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Looking Within, Speaking Out

Sep 30, 2020

Course: Anti-Black Racism in the U.S.—The Most Vital and Challenging Issue (June 2020)
Faculty: Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, Anthony Outler, Chitra Golestani, Emily Tancredi-Brice Agbenyega, Niki Daniels

Editor’s Note: What follows are excerpts from Judith Partelow’s learning self-assessmentThis was Judith’s first Wilmette Institute course, which she took with a group led by Wandra Harmsen – see “Study Group Shares Plans for Action.”


“I had humble aspirations. I wanted to recognize any racism within myself, abolish it, and learn how to heal the racism in my neighborhood, village, county, state, and as far beyond as possible. I want to help others recognize racism where it festers, and obliterate it. I want to learn how to stand up against the hatred that occurs and not stand by helplessly. I want my love for all people to be a healing balm for our society, to effect change through my writing, and to speak out boldly in the groups I’m involved with.”

“I have come to accept that, although I always believed I was not racist, that growing up in a racist society as a white person has given me white privilege and many advantages that I took for granted as being the rights for all people. I’ve learned otherwise. By wanting to heal racism in my community and beyond, I’ve learned it’s not enough to empathize with the pain of Black people or any people of color. I’ve been living in a cloud of denial about my responsibility in the healing of racism. Just because I don’t live in an urban environment, or a neighborhood that includes people of color, does not excuse me from the work that needs to be done. I’m learning that even small steps are important and to be awake to the opportunities presented to me, or that I can create.”

“Since the course began, my writing of poetry has been focused very much on the subject of racism. In my weekly writing group of four Bahá’ís who are white women, all of whom have taken this course at this time, we have extensively discussed the subjects, resources, problems and difficulties with which we are confronted. All of us have been addressing these issues in our writing. I have decided that I am going to compile the writing we’ve done, and create a play. This is something I did in the past with my own poetry, about my life, and so as a playwright, director and actress, I know how to do it. I’m extremely grateful that the idea arose out of the conversations we have been having, and the stellar writing that the members of the group have created and generously offered to me for this creative endeavor.”

“In my viewing of the videos and readings of the course material (which I will continue to access) I have learned much. I have read the passages from Shoghi Effendi and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on racism with new understanding. Although I’ve had access to these writings for many, many years, they’ve taken on new meaning. I’ve had “aha” moments, e.g. that I must not expect people of color to respond to circumstances in the way I predetermine, or to reply to a request on my time table. I must be patient. I have learned that I must listen more closely, must offer space for BIPOC to share their experiences when they are ready and wish to do so. That I must not expect a “one size fits all” answer for the experiences of Black people. I much more appreciate that individuals speak for themselves and not for the entire population of their race. I’ve also learned that I have to be more aware of how I express myself when speaking with Black friends, even those I’ve known for years and consider to be close friends. My perspective may be received much differently from my intention.”

“I’ve come to be aware of appropriation, and how it is seen as something offensive rather than a compliment when white people appropriate language, fashion, music, art, etc. from BIPOC. I need to study this subject further, as it is an idea that’s new to me and I’m struggling with the boundaries of what is and what is not appropriate.”

“I’ve taken many more opportunities to bring up the subject of racism with friends and family since taking this course. It was not at all in my conversations prior to this course, and now it’s the leading topic. My husband and I have watched many movies together, and read and shared magazine articles and books since the course started. Although he’s not in the course, he has come to appreciate the magnitude of the topic and he shares with me his observations and resources.”

Contributors

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Judith Partelow

Judith Partelow has been a Bahá’í since 1969. She is a poet, actress and director. Her play, A Woman’s Heart, created out of her own poetry, has been produced on Cape Cod at six venues. She lives with her husband in Dennis, MA.

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