Educators, Please Stop Teaching the Characteristics of ‘White Supremacy Culture’

Washington University, St. Louis hosted an earlier online workshop entitled “Is Professionalism Racist Construct?”

Conservative media criticized the event a lot. Fox News mocked its online description. “So-called professionalism” is coded language. This construct supports institutional racism and excludes practices. The presenters were open to the debate. Cynthia Williams, the assistant dean for community partnerships, at the university, claimed that she was in “good trouble.”

The whole presentation can be found online and is just as offensive as the conservative critics anticipated. Notably, the presenters cite the antiracist educator Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture” a body of dubious work that makes all sorts of unfounded and frankly racist assumptions. Indeed, the presentation includes a slide, “15 Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture”—though the slide only mentions five—that claims possessing a sense of urgency, preferring quantity over quality, wanting things to be written down, perfectionism, and becoming defensive are aspects of white supremacy.

Perfectionism and defensiveness can lead to a negative work environment, school and community. However, there’s nothing to link them with whiteness. Although a boss may send too many memos, this does not necessarily mean that he’s a white supremacist.

There is a risk in identifying “white culture,” qualities that can be negative in many instances. Another antiracism expert, Judith Katz has done similar work. She lists timeliness, planning for future, self-reliance as well politeness and respect for authority among the “aspects” and assumptions that white culture is. While politeness and timeliness are positive qualities, they have nothing to do whiteness. Moreover, it would be wrong—and, again, racist—to teach kids of color that if they work hard and plan for their futures, they are betraying their heritage.

Okun’s and Katz’s assertions are plainly absurd. However, the work of theirs is everywhere. Katz was the author of this document. It previously appeared on the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s website.

Jonathan Chait, Matthew Yglesias and Matthew Yglesias are liberal writers who have condemned this work and urged educators not to use it. However it continues to be used everywhere. While Okun’s and Katz’s work is not exactly critical race theory, there are similarities in how the concepts are presented by antiracism experts.

The backlash against critical racism theory may partly be a backlash against the assistant deans for diversity who claim that writing down things on notepads is racist. It should not be difficult to comprehend why this is happening. This framework should be abandoned by educators when discussing racism.