Therapy for white supremacy culture: fear of conflict & discomfort

A large crowd of protesters gathers at night carrying signs. White supremacy culture teaches us to be afraid of conflict.
Click on the image to be taken to the full Instagram post.

In recent weeks, I have been writing about various characteristics of white supremacy culture in order to help white folks understand what white supremacy culture is and how we are harmed by it. My hope in writing these posts is to motivate white people to start doing the work of uprooting white supremacy culture from our own hearts and minds. This week’s post is about white supremacy culture and the fear of conflict and discomfort.

I’ve been accused of being a social justice warrior at times, and just like Martin Luther King, Jr, in his letter from Birmingham Jail when he embraced the epithet of “extremist” from his critics because he identified with being an extremist for love and justice, I wear the label proudly. But part of why I love the SJW moniker so much is because of what is invoked by the archetype of the warrior. My first teacher in warrior philosophy was Kevin Snorf, who taught a martial arts-based power vinyasa form of yoga called Warrior Yoga at UC Santa Cruz. One of the special characteristics of the warrior is his or her recognition that conflict and discomfort are an inevitable part of life, and that how we choose to respond to them will have a significant impact on our quality of life. The warrior therefore chooses to enter situations of conflict and discomfort in the name of a higher purpose. We cannot accomplish great things without contending with conflict and discomfort. And conversely, all we have to do to ensure stagnation is insist on comfort and pathologize conflict.

Tema Okun speaks about this aspect of white supremacy culture as the cultural assumption that those in power “have a right to comfort, which means we cannot tolerate conflict, particularly open conflict. This assumption supports the tendency to blame the person or group causing discomfort or conflict rather than addressing the issues being named.” If you are familiar with the traits of dysfunctional families, you may recognize the rule of silence: even if family members are aware of problems, they are not supposed to talk about them. “Don’t say anything. You don’t want to upset Dad (or Mom).”

This rule of course fits perfectly with the last characteristic of white supremacy culture that I wrote about—denial—which also happens to be another rule of dysfunctional families. (In fact, two additional rules of dysfunctional families—rigidity and isolation—line up well with two other characteristics of white supremacy culture: one right way, and individualism.) First, I deny that there is a problem, and second, you agree with me even though you can see the problem very clearly. In this way, white supremacy culture serves to make our entire country behave like a dysfunctional family that is unable to heal because it is unwilling to feel the pain of looking at the truth.

I have learned these dysfunctional family rules well, having grown up in a dysfunctional family myself, and to this day I still feel uncomfortable raising objections or speaking up for something that I believe in. But I have also learned that a meaningful and fulfilling life is only possible when we learn to take action based on our values despite the discomfort that may arise. How many times in the last year have you not said something that you believed because you were worried about rocking the boat? You’re not alone, and you don’t have to do the work of coming back to yourself alone either. If you’d like support overcoming the influence of white supremacy culture so you can speak your truth despite the fear of conflict, check out my free weekly drop-in communication workshop:

How to get along – A free weekly drop-in communication workshop

Are you having trouble talking to people about cultural problems like racism or transphobia? Do you find it difficult to set and maintain boundaries with other people regarding COVID safety? Are you struggling to get along with partners, family, friends, roommates, neighbors, or coworkers? I’d like to help you.

I provide education and guidance through an intersectional social justice and trauma sensitive lens to support:

  1. Healthy boundaries
  2. House meetings
  3. Intentional dialogues
  4. Nonviolent communication (NVC)
  5. Repair conversations

Wednesdays from 12 – 1PM PST

To register, or for more info, click here.


Nauser Bear is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California (LMFT#123099; licensed with the BBS as Nicholas Jon Reynolds) and a coach for HELPAs (Healers, Educators, Leaders, Parents, Activists & Artists) wanting to build a life of sustainable selfless service. To work with Nauser, send an email to nauserbeartherapy at gmail dot com, call (510) 394-5373, or schedule a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.

Disclaimer: This blog and comments on it do not constitute medical or mental health advice. If you are in need of support and live in California, contact me to set up a consult to see if working together is a fit. Otherwise, seek mental health support in your area. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24/7, at 800-273-8255.

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