Image: Postcard of Carnegie Beloit Public Library, Beloit, Wisconsin (1907); Wikimedia Commons. See more info on Beloit here: “The Great Migration And Beloit’s African American Heritage” by Will Cushman, WisContext.
Course: Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society (Feb., 2021)
Faculty Mentor: Jeanais Brodie
Student: Sue Alexander
Editor’s Note: The Wilmette Institute’s course Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society is a learning experience that just keeps on giving. Follow Susan (Sue) Alexander on her journey that she started with ten ambitious goals listed below. She said she hoped to incorporate all the stated course objectives into at least a basic understanding of each, by dedicating at least two to three hours each day of study. Understanding a few of the terms Sue uses may help as you read her reflections on the course. The upstander (or the active bystander) to which Sue refers near the end of her reflection is one who confronts casual racism when she or he sees it. The Personal Learning Plan is the document students create at the beginning of a course, listing the goals they hope to achieve in the course. Sue’s was longer and more specific than many are. Her goals were as follows:
1. Explain the concept of anti-Black racism; explain the Bahá’í perspective on anti-Black racism.
2. Demonstrate basic knowledge of and appreciation for the diversity of African and African American culture and history.
3. Identify key barriers to and strategies for healing racism as well as common misconceptions about racial discrimination and race unity.
4. Communicate a deeper understanding of Bahá’í writings and guidance on racial justice and racial unity.
5. Identify the “endless mutations of racial oppression” (Universal House of Justice,10 August 2018) in U.S. society, including in our own faith communities.”
6. Apply Bahá’í teachings on the eradication of racism to everyday life and community building efforts.
7. Organize materials relative to each of the course objectives in a binder with a separate section for each (even though they may overlap) so that I can refer to my notes when I have completed the class.
8. Post at least one highlight of learning, as well as a question in the Forum each week.
9. Learn about African American history in my hometown of Beloit, Wisconsin.
10. Talk to African American childhood friends to learn about their experience of growing up in Beloit and explore any misconceptions I may have hold now or in have in the past.
Here are the reflections on her goals that Sue recorded at the end of the course and what she learned:
Reflect on what you have learned in this course on Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society. Look again at your Personal Learning Plan. Did you accomplish these goals?
The largest portion of my Personal Learning Plan was to accomplish each of the stated objectives for this class. Interesting and moving material was part of every Unit, and I learned so much! I am happy to have rich resources and notes to refer to, as learning about and practicing anti-racism will continue to be a high-priority lifelong process for me. Thank you for opening this door even wider! I organized each Unit in a binder as mentioned in objective number 7, and I posted in the Forum individually every week but two. However, I actually did post the Group meeting notes for our Wisconsin Wilmette Group each week except for one (which was not initially part of my Personal Learning Plan). I have begun researching African-American history in Beloit—so far identifying names of individuals and documentaries I can refer to. This summer my fiftieth class reunion will be held, and I will have many opportunities to have meaningful conversations with others regarding our growing-up experience and racism.
Share some of the understandings and insights you have gained.
I understand on an even deeper level what daily life was and still is like for a person of color. (Although I have no clue as to what it would be like to actually be Black). I learned about contributions Black Bahá’í women and men (and other Black people) have made to society. I also realize that Black women are treated just as poorly as Black men in our criminal “justice” system. I have learned how our country and economy was built by the African-American slaves. There are many resources available from which to further study the rich African and African-American culture. Gentrification and reparations were explained more clearly to me. I have a better understanding of successes and failures of the Civil Rights Movement, and how we still have so far to go to achieve love, justice, and unity. Most of all: The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.
Has the course inspired you to acquire or improve any skills?
My reading and questioning skills have improved. I practiced identifying key concepts in the readings, discussions, and videos and also looked up the definitions of many new words. I experienced firsthand the importance of the process of independent investigation of truth, especially after reading the chapter from Lies My Teacher Told Me. There were many other eye-opening learnings: Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and Its Relevance Today by Dr. Jacqueline Battalora; “The Secret to Changing the World,” a Tedx talk by Lee Mun Wah; and “African-American Womanism and the Bahá’í Faith: New Approaches to the Most Challenging Issue,” a Wilmette Institute web talk by Layli Maparyan; among many others.
Have you experienced any new feeling or attitudes about this subject?
I have always valued the equality of people, but have a much deeper understanding about the history and complexity of this Most Challenging Issue. I have more love and respect for Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í Faith, and an even stronger commitment to doing my part in the unfoldment of this process. My empathy and compassion for others (especially those of color) has greatly increased. I have so much respect for those who have endured the long, intense, and inhumane suffering and yet have retained their resilience and willingness to work with others to make the world a better place for all.
Has there been a change in your values or beliefs?
Eliminating prejudice has always been a high priority for me, and I am grateful to have the framework and teachings of the Bahá’í Faith to be part of. I love the openness as we engage in a humble attitude of learning to deal with issues within the Bahá’í community itself.
Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. is my first Wilmette Institute course. I have highly recommended it to other people, and hope I can take more Wilmette Institute courses in the future.
Now that the course has ended, what are the ways you can apply or use what you have learned in the future?
I will attempt to discuss with others and share learnings specifically from this class. In fact, my husband I plan to present a short educational/devotional in the next few weeks on Zoom for our community and others who attend our monthly devotionals. The materials that I have organized from this class will be very helpful.
I will remain involved in a local interfaith Prayers for Justice group, as a participant, volunteer, and donor.
I will continue participating in a Zoom group called “From the Same Dust.”
I plan to join a local community action group called “Courageous Conversations.”
I will continue reviewing old and new materials and resources while further educating
I will continue deepening on Bahá’í letters from the National Spiritual Assembly and the University House of Justice as well as reading more from the Bahá’í writings.
I will do my best to be an active upstander, as I learn more about this process.
I will daily pray for the elimination of prejudice and for justice.
I will connect with old friends to discuss the issue of what it was like to grow up Black in Beloit.
I will research some of the issues that may have contributed my biases while growing up and be open to discovering biases which I still have.
I will participate in local and Bahá’í community initiatives for the betterment of minority groups.
I will continue to study with the concept of the “independent investigation of truth” as my mantra.
Thank you once again for all you and your staff have done to make this an amazing experience!