Monday, June 1, 2020



            I am a “recovering racist.”  I remember using those words to describe myself in the first book that I ever had published in 1995, “While We Run This Race.”  It was co-authored by Inez Giles, and in it we examined the origins and the continuing power of racism.  I said “recovering” because I am aware of some of the depths of my captivity to the system of race.  I said “racist” because this system is so deeply ingrained in my consciousness that I can never imagine that I will completely eradicate it in my quest for liberation.  I use “recovery” language because I like the metaphor of “addiction” for our “white” captivity to race.

            Some people like other metaphors for our captivity to race.   Catherine Meeks recently wrote an article for Hospitality Newsletter comparing racism to her rheumatoid arthritis.  It must be engaged on a daily basis, or it will overwhelm you.  I have a chronic digestive disease, so I know what she is talking about – I must always be attentive to my condition, or it will overwhelm me.  It is the same with the racism and white supremacy that are so evident and so rampant in American history and in current American life.  Like a chronic disease, we who are classified as “white” can be in denial of our captivity, as so many of us white liberals are, with Amy Cooper being a recent example.  Our denial does not decrease the power of the disease of racism – rather it strengthens it exponentially, as we see in the executions of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and many others.

            My friend Ed Loring and others prefer “white supremacy” over “racism” as the description for our captivity,  In this sense, I could say that I am a “weapon of white supremacy.”  This description helps to move us from just worrying about whether I as an individual am captive to race, to examining the systemic nature of the power of race.  The system of race was designed by “white” Europeans (and revised by “white” Americans) to classify the human family. The abiding principle of this categorization of the human family was one and one only:  to assert the supremacy of those classified as “white.”  Carolus Linnaeus and others who developed the system of race were not interested in celebrating the diversity of the human family.  They were interested in establishing the supremacy of those classified as “white.”  All Western institutions erected since the 1600’s have been built on this foundation – there are no exceptions.    

            In this time of the coronavirus, some people are calling racism and white supremacy a “virus,” and for those of us who want to maintain a modicum of innocence on the idea of racism, this can be an attractive alternative.  It implies that we are passive recipients of this curse.  We can do some work to prevent our contracting c-v, so the same holds here in this metaphor for racism and white supremacy.  We can do some work in our lives to mitigate the power of the virus of racism, but its power still remains.  This third metaphor is the weakest one for me, because there is no “innocence” for white people on this issue,  We were taught this captivity by our forebears whom we love (and who loved us), but it is now our responsibility.  No excuses, no exceptions.

            A fourth metaphor that I like is “demonic possession,” a powerful Biblical image of each of us and all of us being taken over by powers outside ourselves, changing the way we look at the world, at ourselves, and at others.  There are many stories of demonic possession in the Bible, but this one stands out for me:  Luke 8:26-39.  In it Jesus encounters a possessed man who has lost his identity to the demon.  Jesus heals him, but it is a difficult and costly healing.  And, in the end Jesus is run out of town for healing this man – the town and its structures prefer their demonic possession to the cost of healing.  I like this metaphor for racism – it indicates that healing will need to take place on many levels – individual, communal, spiritual, and institutional.  In our time of rapidly being secularized, this idea of demonic possession may not resonate with everyone, but it certainly does with me.

            There are other metaphors for our “white” captivity to race, but these are the main ones that strike me.  If you are classified as “white,” I don’t really care which metaphor you prefer in this list.  But, please, for all our sakes, please choose one and use it as the methodological tool for you to work on finding liberation from your captivity to race and white supremacy.  If you’re debating whether you are to captive to race,  STOP! STOP!! STOP!!!  YOU ARE!!!!

There are no innocents in this area.  All of us who are classified as “white” are in captivity to the power of racism.   Like an addict, like someone with a chronic disease, like a virus spreading all through us, like the demon taking us over – whatever metaphor your prefer, pick one and start working your way to health.  There are no exemptions to this, absolutely none.  I say this not to beat myself or you up, but rather to ask all of us classified as “white” to come out of “deep denial,” (to use the title of my friend David Billings’ fine book on race).   This is the only way to health – no excuses, no exceptions.

1 comment:

  1. Such a compelling discussion! I cant imagine what Don would say to all this..Perhaps it would be. tears, surely anger, hurt that in all these years we are in the same mess. I cry, pray that we can learn. I need hope..please!