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The Intolerable Addiction*

*Before I present the following, I need to preface it. This thinkpost was originally written for My Tumblr Account which was posted on February 8, 2016 and that post can be seen HERE. (That version of the essay includes bold type for the "TL;DR" crowd and several links to articles which were not transferred to this version.)

It's rare that I transfer post anything between my Tumblr and LiveJournal accounts, but I have chosen to repost this essay here specifically because of a piece that mamas_minion created in the misfitmanor journal for therealljidol competition. Titled Where Are We Going and Why Are We In This Handbasket," and written to the prompt "White Out," It's a powerful, worthwhile and important piece that should be read by everyone.

I was compelled to share this essay here, after reading that piece there, and I hope, when you have a bit of free time, you'll read both of these essays and share your thoughts and reflections about them on those pages, and because I think they dovetail pretty nicely. In fact, I'd suggest you read that essay first and then come back here to look at this one. Please do.

In the United States, we have a myriad of ways to enjoy life, perhaps more than any other country on earth.

There are lots of distractions and diversions to appreciate, to entertain and to give pleasure.

But there is also the threat that some of these things we so innocently enjoy could turn into addictions.

When we think of addiction, the most common images that come to mind are an alcoholic, clutching a bottle and drinking beyond reason, or an illicit drug user, doing whatever it takes to get that next fix.

However, we have since learned that there are addictions to sex or to gambling or to hoarding or to a lot of other behaviors or other non-controlled substances that can be just as disruptive and possibly as deleterious as the obvious ones.

No matter what form it might take, addiction is a problem for the people that face those issues, it’s a problem for the people around those people, and in many cases there is a need for professionals to step in to help break the behaviors to overcome those challenges.

But, there is still another addiction that is so insidious, that is so ingrained, an addiction so deeply woven into our collective psyches that it has never actually been classified clearly with the others we know of as an addiction. But we cannot deny this any longer.

Racism is an addiction.

At this point, there might be some mocking laughter. But, that is a typical initial response when someone points out an addiction to an addict. So, let me state it again, quite seriously:


But wait. If we’re going to be scientific about this, we need to do a test. Can we prove that racism is an addiction?

Let’s compare Racism to an established form of addiction: cigarette smoking.

Years ago, cigarettes were thought to be relatively harmless, because the manufacturers lied about their product. Most adults smoked as a social element, or because they liked the flavor, and many kids wanted to smoke as a rite of passage: a way of feeling “grown up.” Even Doctors recommended particular brands of cigarettes to customers, qualifying the behavior as something that was approved by the medical profession.

Today, everyone knows that cigarette smoking is unhealthy. The tobacco companies eventually admitted that smoking contributes greatly to heart and lung diseases and even cancers. But people still smoke, even after knowing the truth about it. And that’s because no one voluntarily quits a behavior when they are getting something positive out of it, no matter the long term outcomes. Sure, you might get emphysema, lung cancer, have coronaries or other health issues eventually, but that jolt of nicotine you get from smoking right now? Well, that just feels right.

Years ago, racism was a standard. And it all got started with slavery, and the lies that accompanied that horrific institution. We know that for a business to be its most successful, you have to keep your costs low. Well, nothing is lower than slavery, that’s for sure. Now, the white slave owners knew they were holding human property. But they didn’t want to think about that, because what would that make them in the eyes of the world, and to the egos of themselves?

So, two concepts, both of them blatant falsehoods, got created to help assuage the feelings of guilt that bubbled under the collective consciousness of those slave holding families. The first concept was that slaves weren’t actually human. With the much darker skin, the differently textured hair, the differently shaped noses, mouths and body types, it wasn’t extremely difficult to convince the majority of the white population at the time that this lie was true. This was helped because white people desperately wanted to believe it, and it must have been a great relief to all of those families to know that they weren’t actually keeping another human as a slave.

But, if that story wasn’t quite convincing enough, the second concept was pushed forward, that being that slaves deserved the fate they received. Slaves were somehow bad or evil beings and their time on earth was to work off their debts and perhaps go to heaven if they behaved and did everything as they were told. They must be evil. After all, they’re slaves!

Lying is clearly a part of an addiction, because it allows you to ignore the facts to continue the behavior.

Once slavery ended, whites knew that the same Black people they owned couldn’t live in the same neighborhoods with them as “equals” (never mind that they lived in the same houses with their families in some cases, when they were property). Former slaves and former masters in the same vicinity would be awkward and uncomfortable for the people that were no longer in charge. So Jim Crow Laws forced the Black citizenry into locations away from where white people lived and worked. Instead of breaking the addiction, it simply took a different form: Now, the idea was to make it clear that Black people, though they no longer were slaves, were still second class, still not fully human, and not worthy of being treated in the same way as those that were.

It’s the “not fully human” and the “not nice” elements of the story that have persisted. That is the thread that has been passed from generation to generation, both to preserve the legacy of the white ancestors that built their fortunes on the backs of their living and breathing chattel, but also to continue to abuse and demean each ensuing generation, despite the truth.

Throughout the years, there have been a series of “facts” presented as a method of perpetuating racism. For example, some scientific researchers suggested that IQ was a function of genetics and that the genetic marker for the Negro put their intelligence level ten to twenty points lower than that of a white person. This, though during slave days, Black people were intentionally kept illiterate as a matter of course, to limit their communication skills with other slaves, to make sure they couldn’t read contracts they were coerced to sign, and to make it that much more difficult for them to learn anything else.

Also, these research results were biased, as Black people did not have the same access to food, water and education to be tested on a level playing field as whites, and we know that IQ tests, in general, are biased based on cultural norms, adding to the inaccuracies of those results.

Conversely, there was a sense of fear about blacks because of their physicality. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Black people, most especially Black men, were considered super human on that level, because of their strength and power, a factor of intimidation creeping in for whites, afraid of some kind of retribution for their previous unspeakable acts.

Ultimately, this played into the slave mentality most whites had when seeing Black persons, viewed by them as “beasts of burden”: strong and stupid.

The racist addict mentality needed a group of people that would always be, like the ground, there to walk all over, forever. It’s also important to note that the continued lies that white families told to each other were much more easily done because Black people were kept out of their areas, meaning there was nothing to contradict the stories, the fables, all of the blatant untruths being created within those echo chambers.

But Black citizens started to have some financial achievements in spite of the negative treatment. One of the earliest major successes was Madame C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in US History. Her line of beauty and health care products were made exclusively for Black folks to use.

On that theme, Black people were attempting to assimilate into white culture. By straightening their hair (with irons that burned their scalps), attempting to lighten their skin (with bleaches or acids that also burned and harmed their flesh), and dressing well, all in an effort to seem more pleasing and less threatening to white folks, the abuse, the neglect, the ridicule continued, unchecked. Attempts made by the Black Community to “fit in” were wasted efforts because there was no way to fit into a racist mentality.

To maintain a hierarchical structure, where whites remained at the top of the pyramid, all of these choices and behaviors helped to prop up that concept very well. But, in spite of Jim Crow, designed to hobble Black Americans and prevent their success, there was a town that became known as “Black Wall Street.” A section of Tulsa, Oklahoma called Greenwood was a booming location, a successfully functioning area where Black entrepreneurs were running their own businesses and earning their own money, in the late 1910s.

Greenwood was burned to the ground by angry whites in 1921 and the ensuing riots and gunfights, after one of the worst cases of arson in United States history, killed many more residents, the facts of which were covered up, to protect the guilty, literally for decades.

It is all about power and control over someone else. This is abuse carried to an unbelievable level, an addiction about continuing to “own” someone else, control their behavior and determine their fate.

But that was nearly a century ago. Haven’t we progressed since then?

In the interim, there have been successful Black people who have become notable in various fields, from athletics to mathematics, from biology to technology. But, all too frequently, they had to be lifted up by sympathetic or opportunistic white people who saw their value and used it to further their own wants and needs, who more or less installed them into the white racist structure as examples. It permitted a finite number of Black achievers into the “white world,” and placated the critics - people who felt that Black people could not and should not be left out of our community: the exceptions that prove the rule.

The legendary Jackie Robinson, icon of the American sport of Baseball, wouldn’t have gotten a single at bat in the Major Leagues, except that Branch Rickey, a white man, chose him to become a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The clear instruction from Rickey to Robinson was for him to “never fight back” against the racial abuse he was sure to suffer from opposing players and fans because that would be seen as “not fitting into” society, this, though those “society” members acted more like animals than the persons they suggested were ever did.

Even President Obama, the first Black Commander-in-Chief, did have a very strong and powerful white advocate that helped move his scholastic career ahead, and helped to assure he got the best chances to succeed as possible: his mom, Ann Dunham.

There have been some individual successes that have gotten around the system, those, through luck and pluck, that managed to avoid much of the trouble to find their way through that labyrinth of hatred. But the problem: Black people that do reach success often do not have any power to make the changes within that racist framework to help other members of the Black community also achieve parity. This is clearly demonstrated as even President Obama was not able to change the hearts and minds of millions from releasing their addiction.

Then again, that’s also a function of being rescued from a place where you have to deal with the viciousness of a system, specifically designed to continue to abuse you in every possible way. You might simply be grateful you escaped. That gratefulness could make you unwilling to do anything to help others with their effort and struggle for fear of being considered “a problem” and tossed back into the pain and torture yourself.

Very few “stand alone” Black businesspeople have gotten to a level of allowing them to create a path for others to follow. Oprah, Tyler Perry and Beyoncé only have so much power at their disposal.

It’s also why you are seeing such backlash over “Affirmative Action.” That’s clearly a function of an addictive behavior. If you have to diminish what few small gains were permitted over a century’s long struggle for equality, that clearly is, in a word, inhumane.

We know the concept that Black people “weren’t human” or were “deserving of punishment just because they existed” were clearly lies. Really, calling them “lies” doesn’t do those despicable acts justice. These were crimes against humanity. Now that all of that is crystal clear, wouldn’t the behaviors change?

Even with the knowledge, just as our cigarette smoker is still puffing away, even knowing the harm that habit is creating, our addict is still clutching racism like a baby with a blanket, there is no correction in behavior. The problem remains.

How is there no movement to change? Looking a bit closer, we find that there is something else to examine: how white society, as a whole, has acted to permit those that have this addiction to continue with it, unchecked.

If you think of United States society as a “White vs. Black” scenario, there is a benefit for all whites in having racists around. The members of the general white population, who permit Racist Addicts to continue their behaviors, are the “enablers,” people who are there to help make excuses for all of those unthinkable choices, to ignore the voices from victims that have been calling for it to end, to deny that a problem even exists. This is all a part of what may be seen as “White Privilege.”

White Privilege means that anyone who is white, or who is perceived as white, will be treated fairly, will receive all of the rights that are due to a citizen of this country, and will have ample opportunity to attempt whatever they would like to try, to fail and fail, and fail again, to eventually succeed, and be celebrated for their achievements.

Conversely, Black people, but again, especially Black men in this country are frequently seen as “a problem” or “troublemakers” on sight. This goes back to the self-segregation that whites had created, disallowing Black folks in their neighborhoods, schools or places of business.

You cannot learn anything about another person if you aren’t around them to see who they are and what they do. So, even though it isn’t appropriate to discriminate against People of Color, and you can’t prevent someone from living on your block because of how they look, once the laws had changed, you can still raise the price of real estate high and make sure the “undesirables” can never earn enough to pay to live there, too. Problem solved.

Obviously, that’s all a function of addiction, too. Twist it around, change the name, do things differently so that it doesn’t appear that it’s still the same behavior.

It’s still the same behavior.

It would serve to remind that though slavery is no longer a function of general society, it is still permitted for those that are incarcerated. Is there any wonder that so many Black citizens wind up in prisons across the land? It is, quite simply, a method of continuing the practice of old, just with a slightly different name.

While we’re on the topic of law enforcement, let’s take a brief look at the parallel cases of Tamir Rice and Dylann Roof.

Occurring chronologically first, on November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice, a Black twelve year old boy in Cleveland, Ohio, playing with a toy pistol, was called in to police as a threat by a citizen. When the police arrived, before their vehicle had even come to a stop, the responding officer fired his revolver twice, with one shot proving to be fatal to the child, who died the next day. There was no questioning, no due process, no examination of the scene before action was taken and no concern about an innocent boy who was doing nothing wrong.

Compare that with the story of Dylann Roof, a twenty-one year old white male who, on June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, armed with several weapons and a cache of ammunition, entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with the plan to “kill Black people” and try to “start a race war.” Though he prayed with the members of the church in attendance for an hour, he still did not waver from his intent and killed nine Black people, and wounded a tenth.

Though it was known that Roof was armed and dangerous, and on the run, hundreds of miles from the scene of the massacre, police managed to get him into custody, unharmed. It’s notable that Roof’s website featured neo-Nazi images and white supremacy symbols.

Two cases: a Black child with a toy is shot and killed by a white officer instantly, and a white adult who already had murdered nine Black people and was known to be carrying weapons and ammunition was calmly taken in.

That is the ultimate definition of White Privilege.

In the grand scheme, telling and overt behaviors like hate images and hate speech are tolerated from addicts by enablers without criticism, which only encourages those addicts to continue those actions, unchecked. It empowers the addicted to do more, which encourages others to potentially participate and emboldens them to take their actions farther, creating more racist behavior and leads to more racists in the population.

That’s not to say that addicts don’t come up against some response. However, critics of any bad behavior know that addicts always have an excuse for their addictions, or a reason why they won’t listen to the criticism. “I’m just making a joke.” “Why do you care? It isn’t hurting you.” “I refuse to listen to those statements.” “Don’t say that to me that way.” “I can’t hear you when you’re being mean to me.” Addicts will find any and every reason, from “tone policing” to attempting to discredit the facts, even if it means lying, all in an effort to continue the behavior for one more year, month, day. Certainly that fits the actions of our Racism Addicts.

Aside from Jane Elliott

It’s difficult to find high profile white people who are willing to break the cycle of hate for their fellow humans and act as interventionists to this behavior, exposing it for what it is.

That’s important, because:

when it comes to addiction, an addict will not listen to the people who are being abused as a reason/motivation to stop.

Certainly anyone familiar with domestic abuse is aware of that truth.

It’s why the #BlackLivesMatter movement isn’t gaining much traction with the white community at large. The enablers are all too willing to overlook everything being said on the topic by Black people in order to keep things just as they are. The frequent response “All Lives Matter” is the most obvious proof of that fact.

The addiction of racism is, quite clearly, the most difficult addiction for white people to break. We know it is difficult because we already know and are completely aware that it’s based entirely on lies and on hate, we have known that to be true for hundreds of years, and yet people are still doing it and/or are still turning a blind eye to those that are doing it, except in the most blatant and most extreme cases. And we know that if you can only see the world as an “Us vs. Them” scenario, then there always have to be “others,” which encourages racism to continue.

Also, just as sure as there is no epithet that can be used against a white person that has the power, the history, the level of abuse as the “N” word does for Black people, Racism Addicts are never in a position where they might experience racism for themselves, allowing them to understand and better comprehend what the effects of their racism truly are.

More importantly, these racist addicts already know and are fully aware that they will NEVER BE in a position to experience racism, making this an addiction without consequences.

Imagine being hooked on crack cocaine and never needing to stop smoking it because it doesn’t have any negative impact on your life. That is what we are attempting to fight.

How can we break the racism addiction with all of this going against us? And by “us” I mean, humanity. Think about it. Racism leads to a mindset where the victims of that thinking are considered to be “less than” by the people perpetrating it. And that allows those with that mindset to perceive the “lesser people” existing “everywhere else.”

So, racists can look at a ghetto and switch their water supply from potable to poison, or racists can fly over other countries, drop bombs on people and call it “collateral damage” in the face of getting what our nation wants, while the unaware population rarely, if ever, has to see the other perspective.

Racism allows war to seem appropriate, perhaps even expected or inevitable, which might explain why the United States has a military larger than the next seven nations combined. But it also destroys goodwill between different peoples, it makes some humans feel forgotten, or feel they have no value.

When a person comes to believe that they have no value, that person has nothing left to lose. And that leads to the desire to destroy everything, which is the mindset you are seeing from terrorist groups like the Taliban and ISIL.

Could overt racism be directly responsible for those groups becoming powerful and attracting more people who feel disenfranchised?

The addiction of racism is not exclusively an American issue. Certainly most countries in Europe, as well as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand all have variations on this theme. But the United States, with the reputation of being the beacon of freedom and being a country that supposedly cares for its own, with the power and might of the Stars and Stripes, has an expectation of setting the standard.

The first step is in breaking an addiction is in acknowledging there is a problem, then starting to talk about it. That is a discussion that is immensely overdue. It likely should have happened after the Emancipation Proclamation and the XIII Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Or it might have happened when the Civil Rights Act was passed into law. But, in each of those moments, the addicts and enablers just weren’t ready.

And since then, with Ferguson, Staten Island, Baltimore and far too many other high profile cases of hate, harm and death in the news, from 1964 through to President Obama’s second term, and countless subtle and smaller offenses that aren’t important enough to be reported to anyone, maybe not even told to our friends or close relatives, this discussion has still not begun.

There has been a constant “save it for later” narrative when it comes to finally examining the immovable object of racism and the irresistible force of the addiction to it.

Later is now.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 18th, 2016 07:11 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you reposted this over here. This is a fantastic essay, and the analogy of addiction works really well here. How else to explain such systemic irrationality?

Imagine being hooked on crack cocaine and never needing to stop smoking it because it doesn’t have any negative impact on your life. That is what we are attempting to fight.
So very well said.

Thank you for this thoughtful, important analysis of a message we all need to hear.
Feb. 18th, 2016 07:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and for your wonderful comment.

I know this is going to be a difficult conversation for people to have, which is why there has been no rush to have it. But in the interim, people have been dying because of this delay, and that really needs to end.

We collectively deserve better than what we've got. It's time to, hopefully, start that conversation.
Feb. 20th, 2016 10:04 am (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to share both essays. Your take on racism as addiction is well stated. It's insane how immensely overdue the discussion is. One of the several times I nearly quit my 25-year career was over the failure of my library management to even acknowledge the issue of racism. It was maybe the mid-to-late 90's and I had enjoyed being active in our committee on Multicultural Diversity. When we presented ideas for a workshop/bibliography on Racism, management rejected the theme as too negative! We suggested changing it to Race Relations and management rejected it as unnecessary in Silicon Valley! We suggested examining White Privilege (and I met with a local scholar who would have been glad to help) but of course management was clueless. Instead of quitting my job, I quit the committee - which went on to presenting benign workshops on things like ethnic dance and a potluck with ethnic cuisine. :P
Feb. 20th, 2016 10:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for reading them both, Seren, and for commenting.

Your summation of the committee you were on sums things up really well, and reinforces the concept of the "addiction" model. Clearly there was resistance to "discomforting thoughts" when it came to examining these issues, so the initial reaction is to avoid. But unless these issues are properly examined, racism continues. So, people would rather not have that awkward discussion and let others continue to suffer and in some cases, die!

It really speaks volumes about the incremental progress that has been made, even in the past 52 years, and how things feel like they're sliding backwards... towards Making America Great Again.

I don't know what it will take to make people see, but that's what my novel is all about, so before I give up hope, I have to finish the first draft.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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