Core Patriarchal, White Supremacist, Colonialist Concepts and Values, Widely Practiced That Impede Positive Social Justice Transformation
By Emma Rosenthal & Xeres Villanueva
“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”-Steve Biko
This list is not complete. Use comments, commentaries, your own blogs, to link to, expand and critique the list. Surely we have more to say collectively than individually. With special thanks to the following activists for their support and critique in writing this list: Andy Griggs, Elise Hendrick, Sylvia Posadas, Cinthya Martinez Perez, Maga Miranda. Additionally we are considering expanding this list into a book with each of the 40 points expounded upon in a distinct article, with different writers taking on each chapter. We’re all about promoting each other, sharing voice, creating a wider circle.
Ideas, Values and Practices That Transcend Popular Culture
White supremacist, patriarchal, colonialist values are widely taught, instilled in us via media, popular culture, schools, advertising, families, religious institutions & our communities. These values are so pervasive, as to be imperceptible that one doesn’t have to be from the dominant group to perpetuate these values. We all have to challenge them if our work is going to serve and transform our communities and our world. Now more than ever, the significance and the breadth of patriarchy and white supremacy are becoming more immediate and more evident. It’s breathing down our backs, it’s banging down our doors, its boots are on our necks. They’re really coming to get most of us, so let’s not be them. Let’s not make them the voices in our head. Let’s not use their tactics and values in our movements in response to them. Let us not replicate them while attempting to dismantle structural oppression. Let our work be the antithesis of patriarchy and white supremacy: collective, complex, intersectional, inclusive, holistic, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, proactive, DISability and LGBTQIAA affirmative and inclusive, self reflective. We have a lot of unlearning to do, and no one, no one identity gets a pass. If we are in the struggle for real justice and not just us, not just our own membership or access or entitlement, we cannot afford to leave these values and behaviors unchecked.
Core patriarchal white supremacist concepts that are widely practiced (Order in the list does not imply prioritization or importance):
- Individuality— The concept that we’re all separate and not connected to community, group, family, history, that we do it alone, on our own. That we create ourselves and are not responsible to anyone. If someone is having difficulty they need to take care of it themselves. If they are sick or DISabled they need to tend to that OUTSIDE of the group and not be a burden on the group. Parents of small children are responsible for their children and it is understandable if they don’t participate, but the children certainly aren’t a collective responsibility. The trajectory of the nuclear family, with its division of community creates and sustains capitalist alienation, making workers more easily exploited, playing off families and family members against each other.
Conversely if someone raises issues of systemic oppression (racism, sexism, class, ableism, etc), respond with “not all _____” and turn the focus onto yourself and your own exceptionalism “I’m not ______”.
- Individualization and Hierarchization— People tend to see oppressions as aimed and expressed at individuals, rather than structures pursuant and reinforced by white patriarchal, colonialist capitalism. So instead of developing strategies to change the structures we can be seduced into whackamoling individuals only without relating their behaviour to the structures. Oppression is perceived as individual and measurable, and not collective; horizontal and not linear; avoiding the complexity of intersectionality and horizontal oppression of divide and conquer.
- Cult of Personalities— Self promotion and movement stardom instead of grassroots organizing and collective engagement. This includes the BEST ally: The BEST and ONLYist WHITE ANTI-RACIST (think Jane Elliott and Tim Wise). The BEST and ONLYist FEMINIST man (think Hugo Schwyzer, though that one is too easy– think someone who is still “in” the movement who translates feminism to men because, men.) The one that puts EVERYONE else in their place but never shares the stage with the people they actually claim to advocate for; the only one not subject to critique, including especially their own methodology. The result is a mediocre analysis that goes unchallenged.
- Virtue of Selfishness— that it’s okay to betray others, take what you need or want, manipulate, lie, steal as long as you’re “taking care of yourself”. This raises selfishness to a level of spiritual enlightenment.
- Entitlement— The right to be right, to change historic facts to suit one’s ego, agenda or purpose; without having to do the actual work, formulate an argument, do the research, articulate one’s ideas. Also the right to not have to be around people that are inferior, less capable, strong, intelligent, beautiful or educated. This includes people who are not as pretty, young, trendy, cool. The right not to be contradicted. The rightness of one’s feelings as facts, especially when entitlement and assumptions of supremacy are challenged. The assumption that one is oppressed when in actuality it is their supremacist position (by virtue of being white, a man, cis, ENabled, etc.) is challenged.
Some people consider a well articulated and documented point of view to be rudeness, elitism and bullying, because they have nothing to substantiate their blather and are feeling overpowered by well thought out assertions. Some even complain that the “bully” is being unfair because they have more knowledge and background on the subject. This attitude reflects a sense of entitlement never to have one’s point of few challenged and a need never actually to be considered wrong, or have to do the hard work, be it gaining a skill or researching and backing up one’s position.
- Power and Abuse— if someone offends it’s okay to resort to petit lies, insults, strawmen, false accusations and outright character assassination. During power plays, support those with the most power, especially those who are indispensable to the movement. Pay no attention to victims except to mock them. Do not practice inclusion. Some people are just dispensable. Favor charisma, money, celebrity, over integrity. It’s okay to assassinate totally the character of someone who raises uncomfortable or unpopular ideas yet when someone is called out for years of abuse and violence in the community from a position of power, then any public discussion is “airing dirty laundry” and “providing information to the cops. We’re building a movement here, not a charity ward. People need to toughen up. we’re talking revolution. there are always casualties in war.” (See blame the victim) Character Assassination always includes lies and has the added benefit of avoiding the actual issues that person is raising or represents.
- Productivity–Value productivity over universal humanity. Favor “comrades” who have resources, money, power and social and academic capital. Base human value on what people do, not how they treat each other or (horrors) their essential intrinsic value as people.
- Quid Pro Quo— The importance of “picking one’s battles”, “getting along with difficult (important) people”, the exchange of favors and the currency of opportunism, the importance of those with power who can help you get ahead. Principled people are not able to access this system.
- Hierarchies— That some people are more important than others, some lives matter more than others and some people are outright disposable and that you, because of your own historical experience and place are the most supreme. This includes hierarchies of oppression and oppression olympics. (Oppression olympics isn’t about prioritizing. It’s about the rightness of oneself because “identity”, and the wrongness of someone else because, “identity”.)
- Social Darwinism— That if someone isn’t strong enough, smart enough, young enough, beautiful enough, cool enough, clever enough they don’t need to be included and can be pushed out, especially if it takes an extra effort or if they are “in the way.” Standards of beauty and coolness are especially important in organizing and mobilization. (This is how supremacy is branded to liberals and leftists and why ableism is so incredibly dangerous and pernicious).
- Disposability–The idea that people can be “in the way”, especially marginalized people or that people who challenge core assumptions, supremacy within groups, hierarchies, are disposable due to their inconvenience. This is also true of those who are the victims of abuse by powerful members within our communities.
- Scarcity— That there isn’t enough to go around and only those with the most entitlement should be provided for, and that if someone else gets something then it means you won’t have enough. This includes the use of space and other issues of inclusion, that there is only enough room for some people’s stories and that others need to be excluded.
- Simplification– This differs from simplicity. Complexity requires work and work is for other people. Any idea that challenges one’s own position is simply “too complicated” and is therefore irrelevant or oppressive. Examples of simplification: the ideology of identity, gender binaries, binaries in general– that there are two opposing sides (and only two) to every issue.
- Scapegoating— Relying on bigotry, blame, stereotypes, conspiracy theories etc. to obscure the real issue, and whatever you do, do not allow there to be any real criticism of patriarchy white supremacy, imperialism or capitalism. use racism, sexism, ableism or other marginalizing principles to maintain hegemony and avoid responsibility or detection. Ableist insults are especially effective. Blame white male violence on mental illness, or refer to systemic oppression as “crazy” or powerful men as “stupid” and when everything else fails, blame the Jews: or Muslims, or Blacks, or poor people or…..especially as a cover for capitalism in general.
- Exceptionalism— that the rules don’t apply to oneself– that what one does is justifiable even when it is wrong when others do it. The ends don’t even have to justify the means, the “I” justifies the means. it’s right because it’s mmeeeeeeeee.
- Appropriation— If you like something someone else has, steal it, put your name on it and call it your own. If you’re called out, say using it is a sign of respect. dig your heels into the throat of the person or people you are respecting. Disrespecting unpaid labor, underpaid labor and emotional labor.
- Patronizing (White) Savior Syndrome— Decide on what is best for those “beneath” you and accuse them of ingratitude if they don’t appreciate your effort. (For example, decide what is DISability accessible FOR people with DISabilities instead of working with DISfolx and having them inform the process.) The most important thing is that you feel good about what you’ve done. If it hurts people or excludes people, that’s beside the point.
- Clientization and Professionalism— The idea that there is a benefactor and a client, that there is no communion or reciprocity or mutual aid, but rather a hierarchy of those who give and those who receive with the resulting obligatory gratitude on the part of those receiving and the entitlement of those “giving”. The professional knows what is best, especially if they do not share identity with the community, population or individual being “served”.
- Elitism, Deferring to Power and Blaming the Victim— Defend movement stars, authors, speakers and figureheads from any critique or engagement, while ignoring, trashing and “calling out” marginalized members of the community for their insight and contributions. Defend local administrations: The Democrat Party, corrupt union leadership. Defer to authority: degrees, institutions. If you are a member of a vanguard party, defend the party against working class critique. By all means, forget that the stated purpose of a vanguard party is the defense OF the working class. Calling people bourgeois or petit bourgeois is especially effective. Lumpen proletariat is an especially effective low blow as insults go. Do not support victims. Insist they brought it on themselves, that to help someone is to enable them or perpetuate their oppression. Help in the most patronizing way possible and make sure that it involves you as the savior and them as the recipient. Do not practice reciprocity. Those on the bottom are not your equal. They exist so you can feel better about yourself. Do not consider them as resources and create systems of support that deny them agency and voice. This is especially important when the perpetrators are movement stars, leaders in the community or members of the vanguard party. (Often when a victim does speak up, they disrupt decorum. They often seem like the location of the problem. It can take a lot of work to understand the dynamic that makes the victim’s behavior look like the cause and not the result of a power abuse and imbalance.)
- Complicity and Collaboration— Deferring to authority, calling the police, authority figures, respectability politics, tone, snitching, snitch jacketing. Using “restorative justice” to target dissenting voices and support perpetrators. (Not to be confused with true restorative justice), enforcing gender, cultural, ableist expectations. Avoid class analysis. Use activist symbols and language for advancement and position within the dominant paradigm.
- Group Think— We are not individuals (doublespeak because this is essentially individualistic in the interests of those in power). The less powerful must submit their will to the greater good, not think outside the box, go along with the popular narratives. Keep the analysis simple. Never contradict the heroes. Wear the right clothes, Shop in the right stores, Practice downward mobility and self deprivation.
- Christian Fundamentalism— Original sin and guilt, confession, retribution, obedience, domination (of each other and of nature), collective and self flagellation, human sacrifice and redemption. This results in obedient but demanding allies, control, manipulation, lack of accountability, entitlement, savior syndrome, hero syndrome, oppression olympics and abuse. Also saintliness- the idea that some people are perfect and beyond reproach. Messianic approaches to revolution– waiting for the revolution as if waiting for the messiah, and insisting that all our needs can be subverted until after the revolution. Forget mutual aid and good will. If you are “charitable” make sure it’s patronizing and dehumanizing. The idea that oppression is a form of purification and that those who are oppressed have been cleansed can do no wrong. Strangely, communion does not seem to be integrated into this model.
- New Age Spiritual Fascism— The idea that if bad things happen to you, it’s because you named it or focused on it and made it happen. It’s not racism until you point out that it is racism, so it’s racist of you to see racism, also, the use of new age lexicon to derail political discussion and transform militant confrontational activism into some mushy “love and light” “Be blessed”, “don’t be so negative”, mashed potato casserole.
- Instant Pudding, Quick rice, fast food Organizing: Wanting immediate results without much effort, expecting instant gratification, efficiency. Political bypassing of deep analysis, relationship building, praxis and argument. Avoiding discomfort, research, effort, accountability, process in both short term and long term planning.
- Compartmentalization — The idea that we are different people in different spaces and that our conduct is dependent on where we are and what is expected of us. Compartmentalization allows for contradicting positions and arguments in different situations. At work, or in certain situations, we leave our minds at the door. This is especially applicable to educational and social service and non-profit situations where we are supposed to provide for actual human need and are ostensibly creating a better world. Apply the business model to activism: keep your personal life separate, don’t create lasting relationships, nothing is personal, don’t trust anyone, have no expectations.
- Moral Relativism— That what is right or wrong is situational and self centered in terms of personal self interest, that there are two (and only two) sides to every conflict and the “truth” is in the middle. Victims who speak up or defend themselves are treated as much of the problem (or more so) than perpetrators. The response to abuse is seen as just as problematic as the abuse.
- Kindness is Weakness— And weakness is exploitable and targetable. This attitude is void of any valuing of reciprocity or other people’s labor or space.
- Militarization— The idealization of hyper-masculine militarized responses to dehumanization and exploitation, uniformity, uniforms, cults of personalities, valuing physicality, “virility”, and physical supremacy.
- “Free speech”— The idea that there are no consequences to free speech, that some speech is more free than others, that abuse is protected, but conversely responding to abuse is disruptive and disunifying. Use humor, words art and then saying that it’s just humor words art and you’re not responsible for how people feel or what people do, but you are terribly sorry if you offended someone
- Political Correctness— Avoiding accountability by accusing someone of being too “politically correct”. This strawman reinforces systemic power by stigmatizing and labeling the defence of marginalized groups simply on the grounds that it is part of some rigid dogma of “correctness.”
- Abuse of Identity Politics (The ideology of identity)— Using identity to avoid class analysis, shill for existing power structures, capitalism, conquest and empire, and justify one’s position based on one’s identity. This is NOT the same as the politics of identity. The politics of identity recognizes the role identity plays in both marginalization, and self determination and empowerment as well as kinship, culture, history, membership and experience, and is an essential and important aspect of critical activist praxis (theory and practice) and class analysis. This includes Privilege baiting. One is considered right or wrong, based on identity, without deeper analysis of position, interests and behaviors. Identity is the argument in itself, in a discussion, with no reference or response to the central points. The accuracy of the baiting is not important. Extra points for calling someone white, who isn’t, for example. This is not the same as holding people accountable or suggesting that they might consider that their experience or solutions in their lives aren’t universally applicable and that their behavior and assumptions impact others. Privilege baiting is a way of silencing dissent and eliminating and avoiding complexities.
- Dehumanization— The idea that some people are more human than others, comparing people to animals, especially insects and rodents or resorting to ableist, sexist, racist and class based insults. It is possible to take on oppressive systems without dehumanizing the oppressor. Otherwise we risk harming members of our own group and class and of replicating that what we are claiming to dismantle.
- Dogmatism— Putting ideas before people, demanding that people fit into your rubric instead of engaging in the complexities of inclusion, dismissing someone’s story or reality because it doesn’t match one’s ideology or worldview.
- Columbus the Discussion (Or textbooking the discussion)— Rewrite the facts to suit your agenda, and more importantly, your rightness. If the facts or if what happened doesn’t suit you, change the narrative. insist that what happened didn’t happen or if it did, justify it. You have the right to be right. Use it. (see entitlement.)
- Just us, Not Justice— Single issue activism, assuring the prioritization of your group or subgroup and replicating systems of oppression by columbusing them under some other name. Asserting you or your group has it worse, longer, most, better, harder.
- Normalization of Systems of Oppression— By creating hierarchies of oppression and denying comparisons (this is especially true of the Holocaust and slavery), we normalize everything that fails to meet that standard. What cannot be compared becomes acceptable. “Well it’s not as bad as____ so you shouldn’t complain” normalizes “it” and oppression in general, as long as something “worse” can be established or even imagined.
- Competition and Scarcity— The assumption that there is only a limited amount of time, space, voice and ideas and that if one has it, others don’t. This also leads to “hoarding”— of space– in print, on panels, at events.
- Erasures— Assuming we’re all one, and therefore all the same. Dismissing differences as irrelevant. Asserting color blindness and “unity” as a way of hiding existing divisions that need to be addressed.
- Divisiveness— Ascribing to false dichotomies and enforcing hierarchies. Treating people as disposable. Not resisting divide and conquer strategies. Stigmatizing and othering: just us politics. supremacist coolness as activism, dismissing youth and discarding elders and DISabled folx. Ignoring single parents, poor people, recent immigrants, anyone who cannot speak English. Enforcing internalized self hatred and expectations of the dominant society. Indeed, this entire list is, for many activists, about the externalization of internalized oppression, for others it is a confrontation to their ingrained entitlements: Anti-blackness, antisemitism, anti-Islam, anti-indigenous anti-immigrants, TERFeminism, white feminism, progressive except for Palestine.
- Fashion and Consumerist Activism— It’s all about the look, the dress, the latest discard of social convention as fashion statement. It’s about who is in, and who is out. It’s events held like an exclusive night club. It’s the price of admission and the cost of membership. It’s social and educational capital. It’s the latest book, movie, speaker, event. It’s place dropping and name dropping and entourages. It’s fetishism, inspiration porn and consumerization. It’s who’s the most poly, or multilingual or published, or degreed or popular. It’s what is hip and now and forgotten tomorrow, especially if that perfect job or opportunity is presented. Then it’s points 1-39 all over again.
is an artist, writer, educator, reiki practitioner, and human rights activist whose work combines art, activism, education and grassroots mobilization. As a person with a DISability she is confined, not by her condition but by the narrow and marginalizing attitudes and structures of the society at large.
Rosenthal is the founder of The WE Empowerment Center and is Director of several of its project including Cafe Intifada, Emma Rosenthal Studios, Radical DISability, and Visiting Hands & Hearts.
She is a retired Social Justice Educator and has been an activist all her life, working for a variety of causes both local and international in both leadership and rank and file capacities. She was a member of the UTLA House of Representatives and a cluster leader, coordinating 5 schools during the 1989 L.A. Teachers’ strike. Her earliest activism included marching against the Vietnam War and organizing in the UFW boycott. Her work is anti-racist, anti-sexist, intersectional, decolonialist, anti-imperialist and LBGTQIAA and DISability affirmative.
graduated from Azusa Pacific University with degrees in English and Communication Studies. She has deep roots in community building and activism. She is involved in community building projects such as Tuesday Night Cafe and various Christian social justice groups such as Jesus 4 Revolutionaries. She has been in the worlds of freelancing, small business and non-profits. Her interests are media and pop culture, cultural activism, liberation movements, and food.
Emma Rosenthal and Xeres Villanueva serve on the Board of the WE Empowerment Center.
Food for Thought (Other sources on a common theme)
(In no particular order)
Institutional Betrayal and Betrayal Blindness
Indispensability vs Disposability Culture
Christian Policies Saturate Us–What We Can Do About It
9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible
Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable
Lisa Jones, girlfriend of undercover policeman Mark Kennedy: ‘I thought I knew him better than anyone’
Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements
10 Types of Misogynist Men We All Need to Know About – And Then Call Out!
Self-exoneration via Self-flagellation: The structure of neoliberal guilt
Critiques of Intersectionality, Privilege, and Identity Politics
Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color
The NGO-ization of resistance
“Positive Attitude” Bullshit: On the dangers of “radical self-love”
There is ableism somewhere at the heart of your oppression, no matter what your oppression might be.
Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability
“But I Was Just Joking!” Humor as a Shield
How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
The Caucasian Guide to Black Neighborhoods
Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Is Neoliberalism
Marx, Race and Neoliberalism
Good Morning, America. Welcome To Your White Supremacy
Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy
TRASHING: The Dark Side of Sisterhood
The Tyranny of Structurelessness
Resources for Group Discussion and Dialogue, Online and Off
The Tone Argument
Derailing for Dummies (sic)
Why the hostility toward victims?
Am I Being Bullied?
Passing for Politics
A letter from students and workers “of color” in the Takeover of Humanities 2
Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]”
Resources for Accessibility: Links and Downloads
5 Oppressive Tactics We Need to Stop Using in Our Anti-Oppression Work
CRITICAL ENGAGEMENTS: INTERSECTIONALITY, PRIVILEGE, AND IDENTITY POLITICS
8 Steps Toward Building Indispensability (Instead of Disposability) Culture
Here are six ways to achieve a truly ‘shared society’
The Culture of Meanness
Hello, internalized ableism
Accountability for Internalized Abuse: Moving closer to self-love