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Learner strengthens belief in oneness of mankind through course on racism

May 13, 2020

Course: Anti-black Racism in the U.S.—The Most Vital and Challenging Issue
Faculty: Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, Guy Emerson Mount, Anthony Outler, Nicola Daniels

Jeanette Coffey of Alabama sent us this beautifully-written report on her experience in the Wilmette Institute’s February, 2020 course on Racism in the U.S. the course is scheduled to run again starting on June 18.

My personal learning plan sketched out some broad goals rather than specific ones. In synopsis, my broad goal was to identify and transform personal perceptions that contribute to anti-black racism. This course content has provided a wake up call regarding understanding why racism continues to be the most challenging issue in America.

I grew up in Nashville TN during the 50’s and 60’s when Jim Crow laws were still in place. I remember the mindset, the emotional climate, and a general sense of wrongness. During this course I have experienced feelings of shock, disappointment, anguish, and sometimes horror at the perpetuation of the same mindset, same climate, and same wrongness that still fundamentally exists even though clothed with facades of change. However, I do appreciate the evidence of progress since the 1960’s after listening to the voices of so many different African Americans in the reading material and videos selected for the course.Their words and the growing number of those who can articulate injustice can produce a powerful effect leading to change.

I am very attracted to the guidance from the Universal House of Justice regarding participating in “elevated conversations.” When the course first began, before Covid virus social distancing, I noticed that my awakened perceptions regarding anti-black racism were naturally beginning to weave their way into conversations when I was out just doing my daily life. In addition to words that illumine blindness regarding the ongoing challenge of this issue, deeds also count.

After decades of pioneering among the indigenous, I am attuned to noticing the subtleties of entitlement, condescension, or arrogance that can be conveyed in the words, tones of voice, and actions of people perceived as dominant (they are not always white). The practice of bringing myself to account each day offers opportunity to reflect and transform my own blindness. I plan to continue to deepen my knowledge and awareness of this issue and hopefully convey in my interactions an ever increasing authenticity of my belief that we are all one common humanity. I am committed to honoring and enjoying my African American family with untainted courtesy, respect, dignity, and love.

The foundation for the oneness of humanity was established in my family generations ago and it was inculcated into my childhood training. When I became a Bahá’í in 1979, this belief was strengthened by a story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Who only saw His Father’s (Bahá’u’lláh’s) face when he looked at another human being. This course has been another marker in strengthening the qualities of commitment and determination to truly live and express the belief in the oneness of mankind. The course material chronicles the erosion that occurs in individuals and societies that do not humbly see each other as a beautiful creation of God with their inner eyes. I do not want to be part of the disease.

The recent Ridvan message from the National Spiritual Assembly referenced a message from the Universal House of Justice that included this goal: “the communities you build will directly combat and eventually eradicate the forces of corruption, of moral laxity, and of ingrained prejudice eating away at the vitals of society.” As a Bahá’í my most fundamental desire is to participate in a community building process designed to “eradicate” “ingrained prejudice.” I appreciated the video that was included regarding Eric Dozier’s comments on study circles. It is indeed a glimmer of what can be and will be one day. However, to truly contribute to eradicating ingrained prejudice requires a vigilant daily practice that incorporates accountability. It is also a process that little by little awakens our inner eyes so that we see the qualities of each other’s eternal souls and not just the fleeting outward characteristics of the body that is the home of our soul in this earth world. 

With gratitude to our mentors and to the participants.

Contributors

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Jeanette Coffey

Jeanette Coffey lives in Arizona. This is her first Wilmette Institute course. In a thank-you note to her faculty mentor, she said "I hope to discover ongoing ways of being part of the change that is so obviously required."

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