University hosts 12-Step recovery program for WHITENESS

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The University of Minnesota hosted a webinar series aimed at helping white participants “recover” and learn about their “ties to white supremacy.”

UMN’s School of Social Work recently offered a virtual lecture using a “12 step” program like that used by Alcoholics Anonymous in order to help white people “recover and reclaim our full humanity.” The lecture titled, “Recovery from White Conditioning,” is taught by school alumnus and therapist Cristina Combs and was hosted by the school’s Center for Practice Transformation.

The program is a creation by Combs, a white woman who spent “years of struggling to navigate the role and presence of whiteness in her personal, academic, and professional journeys,” according to the university’s website.

“I am on traditional Dakota land,” Combs began her lecture, referring to the land and the Native American tribe that settled in Minnesota.

Video from the lecture may be seen by clicking “Watch on Vimeo,” below, despite the “Sorry” message.

(Source: Vimeo)

Combs also mentioned “George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of the other lives stolen from families and communities and our world due to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence,” before going on to explain the goal of the lecture which was to “decenter whiteness.”

“What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘white supremacy?’” she asked participants.

She then answered the question by displaying a slide showing “the face of white supremacy,” with images of Ku Klux Klan members, white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia and then even of herself.

“When BIPOC activists would use the term ‘white supremacy’ to talk about the systems that needed to change and the work that white people needed to do, my instinct was to recoil. It felt like too hard or too raw of a word, and I didn’t like it. And I ultimately realized that that is my ego,” she said.

“Stepping into that tension and accepting my connection to white supremacy has been a freedom of sorts to show up in better alignment with my values and do the work for the rest of my life,” Combs added.

She then began her summary of the 12 steps which are shared below:

Step 1: “We admitted that we had been socially conditioned by the ideology of white supremacy.”

Step 2: “We came to believe that we could embrace our ignorance as an invitation to learn.”

Step 3: “We develop support systems to keep us engaged in this work.”

Step 4: “We journeyed boldly inward, exploring and acknowledging ways in which white supremacist teachings have been integrated into our minds and spirits.”

Step 5: “We confessed our mistakes and failings to ourselves and others.”

Step 6: “We were entirely ready to deconstruct previous ways of knowing, as they have been developed through the lens of white supremacy.”


“We have been socially conditioned. [White supremacy] is in us. It will always be here. We will always have to work against it in this journey of transformation,” Combs explained as she went through each step.

In her remarks on Step 4, Combs presented attendees with a worksheet to look at how “white supremacy has negatively impacted” topics such as “My Understanding of History, My Social Network, How I Interact with People of Color, and (Micro)aggressions I Perpetrate.”


Step 7: “We humbly explored new ways of understanding…proactively seeking out new learning and reconstructing a more inclusive sense of reality.”

Step 8: “We committed ourselves to ongoing study of our racial biases, conscious or unconscious, and our maladaptive patterns of white supremacist thinking.”

Step 9: “We develop strategies to counteract our racial biases.”

Step 10: “We embraced the responsibility of focusing on our impact, more than our intentions, in interactions with people of color.”

Step 11: “We engage in daily practices of self-reflection.”

Step 12: “We committed ourselves to sharing this message with our white brothers, sisters, and siblings…in order to build a supportive recovery community and to encourage personal accountability within our culture.”


Elaborating on Step 8, Combs noted that many members call this step “the slimy step.”

“Step 12 is about saying, ‘We have to go and get our people and work on our communal transformation,” she said.

At the conclusion of the steps, the therapist explained that “Recovery from White Conditioning” meetings will begin with a “Call to Recovery.” After some quiet reflection time, participants will then read about “a white anti-racist, then discuss the particular step they are focusing on in that meeting,” Combs said.

Needless to say, the lecture series, which can be available for a continuing education credit, and the public research university were slammed on social media.



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