Recovery from racism requires a program.
How can we overcome our history of racism, the atrocities and the entrenched social arrangements upon which American society is built? How do we restrain the exportation of America's culture of racism to other parts of the global village in which we are the dominant world power? The close of the century is an opportunity to examine the strategies of anti-racism in response to DuBois' century-old prognosis.
There is a light of hope in the tunnel of racism. Throughout this century, black and white leaders from various institutions have pointed out ways to escape the tunnel and break free into the light of freedom. In the last half of the century, there has been vigorous and steadfast progress toward sensitizing whites and advancing blacks in American society by various strategies. The key in the 1950s was education; in the 1960s, civil rights legislation; in the 1970s, political self-determination; in the 1980s, a search for new paradigms; and in the 1990s, the global picture. Despite progress in employment, education and legislation, we witness daily the growing number and intensity of racial confrontations and conflagrations in our country and throughout the world.
Six years ago, the Vatican issued its first document in recent times specifically addressing racism: The Church and Racism. The church confesses its involvement with the planting of racism in the Americas. It calls its leaders and members to a threefold process of education, consciousness-raising and conscience formation. Hoping to eradicate racism, the church and other leaders in the antiracism movement have found that the strategy must encompass the heart as well as the head.
Recovery from racism in North America involves ministers of various denominations enlisting the tools of modern psychology to achieve the necessary exorcism. In Chicago, a Protestant minister advocates the formation of "Racists Anonymous" to support whites who wish to exorcise the demons of racism. From his Boston base, Fr. James Callahan provides racism intervention for large groups of clergy. Callahan opens his interventions saying, "My name is Fr. James Callahan. I'm a recovering racist." And yet another clergyman proposes the 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous as a process for "racial sobriety."
This strategy for the eradication of racism involves a treatment program. The aim of recovering from racism is to reclaim the damaged heart and mind to facilitate a healthier response to living with others.
The anti-racism model of recovery sees our American society as a family -- a family with a problem regarding the race of its members. With this understanding of "society as family," it sees racism as a family dysfunction, a disease. In this model of the dysfunctional family, every member of our society is affected by racism, just as in the case of a family dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction or other psychological afflictions. The treatment program for recovery from racism is an intervention for the common good. More and more literature is appearing that deals with how society's dysfunctions affect its members. One of the most talked about in recovery circles is Anne Wilson Schaef's When Society Becomes an Addict.
The recovery treatment incorporates models, vocabulary and programs developed from psychological intervention programs and formats. The premise of the "recovery from racism" approach is this: Racism is a psychosocial disease. It is a "social condition" induced by formation and education of thoughts and feelings. The result of racial socialization leaves practitioners (whether addicts/victims, oppressors/oppressed, abusers/codependents) dysfunctional in their social interactions with those who are perceived as being of another "race."
Because it is a psychosocial disorder, racism can and does reappear when social conditions are ripe for it. Racism is "toxic." Its toxicity poisons every social interaction and institution -- economic, political, educational, religious -- it comes in contact with. It destroys human potential and weakens the social fabric by its toxic fear, anxiety, hostility, aggression and social distancing. Due to its recurring nature, a person who has been socialized in a racist society cannot be cured of racism but can enter a process of recovery. The indoctrination of the racist mindset is so ingrained in families, education systems and religious systems that members of our society will continually have to claim recovery from their racism.
The ecumenical church community has an exceptional opportunity to lead in the recovery process. Our churches could be "recovery centers" for people of every background to find support in their recovery from racism as they have for other groups seeking a harbor from substance abuse.
Many already have set about charting a course for recovery in the black and white communities. Recovery from racism finds a white community activism in publications such as Race Traitor, a magazine for whites who wish to leave the privileges of the white race and join the rest of humanity, as editor Noel Ignatiev proposes. An attempt at black recovery has initiated a call by the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus to convene an international summit in 1995: "Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Antiracism Strategies."
Bread for the World, the nation's largest Christian anti-hunger organization, in its 1995 Hunger Report, points out the role that racism has played in creating a hungry world. The greatest hunger on the planet is found in those regions that have the darkest skin: Africa, India and the South American countries with the largest African and Indian populations.
In a recovery process similar to recovery from substance abuse, there is a need to be supported. Whether black, white, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian or Asian, people need a community of support to maintain their recovery from racism in our dysfunctional society of racial pathology. Now is the time to begin the long journey of recovery toward the 21st century.