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.