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