FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS WHITENESS?
We believe that whiteness, or the cultural legacy and myth of white racial superiority, is a paradigm that emerges from acculturation to what Resmaa Menakem calls "white-bodied supremacy." It infects white-bodied people primarily, though not exclusively, and is weaponized through the possession of racial advantage and power. For those of us categorized as white, whiteness fundamentally disconnects us from the body through generational perpetrator trauma and internalized dominance. This disconnection is the source of overt and covert violence towards ourselves and others. We share our personal experiences of whiteness in meetings and member-to-member. Of course, our stories are only part of the collective story. For a brief, but more sound contextual analysis, we would like to direct you to the words of historian, artist, author, and scholar, Nell Irvin Painter on the subject.
For more on the attributes that define whiteness culture and serve to uphold the myth of white supremacy, we refer to the work of Layla Saad, Me & White Supremacy and the often-quoted findings in Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun: https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/
ARE YOU SERIOUSLY SAYING THAT THIS IS EMOTIONAL OR SPIRITUAL?
Yes, we are saying that this work is just as much an inside job as it is outside. As we say in our Preamble, “In WA, we find that the way that we do the work of anti-racism is as important as the work itself. As Audre Lorde said, ‘the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.’ Many of us are here because though we may have tried to dismantle whiteness and racism, our default approach served only to make problems worse. We cannot dismantle whiteness and racism with the tools of whiteness and racism."
Indeed, there is MUCH work of all kinds to be done. As people who say that they are interested in destroying racism, we need to back it up with doing our share of the dirty, heavy, grueling work of anti-racism. We need to “change the things we cannot accept,” as Angela Davis said, in order to feel whole.
If we are in this for the long haul, which is an essential understanding, then we need to aim to "practice these principles with sustainability, in all of our affairs." For us, the "what" is the institutional, cultural, and relational work of anti-racism and the "how" is the Whiteness Anonymous program.
HOW ARE YOU BEING ACCOUNTABLE?
For us, the question of accountability creates a paradox. We understand that white-bodied people meeting behind closed doors has historically been a dangerous thing. We also acknowledge the necessity, as many people have discovered (both BBIPOC and white people alike) that affinity spaces throughout our racial reckoning journey is necessary to gain tools, build skills, and increase capacity so that we do not cause more racial harm in cross-racial interactions or to ourselves. We aim to become trustworthy through becoming fearless and bold in our honesty and transparency.
Our recovery may begin with Whiteness Anonymous, but it certainly does not end there. The whole reason we do this work is to learn how to de-segregate, de-exceptionalize, and de-center ourselves and to become more fully functioning members of society and effective change agents in the fight against racism.
We have not yet been able to see how to create accountability structures within WA that does not require the labor of BBIPOC, yet we are open to this discussion. Perhaps there is even a BBIPOC recovery group interested in collaboration. We don't know and until more is revealed, we have opted to create transparency by publishing our blog, Recovery Outloud, and regularly sharing from our membership. We invite you to get in touch with us through email to start a conversation if you'd like.
WHO IS WA FOR?
WA is for anyone seeking recovery from the effects of internalized dominance, racial codependency, whiteness, and dependence on white racial advantage. Each one of us holds different advantages and power within the system and are impacted in different ways and to different degrees. WA members recognize, however, that regardless of our positionality, we all have a personal responsibility to heal ourselves, in community, from the disease of whiteness so that we may stop the cycle of violence to ourselves and others.
ISN'T RACE AND WHITENESS AN "OUTSIDE ISSUE"?
In short, no. WA's Tenth Tradition states, "Whiteness Anonymous has no opinion on any issue except for the dismantling of racist systems of thought and behavior." We firmly believe that whiteness, racism, and other forms of internalized dominance live in our bodies as much as they live in external systems. Therefore, these are not outside issues but in fact, are central to our health and well-being and the work of recovering our personal and collective humanity.
Many of us come from other 12-step programs and are finding that recovering from whiteness and the myth of white supremacy culture deeply impacts our recovery from our other addictions and more completely addresses the source and fundamental nature of our dis-ease.
IS WHITENESS REALLY AN ADDICTION OR DISEASE?
We don't know for sure that whiteness is an addiction, though the defining characteristic of addiction is the same as whiteness: a compulsive set of behaviors that continue despite harmful consequences. A disease is commonly defined as "a disorder of function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that has a known cause and a distinctive group of symptoms, signs, or anatomical changes." We know that we are intensely dependent and deeply disordered by what Chris Crass calls a "death culture." We believe that it is a social, psychological, physiological, and spiritual dis-ease that can infect anyone. We know that the 12 Steps have been helping people recover from seemingly hopeless patterns of addiction for decades and has been applied in a wide range of contexts. There is no known cure for the disease of whiteness, but there are various forms of treatment available. The daily practice of the 12 Step lifestyle can be one way to liberate us into a connected life built on healthy, life-affirming principles.
WHY BE ANONYMOUS?
On the surface, whiteness and anonymity seem like a toxic combination and historically it has been. Anonymity in the WA program is not meant to protect us from the accountability of the outside world but from our own selves. As white-bodied people, we struggle with a habitual compulsion to perform practically everything and create hierarchies based on status. We draw from the experience of AA and Al-Anon members who struggled, as we have, with ego--or personal desires and ambitions--getting in the way of our common purpose and welfare. To read more about why anonymity developed and why it is essential to the 12-step recovery program, you can read an excerpt from AA's Big Book here: https://aa-netherlands.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/en_tradition12.pdf
IS WA RELIGIOUS?
No. WA is not affiliated with any religious sect or denomination, overtly or covertly. We do say that this is a "spiritual" program, however, and must be clear that "spiritual" means anything that returns you to a sacred sense of humanity and heart. The original 12-Step programs of AA and Al-Anon often use language referring to a male, personified, external god but we are not limited by this. Because those of us seeking help have not been able to find relief on our own, have tried many other ways to change, and are often baffled by the effects of whiteness on our thinking and behavior, we seek to build a spiritual life and community that allows us to see the truth--that our personal liberation is inextricably interwoven into the liberation of all.
Each member is encouraged to create their own personal definition and to find what helps them to personally create meaning. For some, this may be defined as higher/greater power, collective wisdom, higher/greater self, all, flow, order, the web of life, deeper intelligence, group conscience, reason, love, nature, awareness, the universe, the force, spirit, creator, great mother, heavenly father, god, goddess; it may be a religious deity, or something else. The point is to develop a relationship with something that is personal to you and will help you move beyond your ego's understanding of yourself and the world.
Each person’s definition is entirely personal, valid, and respected. Personal recovery depends upon unity. A chapter from AA's Big Book (1935) may lend further understanding: https://aa-netherlands.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/en_bigbook_chapt4.pdf