My Whiteness & Yours: The Perpetuation of White Supremacy in Higher Education

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In February, I attended a workshop entitled, “Dismantling Racism” coordinated by Race Matters for Juvenile Justice (RMJJ) and facilitated by the Racial Equity Institute (REI). After the two-day-long workshop ended, participants were encouraged to attend monthly affinity based caucuses (i.e., a POC Group and a White Ally Group) where action steps could be brainstormed and then implemented (my favorite part about this workshop & organizations).

Yesterday, I attended my first White Ally Group (WAG) meeting where we discussed the topic of Race and Culture. Prior to the meeting, we were asked to reflect upon the following topics/questions:

1. The Intersection of Race and Culture

2. The ways we discuss Race and/or Culture in professional and personal spaces

3. Which characteristic(s) of a white supremacist culture you most encounter in professional/personal spaces.

In the session, many personal stories were shared and a sense of community was quickly established among a group of semi-strangers. During most of the meeting, we discussed the characteristics of a culture of white supremacy (read: characteristics of internalized racial superiority); and, how we all perpetuate these characteristics in our own lives (both personal and professional). Then, we brainstormed some action steps to resist the preservation of these ideals in our lives and work spaces.

RMJJ states, “Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking.” Some of the characteristics that we discussed during our meeting are as follows:
  • Resistance to Change
  • Perfectionism
  • Avoiding Conflict
  • Paternalism
  • Ignorance & misinformationretro-1310402_1920
  • Scapegoating/Blaming/Labeling
  • Self-Righteousness/Anger
  • Right to Comfort
  • Resistance to Acknowledging/Correcting Past
  • Individualism
  • Defensiveness
  • Assumption of Normalcy/Superiority
  • Denial
  • Distancing
  • Entitlement
  • Sense of Urgency
  • Quantity over Quality
  • Worship of the Written World
  • Only One Right Way
  • Binary (Either/Or) Thinking
  • Power Hoarding
  • Fear of Open Conflict
  • Progress is Bigger, More
  • The Belief that Objectivity is Possible

As I was driving home from the meeting, I started thinking about the founding of higher education and how it was (and still is) steeped in white supremacy. Then, I started thinking about how many professionals lack the awareness that they even embody a race and culture. And, as a result, they have probably never thought about how the behaviors and ideologies that they value perpetuate a culture of white supremacy.

As career development professionals, how do we perpetuate these values in the workshops and resources we provide? As club advisors, will we begin to recognize how we perpetuate these values through the establishment of hierarchies in student executive committees? And, will we recognize how those hierarchies place the control in the hands of a few instead of in the hands of the collective? As student conduct officers, how do we enforce what is “appropriate behavior?” Who do we condemn as “radicals” and why do we consider their approach dangerous, violent, or unruly? As mentors, how do we ensure our current students refine the appropriate knowledge and skills needed to be a “professional” in our field? As White student affairs professionals, we must begin to acknowledge the role we have in preserving the culture of white supremacy in higher education.

In an effort, to challenge myself and others, I provide two call-to-actions to all of my cycle-of-socializationWhite colleagues:

1. Identify the characteristics that you were socialized to embody as a White person in a culture of white supremacy

2. Engage in an open conversation with colleagues about how you can reevaluate personal and professional work spaces to dismantle the perpetuation of these ideals in higher education

This may look like an informal discussion that you initiate with other colleagues. This may look like a formal discussion that you initiate during a staff meeting. Regardless of how it shows up in your professional space, hold one another accountable to ensure that the reflection/conversation occurs by the members of your staff. Frederick Douglas stated, “Find out what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them…” In order for racism to flourish in higher education, professionals need only to stay complacent with the current systems in place.

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