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White Supremacy is More Than You Think and How to Extinguish It

Part 1: Perfectionism

I was going through the piles of papers on my desk the other day and came across excerpts from “Dismantling Racism: A workbook for Social Change Group” developed by Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks). It is a compilation of organizational behaviors characteristic of white supremacy thinking.

If your goal is to build an inclusive workplace, then this series is important for addressing unconscious organizational and individual behaviors promoting exclusionary hierarchical behaviors.

Tema Okun, one of the co-authors, defines white supremacy as a means of the “power elite to define who is fully human.” I was particularly struck by the way in which she expands the purpose of the white supremacy hierarchy of racial value beyond oppression to dividing and disconnecting:

  • White people from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color from each other

  • White people from other white people

  • Each and all of us from the earth, the sun, the wind, the water, the stars, the animals that roam(ed) the earth

  • Each of us from ourselves

One could argue the purpose is to "divide and conquer" which eliminates threats to the power structure.

The compilation is extensive so I am going to post a 6-part series in which each characteristic is defined along with the appropriate actions required to transform white supremacy thinking into that of equity and inclusion.

The first characteristic is Perfectionism.


Similar to microaggressions, white supremacy hierarchical behaviors are subtle. The overarching intention is to maintain one's power position at the expense of others. The key is identifying patterns of behavior designed to belittle others. Some indicators are easily recognizable and can mistakenly be attributed to just being negative. However, when you go deeper, it becomes obvious the intention is otherwise.

Observe yourself and others to see if you are unconsciously (or consciously) exhibiting any or all of these behaviors:

  • Little or no acknowledgement or appreciation of others’ accomplishments and contributions to the team/organization’s success. If there is, it is given to those who usually get the credit.

  • Emphasis on the inadequacy of the person or their work.

  • Making comments about a person or their work to others behind their back.

  • Mistakes are seen and personalized vs. as mere mistakes anyone can make.

  • Mistakes are confused with being the mistake; doing wrong without being fundamentally wrong.

  • Emphasis on what is wrong vs. the ability to identify and appreciate what is right.

Actions to Extinguish

The goal is to transform these negative behaviors which separate and disconnect to behaviors that are inclusive and equitable. It is important to focus on the behavior instead of the making the person wrong for exhibiting these behaviors to achieve sustained change.

Ironically, the following actions are inherent in being an effective manager or leader. However, these actions can also be adopted by every team member.

  • Public acknowledgement and appreciation for individual and/or team's contributions and achievements.

  • Embrace and value all mistakes as growth opportunities regardless of who makes them (including yourself).

  • Separate the mistake from the person.

  • Recognize successes as well as opportunities for growth (mistakes) during feedback sessions.

  • Solicit suggestions from the person on how to do things differently in the future.*

Stay tuned for the next installment in which two additional characteristics will be presented.

*Source: "Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups," Jones, Kenneth; Okun, Tema; ChangeWork, 2001

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