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The Problem With White Supremacy

It's the 'supremacy,' not the 'white.'

Key points

  • Supremacy of one person or group over others is the problem we need to eliminate.
  • Anyone has the potential to dominate others given the right position and sufficient resources.
  • Only by working together can we solve our most vexing problems and achieve all that is possible with our talents and abilities.

I should start this story by coming clean and confessing that, as a white, middle-class, middle-aged man, I could be a prime candidate for selection as the White Supremacist's poster child. And yet, paradoxically, one person or group determining the fate of another person or group is something to which I have the strongest possible objections.

In secondary school I was routinely bullied, and, during my professional life, I've experienced discrimination and harassment for being different and questioning the status quo. In my very first year as a preschool teacher, I received a telephone call from the Regional Preschool Officer informing me that my teacher aide, who coincidentally was also a male, was being transferred to another preschool unit. When I inquired if there had been a problem, she replied, "No, no. There's no problem, but we can't have two men teaching four-year-old children." To say I was flabbergasted doesn't begin to describe my reaction. I know it's a fairly minor incident in the grand scheme of what's going on in the world today but if we're serious about creating a better world, no stone can be left undisturbed.

Domination and subjugation of one person or group by another person or group is perhaps the pre-eminent problem of our time. It could aptly be described as one of the defining problems of humanity throughout history. And yet, there have been substantial periods of our history where large groups of people organized themselves along egalitarian lines for very long periods of time—even hundreds of years (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021).

It is certainly true that white males have been the global leaders and undisputed champions of imposing their will on others for a long time. But it is not their whiteness or their maleness that are the problems to be addressed. Yet whiteness and maleness are often the characteristics that become the focus. The problem to be solved is the opportunities white males have for subjugation. Those opportunities are increasingly available to other people and some of those people are taking advantage of their position in the same way white males have.

Unless we are very careful, it becomes too easy to focus attention and resources on the “white” rather than the “supremacy.” Directing efforts at the “white” aspect of the term could actually increase rather than decrease divisions and thereby compound the problem. We must be completely clear and relentlessly resolute that it is supremacy that is the scourge to address.

 32578837, @123RF
Source: JohanSwan, Image ID: 32578837, @123RF

Abraham Maslow (1943) described humans as perpetually wanting animals and decades later, William T. Powers (2005), the renowned medical physicist, formalized this idea by describing our neuronal architecture as negative feedback control systems. Powers recognized that wanting is a manifestation of the phenomenon of control. Control is the defining feature of life from microscopic organisms to marvelous mammals and everything else that lives. Tiny organisms must maintain the integrity of their internal states in the face of the variable conditions swirling about them. Mammals, including humans, must do the same thing. We are designed not only to control but to resist being controlled.

The robust and rigorous science of control holds important clues for the way in which supremacism should be addressed. Powers's statement from 1991 was prophetic: “The childhood of the human race is far from over. We have a long way to go before most people will understand that what they do for others is just as important to their wellbeing as what they do for themselves.” (Marken & Carey, 2015).

There is no doubt that humans differ in a myriad of ways but, in other important ways, we are the same. We all want different things, but the fact that we want is constant. The dynamic of oppression is precisely the situation of one person or group prioritizing their wants over another person or group, sometimes at any cost. As a consequence, the oppressed person or group’s wants are suppressed. What we desperately need is the beginning of a conversation and a commitment to identify and remove any supremacy whatever its color. Supremacy is about power not pigmentation (Carey, 2021). If we are to eradicate supremacy and bring about a more equitable and compassionate global environment, each of us must courageously reflect on our biases and discriminatory and stigmatizing attitudes. In our workplaces, we should ruthlessly review policies and procedures that might, either explicitly or implicitly, erode important principles such as equity and social justice.

An important first step in sinking the supremacy juggernaut might be to recognize and celebrate the controlling nature we share and find ways for us all to control what we find important without preventing others from doing the same. I am strongly passionate about contributing to the cause of eradicating supremacy and inequity and it is for this reason I am convinced that a broader perspective is required based on rigorous and robust science.

There is no reason why we can’t celebrate the different and unique qualities we each contribute to the impossibly rich patchwork of humanity while at the same time embracing our fundamental controlling nature that is essential to life.

As a species, we are at our best when we help, rather than hinder, the controlling efforts of others. From the perspective of control science, we haven’t yet made the teensiest baby step in the direction of all that is possible and all that we might become. Is it not time to pursue the enduring splendor we could create together? On a level playing field, we can all enjoy the supreme magnificence of which we are capable.


Carey, T. (2021). Tackling white supremacy requires facing up to bullying. Times Higher Education, 16 November.…

Graeber, D., & Wengrow, D. (2021). The Dawn of Everything: A new history of humanity. London: Allen Lane.

Marken, R. S., & Carey, T. A. (2015). Controlling people: The paradoxical nature of being human. Brisbane: Australian Academic Press.

Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.

Powers, W. T. (2005). Behavior: The control of perception. New Canaan, CT: Benchmark.

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