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Opinion: Conversations about race require patience, tact and open minds

I agree with Shannon Casas’ March 20 column that being “colorblind” may mean that we are taking a simplistic approach to some complex issues. 

Prejudice is baked into the history of our American nation, where democracy for all isn’t a given. Prejudice is complex, nuanced, confusing, misinterpreted and inherited from prior generations.  It’s steeped in our cultures, habits, behavior, speech, media, literature, textbooks. It’s layer upon layer of fear. 

What about all the subtle assumptions we make as we go through each day? Aren’t those tinged with bias or suspicion, based on stereotypes in our minds? Do we call out our friends or family who express negativity about individuals or groups based on stereotypes or assumptions? Do we sit in silence, or worse yet, join in the vilification? I too have been affected. 

We may have never been subjected to taunts, comments or actions based on our gender, religion, language, sexual orientation, nationality or skin color. It’s hard to relate to something you have never experienced or solve a problem you can’t see.

If I am part of the group at the “top,” which has most of the power, then it’s easy for me to feel secure, without much at risk. But actually I have a lot at risk, because I am part of the whole. What affects other people will affect me and my family. 

Understanding one another requires stepping way out of our comfort zone and demonstrating supreme effort to build bridges. Getting uncomfortable is a positive step forward.  

Rational consultation through meaningful conversations is needed. We must dedicate our lives to listening and learning, not shouting or arguing. Tremendous patience, tactfulness, trust and open mindedness are required. 

The paralysis of fear can be changed by considering views different from our own. We will need to do this hard work together. Most of all, we will need to respect one another as human beings. 

Racial prejudice is viewed as the most challenging issue facing America in the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States published a document entitled “The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue” (1991). This document is still relevant, 30 years after it was published. You can read it at by searching for the title. It outlines the difficult steps necessary for overcoming prejudice in our nation. 

Our beliefs may cause us to separate people into “us” and “them.” But in reality, there is only us.

We are one humanity. Viewing all people as one will not occur through politics. Enacting laws that protect the rights of all people is vital. 

But truly overcoming all forms of prejudice requires that we examine our own thoughts and motives. It requires taking honest responsibility when prejudice and mistrust infects our hearts. Overcoming prejudice is a spiritual test that all of us must face. Just like many other tests, it begins again with each sunrise. We are faced with it every day we are alive.

Robin Neiheisel


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