Sunday, July 27, 2014

Racism is a white people problem

I've always found it interesting that most anti-racism initiatives tend to be about helping people of color overcome the effects of racism. I have no problem with that. But the truth is - if we're ever really going to end racism, its white people that need to change.

That's why one of my favorite authors is Jonathan Odell. He is a white gay man who was raised in Mississippi. As if that wasn't enough of a challenge, he's also a recovering alcoholic. And so he makes a rather interesting comparison.
I am a Mississippian as well as my family’s most notorious drunk. But six years into sobriety, I discovered that alcohol wasn’t my only addiction. Even more insidious was my soul-crippling dependence upon whiteness. I couldn't get through the day without seven or eight stiff shots of feeling superior. That began to change when I decided to write novels about Mississippi. I knew very little outside the white-bubble in which I was raised, and therefore was blind to the story of nearly half the population. Only after interviewing hundreds of black Mississippians, listening to their stories, did I begin to fathom the immensity of the lie behind my superiority and the real cost of my addiction.
But he says that recovery is possible. To get us thinking in that direction, Jonathan shared his first 5 steps (your mileage may vary):
1) I came to believe that I am powerless over my racism. I’ll always be a racist, and might as well stop pretending otherwise. Voting Democrat or watching Oprah won’t cure me. It goes too deep.

2) I came to accept that racism was a gift of love. No evil person made me a racist. Racism was given to me by those whom I love the most, because they wanted me to feel special. Nor am I evil because I accepted the gift. But today I will be responsible.

3) I admitted that it feels good. I enjoy the privileges of whiteness. As soon as I stop pretending otherwise, then I can begin spreading it around.

4) I seek out other recovering whites and listen to their stories. It’s important to find a way out of the right-wing noise machine. Stop listening to those who try to incite the anger and fear that drives my craving.

5) I continually share my story. Not about how I used to be a racist, but how I still struggle with racism, day by day.
Just imagine for a moment how everything would change if white people were to finally accept #1. No more "how DARE you call me a racist!!" We could actually get on with a conversation about how/when we do/say things that are racist.

Some of those steps might come as a surprise to people of color. For example #2. But its helpful to remember that many of those who taught us to be racist weren't consumed by hatred. As a matter of fact, they often had a "good heart." That's what made it appealing. Our job now is to face the fact that our "specialness" is predicated on silencing its impact on others. The best example of that is the racist lie the Duck Dynasty guy tells himself about the "happy Negros" he knew in Jim Crow Louisiana. Overcoming that lie is precisely why Jonathan's novels are so important for his recovery. A good way to advance your own would be to read The View from Delphi and The Healing.

1 comment:

  1. Number 2 is exemplary of the problem. Evil is evil no matter its clothing or its tone, whether it feels good or bad or whether you love its conduit. M. Scott Peck describes evil very clearly - and it sounds remarkably like racism.

    According to Peck an evil person:

    Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection.
    Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception.
    Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else ("their insensitivity toward him was selective".
    Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others.
    Abuses political (emotional) power ("the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion".
    Maintains a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly in order to do so.
    Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness).
    Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat).
    Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

    Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection, or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, calls a character disorder.

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