Visual practice and challenging white supremacy culture

Creative people must be actively anti-racist.

Here is a short list of some qualities of white supremacy organizations that we need to dismantle. This is a partial list from a foundational article from 2001: The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, a Workbook for Social Change Groups by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork.

And as I return to this list again and again, I realize how much of the work of white supremacy is also tied up in how we make art and produce culture, and who makes it (of course, it’s inseparable because art-making is culture-making and white supremacy culture is dominant). So as creatives, we can challenge and undo both the structures around us – and also, look inwards at how white supremacy organizes our own creative work. Maybe we want to use visuals to help people have conversations that matter – yes, visuals will help but being anti-racist matters more. And that’s because we can’t just add visuals to a system that’s not working, but we have to transform the way we’re working and being together by being actively anti-racist.

For example, let’s look at the list and those feelings of perfectionism or urgency. Where do they come from? Urgency is a core part of white supremacy culture organizations – going fast fast fast makes it hard to take time to be inclusive, include thoughtful decision making and consider consequences. Instead, we can deepen our connections. Be more human. This means slowing down to consider both how we connect to information, and how we learn from and with each other. 

perfectionism urgency defensiveness quantity over quality worship of the written word belief in objectivity either/or thinking power hoarding individualism there is "one right way" From: THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE, from A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001

I’m a visual practitioner, so I can use my skills to challenge this urgency. We can use visuals and importantly, visual processes, to help groups slow down. And when I notice urgency around me and inside me, I need to also slow down. Graphic recorders and facilitators work with groups – so we have to be actively anti-racist in our own work and also actively anti-racist in how we work with organizations.

anti racist visual creatives can choose this instead: choose process and try small visual experiments Slow down, consider how people connect to info and each other/relationships Amplify others and be curious Choose quality over quantity Include visuals for data + story Bring your subjectivity Hold complexity (not either/or) Share the pens Recognize power imbalances and group wisdom Have many ways to work

Anti-racist visual creatives, we can consider new ways of working together. 

– instead of urgency: slow down, and consider how people connect to information and how they are in relationship with each other when you’re drawing/working

– instead of defensiveness: be curious and ask questions, be ready to improve your visuals based on feedback, amplify what contributions others are making

– instead of quantity: consider quality 

– instead of worship of the written word: consider how visuals can hold data, story, Indigenous traditional knowledge and other facts when information is transformed from a linear western method to shows something new . 

– instead of power hoarding: share the pens. Who’s in the room? Who is represented and who has power? Who gets to be a visual practitioner, who gets to be drawn or heard on the page? 

– instead of either/or thinking: hold complexity and reject binaries or simple answers 

– instead of individualism: recognize the power imbalances that exist and create conditions for the groups’ wisdom to be unlocked  

– and know there isn’t one way to work: there are many ways to understand and work on our big problems together.

– instead of perfectionism: consider process over product, and trying small visual experiments

This is just an initial brainstorm. This article is comprehensive: I encourage groups to hire Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion experts who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour to lead this work, too.

An invitation to draw or write:

  • How does white supremacy culture show up in your creative process? (perfectionism,  urgency, either/or thinking…)
  • As a visual practitioner working with organizations, how can our facilitation/ methods interrupt harmful white supremacy cultures?
  • What, So What, Now What: What’s a small experiment you can try?

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