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 Cheresse Burke’s learning self-assessment. This was Cheresse’s first Wilmette Institute course, which she took in a study group with two other friends who live in Denmark.
“One of the first things I concluded during this course was that I am, in fact, racist – not because I chose to be, but because systematically I have been taught all my life that I am inherently better, that I got to where I am because I worked hard, and not through advantages that have been given to me and my forebears, and in my upbringing my parents and adult role-models did not have or use the right language and perspective to educate me on how I was being systematically duped. Happily, now that I have identified this about myself I can take concrete steps to adjust my understanding. I have gotten a lot of inspiration from the materials for further study, and the study group taking this course is delving in to some of those materials so that we can further advance our understanding.”
Reflections of an author. “As an author and storyteller, one of the things I have often maintained is that there are no marginalized identities that I shouldn’t write point blank—though there are marginalized stories and contexts that I shouldn’t write. Now, while I still hold that to be true in theory, in practice I must work harder to deconstruct my racism and to fight for racial equality in the business of writing before I am fit to write certain marginalized voices.”
New insights. “I have learned so much about exactly how Black people have been disenfranchised in the US. Before, it was something I knew in a vague manner, but now I am armed with facts and with many resources to read and recommend. I have also learned a lot about issues within the Bahá’í community, and how divided we are to racial realities thanks to many political veils over our vision.”
New skills and attitudes. “I hope that I have improved some of my skills of argumentation – that might seem a little combative, but in a sense of addressing particularly Bahá’í gatherings where people may air sentiments that are, at best, thoughtless. I have tried (and am trying) to exercise phrasing that centers the Bahá’í goal of world unity and justice for all, rather than batting out rhetoric that has been co-opted by different political groups.”
Learning mode. “I will work on applying some of the knowledge I have gained here more broadly to examine how Danes take American cues to use politically-minded racism to stoke prejudice and fear into the majority white population, and I will challenge people who blindly take these cues. My study group will also be continuing, and we hope to hold a gathering at the Bahá’í center to talk about what we have learned and experienced as soon as it is safe to do so.”