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 before I decided something was off. I’m not usually one to intervene in situations, but I couldn’t shake this uneasy feeling I had. So, 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 my brother’s face contort, staring at me in this pained way. He then quietly said to me that this man 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 embarrassed and, given a little time, deeply ashamed. I can now see how whiteness made it quite easy to act on the racial stereotype of criminality for black men. Even more troubling, I can see how my whiteness protected me and made it easy to just move on after my racist assumptions without even an apology. 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 racist. This new awareness of my own unconscious racism came through loud and clear, yet I still had trouble fitting it in with the image of myself as a nice and helpful person. Messages about white innocence are like pollution in the air we breathe, keeping white people from taking responsibility and making amends. Indeed, I’ve noticed that my own awareness and commitment to solidarity and transformation must include “a searching and fearless moral inventory” (Step 4).
This story is precisely why, even today, I need a spiritual recovery program. 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 abuse.
June 24–A.A. Thought for the Day
Privilege is our weakness. We suffer from mental conflicts from which we look for escape by drowning our problems in excess. We try through feelings of superiority to push away from the realities of life. But privilege does not feed, privilege does not build, it only borrows from the future and it ultimately destroys. We try to drown our feelings in order to escape life’s realities, little realizing or caring that in continued accumulation we are only multiplying our problems. Have I got control over my unstable emotions?
This “Thought for the Day” from my grandfather’s little A.A. book was originally written about the weakness of alcohol. Like my previous post, I changed a few words to get at its meaning for us who live in privilege. I hope the original content shines through in spite of my editing, as it has proven to be spiritual gold for folks all over the place.
The next day’s entry (June 25th) goes on to say, “One of the most encouraging facts of life is that your weakness can become your greatest asset.” So true! If only we had this program and its resources for those of us who feel licked by an addiction to social advantages. Maybe it’s time to start one…
My now deceased grandpa Walsh gave me this little AA book back in January of 1998. Nowadays it’s held together by some duct tape and love; I treasure it and, in fact, read it daily. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day I was rapidly heading off the rails: substance abuse, petty crimes, as well as many other self-destructive things. I’ve been on a whole different trajectory for the last 20 years. In fact, it was in April of 1998 that I eventually came to my senses,only a few months after my grandpa handed me this book and told me to call him anytime I wanted help. Although I don’t currently drink or use drugs, I never really considered myself an alcoholic or even an addict. But I have found it fairly straight forward to apply the wisdom of the 12 steps to my own need for recovery from any number of things. If you just read between the lines (a little), the message is pretty darn clear no matter what idea of recovery might be appropriate. For example, take this passage here:
June 1–A.A. Thought for the Day
Some things I do not miss since becoming dry: that overall awful feeling physically, including the shakes, a splitting headache, pains in my arms and legs, bleary eyes, fluttering stomach, droopy shoulders, weak knees, a three-day beard, and a flushed complexion. Also, facing my loved one at breakfast. Also, composing the alibi and sticking to it. Also, trying to shave or put on make-up with a shaky hand. Also, opening up my wallet to find it empty. I don’t miss these things, do I?
I realized that the things a recovering alcoholic does not miss about getting wasted can easily be translated into the things I do not miss about seeking privilege. I now occasionally take some liberties to change a few words from these readings in order to adjust my focus to those powers. Here’s my own list of “things I do not miss” since letting go of the so-called American Dream:
- I do not miss measuring myself with neighbors, friends, co-workers–all in secret–about who has the best possessions, job, social standing, etc.
- I do not miss moving at the speed of machines and feeling dizzy with my anxiety, always trying to keep up.
- I do not miss working harder and harder to plan for benefits, respect, and a future with more and more money.
- I do not miss living in denial about all this and justifying it with words like “prudence” or “value.”
- I do not miss churches and sermons that could only apply to people like me with way too much privilege in my hands.
- I do not miss feeling ashamed–yet responsible for my choices–and apparently powerless to change.
- I do not miss taking advantage of people’s labor who must work for low wages in order to survive.
- I do not miss grabbing more than my fair share.
- And I do not miss feeling sorry for myself.
No, I do not miss these things!