Applications now open: Social Transformation Certificate Program--deadline 8 January, 2024

Student Puts Anti-Racist Learning into Practice

May 1, 2023
Five hands of different skin color on wooden table.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Course: Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society (Spring 2023)
Faculty Mentor: June Thomas

In June 2022, prior to beginning the course Anti-Black Racism, another Bahá’í and I opened a race-focused devotional gathering as an outgrowth of the consultation in our Local Spiritual Assembly about race and the commonweal. I have also participated in an ongoing daily family devotional since before taking the course, and all of the course material was used for consultation in that devotional. These two environments served as protected spaces in which, through daily life experiences of a community-building activity and devotional gathering, I could practice the integration of the intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual outgrowths of the course. This activity was similar to the practice element of a Ruhi course and provided much of the learning during the 10 weeks of the course.

The following were the goals of my personal learning plan and (in italics) my progress in achieving them: 

-Gain some level of personal transformation to reconcile my personal discomfort with my continued participation in racism in the U.S. This has improved through the participation in the two devotional gatherings.

-Acquire methods of overcoming an “inherent sense of superiority and a patronizing attitude.” This has mostly been achieved through challenging and charged consultations in the two devotional gatherings.

-Apply the guidance of the Universal House of Justice in the use of the Word of God in seeking Oneness. The course gathered together and applied this guidance in a unique and very useful way for my development. Works by Bahá’í scholars such as Derik Smith also helped in this process.

-Learn to create spaces that allow for “intimate, spontaneous and informal association.” The course was very limited, in both opportunity and depth, in providing ways to achieve this goal. Although this was due to the constraints of the course setting, this seems a primary strategy for progress. I have achieved major progress in this area in the devotional gatherings.

-Practice these acquired capacities in the framework of the Nine-Year Plan in my community and cluster. This is ongoing and expanding because of new material and books being introduced in both of the devotionals. Also, the Local Spiritual Assembly has committed to ongoing study and action about anti-Black racism. Assembly members, as a group, attended a lecture about African Americans in Oregon and identified ourselves to the speaker as Bahá’ís. We also identified Beatrice Cannady, the person for whom the local elementary school was named, as an African American civil rights leader in Oregon in the 1920s who was a Bahá’í. 

By acquiring the capacities and spiritual tendencies indicated above, be ready to participate in the discourse of our society in Clackamas County. This is an area of concern for me. I believe that I have acquired new provocative and powerful knowledge. For a white male with all the colonial and white supremacist tendencies from my American experience that I am working to overcome, this new knowledge in an arena of public discourse and potential leadership can be very conducive to re-engaging old habits and tendencies. This is particularly true in environments dominated by white friends who do not accept or agree with the oneness concept and our attempts at exploring ways to engage in emotionally charged conversations. Without real spiritual transformation, I think this is particularly dangerous. If we have the new “invitation language” and expect equality of participation and speech for friends of color, but not the commitment to changed behavior and some practice in new behavior (like being called out for dominating conversations), we can again inflict predictable harm to people who end up feeling tricked yet again.



Michael Balter (Milwaukie, Oregon)

Michael Balter is retired. He has more than 40 years of management experience in all aspects of leading, planning, policy development, financial planning and management, fund raising, and board relations. He continually demonstrates his ability to bring diverse groups into cooperative action to achieve goals. Throughout his career, he has brought a leadership capacity to create and sustain the process of change while maintaining organizational stability and productivity. Michael is frequently called upon to influence and develop public policy both outside and within governmental organizations to enhance the public welfare. He is an Adjunct Professor at Portland State University School of Social Work.

Up Next...