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Racists Anonymous aims to tackle racism by making people aware of their biases

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A California pastor, inspired by the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous, is now using the same tools to address what he sees as another widespread addiction – racism. Carter Evans has the story.

Video Transcript

TONY DOKOUPIL: I want to turn now to an important story out of California. A pastor has been using an unconventional method to deal with racism for the last two years. He's treating it like an addiction. Now his effort is going global. The pastor was inspired by the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous and he's using the very same methods. Our story is part of our series "Unifying America" where we recognize people who are trying to right injustices and bring communities together. Carter Evans now has more.

- Hi, I'm Tiffany. I'm a racist.

CARTER EVANS: It's surprising to hear.

- Hi, I'm Pam. I'm a racist.

CARTER EVANS: And even harder to admit.

- Nobody really likes owning or being referred to as a racist.

CARTER EVANS: Doug, who asked us to use only his first name, is a member of Racist Anonymous, a 12-step program like AA.

- Hi, I'm Doug. I'm a racist.

CARTER EVANS: He joined last summer after the police raid that killed Breonna Taylor in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Doug says he realized he was part of the problem.

What are some of the racist behaviors that you see in yourself?

- I make judgments about people based on the color of their skin. I do it all the time.

CARTER EVANS: Is it just African-Americans?

- Anyone other than me, really.

RON BUFORD: It's sort of built into our society to look down on certain people who are different. And we often seem to mistreat people based on those differences.

CARTER EVANS: Pastor Ron Buford started Racist Anonymous six years ago. CBS News visited his Sunnyvale, California church in October of 2016.

- There are a number of Black people and some of them have these weird names and somehow I just can't remember those weird names. And I'm very-- I feel very bad about it.

- You might want to use unique or different because I don't think the mother would like you to say--

[LAUGHTER]

- --her child has a weird name.

RON BUFORD: What Racist Anonymous is about, is about getting more aware of the fact that it's not just some people who do that. We all do that to some degree.

CARTER EVANS: Would you say you're racist?

RON BUFORD: Yeah, absolutely. I say it every week in the meeting.

So let's begin.

CARTER EVANS: Moving the conversation online during the pandemic opened up the meetings to people beyond this northern California town and inspired dozens of similar groups around the world.

- [CHANTING] I can't breathe.

- No justice, no peace.

CARTER EVANS: Here at home amid one of the most racially turbulent times since the '60s, Racist Anonymous is more relevant than ever.

- I have come to admit that I am powerless over my addiction to racism.

CARTER EVANS: Nancy joined six months ago to better understand prejudice she says she learned from her parents.

Do you think you still have some of those racist tendencies?

- I do, because to this day if I see someone with, like, a headscarf.

CARTER EVANS: Like a hijab, or?

- Yes. My heart just kind of clenches.

CARTER EVANS: How do you feel when you react that way now?

- Now, terrible. But also better. It's helped me to identify all of these feelings that I had just bottled up.

- Breonna Taylor!

CARTER EVANS: They're challenging racial turmoil by first confronting themselves.

- So I've made a calculation in my head that this is working. Outing myself here so that others can see it and maybe be inspired to do something about themselves and potentially transform society, it's worth owning what I just owned.

CARTER EVANS: What do you get out of declaring in front of other people that you're a racist?

- Well, it desensitizes it. It brings the fear level down of admitting that you're wrong.

RON BUFORD: I hope it becomes common for people to think of themselves as being racist and wanting to get it out of them. It takes a discipline. It takes work. It takes thinking.

CARTER EVANS: And just starting the conversation.

RON BUFORD: Virginia, welcome.

CARTER EVANS: For "CBS This Morning," Carter Evans, Sunnyvale, California.

GAYLE KING: Wow, Carter Evans. Wow, wow, wow. It was just hard to hear somebody say, my name is Tiffany and I'm a racist.

ANTHONY MASON: Yeah.

GAYLE KING: I really appreciate the candor that they all said, that they all admitted--

ANTHONY MASON: Yeah.

GAYLE KING: --how they behave--

ANTHONY MASON: Including the pastor himself.

GAYLE KING: Including pastor Ron.

ANTHONY MASON: Yeah.

GAYLE KING: This is a great idea.

TONY DOKOUPIL: If you can't make an acknowledgment like that-- and we've all grown up in this country, we see the outcomes, we see what happens here. If you can't make that acknowledgment then you can't make change.

ANTHONY MASON: Right. But as your piece a few months back pointed out, you know, a lot of people saw the problems with race but didn't want to touch that word.

GAYLE KING: Yeah.

TONY DOKOUPIL: The word shuts down conversation in many cases, so if you can desensitize people to it, as you said--

ANTHONY MASON: Very effective.

TONY DOKOUPIL: That is progress.

GAYLE KING: And to do it full face, too.

ANTHONY MASON: Yeah.

GAYLE KING: What's the question, Anthony, you say about racism? That you don't say, are you racist?

TONY DOKOUPIL: Oh, yeah. You had an alternate word.

GAYLE KING: You had a really good--

ANTHONY MASON: What was my alternative--

[LAUGHS]

GAYLE KING: No. No. You had a really good phrase. You said, don't ask people, are they racist? You should ask-- when we were talking about systemic racism.

TONY DOKOUPIL: It was when you-- I remember Chad Wolf, for example, you were interviewing.

GAYLE KING: Do you remember it?

TONY DOKOUPIL: The former Trump administration official.

GAYLE KING: It was so good.

ANTHONY MASON: Yeah. No, it was-- there's a different approach. Because for--

GAYLE KING: Yeah, there's a different way to phrase it.

ANTHONY MASON: --for so many white people that word is very loaded.

GAYLE KING: Yeah.

ANTHONY MASON: And they're-- and they're scared of it because they think it means, you're in the Ku Klux Klan.

GAYLE KING: Yes.

TONY DOKOUPIL: You're going to be expelled from society.

ANTHONY MASON: Right. But you-- I mean, that word is so much more subtle and there's so many more subtle ways you can be racist--

GAYLE KING: Yes.

TONY DOKOUPIL: Yeah.

ANTHONY MASON: --which is what many of those people are speaking to.

GAYLE KING: It was a really good phrase you have. We have to find that tape.

TONY DOKOUPIL: We'll figure it out.

GAYLE KING: It was good.