Recovering Racist | Part I
Would you go to a Racists Anonymous meeting if it existed? I would. Hello, my name is Gregory Daniel Collins, Jr., and I am a recovering racist. I’ve chosen to use “recovering” similarly to how folks active with Alcoholics Anonymous maintain their daily defeat by the rhetorical use of "recovering."
Whereas I can speak with sharp precision on what racism did to me, folks within earshot of me, and even beyond, I’m keenly aware there is a substantial amount of personal ignorance I still must overcome. You have to do the work. I have to do the work. Part of putting in the work for me is to speak about what I do and what I've learned to stop my hateful, racist bullshit. This conversation begins with speaking about what I do now to vanquish feelings, sentiments, and/or notions proactively by advocating fiercely for fundamental American values and recognizing my own biases.
Crazy to think it is paramount to the sovereignty of our Republic and States and to the shared spirit of humanity that we must examine how we live with each other on this fucking spinning rock together today. I'd so much rather be talking about laying some groundwork for our shared futures.
I need somewhere to start, and I’m not saying this is everything or that I’ve used all the right words, but I want to start a meaningful conversation about racism with who I know, American southern white males. I must tell a story to help set the tone, please stick with me while I meander.
United States Army 2nd Lieutenant William Griffith Wilson reflected on his pre-mobilization training in Massachusetts before his unit joined the theater in the first World War:
"War fever ran high in the New England town to which we new, young officers from Plattsburgh were assigned, and we were flattered when the first citizens took us to their homes, making us feel heroic. Here was love, applause, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last, and in the midst of the excitement, I discovered liquor."
2LT Wilson led Coast Artillery troops in France during the first World War. Many young men and women find a formal introduction to alcohol after they begin their service in the military. For some, alcohol sticks, and for others, it doesn't. The boldness in military culture seeps over into service members' drinking habits.
Believe you me, individuals get caught in a terrible not-so-positive feedback loop. Their lives begin screeching from one pitch to another, cataloging partial memories that amount to a collection of blunders from their time under the bottle.
In 2LT Wilson's time, society easily passed on the burden of managing "drunks" and their arsenal of "character defects." Like the side effects of alcohol, the poison as such is no unworthy adversary. Much to the contrary, the poison will kill you if you let it. If it doesn't kill you, it will certainly try.
Booze efforts never go unrewarded; other parts of you will die. Here is a very "scientific" fact: Americans' unfair perception of a bad character for their neighbor is -surprisingly- faster than the speed of light. That is the crux of the damning stigma attached to folks that struggle with addiction. At the end of the day, the notion is that people navigating alcohol (or whatever) dependence are unworthy of the dignity inherently drawn from a plastic perfect prototype of what others perceive as "good character."
Hellfire! Wouldn't it stand to reason that part of alcoholics' affliction is the bright flashing Scarlett letter front-and-center of every defeated sip? A faster-than-light reason to refill the cup. So, if the poison doesn't get you, the flaming arrows of stigma will. As they say, drink responsibly.
2LT Wilson came home from WW1, but soon found himself wrapped up so deep in booze that his whole life was falling apart. Writer Shawn Corey Carter summarizes the archetype quite well if you ask me:
“You know the type: loud as a motorbike but wouldn't bust a grape in a fruit fight.”
Yet, unlike many LTs, 2LT Wilson found a way out of the mess. As time passed, LT Wilson was more commonly known as "Bill W." co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Through Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W.'s exemplary actions made a profoundly good and right and honest and awesome impact on the world, helping millions upon millions, decades after decades recover from the chains of alcohol. He's made an inedible mark on many families that have recovered from the chaos. Bill W. found a way out and dedicated his life to helping guide others to their addiction's exit door. Evidently the process for him began with admitting he could not control his alcoholism, addiction, or compulsion. I reckon he had to come to terms with his relevant Higher Power, which gave him spiritual insight and strength. After that, Bill W. had to articulate a detailed account of his blunder catalog. It was vital to the process that he took extreme responsibility for his actions. With the help of a guide, Bill W. had to attempt to restore relationships with restitution of his blunders. Yet, proper restoration of his relationships only began when folks saw him change meaningfully.
Bill W. learned to live a renewed life with an undiluted code of behavior. Bill W.'s legacy started when he led by example to help others who suffered from the same alcoholism, addictions, or compulsions.
However, his impact remains on via the actions of many people who continue to act every day, navigating others away from chaos.
I feel Bill W.'s story speaks of a man that ignited healing across America. I feel in 2023, America needs healing. I'm not so presumptuous as to assume I'll help millions like Bill W. Nevertheless, if I can make a small impact on folks who decide to kick the door in on their own biases, I'll have done my part.
Recovering Racist | Part II will be published Monday, January 23, 2023.