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Tack in the Foot

06-21-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Phrases such as “systemic racism” and “institutional racism” are being used a lot lately. But what exactly do they mean? The more blatant types of racial discrimination such as employment or housing discrimination are not so hard to spot and we do have a legal system to fight against it. But there are other more insidious and harder to spot forms of racism that often infect our institutions and social systems. Consider this example:

In one school system on the East Coast, upwards of 80% of the students are placed on methylphenidate, brand names Ritalin and Adderall, prescribed to treat ADD/ADHD. Now in those same communities there is also a massive drug addiction problem, drug overdoses, and drug related crime. The drugs of choice in those same communities is methamphetamine, (crystal meth), crack cocaine and cocaine. It just so happens that methylphenidate is in the same drug family as methamphetamine and cocaine, namely stimulants. Can it be that these children are being set up to be drug addicts as young adults?

You may say, well it’s just the unintended consequence of treating ADD/ADHD. Or maybe it’s just the bigotry of low expectations. But it is still also a systemic issue primarily in our inner-city black communities.

Or consider this: for the past three and a half years black unemployment in the US hit a historical low, over the same period black home ownership has steadily increased and wages for blacks have seen the highest increase in many years. Then suddenly a virus comes out of nowhere and wipes out all the gains. Additionally, the black community is one of the hardest hit by the virus in terms of health. What gives? It’s almost like someone didn't like the success blacks were having.

You might say there’s no grand conspiracy here but rather some rational reasons for this. Such as the fact that in many urban areas blacks do not have access to quality health care and as a result have a lot of untreated underlying health conditions that made them more susceptible to the coronavirus. And why don't they have access to quality health care? Well, because many of the for-pro$t health systems don't operate in many of those urban areas. And why is that? Because many of the residents are on Medicaid or other government forms of health insurance that don't provide the same level of reimbursement as does private insurance, so the health systems don't make any money. And why don't the residents have access to private insurance? Well because they don't have the type of jobs that provide private health insurance. And why don't they have the type of jobs that provide private health insurance? Well because they don't often qualify for those types of jobs. And why is it they don't qualify for those types of jobs? Well because they don't have the education required to get those type of jobs. And why don’t they have the required education? Well because the educational systems in their communities are dysfunctional. And why are the educational systems so dysfunctional and fail to provide the needed education? Well because the children in the classrooms often have dysfunctional behavior that effects their ability to learn. And why are the children in the classrooms manifesting dysfunctional behavior? Well because they live with the effects of drug addiction, drug overdoses and drug related crime in their families and communities. The solution: put the students on drugs, pharmaceutical grade.

So, to deal with the dysfunction in the schools we put the mostly black children on ADD/ADHD drugs and they graduate with degrees in more dysfunction, namely addiction. So, to come full circle, to deal with the dysfunction that is caused by wide spread drug addiction, we create a new generation of drug addicts. Seems a bit circular, doesn't it?

Yes, I would say that qualifies as systemic, institutional racism.

The good news is that there are real solutions. The bad news is, in many cases we need to start over. Too many of our systems and institutions are infected with racism, bigotry, and those who profit off of them. Two examples of how this can be done and has been done are the Camden, NJ Police Department that was disbanded after 2013 and begun anew and how the School Districts in and around New Orleans vastly improved after Hurricane Katrina.

All this is like the guy who stepped on a tack and got it stuck in his foot. He starts to walk with a limp and is in pain. He goes to one doctor who says, you have arthritis, and to another who says, you need a knee replacement and then another who says you need a new hip and finally a doctor who looks at his foot and takes out the tack.

We know how to take the tack of racism out of our hearts and minds: repent and follow Jesus Christ. Taking the tack of racism out of our systems and institutions is no easy task but now that we see clearly the nature of the problem, we can with God’s grace, “make all things new” and “live together as brothers and sisters and not perish together as fools”.


Fr. John B