Collaboration, Partnership and Justice

One of the required readings for this module, Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun (2001) offers an additional and critical lens on partnership and collaboration.

As discussed earlier in the course, many of the capacities at the heart of good dialogue, authentic engagement, and strong partnerships run counter to the habitual ways of working perpetuated by dominant North American culture, and particularly by people who hold racial, class and other forms of power and privilege in this culture. These include an emphasis on knowing the answers instead of asking questions, pursuing outcomes over process and relationship, and advocating for individual positions instead of listening for collective wisdom. These characteristics, among others, which can prevent meaningful partnership and collaboration have real impacts on the work of climate adaptation.

Callison (2018) writes that “it is not enough to merely mention indigenous people; partnerships, mutual respect, and community engagement are essential to developing response strategies for climate change.” And goes on to point out that, for example, “Despite a keen awareness of climate change, northern indigenous people have not played a central role in national and international assessments of climate change. The extent that indigenous issues are considered, assessments have been largely about indigenous people, not by them” (pp. 558–559).

Similarly, Whyte (2019) states that “justice‐oriented coordination across societal institutions on any urgent matter” requires relationships with qualities of “consent, trust, accountability, and reciprocity” (p. 2). These qualities of relationship are not possible when characteristics such as competitiveness, power hoarding and either/or thinking, exist “as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group” (Jones and Okun, 2001). At the same time, Jones and Okun (2001) remind us that this culture is “powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify.”

They do, however, offer a way to reduce the power of these harmful aspects of dominant culture by providing not only a language or framework for naming them, but also a set of alternatives. These alternate ways of seeing, valuing and working are more likely to create outcomes that are equitable and just, are likely to produce less harm to racialized people, and are more likely to lead to strong and inclusive partnership across difference(s). While this article may offer tools that benefit and improve the partnering skills of people who hold racial, class and other forms of privilege, it is critical to recognize that this is in service to the larger work of greater racial justice and equity for all marginalized communities, and to the work of developing right relationship(s) among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

When reading this article, you are encouraged to consider how you might internalize these characteristics, how they might show up in your work with others, and in the ways you relate with yourself. You are encouraged to engage with this article not from a place of judgement, but from one of values-based commitment. While culture is not ‘chosen’ by any single person, it can be changed by an awareness of the ways it expresses itself in our own assumptions and actions and by ongoing effort to choose a different way.

Finally, the depth and breadth of reflection offered by this reading is more than can be explored in one module. Please consider how this reading might have influence beyond this course and into other aspects of your work and life.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Strategic Dialogue and Engagement for Climate Adaptation Copyright © by Simon Fraser University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book