What does White Supremacy look like?
If you want to know, check out Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book was first published in 1989, and has remained a best seller. It may seem shocking to many that it can be used to illustrate white supremacy, but the fact is that white supremacy goes largely unnoticed in a white culture.
Perhaps the first sign of white supremacy is that Covey’s book never mentions the legacy of white supremacy. I don’t know, of course, whether the actual person named Stephen Covey is aware of this legacy, so I am not talking about him. I am talking about what can be called the “implied author” of the text. The implied author is simply the author that is reflected in what is written. So I don’t have much to say about the person of Stephen Covey, but about the author Stephen Covey.
One principle of white supremacy is to ignore or even deny one’s social self—one’s particular race, class, gender, and so on. The ideology of white supremacy does not depend on social position, but rather on something more internal. In the history of white supremacy it was sometimes based on an Anglo-Saxon identity, and sometimes just on being white. Today, it is based on an internal confidence that provides immunity from criticism and impunity from doing harm.
Ignoring all the social aspects of one’s self, Covey writes: “I can live out of my imagination instead of my memory. I can tie myself to my limitless potential instead of my limiting past. I can become my own first creator” (Fireside Book edition, 1990 p.105). Can you imagine someone writing this to a Black community? Communities that live in the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and police violence will probably understand this for what it is: an expression of white superiority . I think that the implied author is not writing to audiences of color, but only to people like himself. In fact, the book is mostly a book from and to Covey.
One of the themes of the book is that a “private victory” of the internal self must come prior to a “public victory” of the public self (He doesn’t use the idea of “social self,” not only because he doesn’t believe in a social self, but he also appears unaware of all the sociological studies of the self. Instead of centering the self in family, marriage, church, or other relationships, he argues that the only security you can really trust is self-centered security. (Covey the person is interesting here. As a Mormon, I would assume that he would be centered in a relationship with God or the Mormon faith, but since he doesn’t talk about this when writing about a principled life, I don’t know if his faith played a role here or not.) In any case, there is a lot of research today that places human security in secure attachments with others. This research would say that security is relational, not individual. White supremacy, of course, allows one to ignore relationships because the security is in one’s superiority.
There is a way in which white supremacy is unconscious, and the implied author of this book appears to be totally unconscious. That makes it a good text to examine for the many ways that white supremacy continues to shape the culture of our organizations, families, and associations. I invite you to continue the examination.