Racism, the Holy Ghost and 12-stepping
1.) There is a conjecture that the decline of organized religion in Western societies has not led to more rational modes of thought, but rather to a disaggregation of magical thinking as people find other ways to express the innately human religious impulse. This may manifest itself, for example, through belief in horoscopes. In fact, according to a recent survey in the UK, belief in ghosts is now much higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
2.) The recent incident in the U.S. involving the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University led to discussion of whether race was a motivating factor in the arrest. In the absence of any direct evidence of racism it was assumed by many that race must be a factor in any interaction between men of different races.
What links the paragraphs above? Well, some sociologists claim that racism, like the God of the Christian faith, is inside you whether you know it or not. In this spirit, Eileen O’Brien distinguishes two types of people who are opposed to racism: the selectively race cognizant, who oppose overt racism which they perceive outside of themselves; and the reflexively race cognizant, who “spend a great deal of energy analyzing their personal relationships and how they can reduce the racism they may unintentionally perpetuate in those relationships, both intraracial and interracial”.
Considering such a categorization, it may be of value to consider some forms of racial awareness as sharing some characteristics of religious movements: there are initiates who engage in self-contemplation and so find “the truth”, and there are outsiders who are unaware of the racism within themselves and “may resort to defensiveness” when asked to look for it.
Furthermore, according to O’Brien, some antiracist organizations hold discussion groups with “white participants emerging referring to themselves as ‘recovering racists’, borrowing from the Alcoholics Anonymous idea that one can transition into a process of unlearning racism, but that people cannot be suddenly ‘cured’ of the racism in one short period that they have socialized into for their entire lifetimes.” There are strong elements of spirituality in Alcoholics
Anonymous programmes, with several of the “12 steps” referring to the powerlessness of the agent concerned and his acknowledgement of his dependence on God, as he understands Him. The link between antiracism/racial awareness and religious thinking may well warrant further exploration.