Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 9.3.09

Addiction and Atrocities
The meth of white supremacy
by Mark Harris

Howard Thurman (“Yoda” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Obi-Wan Kenobi) taught that an American approach to satyagraha requires that we speak the truth about the effects of racism, rather than simply seeking our own healing from it in cultural isolation. To abandon the souls of white folk to the continued soul shriveling effects of the methamphetamine of white supremacy is to do worse violence than cross burnings, lynchings, church bombing or bulldozing, let alone sidewalk Klan tagging. 

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. So just before he was executed after torture by his Christian terrorist captors in 1955, Emmett Till could truthfully answer “Yes” to the question, “Do you still think you’re better than me?” 

A few days earlier, Emmett had paid for his penny candy by placing the money in Carolyn Bryant’s hand, and then giving a wolf whistle as he left at her obvious discomfort at being touched. Not that a 14-year-old nerdy black kid from Chicago has serious game or even interest in a 20-something white store clerk from rural Mississippi. Emmett was executed for the treble crimes of equality, courage and contempt of white supremacy, and his killers were found innocent of his murder — giving eloquent testimony to the ubiquity of the disease.

I teach that racism is a co-occurring disorder, both a mental illness and an addiction. Like meth addiction, continued indulgence in it drives you to irrational and heinous acts. It’s no accident meth use was pioneered by racist military regimes (Japan and Germany), and even today white supremacists manufacture meth to finance weapons for their coming Racial Holy War. Meth is a perfect drug on which to commit atrocities, feel good while you’re doing them and forget about them afterwards. 

So when a mid-20th century Eugene African-American man who worked for the railroad dared to marry a white woman, half of his dismembered body was found in the Willamette. No one did time for the crime — a crime all but forgotten, except by longtime members of the African-American community, the co-dependents of racism, if you will. 

In a country run by active addicts, the person in recovery is seen as abnormal. Or conversely, the co-dependent is blamed for the addicts acting out. The darndest things are said to black Eugene kids today: “May I, is it OK if I call you nigger?” At least they ask politely upfront. To quote Richard Pryor, “That was mighty white of them.” The recondite answer is “Actually the correct pronunciation is negar, and it means from Africa, as in Schwarzeneggar: black and from Africa. So in the future please use the correct pronunciation and the proper respect, as if addressing Arnold.” 

Nigger means, “You are unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hated, and I am about to attack you.” The answer to “Do you think you are better than us because Obama is president?”:  Even when we were in chains, we were equal to you. Do you have equality issues?

Mark Harris is an instructor and substance abuse prevention coordinator at LCC.