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Although racism exists everywhere, the form in which we experience it in the U.S. requires us to examine the “illness” of the founding fathers to understand ourselves. In order to justify brutalizing and enslaving an entire race of people, our historical “heroes” collectively convinced themselves that the non-whites being “imported” from Africa and the Indigenous people who inhabited this continent when they arrived were not fully human beings. In fact under what was known as the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” slaves were counted as three-fifths of a human being for the purpose of determining a state’s representation in Congress. Imagine the painstaking calculations involved, not to mention self delusion required, to institute such a “compromise”.

Some would argue that viewing it as an illness is absurd and perhaps overly dramatic. But how else could they - the fathers of the Constitution - hold steadfast to the illusion that they were God-fearing, Democracy-seeking, honorable men while simultaneously brutalizing and exterminating fellow human beings in the name of “expansion and progress”? Does that not suggest illness?

Although we are loathe to judge our ancestors too harshly for their horrific transgressions, if we do not acknowledge the moral schizophrenia on the part of predecessors who allowed (and perpetrated) the genocide and brutalization of an entire race of people for economic gain, we risk perpetual self-delusion and repetition. In other words, by ignoring the historical duplicity and a tragic breach of humanity, we fail to see the breach in ourselves.

When we examine history textbooks that persistently characterize the diabolical extermination of Native Americans as “westward expansion” or minimize the brutalization of Africans for economic gain as “an unfortunate chapter in our history”, we must read between the white-washed words. And we must ponder the effect this type of sterilized and selectively deceptive reporting has on young minds forming ideas about who we are in society and where we fit in — and where we don’t.

Most people today, upon hearing of gruesome violence committed against another person often refer to the “sickness” of the act and of the person committing the act asking: “what happened to their humanity?” We label them pathological, evil or sub-human and many of them are locked up in prisons and institutions for their entire lives.

How many history classes have you attended where an entire lesson — or even 5 minutes — was devoted to the schizophrenic behaviors of those who penned the constitution. Yes, those who espoused liberty and freedom were - many of them - slave owners themselves. At most, their moral lapses are a “side-bar”, if discussed at all.

This gross omission is usually (and weakly) justified by saying that it is unfair to judge our ancestors from modern day ethics and morals. As if 150 years ago there were different standards of morality and humanity wherein domination, enslavement, murder and mayhem were acceptable or explicable.

There have always been those — both non-whites and whites - staunchly opposed to slavery, oppression and domination and who were aware of the hypocrisy of the American Constitution and the brutal insanity of racism. And there are those — too many to count — who were more than willing to turn a blind eye in order to attain and maintain wealth and power. And yet, we have never thoroughly examined the character defect of those advocating liberty and freedom for ALL, who themselves trafficked in human slavery, raped African women and participated in the brutalization and degradation and eradication of African culture, languages and spiritual traditions.

We remain committed to denying the historical truths about our forbearers or the ways in which the deadly virus of racism still lives within our systems of criminal justice, education, employment and health care.

If we do not view the distorted truths passing as history or the injustices committed by our predecessors as a “sickness” of sorts, recovering and reclaiming our humanity is unlikely. It is in the denial of their “insane” behaviors that we are doomed to repeat them. And we have.

The collective dehumanization of our brothers and sisters of color has caused our own dehumanization. We claim to feel guilt and behave defensively when issues of race are raised and when confronted with factual and unflattering histories, we label them as “revisionist” — as if they are not “revised” already.

In the addiction recovery world, this is commonly referred to as “denial”. We live in a culture eaten up with “recovery” and healing around every addiction imaginable, and yet we resist the idea of a healing process around racism/white supremacy.

Everyday, movie stars, professional athletes, politicians and religious leaders who have “fallen” or succumbed to evil, resurrect themselves and reclaim their humanity through what is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, a 12-step program. And very often their recovery is shortly followed by a spot on Larry King Live.

You can’t live in
America and not be familiar with AA and the incredible stories of transformation and healing for those committed to the program. Most of us have either heard of someone in recovery, are close to someone who is actively working on addressing issues of addiction, or we are in recovery ourselves.

Many mental health professionals maintain that until you have wrestled with the demons responsible for your addictive behaviors, real transformation and recovery is unlikely — if not impossible.

In this highly effective 12-step approach to recovery, a number of key steps focus on confronting wrongful acts, making amends and publicly committing to rehabilitation. These steps - or plans of action, if you will - are designed not only to address the behaviors of the addict but also the effects on those victimized.

Through the 12-step process, many addicts say they come face to face with the extent of their selfishness, and the deleterious effects their destructive behaviors have had on others. And quite often, addicts will tell you that the healing doesn’t begin until the denial phase is over and they have progressed to the step in which they make a fearless moral inventory of themselves.

After making a list of the wrongs, the person is charged with the responsibility of making atonement. Most often this isn’t just about saying, "sorry”. It requires taking an action that will counteract the offenses or simply acknowledges a lapse in judgment.

There are many parallels that can be drawn between those who resist the notion that they are substance abusers and addicts and white folks in denial about our own addiction and dependency on white privilege.

Unfortunately there has never been a process by which people — both whites and non-whites — have had much opportunity for recovery and healing.

Not only do most whites need an opportunity to recover from a several hundred year old superiority complex that cultivated a false sense of entitlement and expectation, but to recover from the knowledge that our privilege and entitlement is a by-product of lies, half-truths and distortion.

Part of our recovery is dispelling the myth that we “deserve it all” and that all we have is because of our own efforts as if there is not a link between generational poverty and generational wealth.

Also critical is recovering from the fear of admitting we whites are racist by default and facing the uncomfortable reality that only to the degree that we work against being racist, will we be less racist.

And once again, as they say in AA, overcoming denial is the first step. After that, it”s one day at a time.

Click here to read any of the parts of this series of commentaries.

BC Columnist Molly Secours is a Nashville writer/filmmaker/speaker host of her Beneath The Spin radio program at 88.1 WFSK at Fisk. Her websites are and Click here to contact Ms. Secours.


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March 29, 2007
Issue 223

is published every Thursday.

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