by Jay Kiskel
I was reading the May 24, 2020 Sunday New York Times when I came across a full-page editorial entitled, “Why Does the U.S. Military Celebrate White Supremacy?” I immediately thought about the UUA. It is somewhat of an ironic marketing coup that the UUA has become so identified with such an odious term.
“White supremacy culture” sprang into public view in UUism in the spring of 2017 when the UUA Board of Trustees declared the UUA was based on white supremacy culture.
We all have a keen understanding of the meaning of the term “white supremacy culture” and, more importantly, the implications of such a sub-culture within our greater society. The Times editorial traced successful efforts in the early decades of the 20th century to name Southern U.S. military bases after Confederate generals such as Bragg, Benning and others. The recognition that the names of such installations should be re-considered appears to be the next step following the removal of Confederate monuments from public squares and the stars and bars from state flags.
With such progress underway to address historic roots of white supremacy within our society it makes one wonder why the UUA did not put the muscle of the denomination behind this growing movement but instead veered off into some eddy of self-reflection.
The initial explanation of this self-declaration of white supremacy by the UUA Moderator on April 8, 2017 only added to the confusion. It was offered that the term “white supremacy culture” should be seen in a new light. “In recent years the term has come to refer to a culture, or a social narrative that places the needs, desires, stories, well-being, and the very lives of white people over and above those of people of color.”
The Moderator’s new definition, however heartfelt, that something new had been discovered actually restated the already obvious. As the children of Civil War veterans who lived in a Jim Crow South pressed for monuments and U.S. bases to honor “their heroes” of the Lost Cause they were explicitly placing the needs, desires, stories, well-being and the very lives of white people over and above those of people of color.
Others began using the work of Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun to define “white supremacy culture.” Their work stated that white supremacy culture was defined by 15 characteristics. Several versions of the list exist. The list presented below is from Okum’s University of North Carolina 2010 Ph.D. entitled The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism.
A sense of urgency
Defensiveness and/or denial
Quantity over quality
Worship of the written word
The belief in one right way
Either or binary thinking
Power of hoarding
Fear of open conflict
Progress defined by more
The right to profit
The right to comfort
Dr. Anne Schneider, using an earlier list found in a 2001 Jones/Okun essay entitled “Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture,” provided a review of the list in her book The Self-Confessed “White Supremacy Culture” of the U.S. Left Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism. She notes that Jones/Okun did not rely on the standard definition of white supremacy culture. The authors offered instead that their list of characteristics defined white supremacy culture. Schneider went on to observe that “the authors presented no empirical evidence – not a single citation – that any of these 15 attributes are any more characteristic of White culture, White organizations or White people that of Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or any other cultures, organizations, or people.
Schneider’s observation that the list of 15 characteristics was not based on any empirical evidence was confirmed by Okun in her thesis. Rather, the list was a cathartic by-product of an after-work venting session.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, I arrived home after a particularly frustrating consultation with an organization I was working with at the time. In a flurry of exasperation, I sat down at my computer and typed, the words flowing of their own accord into a quick and dirty list of some of the characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in organizational behavior.
Okun added many of the 11 items on the list could be discarded and then spent considerable time in her thesis on just four characteristics. Those four characteristics will be the topic of a future Fifth Principle Project Discussion.
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 Okun, Tema. “The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism,” PHD dissertation, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 2010.
 The essay was published in Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups (2001) based on their work at ChangeWork.
 Schneider, Anne. “The Self-Confessed “White Supremacy Culture” of the U.S. Left Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism,” self-published, 2019, 21-23.
[14 Ibid., 24. Schneider added in a footnote, “The author includes an odd disclaimer that some of these
characteristics may be found in organizations run by People of Color, but they offer no explanation although one might surmise that the POC running such organizations learned this from White people.
 Ibid. 28-29