Identifying and Addressing Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture – Equitable Teaching

Identifying and Addressing Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture

Identifying and Addressing Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture


This resource guide highlights characteristics of white supremacy culture, as outlined by Dr. Tema Okun, that can be pervasive in organizations and institutions. White supremacy is made manifest in many ways, some being more covert than others.  The characteristics identified in this resource guide can be rendered invisible due to how they become norms and standards in a variety of settings, academia included.

From Dr. Okun: “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 proactively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking…these attitudes and behaviors can show up in any group or organization…Because white supremacy culture is the water we swim in, we inevitably internalize the messages about what this culture believes, values, and considers normal. We absorb these messages as individuals and as a collective. As a result, white supremacy culture shapes how we think and act, how we make decisions and behave.”

This guide will identify each characteristic and provides disruptions to address them when we see or experience them in the classroom or larger university context. Dismantling white supremacy culture requires us to be aware of its characteristics in our internal, interpersonal, and institutional lives. If we actively identify and disrupt white supremacy culture, we are promoting an anti-racist culture. To begin this work, we have to start with a self-examination of how white supremacy culture shows up in ourselves and our work.

If you feel shame, become defensive, or get angry while going through this list, lean into the discomfort, and interrogate where your feelings are coming from. Keep in mind the purpose of this list is not to shame or blame, but to identify and disrupt white supremacy culture. As Dr. Okun states: “The characteristics on the list are designed to make us forget that we have access to multiple ways of being and knowing, ways that white supremacy has suppressed and oppressed for the purpose of creating confusion about what is important while encouraging us to forget what we already know.”

Each section contains a characteristic, examples of it, ways to disrupt it, and reflection prompts for you to consider. Each characteristic is a hyperlink to Dr. Okun’s website, where you can see the complete list of examples and disruptions, as well as find additional readings and stories related to the identified characteristic.

Resource Goals:

  • To identify characteristics and examples of white supremacy culture.

  • To provide disruptions of each identified characteristic.

  • To aid instructors in becoming aware of how these characteristics show up in personal, interpersonal, and institutional contexts.

Anti-Racist Pedagogy Principles:

The following anti-racist pedagogy principles are incorporated into this resource guide. For a review of the principles, visit our Practicing Anti-Racist Pedagogy homepage.

  • Principle 1: Anti-racist pedagogy acknowledges racism in disciplinary, institutional, departmental contexts
    • Identifying and disrupting white supremacy culture characteristics in these different contexts can create more inclusive and anti-racist spaces

  • Principle 2: Anti-racist pedagogy centers both structural and personal manifestations of racism
    • White supremacy culture characteristics are not distilled down to individual acts or choices but are part of a larger dominant culture that promotes them as the right ways of thinking and being. Each characteristic has corresponding reflection questions that ask us to consider how that particular characteristic shows up in our personal and institutional contexts.

  • Principle 3: Anti-racist pedagogy disrupts racism whenever/wherever it occurs
    • We are either promoting white supremacy culture or we are disrupting white supremacy culture. When we critically examine how these characteristics impact our lived experiences, we better equip ourselves to disrupt them and seek alternative ways of thinking, learning, and knowing.

  • Principle 4: Anti-racist pedagogy seeks change within and beyond the classroom
    • The reflection questions in this guide ask you to think about how these characteristics impact your classrooms and engagement with students. They also ask you to reflect on how these characteristics show up in your interactions with colleagues, within your department, and within your institution. 

  • Principle 6: Anti-racist pedagogy focuses on the importance of process over time
    • As stated in the Overview, it can be challenging to recognize or name these characteristics as they are ingrained in many organizations and cultures. This guide serves as a starting point to critically examining our relationship to these characteristics. This guide is an exercise to help develop reflexive muscles that allow us to continue this work over time.

Identifying and Addressing Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture Resource Guide:

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