We all live in white supremacy everyday- meaning today and every yesterday. Habitual in its nature white supremacy is and has been standard. In summation it is one of the most successful cultural memes of all time. So successful that its characteristics, as detailed by Okun, are organizational standards that are present now and have been throughout history. I will examine how the characteristics of white supremacy culture manifest in organizations by using the infamous manhattan project as a case study illustrated by the culture and work of past physicists.
The Manhattan project originated in 1941 during and due to an age of global war, the project was birthed with haste:
“ Albert Einstein- at the urging of the physicist Leo Szilard- wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt warning that the splitting of the uranium atom ‘may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future,’ and that ‘this new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs… A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory” (Cole 53).
The territory of concern being United States soil, the worry was if Hitler was able to create such a weapon then the home of the free might become west germany. As a result of the panic the atmosphere within the laboratory was hectic, “Very few people walked around the laboratory; they usually ran” (Cole 54). While scientists rushed to create the weapon, known today as the atom bomb, before the axis powers portions of the scientific method were compromised, “Because they were under so much pressure to produce enough U-235 quickly, the physicists had to proceed by trial and error rather than taking the time to really understand the phenomena” (cole 54). The physicists were actively working within the “sense of urgency” pillar of white supremacy culture detailed by Ukon as:
- “continued sense of urgency that makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences
- frequently results in sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results, for example sacrificing interests of communities of color in order to win victories for white people (seen as default or norm community)
In 2020 we are able to see the consequences of the Manhattan project that the scientists of the past were unable to see due to the opportunity cost of time. Roughly, 200,000 japanese citizens and the alilation of the built and natural environment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed. The devastation of this historical event perfectly aligns with Ukon’s description of “sense of urgency” above. In regards to the first point the environmental, economic and moral long term consequences of launching atomic bombs on Japan specifically and anywhere else one might land beyond that were clearly not considered. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, came out later calling for a ban on the weapons he created. As for the second portion under the “sense of urgency pillar” Japan surrendered after the bombings- the US won the war. To expand, a white government gained victory from decimating a colored civilian community with a huge show of destructive force via the atomic bomb.
Today, you can visit the test sites for the atomic bomb that destroyed Japan and have a similar experience in the desert as Cole, the author of “ The Uncle of the atomic bomb”, “I picked up a few leftover shards of dark green radioactive “Trinitite” and slipped them into my pocket when the guards weren’t looking and tried in vain to find a single reference to ‘Oppenhiemer’” (Cole 51). The absence of recognition to Oppenheimer gives rise to another pillar of white supremacy: “Right to comfort” described by Ukon as:
“the belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort (another aspect of valuing ‘logic’ over emotion)” (Okun).
By disconnecting Oppenheimer from the test site the public is less likely to associate him with the tragic events caused by his work- shielding him from backlash and promoting his comfort.
Some science, like the creation of the atomic bomb, only happens when the right events allow for particular pillars of white supremacy culture to stand out- like “sense of urgency”. However, all science is created in a white supremacy culture.