The answers came quietly from around the room: a childhood friend who stopped being a friend; being called “half-breed” and more; a cross-burning; beloved parents who said people of another race “smelled different” or locked the car doors when driving through certain neighborhoods.
The Rev. Ron Buford, pastor of Sunnyvale United Congregational Church, elicited those answers after asking his audience to tell him two quick stories: when was the first time they saw racism and when was the first time their parents did or said something racist.
The answers helped illustrate his point. “We swim in racism,” he told IUCC and community members attending his talk on Oct. 9.
“We’ve all been touched by racism, and it’s impossible for us not be racist. Yet it’s the thing that makes us the most angry when we’re told we are,” said Buford.
Buford’s response to the racism he’s witnessed was to create a program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. While racism is not an addiction, he said, just as in working to overcome addiction, the crucial first step is admitting you have a problem. “By extending grace and mercy first to yourself and then to family and friends, you’ll notice your thoughts and want to eliminate them.”
In introducing Buford, the Rev. David Pattee, interim pastor at IUCC, said one of the first things he noticed about the IUCC congregation was it was passionate about diversity and inclusion. At the same time, he’s reminded almost daily about the structures of racism that shape how we see and fail to see the world. A longtime friend of Buford’s, Pattee said he hoped that adopting the Racist Anonymous approach would provide insight, analysis and techniques that can help “transform what is so deeply woven into our culture.”
Modeling a typical RA meeting, Buford had volunteer Jenna McCarty act as a leader and work through a typical meeting format based on problems/solutions and a 12-step approach. Ground rules included no crosstalk, no arguments about what someone else is saying and keeping it to one hour. “That’s so people want to come back for more,” he said with a smile.
As with AA, the first step was to go around the room and have people introduce themselves and admit their racism, a painful first step for many and not everyone was comfortable announcing “I am a racist.”
Buford listened to both hesitancy and refusal without judgement. As the meeting script he distributed notes, “Remember, the opinions you heart were strictly those of the person who gave them. Take what you like and leave the rest … If you keep an open mind, you will find help.”
More information about Racists Anonymous is available on the group website: http://rainternational.org/
Buford also encouraged everyone to read “Do These Jens Make Me Look Unethical?” to understand the psychology behind working on acceptance works better than condemnation.
Plans are underway to offer an RA-based group at IUCC. Check back for more information.