recovery from racisms

Given that race and the Christian religion is so prominent in the news, I thought I would pass along the most wise and pertinent teachings I’ve ever come across (which happens to come from a Black Catholic Priest) on the question of racism and how to deal with it.

The man’s name is Fr. Clarence Williams, he is based out of the Archdiocese of Detroit (where I used to be a novice in the Jesuits and attend a Black Catholic parish).

His group, the The Institute for the Recovery from Racisms is here.

His basic premise–which you will not hear described in any of the media hype swirling on this topic nor amongst the talking heads class–is that racism is a disease that is pandemic in nature.  (This doesn’t just apply be to the US but does include America which has its own nasty version thereof).

Williams has used Kubler Ross’ stages of grieving as a theoretical lens (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) while adding his own extra steps of Re-engagement, Forgiveness, and Witness.

The stages are (in general) the same for whites and non-whites though the typical response patterns are varied between the two.  Worth pointing out that these are general markers along the way.  It is not some rigid lock-step linear pattern.  But it is deeply clarifying and helpful nonetheless.  Knowing the schema however is not the same as undergoing the process and moving towards healing and then towards witness–which as a Christian is the key element.

Through the Crucifixion of the false racist self to the Resurrection of healing to the Pentecost of Witness and activity in the world.

By working of the metaphor of disease we can move beyond blaming people and shaming questions/fear of being called a racist.  Also allows people to see that this is an issue affecting everyone (not just white people) AND the method of healing is one of grief, that is dying to this falsely created self.

But the key first step (a la AA) is admitting there is this issue and it affects all of us.

If you check out this page, which out lays the framing, I noticed this very interesting point.  Under bargaining (co-opting?) of whites relating to non-whites:

Bargaining: “I am not a racist. I don’t see color. I judge each person by their character.”

See if you notice that one in the discussions around this issue.

And relative to Jeremiah Wright (under nonwhite supremacy):

Bargaining: Separation from White control of Nonwhite community and psyche

Not that I (or anyone) am 100% cured (no one is), but I did read his book and went through a very difficult time admitting to myself I held views that were racially denigrating.  But feel that I came through (in some measure) moments like those described in the model.

As long as Christianity does charity work–which is dealing with the symptoms of disease in society–Christians will be left alone, even encouraged.  But the second the church tries to point out how the structural elements, it becomes targeted by the media and governmental forces of the day.

This is not to excuse everything Jeremiah Wright said or has done.  It is to say that racism is structurally real in US society.  On the black-white issue it’s better than Jim Crow or slavery, but it is still there.  On the white-Native American front it is as bad as ever.

This way of grief is a way of letting go of power.  On all sides in this (non)debate, that it what strikes me most clearly:  the question of power.  The top line of the socio-text (whites relating to non-whites) under denial is “denial of white privilege.”  That is so huge.  Very few people I interact with really understand that point.  I’m not calling for self-guilt/flagellation, just clear-eyed understanding.  It’s real.

And as a Christian, I believe very deeply that a Christianity that does not as a critical/essential part of its message address that reality is not a religion I want to belong to or a God I want to worship.  Which is different than saying the message should be reduced solely to such a political/social view.

This is a very different question than legal discrimination–which can be outlawed and enforced by the state (and should be).  This is a question of racism (inner mindset), which the government can (and should not) control.


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  1. […] I think I remind myself of how deep (unconscious as well  as  conscious) racial divides are–I remember that it is a pandemic disease–I’m still shocked by the reaction to events like […]

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