30 April 2008

The obsession about Wright is wrong

The obsession about Wright is wrong
by not_abel
04/30/2008, 10:20 AM #

Bear with me. Or don’t.

When I started out in AA, I did a lot of listening, both to speakers at meetings, and to my sponsor. My sponsor seemed to assume that I needed to hear him talk more than he needed to hear me talk, and I assumed he was right. A lot of times, he’d tell me stories about different old-timers in the program, some of whom were legends in our fellowship, many of whom he had known personally. Some of these people had outsized egos; almost all were idiosyncratic in some way or other. Often times, my sponsor would conclude his stories with words something like: “Some people didn’t like some of the things he did (or said), but he helped a lot of people.” I came to see “helping people” as kind of a gold standard within AA, and even in life.

Since I was both an alcoholic and a crack addict, I tended to hit a lot of meetings that I knew were attended by people like me. Living in the city, sometimes I was the only white person in the room. I meant Toby at a meeting like that. He was a seventy-something African-American. He was always friendly to everyone. However, some of his comments, while not quite at the level of Jeremiah Wright’s sound bites, could sound pretty racist. I even occasionally heard other black folks call him out on something he'd said, or on his language, but he was unapologetic. He didn’t see anything wrong with the things he was saying. It never really bothered me—he was always friendly to me, and I felt his comments reflected his experience generally. I never heard him say anything to me or anyone else that was meant personally.

I started to notice something as I continued to attend meetings. Many, many times, as I listened to people with a few years in the program tell their stories, they mentioned Toby as the guy who had first come to see them, whether at a treatment center, in jail, or at home because of a 12-step call. There was no question about it; Toby had helped a lot of people.

When my turn came to chair meetings and invite speakers, Toby was one of the people that I asked to speak for me. When I called his name, he began to get up and come to the podium. “Here’s Toby”, I said. “He’s helped a lot of people.” He was almost startled—he shot me a quick, penetrating look. Not sure why; that wasn't news to most of the people in the room. He told his story as he had on many other occasions.

He had always been pleasant to me, but from then on, he greeted me warmly, and made a point of asking about me and my family. He died about five years later. His funeral was very well-attended—just as you would expect for someone who had helped so many people.

I might not have voted for Toby for president. But the fact that someone else knew and liked him would have been, for me, a positive about them, not a negative.

I’m not going to vote for Obama—I like him third best of the available choices. I’m just enjoying an election where the top three out of all the candidates from both parties are the ones still in contention. If anyone but McCain had won the Republican nomination and Obama were the Democrat nominee, I’d have voted for Obama without hesitation.

The one thing I’m sure about is that Jeremiah Wright never has been, and never would be, a factor in my decision.

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