I associate the pandemic years with heightened awareness and training about how racism infiltrates, and often defines, our culture; the underbelly of white supremacy and capitalism. After George Floyd’s death, I spent many an evening in Zoom workshops and trainings, grappling with how we might order a more just and equitable world. The message was often difficult to swallow for a man who’s navigated the dominate culture pretty well, and benefited as a result. I came to appreciate how Zoom made it easier for me — accustomed to the take-charge stance often associated with white males — to lay low, listen more than speak, absorb the perspectives of voices that bloomed on a remote platform.
Power points, bullet points, listicles. The presentations often highlighted the injustices of white supremacist/capitalist systems, and then offered alternative ways to interact among ourselves. Antidotes to the status quo were often inspirational, usually utopian, sometimes naïve. But the ‘fundamental defects’ of our inequitable society were pretty much always cataloged in the same way. (For this essay, I reference the thirteen characteristics that Tema Okun outlines in her article, “White Supremacy Culture.”)
Some of these characteristics seem clear, and clearly problematic: Paternalism; Individualism; Power Hoarding; Progress defined as more and bigger; Quantity over Quality; Either/Or Thinking; and Fixation on one Right Way. Others are less obvious, but make sense with a deeper understanding: how our society thrives on creating an (often false) sense of Urgency; how it promotes Defensiveness; assumes a Right to Comfort; and fosters the illusion of Objectivity. I reach the limits of my ability to envision a new world if I must consider Worship of the Written Word as a societal fault: reliance on writing certainly favors people with a particular form of education, but do we really want a world that denies credence to either record-keeping or creative writing? Still, the most difficult of all Ms. Okun’s characteristics to embrace — the one she lists first — is Perfectionism.
What can be wrong for aiming for perfection? Perhaps even achieving it?
In Ms. Okun’s view, the pursuit of perfectionism makes us focus on what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed, rather that appreciate whatever portion of an endeavor may be satisfactory. It makes the output…