In the wake of race rhetoric sweeping the country, of violence and the corresponding protests, a small group right here in Cabarrus County has banned together to face the issue head on—the racism within themselves.
Members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Concord started a Racists Anonymous group for church and community members to discuss and combat the stereotypes people face and form on a day-to-day basis. The group meets each Wednesday at the church, 38 Church St. North, from 6 to 7 p.m.
“With so much that’s happened, particularly but for a long time, with particularly black men being gunned down in the street and now a really downside response to that is the police officers getting killed and just a lot of escalation of violence in our society,” church pastor the Rev. Nathan King said. “We pray and we pray and we pray, but we also believe that it’s time to do something about racism in our society, and this program, this Racists Anonymous, seems like one of the ways that we can do that and move the world forward, move the conversation forward in a positive way.”
The idea began in Sunnyvale, Calif., when UCC Pastor Ron Buford founded a group at his Congregational Church of Sunnyvale. Since then, similar assemblies have formed across the nation.
“It’s just obvious that racism is so powerful and alive,” Dr. Carol Stanley, Racists Anonymous coordinator here in Concord, said. “Mainly, [Racists Anonymous] is based on a really big idea, and that is we are wanting to move our civilization forward and not backward. We believe, the United Church of Christ believes that God is still speaking to us today, and God is calling us to move forward and learn how to love better. We’re not looking to change other people. We’re calling people together to become the change we want to see in the world.”
The Concord group first met Wednesday, July 20, with 13 members from the church, but both King and Stanley said they welcome people from the community at large to join, as well. The premise follows Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, with Stanley—congregation member and local psychologist—as leader.
“Getting in touch with our own racism is step one,” Stanley said. “I’m a real big believer that the way our world is going is not the way God wanted it. So I believe—not everyone’s going to believe like me—but I believe God is speaking to us to do this now, to change who we are on the inside, to make a difference in the world one by one, two by two, as we go out. I think saying, ‘It’s too big, and I can’t do anything,’ I don’t think that’s helpful.”
Once gathered, members share stories and resources, such as an online test from Harvard University that uses people’s responses to words or pictures to determine the degree to which they see color in a prejudicial way. The group also hosts guest speakers to give information and fuel discussion.
“The hope is that people will be able to recognize the racism in their everyday lives, recognize their own participation in racism and will be able to heal that in themselves,” King said. “What we hope to do is eliminate racism one person at a time, one day at a time. We recognize that racism is bigger than we are personally, and we believe that a higher power can restore our sanity. We believe we must be the change we want to see in the world.”
So far, Stanley said participants have had a positive response. The 13 that came that first meeting ran the gamut in age and race, from African American to white, from millennials to a couple in their 80s, from heterosexual to a gay married couple.
“There’s a huge range being represented,” Stanley said. “It’s not a place to talk about how well we’ve done. It’s a place to get in touch with that hidden part of us that needs to be discovered by ourselves.”
And that, of course, is no easy feat. Stanley said a few people at that first meeting hovered a bit on the sidelines.
"People are definitely in more of an inquiry mode," she said. "It's not politically correct to say your racist, so people really kind of deny it. We're not blaming, and we're not saying anyone's bad. From the time we were born, we've been taught this by people who from the time they were born were taught that by people who from the time they were born were taught that.
"We need to get in touch with that deep part of ourselves that makes it if I'm walking downtown and a group of African-American young men [approaches], my heart beats faster for no really any good reason. But that's a symptom of my internalized racism. And so the more we can express who it is and how it resides in us, then the more we can work on changing it in us."
This first phase—exploring, admitting and facing personal demons—will take about three months. Then, Stanley said, the group will move to phase two, convening at a retreat to plan next steps.
"Rather than struggle with feeling so disempowered with being able to do nothing, being able to do nothing about the policemen who were killed, the young African American men who were shot day after day after day, feeling like more and more the victim, we've decided that we are going to step out and do what we can and change who we are and what we can do," she said. "It does seem like a huge task from such a small group, but we know that Christianity itself began with Jesus and a few disciples, and they didn't even have the Internet.
"Racism continues all around us. We really are hoping that we can change the world by changing ourselves."