It’s time to start thinking of racism as an addiction: a preventable, progressive and fatal disease of the mind
Here’s an interesting story about a couple in Georgia who were sentenced to a combined 35 years in prison for participating in a parade of trucks flying the Confederate flag in front of an African American family’s home where the owner was hosting a birthday party. At least, that’s what we get from the headline.
During the parade, Jose “Joe” Torres stopped his truck, brought out a shotgun and pointed it at the party-goers threatening to kill them. Kayla Norton, the other defendant in the couple, also made threats while at his side. Nobody was physically hurt, but the family in the home brought charges with evidence captured on video with numerous witnesses. Consequently, the couple were arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
While several other participants were charged in the incident for lesser crimes, it is worth noting that some participants, including the couple, were charged with violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Finally, we’re starting to see racists being charged and identified as terrorists for their acts of aggression. That is a very significant turn of events in terms of prosecution and reporting.
I watched the video at the head of the article to see how Norton, the female defendant, cried in court and turned to the victims to display an incredible degree of denial (from the CNN article referenced above):
Norton apologized for her role in the incident saying, “I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him. I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry.”
This is the kind of denial someone might have expressed after discovering what they had done while blacked out from a drinking binge. It was all fun and games until they found themselves in cuffs in front of a judge (from the same article):
“Many people tried to make the case about simply flying the Confederate Battle Flag,” Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner said in a statement. “This case was about a group of people riding around our community, drinking alcohol, harassing and intimidating our citizens because of the color of their skin.”
Step back for a moment and consider the kind of ride these people were taking. I’m not just talking about the alcohol or anything else they might have been taking. I’m talking endorphins. Endorphins are the brain’s response to threats and other intense stimuli. The most well-known example and experience of endorphins is the “Runner’s High”.
Another well-known endorphin is adrenaline. Have you ever been in a heated argument and felt the rise of anger? Have you ever felt fear from a threat, like a car that you didn’t see behind you, but just whizzed past you? Those examples provide a very mild shot of adrenaline.
Those people in the parade were packing serious heat (at least one shotgun) and had organized a parade in front of their victim’s house. The entire affair appears to be premeditated. In other words, they spent time collaborating and planning their “event”, complete with giggles and anticipation. During the event, the alcohol further released their inhibitions enough for them to shout threats and throw objects at their victims, too. The acts of shouting racial slurs, throwing objects, and pointing a gun capable of deadly force, all give rise to huge shots of adrenaline.
I think we can fairly say that they really didn’t think this thing through. Especially the part about getting arrested and going to prison.
The planning, the acting out and the displays of domineering behavior all arise out of obsession. Obsession is also a form of addiction and is every bit as addictive as drinking, gambling, and power. From beginning to end, these people were orchestrating actions to bring about the maximum high that they could achieve. I’m not saying that was their conscious objective, I’m just saying that how it works.
Norton and Torres displayed all the hallmarks of an addict or someone in the throes of an addiction. Here’s a handy definition from Psychology Today:
Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.
In this case, the couple experienced intense pleasure, the high from the endorphins they experienced while threatening the lives of others. Their actions disrupted the lives of others, when they terrorized an African American family with their parade, leaving a memory that everyone in attendance will never forget. Their actions disrupted their own lives when they were sentenced to hard time in prison. This is the power of addiction.
To put this all in terms that most people would not ordinarily use: racism is a sign of mental illness. Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen or heard anyone say in the news or in civil discourse that racism is a mental illness. Symptoms, in this case, include obsession (the websites, the Facebook posts, fantasizing, etc); acting out as in their parade, the display of weapons, shouted threats and the slurs; and the crash, like when Torres and Norton were stone-cold sober as they both cried and while she apologized in court. Wash, rinse, repeat. We don’t even know how many times they’ve done this before as this was probably the only time someone pressed charges and made them stick.
To call them addicts suffering from an unrelenting addiction is by no means a defense of their behavior. On the contrary, they are adults and they make their own decisions, but at the least, they are very confused adults. At the time of their crime, they were high on, and addicted to, power.
They are not evil. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in evil. Evil is a supernatural explanation of challenging behavior in children and adults. There is no evil and good. To put it simply, there are two kinds of people in the world: confused (what we call evil) and less confused (what we like to call good).
The couple and their cohorts are now in jail awaiting a trip to prison. They didn’t plan on going to prison and sincerely believed that what they were doing was right and just, even if the people outside of their little world disagreed. That kind of bravado doesn’t come from deciding one night after a game of beer pong, that they’re going to act racist for a day. No, this is a result of a long line of decisions, spanning years, maybe decades, of imitating or following behavior from some authority figure in their lives. You know, like their parents.
I think they learned that behavior from their parents, and from abuse at the hands of their parents. Hitler’s Germany was authoritarian and Christian, and it should be noted that Hitler suffered tremendous abuses at the hands of his father as a child. American racism has its roots in Christianity to be sure, but I think we’d find that racism arises from abuse in authoritarian families where “might makes right”. Yet, millions of other Americans can read the Bible without drawing conclusions of racial inferiority based upon skin color, just as Martin Luther King did.
If the parade organizers truly believed that African Americans were inferior, and had taken the time to read their “Good Book”, they might find that their purpose (according to their book) is to help those “inferiors”, to lift them up, not abuse them. Here’s where I get confused. Were they trying to help them? If so, how did they ever come to believe that abusing someone else is even remotely helpful?
In authoritarian families, the rule is that the child lacks the motivation to do well, to pay no mind to the skills the child might need to achieve the morality that is preached by the parents. Punish the child and he will do better. That’s the rule.
Yet, by their actions, it would seem that Torres and Norton weren’t even thinking that they would make better people out of those party-goers with their abuse. It was an entirely cathartic affair. Racism is not about superiority and most certainly has nothing to do with helping others out. I am here to say that racism is about people acting out the story of the abuse sustained at the hands of their parents. This acting out is the ritual of their addiction as all addictions have rituals in their expression.
It is right to restrain with imprisonment, such individuals as those who are willing to brandish weapons, parade in the streets and terrorize people on the basis of skin color. We must consider the source.
People are not born racist. They are born into this world without a care about skin color, religion, sexual orientation or nationality. Racism is a learned behavior. It is taught as a set of skills designed to marginalize, minimize and enslave, others who are deemed, “inferior” only due to the color of their skin. They’re not the most productive skills, but they are skills, nonetheless.
Racism is a preventable, progressively fatal mental disease, but it can be arrested. I believe that to be true because it is up to parents to set the example of how to live with others, regardless of skin color. Parents set the example by collaborating with their children to solve the problems that children might encounter, problems that if left unsolved, give rise to challenging behavior. Solve those problems with kids and challenging behavior goes away — and kids learn new skills at the same time. A model for solving those problems can be found at www.livesinthebalance.org.
Racism is a set of skills borne of religious dogma, a perversion of morality. Morality is a skill, not a dogma. Teach the skills required to achieve the morality of peace, love, and compassion, and racism fades away, into grey.