What if we treated white supremacy or patriarchy or any other logic of domination as an addiction, not just for those guilty of the most extreme forms, but for moderates and victims as well? What if, for historically privileged persons, our treatment provided a way to press past tired denials or toothless denunciations, while for historically marginalized persons, it offered an opportunity to heal from overexposure to various forms of supremacist logic that assault them day in and day out?
Author Melvin Bray, in his book BETTER: Waking Up to Who We Could Be, describes “beloved community as more of a twelve-step program than a semester-length seminar. You can know all the right stuff and never get around to practicing it.” The 12-step metaphor, of course, characterizes systems of inequity and the supremacist logics that undergird them—the opposites of beloved community—as both individual and societal compulsions that must be overcome. BETTER encourages readers to make beloved community a substantive reality, first, by imagining that beloved community is even possible through the way we tell our personal, communal and national stories; then, by embodying the beautiful, just, virtue-filled intuitions that arise out of those stories.
In his facilitation work, Melvin goes on to describe beloved community as requiring four recursive major moves—Critical Analysis, Self-Awareness, Cultural Competence and Better Practices, the last of which being his own primary area of focus. Like a spiraling flight of stairs, “every round goes higher, higher.” Using the classic AA framing as a starting point, Melvin has articulated below specific steps important to each major move. Articulations are rooted in the intuitions of beloved community found in BETTER. As such, while acknowledging that supremacist logics do demonstrate some addictive qualities, this is less a recovery model in its truest sense and more a “build something better” model for both those advantaged (privileged) and those disadvantaged (marginalized) by systems of inequity. Each step deals with actions, not feelings, with the expectation that finally doing well toward one another will eventually engender the positive feelings so many seek. And if not, will at least create a world worth our feeling better about.
There is so much to learn and skill to be developed betwixt, between and as a part of each step, the most substantial portions of which must be done within community—sometimes with persons like one’s self, other times across social identities. Professional help and resources from persons learned and skilled in each of the four major moves are invaluable. However, nothing substitutes for an individual or community of goodwill’s commitment to “work the steps,” as those in recovery say. Melvin invites you to join in making Martin Luther King Jr’s vision of beloved community real. #BETTERbeginsNOW!
1 - Admit that supremacist logic in sundry forms has been core to Western culture as a whole as well as in the development of my/our own particular nation, society, community, and sense of self, and that whereas we are powerless to control the people and the circumstances into which we are born and the ways they have shaped us before now, I/we do have power to change persistently inequitable outcomes wherever they appear.
|I/We - You commit to it as "I;" you live it as "we".|
Supremacist logic - (a.k.a. logic of domination) the basic notion "we gonna be on top". This double-dealing philosophy articulated in short or at length is operationalized by systems of inequity (injustice, oppression)–for example, racism, sexism (patriarchy, misogyny), heterosexism, queerantagonism, classism, ableism and ageism.
Equity - as differentiated from equality, that which brings historically marginalized/disadvantaged persons up to a comparable power to self-determine (even if it is more for some and less for others), not just that which creates the same recognition or opportunity across identity groups after generations of actively advantaging/privileging some.
Outcomes - material, economic, physical, emotional or spiritual impacts, not just thoughts or feelings.
|1 - Builders of beloved community learn to accept that though supremacist logics pre-date them, they have power-to (agency) shift from power-over dynamics to power-with others.
It is important to note that traditional 12-step programs accentuate the principle of powerlessness. This has proven itself over many years to be key to personal/interpersonal addiction recovery. However, one of the structural ways in which supremacist logic has historically preserved its power is to place itself beyond the ability to address, in the category of "that's just the way it is" or "human nature". Whereas this model respects the role of powerlessness, it also emphasizes, as in the "Serenity Prayer," "the courage to change the things I can."
Rather than starting at the traditional "I need help," this model starts at "I want better."
|2 - have come to believe that a Power greater than our- selves can and will empower us to beloved community, should I/we seek it.||Beloved Community - a metaphor for the positive political reality MLK believed was possible, even across social identity differences and despite negative histories. It includes unwavering commitments to equity, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, ecology, basic human dignities and so on. Ideological resistance to any commitment that makes room for all creation is part of the addiction to being on top we are seeking to overcome.||2 - Builders of beloved community learn to accept that it's not simply human nature or divine intention to seek power-over others; however, unlearning those habits may well require strength that only comes in collaboration.
|3 - Make the decision to continually turn my/our will and my life/our lives over to the care of community and God (as I/we understood God), and join God in seeking the good of others.||3 - Builders of beloved community learn to let go of the quest for more than enough, learn to accept limitations as just, and trust that in seeking the good of others they will find their own welfare.
|4 - Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself/ourselves—particularly my/our relationship to power and privilege and how they have been used to advantage or disadvantage myself/ourselves or others.||"Have been used" - This passive construct is employed in order to make room for two simultaneous understandings, (1) the ways I/we have actively advantaged ourselves and disadvantaged others as well as (2) the ways in which others have advantaged or disadvantaged on our behalf. It is constructed without a subject (an actor) not to somehow lessen discomfort or culpability, as is often done with constructs like "Jane was hit," when in actuality, "Dick hit Jane."||4 - Builders of beloved community learn to value self-discovery, and this is the beginning of that. An effective way to start is with a list of how their actions (such as threats, disregard, belittling, back-channeling) may have negatively impacted themselves or others.
|5 - Admit to God, to myself/ourselves and to other human beings the exact nature of my/our wrongdoings, not just my/our thinking and feelings about the subject in general.||5 - Builders of beloved community examine each item in their moral inventory, allowing them to delve into each problem.
It is important to note that traditional 12-step programs are rooted in the principle of anonymity. This too has proven itself over many years to be key to personal addiction recovery. However, one of the structural ways in which supremacist logic has historically preserved its power is through anonymity, plausible deniability, and distance between actors and the impact of their actions.
While anonymity may be useful at this stage, regular interaction with other committed builders serves as practice for interaction with others at a later stage. Thus, this is only 12-step in the metaphorical sense, not a clinical program in the 12-step tradition.
|6 - Am/are entirely ready to have God remove all these shortcomings of character, behavior and allegiance.||6 - Builders of beloved community learn to accept that any recovery process must be supported by something beyond themselves.
Experience and research suggests that the only way to get a shortcomings of character is to first interrogate allegiances and behaviors.
|For the historically privileged...||For the historically marginalized...|
|7 - Humbly ask God to remove my/our shortcomings, while holding myself/ourselves accountable for growth to those I/we often negatively impact and while learning how to relate equitably across social identities.||7 - Humbly ask God to heal me/us from overexposure to systemic, structural or behavioral hostility, while holding myself/ourselves accountable to others seeking healing and while learning how to accept only equity in my/our dealings with others.||Brief Divergence in Process beginning with cultural competence is based on real differences in the harm done over time by supremacist logics and the systems erected to concretize them to one privileged versus one marginalized, one advantaged versus one disadvantaged under said systems.|
Social identity - those aspects of ourselves by which we (1) self-identify, (2) may group or be grouped, AND (3) are often structurally materially advantaged or disadvantaged as a societal norm; such social identities include race, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, ability, faith, class, or age (mostly social constructs), whereas they would not include superficialities like eye color, hair color, athletic skill, test scores, affiliations, or even more substantially, general personal narrative(except in instances when these lesser markers may be used as stand-ins for actual social identities).
|7 - Builders of beloved community learn that their own instincts for equitable interaction have been misshapen over time, so they must develop accountability to and learn to trust the feedback of those most impacted by their efforts.
|8 - Have made a list of persons who identify differently than me/us whom I/we had harmed, am/are in a position of power or privilege to harm, or am/are in a position to aid in overcoming or removing structural impediments to equity, and have become willing to make amends or be of assistance to them all.||8 - Have made a list of persons who are currently harming me/us and/or structural impediments to equity I/we encounter regularly, and have become committed to either improving those realities or eliminating them at the earliest possible convenience.||Harm - can be material, economic, physical, psychological, or spiritual, and are often several or all these things at the same time.|
"Make amends" - set to right, even at one's own expense.
Structural Impediments - obstructions to equity not dependent on an individual actor's willfulness or intent; they include by are not limited to ways, means, rules, representation, sponsorship, information, insight, access, time, perceived value, and so on.
|8 - Making amends starts with one's self. Builders of beloved community learn not to be paralyzed by the amount of pain their actions have caused. They must also look for structures that increase likelihood of doing harm in the future as well as opportunities to do good and leverage them in benefit to others.
|9 - Make direct amends to those I/we had harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others, and give material aid in removing when possible or, if not, overcoming structural impediments wherever identified. ||9 - Seek to improve or eliminate hostile or harmful dynamics wherever possible, except when to do so would somehow injure those involved, others, or myself/ourselves as well as seek to solicit aid to remove whenever possible or, if not, overcome structural impediments wherever encountered.||“Make direct amends” - set to right, with the persons directly involved, even at one's own expense or embarrassment.|
“Whenever possible” - much of what we have behaved ourselves into is more complex than we initially want to admit; sometimes our attempts to good can cost others in ways we did not anticipate; sometimes our efforts will require stop-gap remediation followed by long-term reconstruction; that is why this work must be entered into in discernment collaboration with those most effected by the inequities being corrected.
|9 - Builders of beloved community learn that talking, thinking, and feeling better toward others is no substitute for doing better.
The forgiveness that so many who have harmed others seek is a process, not simply a gift, that requires both formerly oppressed and former oppressor to choose to join one another in creating new possibilities. However, builders of beloved community must understand that forgiveness cannot be coerced through our expectations (spiritual or otherwise) that those wronged always respond graciously.
|10 - Continue to take personal inventory, and when I am/we are wrong or complacent, promptly admit it and make amends.||10 - Builders of beloved community learn that going through these 12 Steps is a process that both takes time and is recursive, not linear, as in it spirals upward, in essence doubling back on itself, retracing ground previously covered, albeit from a higher vantage point. Although members have already made an inventory, slipping up or recognizing previously unrecognized blind spots is normal. Growth often follows the familiar diagram from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to unconscious competence, to conscious competence. And even then, there is more work to do.
|11 - Promote and participate in communal reparations, defense, solidarity, and construction efforts on behalf of those historically disadvantaged by structures and systems that advantage others.||Reparations efforts - involve attempts to return to exploited persons assets they or their ancestors have generated or materially contributed to the generation of; historically this has taken many forms, including cash pay outs, land redistribution, joint ownership, equity stake, dividend/royalty payments, establishment of trusts, agreements for future business or support, and often various forms at the same time.|
Defense efforts - involve protecting the space for historically marginalized persons to dream their way forward.
Solidarity efforts - involve standing with, listening to, responding supportively to the self-determinations of those most directly impacted.
Construction efforts - involve the building of intra-communal economic infrastructure that is not dependent on the goodwill of others.
|11 - Builders of beloved community learn the importance of moving recovery from the plane of the personal, interpersonal and communal to the plane of the structural, institutional and systemic.
Again, it is important to note that traditional 12-step programs are rooted in the principle of anonymity. This has proven itself over many years to be key to personal addiction recovery. However, one of the structural ways in which supremacist logic has historically preserved its power is through anonymity, plausible deniability, and distance between actors and the impact of their actions. This violation of a core principle of the 12-step tradition is yet another way in which this is only a metaphorical model, not a clinical one.
This model depends upon the commitment, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine."
|12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I/we strive to carry this message to those entangled in webs of supremacist logic and to practice the principles of beloved community in all my/our affairs.||12 - Builders of beloved community learn that the journey continues, even after completing the steps. The steps are only a precursor, a readiness drill, for the world changing yet to be done. Builders are thus encouraged to support other builders with what they’ve learned.
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