I have not yet been to a meeting of Racists Anonymous (RA), though I intend to.
However, I have been in 12 step recovery since 1989 and am familiar with the language and culture. So I can imagine attending my first ever RA meeting and what I might say as I introduce myself there…
Hello everybody, my name is Marilyn, and I am a racist. Like my other addictions, it’s hard to hear those words linked up with my name. I like to think I am better than that, but I am not. I have a disease. It’s called racism. The fact that it’s a pandemic in my country and the world does not make it any easier to admit. Or give me an excuse.
I know I need to make a fearless and searching moral inventory as a crucial part of my recovery. But for now, I need to qualify for being here. Throughout my life, I have turned my back on black friends when they needed help from me.
I have treated young Latino men like sex objects for my personal pleasure, dropping them when it suited me, while at the same time working for solidarity with Central America. This qualified me as a member of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).
I have been confronted with the impact of my actions on people of color and resented having to take responsibility for my actions. I have acted like having friends, even boyfriends of color gave me an automatic pass as an anti-racist. I have relied on my membership in progressive organizations to give me carte blanche on this issue.
And I have enjoyed being a person of privilege in this society. This means I can be active in the struggles when it serves me and my busy schedule. I treated it like a hobby, an option, coming and going at will. Not like an imperative or a commitment — which is what I now believe it will take. Most of my friends are white, like me. I talk a good game. Now it’s time to walk my talk. I am grateful this meeting exists. Thank you for listening.
Rev. Buford and Racists Anonymous.
I first heard about RA in the news back in 2015. A silicon valley minister, Ron Buford, started the group at his church. It’s modeled on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and is a multi-racial group. Even Rev. Buford, an African American says, My name is Ron, and I am a racist when they do introductions.
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On their website, they make it clear that personal introspective work is only part of the work it will take to eradicate racism in our society. By the way, he refers to racism as America’s ailing and illegitimate child with Slavery.
He explains why both external and internal confrontations are needed and how they reinforce each other:
Varying approaches are necessary. It is important to note that while the Black Lives Matter push approach, for example, focuses on confronting external forces and patterns of racism. The RA 12-Step program focuses on our need for internal change. Push approaches that focus on external forces may create unintended resentment.
While this resentment may emerge from a primitive place within us, we must take it seriously if we want to create new outcomes.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and Rayshard Brooks just to name four, have pushed racial injustice and racialized police brutality on America’s and the world’s front page.
This could not be sustained without the huge groundswell of protest spearheaded by Black Lives Matter and other organizations who have been working hard on these and related issues for years, if not decades.
There are lots of books and programs designed to help white people understand and change their racist patterns, which may be subtle and hard to own. There are new terms to master like white fragility and microaggressions, also known as subtle acts of exclusion.
We can admit our relative powerlessness over white privilege’s subtle and insidious hold on our national and individual psyches, without wallowing in shame.
So why twelve steps? What do they have to offer this moment?
The twelve-step framework is a disease framework. And indeed, racism is a pandemic in our country. It’s in our institutions, our culture, our language, codified in our laws and constitution. But it can’t be eradicated by people who are blind to its existence or content to benefit from the privileges it guarantees.
While we shouldn’t wait till we are free of its pestilence to address the big picture, since that is nigh on impossible, we can be working on ourselves with this or other frameworks while we do that addressing. Given the subtle and subconscious ways it operates, it won’t reveal itself unless we are engaged with others consciously on this topic anyway.
Like alcohol or drug or sex or food addiction, it’s not something we completely recover from. But we are granted a daily reprieve as long as we work our steps and remain in fit spiritual condition.
Like AA or any anonymous program, Racists Anonymous is a spiritual program. It doesn’t tell people what to believe. But it encourages us to invoke the help of a Higher Power for a problem that we cannot manage alone.
We each get to define for ourselves what that Higher Power is and how to work with it. For some, this may be prayer and meditation. For others, the RA group itself is the Higher Power that provides guidance and support.
And finally, the steps.
AA’s founders Bill W. and Bob S. were truly inspired when they gave the world these twelve healing steps as a way to recover. They were lifted from a Christian revival movement called the Oxford Group active in the 1930s. Bill and Bob had the insight to adapt them to booze.
This is one of the greatest innovations of modern life. Think about all the lives saved and transformed via these steps, meetings, and sponsorship. You’ll see how miraculous this was and continues to be.
A key component of AA’s impact and success is considering alcoholism a disease. Up until then, it was highly stigmatized as a character defect and a shame-filled one at that. The disease model helps release immobilizing shame and puts the focus on taking action.
So it’s certainly worth applying to the addiction whites have to our privilege. We can admit our relative powerlessness over white privilege’s subtle and insidious hold on our national and individual psyches, without wallowing in shame. Admitting our addiction is half the battle. Once we can do that, and it may not be easy, there’s a clear path to follow. Here is the link to Racists Anonymous’s twelve steps.
This path involves doing a fearless and searching moral inventory of how racism shows up in our lives and sharing this with trusted others. It involves working with a Higher Power for awareness, courage, and willingness. And it involves making amends to those we have harmed to the best of our ability.
This is a key step. It may be crucial as reparations and amends get discussed on the community and national level in a massive way. And when those discussions begin in earnest, RA groups will be an excellent place for folks to work on any resentments that brings up, as Rev. Rob alluded to above.
For these reasons, I’m excited to explore the possibilities of addressing racism through the twelve steps. I have encouraged people to check out groups like SLAA and others when looking for help for themselves and/or loved ones,
Racists Anonymous may be a key to the dismantling of racism in American and the world. All I can say is, Keep Coming Back!
Marilyn Flower writes political humor and satire to delight socially and spiritually conscious folks. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, where she writes about faith and prayer. Five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times.