Racists Anonymous approaches bigotry as if it's an infectious disease

Racists Anonymous approaches bigotry as if it's an infectious disease

CultureJanuary 30, 2018 By Reilly Capps

I'm Donald Trump, and I'm a racist.

Hi, Donald.

Those are the words Rev. Ron Buford dreams to hear at one of the meeting of Racists Anonymous.

"I'd love to get him in a group," Buford says by phone.

Buford founded the 12-step program based on Alcoholics Anonymous more than a year ago at his church in Silicon Valley, and he hopes it will help "end racism in our lifetimes." Racists Anonymous has gotten a lot of press, and the meetings are growing, but the people who need it most — angry, obvious, oblivious racists — still aren't showing up. 

So we sent two messages to Trump and the White House asking if the world's most famous racist would go to a meeting. They exist across the country and in Canada. There's one in Virginia, not far from Washington.

The White House didn't respond. In both AA and this group, the first step is the hardest: realizing you have a problem, and then admitting it.

"Donald says, 'I don't have a racist bone in my body. I don't need to go to that group,'" Buford says. "The alky says the same thing, 'I don't have a drinking problem, I can stop anytime I want.'"

The point isn't that Trump is prejudiced. Racists Anonymous says: the rest of us are, too. How else would we live in a country where neighborhoods are segregated, folks with brown skin aren't treated as well in hospitals and rot in jail longer than folks with lighter skin.

"Often, we don't even realize we're being racist," Buford says.

[Rev. Ron Buford of the United Church of Christ in Sunnyvale, California, founder of Racists Anonymous.]

In Buford's church, about a dozen whites, blacks and Asians — though mostly whites — meet in the same space AA gathers. Racists Anonymous provides a safe, welcoming space for white folks to talk about their own racism without getting shouted at by angry social justice warriors on Twitter.

"We find that people are able to have a discussion about race, which is often difficult," Buford says. "They can come at it without criticism or fear."

Buford himself says he's worked past some racist ideas he had about Asian drivers. Trump — like anyone attending a meeting — could benefit from the 12 steps: admit you have a problem, put faith in a higher power, make amends to those you've hurt, and so on. It's how folks deal with the disease of alcoholism.

"We should approach racism as if it was an infectious disease, as if it was like the flu," Buford says. We don't judge people for being sick, Buford says. We accept them and help them heal.

But racism is so in the air in America that you don't even notice it, Buford says, until you leave it. Buford, who has brown skin, says he started Racists Anonymous after a trip to London, in which he felt like the Brits treated him the same as a guy with lighter skin.

By the end of this year, Buford aims to have 250 groups started across the country. It remains to be seen if Trump will show up. Trump would probably say he's fine. He'd say, "sure, I claimed the first half-black president wasn't born in this country and I praised white supremacists, but I dated a half-black chick so it evens out."

"There's something about that word — nobody wants to be a racist," says Buford. "Not even Donald Trump."

As hard as it is to say, even Rev. Buford says it, in every meeting: "I'm Ron, and I'm a racist."

He may be. But unlike many of the rest of us, Buford is trying hard to do something about it.