Systemic racism as an addiction

Trauma, reparations and God’s transforming love — Part III of a series

By Rev. Rick King

Writing in The Tennessean in August 2020, Eli Foster draws a parallel between racism and addictions:

White folks need to start treating racism like an addiction. When an addict wants to overcome the addiction and get clean, they isolate themselves from the substance. This period of withdrawal is so hard, the body convulses as it cries out for the substance. Once clean, addicts measure their victories in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Addicts realize that if they let their guard down, then the addiction will destroy them. They are constantly battling to stay clean.

He identifies two such periods of withdrawal in Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, both followed by periods of relapse: Jim Crow was the relapse after Reconstruction; the period of resurgent white nationalism we are in right now is the relapse after the Civil Rights Movement.

Writing last year in a blog post, Allison Gaines notes that white privilege becomes a positive reinforcement for white supremacy, and all the curious little rationalizations begin to creep in to gradually blind us to the extent of our sickness. White grievances deflect blame away from white folks and prevent accountability, which perpetuates relapse.

I have often felt that white supremacy and systemic racism are a poison well that we in the U. S. go back to again and again for a drink that never satisfies, and that whenever we say, “racism is a thing of the past,” it’s actually a form of denial that never works because we’ve underestimated its power and failed to go to the roots of it—the lies white Americans have told themselves and others because of the shame attached to being unable to cure this on our own.

Foster proposes a Seven-Step program to address racism, modeled on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. Admit that you are addicted to racism.
  2. Search your heart to discover your racist tendencies and choose to be better.
  3. Spend time with Black people. Appreciate their culture.
  4. Do the work. Read the books. Watch the documentaries.
  5. Stand guard, because you are one small step away from falling back into addiction. When you mess up, continue to fight against this addiction for future generations.
  6. Hope. Acknowledge that God gives us the power to overcome.
  7. Hold each other accountable. For an addict, the sponsor is the key for fighting addiction. White people need to sponsor each other to truly change the system.

Gaines says that we must counter white supremacy by creating paths to rehabilitation. White Americans need to be healed of this disease.

What are your thoughts on this?