White Supremacy Culture

Kandice Ollis
3 min readOct 4, 2020

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White supremacy culture is still prevalent in many corporations and is unconsciously or consciously the normal for a lot of people. Being able to identify when you’re exhibiting certain characteristics of this culture is a start and working to stop these characteristics from yourself and peers will allow a better workplace for all.

In Tema Okun’s article, White Supremacy Culture, he gives examples of the different characteristics that are displayed by the white supremacy culture. He talks about one characteristic of being a perfectionist which leads to certain attitudes towards other people. These attitudes may include expressing little appreciation to those you’re working with, mistakes made are categorized as wrong and are seen as personal, not learning from mistakes, the tendency to always identify what’s wrong versus what’s right, etc. Being a physicist involves working with others in large or small groups on an experiment. In the prologue of Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists, Traweek talks about the importance of the four main domains of community life: ecology — the support of the environment, social organization — how the group structures itself, developmental cycle — how the group transmits to novices the skills, values, and knowledge, and cosmology — the group’s system of knowledge skills, and beliefs. These four domains are analyzed by anthropologists when it comes to human action in a distinctive group. Reading about these domains immediately made me think of the perfectionist idea the Okun talked about because, in this sense, as perfectionists there are times where someone were to make a mistake, you’ll hold them accountable personally rather than professionally. Using the four domains would help orientate the group as a group rather than a bunch of individuals working together. Science is by no means perfect so mistakes can possibly lead you to the answer you may be looking for, or not looking for. Mistakes should be looked at as a learning moment and not something done wrong.

In chapter three of Traweek’s book, he breaks down the three different education and professional levels of becoming a physicist and what happens during these time periods. Traweeks sums up the education periods as “undergraduate learns to focus on the present, a graduate student discovers that there is not enough time in the present. Postdocs should learn that the future is too short, that they have to anticipate it in order to have enough time.” (101). When reading this it made me think back to Okun’s description of the characteristic, sense of urgency. Physics and science in general shouldn’t be rushed, it “makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences”. (Okun, n.d). Plans or decisions that are rushed seems like the “quick” fix but in reality it takes more because you may or may not have to revisit this decision later for correction. During the time of WWII, many physicists were pressured to a deadline to produce weapons for their leaders which forced this portion of the white supremacy culture into physics. During this time the culture was a lot more prevalent which set the foundation of today’s physics/science culture.

The goal is to eliminate white supremacy culture in all aspects of sicence and allow more inclusivity. As long as this culture exists so heavily, it will be more difficult for the current and later generations to thrive in sciences like physics. Unknowingly or not, this culture prevents the real progress of science.

• Okun, T. (n.d.). White Supremacy Culture. https://www.dismantlingracism.org/

uploads/4/3/5/7/43579015/okun_-_white_sup_culture.pdf

Traweek, S. (1992). Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Harvard University Press.

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Kandice Ollis