21 Comments
Oct 11, 2022Liked by Garrett Bucks

Hi, Garrett. Love seeing your thinking on this, since I've only just learned about the White Supremacy Culture site literally in the past couple of weeks.

For me, rather than a weapon it was a balm that's helped me find a way to be gentle with myself. "See? There's not something necessarily wrong with *me*, there's something wrong in the water we're swimming in, and maybe together we can figure out how to clean it up."

It's not that the info is new, exactly, but somehow the way Okun wrote about it all (and the beautiful art on the web site!) got through in a deep way.

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I loved this definition of white supremacy - and not just because it's pretty close to the definition I've also given it - “a cultural project of disconnect in service of the power elite courting power and profit- wed to capitalism.” I'd never heard of "Characteristics" or its author. I am always being taught by The White Pages! But after reading this piece, I can see how its influence exists in many of the places I find myself. I was also delighted to see Elite Capture mentioned here. It's the next book on my metaphorical nightstand. (And the next book on the literal floor next to my bed.) I loved Reconsidering Reparations.

Thank you for leaving us with this,

"I just need to trust that there are many of us who want to move just a bit further away from the mere recitation of correct words and instead towards the messy, beautiful world of human action and interaction. The trick isn’t in persuasion, it’s helping each other do the work we truly want to do."

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Oct 11, 2022Liked by Garrett Bucks

... And yet, I still encounter people who've never heard of Okun's article. Corporate America is vast, and I take it as a good sign that her ideas seem to be saturating it's fledgeling DEI culture. I like your point that we need to push beyond our (mis)interpretations of her seemingly ubiquitous essay, rather than just using it to embellish McIntosh's ubiquitous backpack. But some white folks gotta start somewhere. Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. =)

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Oct 11, 2022·edited Oct 11, 2022Liked by Garrett Bucks

Hahaha, as someone who's found Characteristics very personally illuminating over the years, and just recommended the website to my nonprofit coworkers at a planning session the other week, I was metaphorically popping popcorn to read this one, and I really enjoyed it, while feeling gently and lovingly called out.

I also really agree that people of my approximate ilk tend to overfocus on workplace-based interventions, AND ALSO I've really valued how my workplaces have been the biggest lever I've had ready access to in my life where I can exert pressure on a lot of money and power held by people who are more politically moderate than I am, so I remain really interested in what tools will work in that setting. I think, and hope, I've been able to do a decent amount of good in that way, but it's definitely never going to be the most transformative or meaningful or soul-enriching type of work in my life. And maybe I'll feel differently, and less optimistically, after a few more years in the nonprofit-industrial-complex mines!

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My top question coming out of this article - What is white supremacy an example of?

Is it caste? Is it elite capture?

Seeing the trees in this case as a type of trees, or the forest as a type of forest, is what I’m looking for.

After EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, I am not wholly convinced that capitalism alone is the culprit - Schumacher proposes that the issue with capitalism is that it’s values-neutral, and because of that, is pairable with any values system. Here you point out that white supremacy has wedded capitalism (which I can totally get behind).

But for me it begs the question, what KIND of values system is white supremacy?

What’s its ilk?

What’s the oldest version of that the world ever saw?

Who in history has disentangled them - them meaning values systems like white supremacy from ANY sort of economic system? Who won, who didn’t, who sunk into violence or disarray, whose economies crumbled, whose values crumbled, whose changemakers crumbled, whose emperors crumbled?

I appreciate the context on Okun - didn’t realize I had assumed race and context in her name. But I’ve had a similar experience to @Anna’s with it, possibly with a side of sharing it with WOC in corporate roles who have gone “well fuck - this is all of Amazon.”

Villainization and weaponization aren’t the point. But if I want to be an agent for transformation of values sets in corporate culture in a level more structural than workshops, it feels like it would help me to name a values TYPE that WS represents - power monopolies? - to dialog about that with values owners in an organization.

If training the masses in orgs isn’t the full scope of the answer,* let’s name the values set and then go get accountable for values & the practices they give rise to at the org level.

(*It feels important to acknowledge here that - granted as a white person - I HAVE personally found diversity trainings including unconscious bias immensely useful in the workplace, personally, interpersonally and systemically. To me even unconscious bias trainings in a for profit business were a crucial platform for people to name and disclaim prejudiced practices in our teams, filling interpretive resourcing gaps in people - including me - directly suffering from inequity, prejudice (well intentioned and annoyingly ignorant), and directly regressive behavior (asking women to explain diversity to you in their 1-1s, because another woman they talked to said it’s no longer an issue these days). These trainings may not be best assessed for their own impact given my experience - rather as an intervention to move from monopoly to plurality of values in corporate trainings - especially since for me these took place alongside anti sexism training that primarily taught tech managers how to ensure they wouldn’t be named in lawsuits for sexual harassment or impropriety as long as they paid for drinks on their personal credit card not their corp cards).

All impact data always stops short of capturing full impact. The practice of assessing a few narrow research questions on the impact of trainings to shift an entire centuries old system sounds like something we should look at through this lens of.. well.. Characteristics.

Grateful for this dialog and your artful thinking and conversation convening 💚

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Oct 20, 2022Liked by Garrett Bucks

Garrett! I missed this last week so thank you for linking to it this week. I don't know if I'm alone in this but I had NO IDEA that Tema Okun was a white Jewish woman!! I thought she was a Black woman. I too agree that this article is often used for circular self-flagellation and not as a call to action. Also I've had weird feelings about the critique of urgency when actually a lot of good can happen when we act urgently after a disaster. Idk I have lots of thoughts but I'm so grateful for this piece!

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Oct 14, 2022Liked by Garrett Bucks

From Yes Magazine. Author Chris Winters: "But DEI programs alone aren't enough to make sustainable changes. There are still too many barriers that keep people of color out of promotions, hiring opportunities, pay increases and retention. Education is needed, but so is accountability, and the funding to pay for both. 'If we don't create change that empowers the people who have the least amount of privilege and experience discrimination the most, we will see the same issues over and over again.' (Angelica Geter)"

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Oct 11, 2022Liked by Garrett Bucks

I found this to be a very good and generous take on the afterlife of Okun's piece, Garrett. I also have. . . complicated feelings about it and how it gets used, and especially people's initial reactions to it. To put on my professional hat (or mortarboard, whatever), it's a fascinating piece of anti-racist rhetoric, and its circulation is a great example of what I often say to my students about rhetoric and intent: You might absolutely be dying to know what someone intended to say with x rhetoric, but ultimately it's the circulation and interpretation and use that's really interesting.

And, as always, I appreciate your concluding on a note of empathy and invitation to connection with our neighbors. As you say, judging people's (or our own) motives for using Okun's piece might be a waste of our energy when we could instead be thinking of how, practically, we can dismantle what she describes. I am really trying to counter my own feelings of exhaustion by just thinking about the small ways I can stick it to these systems by doing something really slowly (e.g. growing and canning my own food) or joyfully (e.g. making flower arrangements with my kiddo to share with people). But it's hard.

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