doesn’t exist
— if it’s not grammatically “correct,” it has no value
— if it’s not properly cited according to academic rules that many people don’t know or have access to, it’s not legitimate
— an inability or refusal to acknowledge information that is shared through stories, embodied knowing, intuition and the wide range of ways that we individually and collectively learn and know
— continued frustration that people and communities don’t respond to written communication; blaming people and communities for their failure to respond
those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued, even in organizations where ability to relate to others is key to the mission
— those who write things down get recognized for ideas that are collectively and generationally informed in a context where systemic racism privileges the writing and wisdom of people in the white group
— academic standards require “original” work when our knowledge and knowing almost always builds on the knowledge and knowing of others, of each other
— claiming “ownership” of (written) knowledge to meet ego needs rather than understanding the importance of offering what you write and know to grow and expand the community’s knowing

Do you see the problem here? The advantage of the written word, in terms of communication, is clarity and permanence.

If I tell you something — such as describing a workplace rule or a standard procedure — you might misunderstand me or forget what I told you. By putting the rule or procedure into writing, I thereby create a permanent record of it, and if you then fail to adhere to the prescribed instruction, you can’t say you weren’t told. If you say that my written instruction was not clear, anyone can look at the written document and see for themselves whether or not the meaning was clear. On the other hand, if you are barely literate, I can see why this preference for written communication in the workplace might be problematic for you. And if you are a habitual fuckup, with a tendency to create workplace problems by your haphazard and sloppy way of doing things, it might be inconvenient for you if your boss can point to a written memo in which he specifically told you not to do things that way. What is being attacked here as “white supremacy culture” by Jones and Okun is the value of written communication; they are attempting to devalue literacy, per se.

Keep in mind that, as I said before, Jones and Okun wrote this in a handbook about tax-exempt non-profit “social justice” activist groups, where efficiency and productivity might not be as highly valued as in, for example, the world of engineering or banking or any other competitive field of enterprise where doing things the right way actually matters.

We should not be surprised that a bunch of academic administrators with degrees in sociology would think this Jones/Okun text was splendid, because is there anywhere efficiency is less valued than modern academia? Can you imagine any greater waste of time and money than this hour-long video seminar?


These are four people who have nothing better to do than to record an hour-long YouTube video for an audience of 840 people. Nobody will learn anything about “white supremacy” from that video, unless what they mean is to describe the characteristics necessary to success.

Oh, wait a minute . . .



Comments are closed.