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Guest column: Race Unity Day a time to reflect, learn, heal

by Deborah Sogge-Kermani
| July 8, 2021 12:25 AM

An observance of Race Unity Day returned to the Mission Valley this year, after a necessary absence last summer. Everyone was invited to bring a sack lunch and meet at the big shelter in the Ronan City Park for a conversation on healing the racism that has plagued our beloved country since well before its inception.

About 15 caring, compassionate and brave souls of varied backgrounds, skin color and ages showed up. We were warmly welcomed on behalf of the Baha’is of the Flathead Indian Reservation, who hosted the event.

Race Unity Day was started in 1957 by the Baha'is of the United States and is now observed around the world on the second Sunday each June. Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith said, “… regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree and leaves of one branch. … The well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

The city of Ronan made a proclamation two years ago that is to be shared annually: that the second Sunday of June would hereby be known as Race Unity Day.

The hosts, understanding that the transformation of our society depends on every individual’s effort, invited those present to introduce themselves and to offer their story, thoughts and feelings regarding racism. Heartfelt sharing and deep listening made this process both moving and productive.

Several people addressed the roots of racism. One person, who immigrated to the U.S. as a youth, shared that he had grown up in a very homogeneous, non-white culture, and knew nothing of racism until coming to America. He learned racism from watching American media, as do many others.

A fellow immigrant pointed out that every group/tribe/race tends to feel superior to every other. This seems to be a core human condition based on the age-old competitive struggle for survival. He suggested that to successfully meet the afflictions and the opportunities of this challenging time, we must strive to rise to a higher level of awareness of the historical and current realities of racism, and of the truth of the essential oneness of the human race.

Several of the white participants, who were taught by their parents to “not see racial differences,” revealed how they have learned that this attitude, natural in young children, is not enough in adults. In fact, it can become a prideful veil of denial that feeds the illusion that we are innocent of racism rather than complicit by our privilege. It blinds our hearts to the desperate suffering of the other races and allows us to abdicate our personal responsibility to help end it.

The sharing at the meeting also included many prayers, expressions of gratitude for the joy of living on this beautiful reservation, and appreciations for the wisdom and caring of the Tribes. It was a lovely day and a great opportunity to join with others to help create a better world, “a world where distinction of color finds no place, but where hearts alone are considered.” (Baha’i Writings)

Dr. Deborah Sogge-Kermani, MD is a family medicine specialist in St. Ignatius.