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Opinion: We need dialogue to reach unity in diversity
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Race Unity Day was established by the Baha’i faith in 1957 in order to promote racial harmony and understanding. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Merriam-Webster’s definition of racism has been broadened this year to include the notion of systemic racism:  “2a) a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles; 2b) a political or social system founded on racism.” 

No longer can I deny that I am racist simply because I do not endorse the prejudicial belief of white superiority nor do I behave with discrimination when interacting with African Americans or other minorities.  I am a racist because I grew up in a racist society with racist social systems and I am indoctrinated by my racist education. 

I do not deny this nor will I be defensive about it, because this would interfere with my recovery.  The first step is acknowledging the insidious truth: I have a reflex, something that is not consciously controlled, that reacts with fear when I am in an unfamiliar situation with too many African Americans, especially young adult males, and I do not know their intention.   

I realize this is social conditioning — from life experiences learned growing up in Marietta — but I would like to unlearn this fear, so I must first admit to it.  This realization and honest admission makes me someone recovering from racist indoctrination, and I want to heal! 

Fortunately, in my later experiences, I have made close friendships with African Americans and others different from me, and getting to know their lives, families and hearing their stories has revealed that I have much more in common with them than any differences due to skin color.   

I have overcome my fear reflex with these friends and can love and cherish them as we share our lives together, and that is the point of my letter: We must dialogue with each other and create spaces where we can interact and learn about each other as a first step to building the kind of trust needed to overcome white superiority and have the patience to understand the 24/7 vigil that African Americans endure living in a white, racist society. 

I am dedicated to achieving the unity of humankind, which is a unity in diversity, dignifying and respecting all ethnicities.  As Baha’u’llah so nobly states in this Hidden Word: 

“O children of men! Know ye not why we created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since we have created you all from one same substance, it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is my counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.” — The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh 

Bill Neiheisel 

Oakwood 

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