African American Alcoholics (Part 1)

pexels-photo(13)My names is James C, I’m an alcoholic who happens to be of African American descent. My experience coming into alcoholics anonymous is similar to most other African Americans in that there was the fear of not being accepted and being judged on the color of my skin not the content of my character. Just for the sake of truth the fact is that I had disconnected from having any good character upon entering alcoholics anonymous (imagine that).

Ergo my contempt prior to investigation was based on misinformation and visceral responses not facts and not quantifiable information. Therefore my bias was based on my exposure and experiences in my life thus creating a bit of a chasm when it came to being open minded regarding AA. As of this writing I have 18 years sober and I feel quite comfortable in A.A. The point of this writing is to discuss and illuminate some history regarding African American in A.A.

As early as 1940, when A.A. was just five years old, Bill W., our co-founder, invited two black alcoholics to attend meetings in the New York area. After hearing him speak at an institution, they asked him whether, on their release, they might join A.A. Bill said yes, and a few weeks later, they appeared at a local meeting…. By the mid-1940s, a number of black alcoholics had found sobriety in the program. Jim S., a physician, was called the originator of A.A.’s first black group. (‘Jim’s Story’ appears in the Big Book.” [Alcoholics  Anonymous, the basic text of A.A.] (“Pass It On,” 317).

Since that time, in spite of the difficulties and obstacles sometimes faced by many people of color in the wider society, thousands of black alcoholics have found a welcome and recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.  Alcoholics Anonymous has always welcomed me and any other alcoholics, in principle  regardless of race, color, religion or any other characteristic that might otherwise set them apart. However, A.A. is inescapably a part of the society in which discrimination existed strongly however to a much lesser degree today. When the Fellowship was founded — and for three decades thereafter — de facto discrimination against Blacks was accepted in many places.

Of course AA and society has evolved regarding race relations, even now when a Black alcoholic comes into an A.A. meeting, even though he may be warmly welcomed with every effort made to make him feel at home, he often feels “different” and may or may not stay based on a vexatious feeling however my experience is that it is on the individual not Alcoholics Anonymous.

Subsequently I began to wonder about the history of African Americans in alcoholics anonymous. My research started by talking to Alcoholics of all races to see what they knew about the history of African Americans in A.A. and what they’re experiences were an also reading as much possible on African American in AA, lastly contacting Alcoholics Anonymous word service in New York for further information and authentication.

For example I spoke with one white member who told me he went to an all-African American AA meeting in Alabama and he was the only white person, he stated that meeting was very good because the message was the same and the fellowship was strong and the food was good after the meeting (Laughter).

Another story was of an African American Women who states: I started out going to all-African American meetings because I was living in an African American neighborhood. I felt at ease at these meetings. It was like being any place else in my neighborhood. Recently, however, after eight years of sobriety, I moved into an area where there are lots of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Indians, but the meetings are all-white and not representative of the neighborhood.

When I walked into meetings there, I felt different at first, very ill at ease. I felt like I stood out because there was only me and at most one other African American person. I knew, however, that I needed A.A. What I found was that because I am an alcoholic, the members accepted me very warmly. My experience has shown me that I can go into any A.A. meeting, anywhere, and feel at home. In A.A., I finally found a place where I fit in.

Although alcoholism is rampant in the African American community, A.A. has never enjoyed a percentage of African American membership equivalent to the percentage of African Americans in the general population. Joe McQ., himself the first African American member of A.A. in Little Rock, Arkansas, believes cultural differences mitigate against African Americans seeking help — in A.A. or elsewhere.

In his day, he says, from the viewpoint of the young African American male, his world was divided rather sharply between the pious, spiritual-singing church-goers who were teetotalers; and the bottle-drinking, hip group who hung out in the pool halls and on the street corners. And the drinkers identified any nondrinker as a part of the pious group, of which they wanted no part. This stereotype has faded with the rapid assimilation of African Americans into the general society, but the fact that A.A. is not reaching African American alcoholics as it should has been a continuing concern of the General Service Board and G.S.O.

End of Part 1

James C. is a contributing blogger to the Recovery Guide and can be reached for feedback and contributing comments at chiz722@yahoo.com. Also see – forwardcounselingassociates.com

Michael Herbert is a Certified Intervention Professional , a Recovery Coach and a Certified Structured Recovery Counselor who provided  long and short term help for those with addiction problems and families in crisis. Contact me for more information at recoveryguide@gmail.com or 561-221-7677