A 12-Step Program to Undo Racism?
Holly Karapetkova’s depiction of racism as an addiction that all white people have to varying degrees in “Racists Anonymous” (Fall 2020), struck a chord with me. If white people are to confront and challenge our collective racism, it is imperative that we embrace a model of recovery for addicts similar to the 12-step program in AA that requires alcoholics to be fully honest about the wrongs they have committed and make amends to those they have harmed. We teach our youth the importance of a sincere apology when we have done something wrong. We also teach them it is equally important to make things right. White Supremacy has never done either. The George Floyd tragedy gives us a stunning reminder that we have skipped these important steps in the process. The path forward is right at our fingertips if we can follow the steps found in the same 12-step curriculum that has turned around the lives of countless alcoholics and other addicts. The 12-step creed explains how emotional honesty with the people that addicts have harmed is an integral part of the healing process. It is a fundamental and nonnegotiable step. We haven’t done anything even remotely like this with Black folks— yet. If we are honest with ourselves, at our best we are still blaming our misdeeds on the Black community and at our worst we continue to terrorize them. We all can—and must—do better, and this includes me.
Crossing the Empathy Bridge
As a boy growing up near Berkeley, California in the ’50s, I had one word for Confederate generals in the Civil War: Traitors. Imagine my shock when I moved to Virginia in the ’80s. Not a day has gone by without my seeing Lee this or Jackson that on streets, buildings, and schools. My Virginia contemporaries didn’t get me when I would object to these men of the Confederacy hailed as heroes, and I didn’t get them when they would argue about the importance of preserving history. Thanks to Sarah Trembath’s insightful essay “Crossing the Empathy Bridge” (special section “Voices Against the Hard Rain of Racism,” Fall 2020), maybe I’ll have a better chance of closing the gap by trying to understand their argument for honoring heritage while I seek their acknowledgement for the utter cruelty of generations of slavery. As our country continues to struggle with racial unrest and the overwhelming loss from the pandemic, I hope Trembath’s urge for us all to be a “champion of connection” will lead to the building up of stronger, more compassionate communities.
John Milton Porter