White Supremacy Culture and You (Yep, You)

Have you ever heard the term __________ People Time to refer to someone running late? That blank could refer to Black people, Latinx people, or any number of other cultures. Do you know why it’s a thing in the first place? Because of something called “time orientation.” Some cultures don’t have any real investment in the passage of time, some are polychronic, and some are monochronic. Perhaps, unsurprising, it’s been theorized that the less concerned people are about time, the warmer the climate in the culture’s ancient past. The idea is that inhabitants of warmer climates, historically, had to concern themselves less with clothing and food than did inhabitants of colder climates who spent more time on basic survival. If you have a short growing season and a long winter, time will feel in very short supply.

Polychronic cultures are those in which people are lax about time. Their focus in on community and relationships and they value things like relaxation. Monochronic cultures are centered around time and schedules. They work through time in a linear direction and they value things like promptness. So, when I tell you that predominantly white cultures are primarily monochronic, including the colonizers who settled in the United States and built a culture around their values, does it come as a shock? Probably not. Fast-forward to today and people from historically polychronic cultures are made to feel that they are wrong for being late or for talking for too long or for assuming context or for interrupting. However, they aren’t wrong. They’re just different.

The characteristics of any culture arise from legitimate needs during that culture’s history. However, one group’s cultural values, in particular, have obfuscated the valid cultural traditions of people groups the world over via mass colonization: White Supremacy Culture.

As defined by DismantlingRacism.org,

White Supremacy Culture is the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

White supremacy culture is reproduced by all the institutions of our society. In particular the media, the education system, western science (which played a major role in reinforcing the idea of race as a biological truth with the white race as the “ideal” top of the hierarchy), and the Christian church have played central roles in reproducing the idea of white supremacy (i.e. that white is “normal,” “better,” “smarter,” “holy” in contrast to Black and other People and Communities of Color.

White supremacy culture is an artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses, justifies and binds together the United States white supremacy system. It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system.

Dismantling Racism names the following fifteen characteristics of White Supremacy Culture. I will seek to describe each in brief and explain how White Supremacy Culture influences childism, though you will likely see the problem before I get there.

  1. Perfectionism: Inadequacies matter more than competencies, mistakes reflect badly on the person rather than being seen as neutral opportunities for reflection and growth, and problems are more identifiable than strengths.
  2. Sense of Urgency: Schedules are more important than people, decision-making and strategizing are rushed, and results are more important than the process.
  3. Defensiveness: Saving face and not ruffling any feathers get prioritized, hierarchies control for perceived insubordination, and leaders reject constructive feedback as unjust criticism.
  4. Valuing Quantity over Quality: Meeting measurable goals takes precedence, emotions have no place, and completing the checklist wins out over any harm or the actual outcome.
  5. Worship of the written word: Documenting everything accurately is more trusted than putting faith in people, and alternative communication styles are abhorred.
  6. Belief in Only One Right Way: Divining the perfect solution to a problem is the goal and no flexibility exists to apply a fundamentally good solution in ways that address differences.
  7. Paternalism: Only people in power are capable of making the right decisions for the people they rule and little vertical collaboration in the hierarchy occurs.
  8. Either/or Thinking: Binary thinking rules, all nuance is lost, and the agenda of people in power gets advanced.
  9. Power Hoarding: Preserving power toward the top of the hierarchy is key and those not in power are viewed as incompetent and emotional when they defy the power structure.
  10. Fear of Open Conflict: Politeness rules all, conflict is unbearable, and emotional responses signal lack of intelligence or capacity.
  11. Individualism: The ability of the individual is valued over the ability to work as a team, people should solve problems on their own, individuals want credit rather than cooperation, a rampant lack of accountability for those in power exists, and everyone is pushed into isolation as a result.
  12. I’m the Only One Who Can Do This Right: The focus is on concentrating knowledge and effort into individuals, others cannot be trusted to do the thing correctly
  13. Progress is Bigger and More: Progress matters more than process and those lacking power are exploited and excluded.
  14. Objectivity: Neutrality is the priority, emotions invalidate the emotional person, perceived illogical thinking is met with impatience, and out of the box thinking is discouraged.
  15. Claiming a Right to Comfort: Comfort for those in power is emphasized, those who cause discomfort get blamed, and fragility is the result.

Tema Okun, author and social justice advocate explains further that “the characteristics listed [above] are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. Because we all live in a white supremacy culture, these characteristics show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all of us – people of color and white people.”

We are all influenced. Our worldviews are impacted. And, the way we approach parenting is affected. Here are a few of the ways in which White Supremacy Culture is impacting the way we treat our children.

Signs You’re Buying Into White Supremacy

At this point, your chest might be tightening a little. You might already be convincing yourself of how wrong I am. You couldn’t possibly be buying into White Supremacy Culture! Could you? Let me me the first one to admit that I struggle. I truly struggle. I see clearly where White Supremacy Culture has molded my thinking, even as a Peaceful Parent. The truth is that acknowledging reality and being honest with myself is the only way forward. Not only is it a way to become a better parent, for me, it’s also a way to help me become a better, more responsible white person.

I invite you to read through this list and see if your parenting has also been influenced by White Supremacy Culture like mine has.

  1. Children can’t make mistakes without being punished
  2. They are pulled to and fro by the draw of our schedules
  3. We become incensed when our kids “disobey”
  4. If our children aren’t progressing then they must be falling behind
  5. Preliterate children in particular are infantilized by our communication requirements
  6. We push kids toward the “right” way to do things and ignore their unique ideas
  7. Children have no say in their upbringing
  8. Children are either good or bad
  9. Parents hold 100% of the power in the relationship
  10. We demand politeness over realness
  11. We expect our kids to figure things out on their own (“I’ve told you a hundred times! Go figure it out!”)
  12. We react to mistakes by taking over
  13. We praise progress and criticize mistakes made during the process
  14. We believe we are more objective because we are less emotional than children
  15. We punish children for “embarrassing” us in public

In the beginning of this piece, I looked at the ways in which cultures perceive time to illustrate the legitimate differences that exist across cultures. I talked about White Supremacy Culture and how ubiquitous it is. We are impacted by it without knowing it. I laid out the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, followed by some of the ways in which White Supremacy Culture affects our children. If we accept that White Supremacy Culture does not contain exclusive knowledge of the only right way to believe and behave, what does that say about the way we treat children as isolated subordinates under the influence of white supremacy?

In 2013, Ghanian researcher, Patricia Mawusi Amos, authored a chapter in a book called Parenting in South American and African Contexts. Her chapter, Parenting and Culture – Evidence from Some African Communities, highlights common parenting practices in Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia that produce positive results in children. Notably, she includes the extended family system, folktales, and puberty rites. These practices defy the White Supremacy Culture values of Paternalism, as multiple family and community members help care for the children; Sense of Urgency, as time is taken to teach children through storytelling; and Individualism, as children are included in cultural rites of passage.

And, research backs it up. For instance, Tadesse Jaleta Jirata’s 2014 paper, Positive Parenting: An Ethnographic Study of Storytelling for Socialization of Children in Ethiopia, concludes that the tradition of intergenerational storytelling “is a means for parents to accomplish their parenting responsibilities in line with the needs and concerns of their children,” “fosters close social relationships between parents and children and facilitates intergenerational transmission of knowledge and values,” builds “creative child-to-child interactions and help[s] children adapt themselves to their social world.”

So, if you find yourself locked into a White Supremacy Culture mindset, try moving in another direction. Read up on how parenting happens in other cultures. Look to find ways in which you can reduce the childism inherent in White Supremacy Culture. At this point, I should note that simply by engaging in Peaceful Parenting, you’ve already begun the work. One of the most common criticisms I’ve received about Peaceful Parenting is the amount of time it takes to go the gentle route. So, you know what? Go the gentle route! Ready for a final list?

How to Make a Positive Change

It’s one thing to say we want to reject White Supremacy Culture and quite another to actually do it. It’s hard to go against the grain. How about starting with a few resolutions to incorporate into your daily life?

  1. Let children make mistakes without judgment. Check out this really cool research on how allowing people to self-correct their behavior builds executive function.
  2. Slow down and be more choosy about the activities your family will engage in. Psychology Today has a great piece on how to do just that.
  3. Try shifting your mentality from demanding obedience to inviting cooperation and consider these ideas from Positive Parenting Connections.
  4. Live in the present! Delight in your child’s unique process. And learn about the benefits of focusing on process over outcome.
  5. Find out how you can support your child’s communication through all stages of development from ZERO TO THREE, a global organization powered by leading researchers and clinicians.
  6. Incorporate these amazing recommendations from Scholastic.com for encouraging divergent, creative thinking in children.
  7. Stop railing against “giving in” to your children and trying giving choices instead. Children who learn early how to make wise choices are better prepared for a lifetime of decision-making.
  8. Understand that people are too complicated to be either good or bad. We are a culmination of all our experiences and all our reflections. Children benefit from being guided toward wisdom rather than being held to the impossible standard of “good.”
  9. End the power struggles by keeping children’s power buckets full.
  10. Read up on Kindness versus Niceness and why Kids Don’t Owe Anyone Good Manners.
  11. Recognize that kids don’t just choose not to do what we ask of them. Their executive function is developing and they need our help to figure things out. Check out this great overview for more details.
  12. Resist the urge to step in and take over for your child. See this post at GoodTherapy.org to find out why.
  13. Instead of praise and criticism, try opting for empowerment and motivation.
  14. Recognize that you are not an objective observer removed from your relationship with your child. Both you and your child have human emotions that should be validated, not shunned.
  15. Stop worrying about what other people think about your parenting and practice skills to help you connect with your child instead.

I know this was a tough post to read. Did it help you see something you didn’t see before? Do you have a game plan for how you’d like to move forward with your new (or renewed) knowledge?

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