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
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.
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
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.
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
Unfortunately there has never been a process by which people —
both whites and non-whites — have had much opportunity for recovery
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
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.
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 mollysecours.com and myspace.com/mollysecours. Click
here to contact Ms. Secours.