Disability Justice vs. Supremacy Culture

Disability Justice vs. Supremacy Culture

I want to talk about how Disability Justice can be used to fight Supremacy Culture. 

Tema Okun wrote this great piece in 1999 that has stood the test of time. I’m also thinking about the 10 Principles of Disability Justice, syncretized by Sins Invalid.

I’m going to use concepts from both documents, as well as my own knowledge, experience, and synthesis, to start this conversation. On the left are supremacy culture concepts from or based on Tema Okun’s work; on the right are antidotes from or based on Disability Justice and culture.

Qualities of
Supremacy Culture

Qualities of
Disability Justice


  • Pointing out how a person or their work is inadequate. Often not giving the person direct feedback.
  • Making a mistake is confused with being a mistake.
  • No praxis. Praxis is a cycle of education + practice + reflection. Under supremacy culture, there’s no time.

(Recognizing Wholeness.)

With Disability Justice, we know that each of us is a whole person. Whether we are dyslexic, neurodiverse, Deaf, have brain fog, or live with pain, our ways of being are good and right as long as they don’t hurt others.

Mistakes are normal and necessary for growth. When we make a mistake, we are accountable and, if needed, we engage in transformative processes to repair relationships.


We go slowly and make time to learn, reflect, and dream.

Sense of Urgency.

  • A “continued sense of urgency…makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, [and] to consider consequences” (Tema Okun).
  • Too much work for too few resources or reciprocity.


Replace urgency with gentleness. That’s how I think about sustainability: it’s gentle. Gentleness slows down for the interpreter. Gentleness notices pressure and deescalates it. Gentleness takes the time to build relationships and allies across difference.

Power Hoarding.

  • There is little value placed on sharing power or embracing change in how power is structured or used.

(Leadership of Those Most Impacted.)

We take leadership from people who have the most lived experience with systems of oppression, because they know how to get us out of it. Instead of fighting to get the most power, we have the humility to follow others’ lead.

Fear of Open Conflict.

  • “When someone raises an issue that causes discomfort, the response is to blame the person for raising the issue rather than to look at the issue which is actually causing the problem” (Tema Okun).

In Disability Justice, we understand that “Bodies in motion cause friction,” (Grant Miller), which means that we can expect conflict. It’s not something to fear. Instead, we prepare for conflict by setting aside part of our budgets for relationship repair, talking about how we would deal with conflict in advance, and prioritizing relationships with each other–which helps them survive conflict. We ask: What is the root cause of the conflict, and how can we repair it?

Image Description: Risograph print that says, “We move together for Disability Justice. Interdependent, Anti-capitalist. Anti-fascist. Abolitionist.” There are many people represented in community with one another. Image is by Judy Kuo

Disability Justice vs. Supremacy Culture
Scroll to top