Recovery from Racism Requires a Program

By Williams, Clarence | National Catholic Reporter, January 13, 1995 | Go to article overview

Recovery from Racism Requires a Program


Williams, Clarence, National Catholic Reporter


At the opening of this century, W.E.B. DuBois, the African-American intellectual, declared at the first Pan-African Congress in Paris that the issue of the 20th century would be "the color line." We are confronted every day with news that racism continues to hold in its grip our hearts and minds. As we close this century, it is evident nationally and globally that DuBois' declaration will echo throughout the 21st century.

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. …

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