by Randall Mullins
A friend of mine decided to begin a group to talk about racism in his church and modeled it after Alcoholics Anonymous/Twelve-Step groups in which members begin meetings by saying “my name is ____ and I am an alcoholic.” Twelve-step folks gather around common powerlessness, failures and heal by speaking the truth about their lives. In my friend’s group people introduce themselves by saying “my name is ______ and I am a racist.” The group is called “Racists Anonymous” and is now growing into other groups across the country. It also received some national media coverage on PBS.
At this time in my life I do not know one white person who wants to be known as a racist.
In my life one of the things I feel some pride about is the way in which I have tried over some decades now to practice racial understanding and racial integration. Although I was raised in an environment of overt racism, I have not felt myself to be a racist since about 1968 when I was in college in Memphis during the sanitation strike and the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But since 2010 some new realizations have had a strong impact on me, especially after Ferguson, Cleveland, Charleston, Baton Rouge……and all the rest.
I am not racist in the extreme sense of white supremacy movements who believe some races of people are superior to others. Most people would probably consider me a white liberal. But I consider myself to be a racist now in that I live in a society where systemic racism exists everywhere. I live within that system. As a white man I live with privilege that I seldom think of as privilege. I do not know what it is like to be black in America. I have been reminded a of unconscious biases that I carry in this environment and I now assume the there are many more of which I remain unaware.
I am aware now of how much (mostly unconscious) effort I have given over the years to being sure to drop phrases or names in some situations to give evidence that I am not a racist. Sometimes I felt a special need for this when in the presence of African American friends. I have a few who have been willing to gently point out that this was not very authentic. My work on this goes on. I proceed with compassion for myself, a sense of humor and the liberating awareness that people can change. I also feel a growing sense of horror about the reality that “the United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the genocide of one race and then the enslavement of yet another.” (Jim Wallis) It is now very clear to me that the domination that began with slavery has not ended but has simply taken on new forms in each generation until the present, such as massive incarceration of black Americans and the widespread violence against African Americans by many law enforcement officers.
I believe the words, “you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Naming and accepting the kind of racism that still live in my consciousness is liberating for me. I am aware of how much energy I have spent over the years trying to be sure that people knew I was not a racist.
So, my name is Randall and I am a racist. White supremacy remains the soup in which our country swims and off of which white America continues to feed. I partake of that soup daily.
With this openly acknowledged, I am moving forward in my life with a lighter load. And I am finding good company with others, black and white, who are also finding ways to tell the truth about racism in America.
Rev. Randall Mullins is a native of Memphis and was a student there in 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated. He is a retired minister in the United Church of Christ and lived most of his adult life in Seattle.