I began to realize the enormity of my addiction to whiteness when I spent the summer in Lubbock, Texas. I was 20 years-old and still getting used to my new west Texas surroundings. My older brother ran a sales office in town and offered to train me in the business. As I walked from my car into the office that day, I noticed a disheveled and gray-haired black man shuffling toward a pickup truck in the parking lot. He reached into the bed and grabbed a leaf blower. It probably only took half a second for me to see this happen and then decide that this man looked suspicious. I’m not usually one to intervene in potentially risky situations, but this thought persisted. In any case, I walked over and asked him if that leaf blower was his. The man simply replied, “Yes,” and then he kept moving things around in the back of the pickup. At that point I looked around and asked, “Is this your truck?”
The man must have ignored me because from there I can only remember going into my brother’s office. I told my brother about this “homeless-looking guy” who might be stealing yard equipment out of a truck in the parking lot. Even before I finished explaining it to him, I saw his face kind of contort, staring at me in this pained way. He then quietly said that this man probably owned that truck and was likely working at his job. He instructed me not to go outside anymore and to leave that man alone.
Hearing my brother cast doubt on my assumptions was enough for me to feel pretty moronic and, given a little time, deeply ashamed. I can now see how whiteness made it quite easy to act on a racial stereotype about a man who had done nothing wrong and then made it easy for me to just move on after my racist assumptions without even an apology. This new awareness of my own prejudice came through loud and clear, yet I still had trouble fitting it in with the image of myself as a nice and helpful person. Perhaps my history inside whiteness encouraged me to take action in the first place, to imagine myself as a noble and courageous citizen rather than a young and light-skinned visitor with racial prejudice. Awareness about this poisonous air that we breathe seems to develop in people over time. At least that’s been the case for me. My own awareness grew little by little.
This story is precisely why, even today, I need a spiritual recovery program similar to the motif of the 12 steps. I need to reclaim my own best intentions, to find a community of people who have learned to overcome whiteness, and to recognize every day seeds of beloved community in our midst. Without God’s grace and my growing awareness about the lies I once believed, whiteness would only continue to inflict more and more damage.
So here I am making another attempt at translating my grandfather’s little A.A. book into a message of hope for people like me who have too much privilege and want real liberation:
FEB. 27–A.A. Thought for the Day
When we came into recovery, the first thing we did was to admit that we couldn’t do anything about our whiteness. We admitted that this racist system had us licked and that we were helpless against it. We never could decide whether or not to accept its privilege. We always took the advantages conferred. And since we couldn’t do anything about it ourselves, we put our whole whiteness problem into the hands of God. We turned the whole thing over to that Power greater than ourselves. And we have nothing more to do about it, except to trust God to take care of the problem for us. Have I done this honestly and fully?
March 9 –A.A. Thought for the Day
If we had absolute faith in the power of God to keep us from the lies of whiteness and if we turned our privilege problem entirely over to God without reservations, we wouldn’t have to do anything more about it. We’d be free from privilege once and for all. But since our faith is apt to be weak, we have to strengthen and build up this faith. We do this in several ways. One way is by going to meetings and listening to others tell how they have found all the strength they need to overcome their addiction to whiteness. Is my faith being strengthened by this personal witness of people addicted to whiteness?
Now the rest of the story is up to each of us to tell. We can’t very well move forward without first taking personal inventory of all the damage we’ve done in our addiction. We need to help others feel that there is a real way out. What story is yours to offer?