Every day many paths lay ahead of us and I invite you to consider taking a path toward race amity. Earlier this month, I was at the William Sears Baha’i Summer School where we came together as individuals, communities and institutions to study race amity. I was so inspired to learn more about it. Amity is not a common word associated with race in this country. The more common method is to examine race and racism or race unity and racial reconciliation. I had to look it up and learn its meaning. Amity, according to dictionaries, is simply friendship. It is also friendly relations between two groups or nations.
Reflect on amity through the lens of race and the word becomes even more powerful. Perhaps some of us have rested on our laurels of race relations with the creation of historic civil rights laws and policies and have forgotten, or never learned, the powerful acts of making interracial friendships of deep roots. Let’s work together to choose a path to making friendships across the color line that will last for generations to come. Furthermore, consider how having interracial friendships and conversations can begin to eradicate racism.
A quote we studied at Summer School was written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1911:
"Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path ... What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless. The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort"
During our study, we practiced consultation. We strove not just to discuss the quote but to arrive at understandings about what is keeping us from creating lasting interracial friendships. What was really unique was that we consulted with others across the generations. By generations, I mean children starting at 9 years of age to 80-plus. It was wonderful because we had families talking about their hopes and dreams to change their practice of being inward and start the path of reaching out and making new friends. Imagine having inter-generational conversations about what we want to do and make plans to address racism as it comes up in our families and interactions. It was invigorating and spiritually refreshing. A common question was, “How do we start?”
A couple of weeks after Summer School, I spoke with a few friends from other faiths about what race amity meant to them and they told me that if we want to realize racial amity, we need to reimagine how we socialize together. Right now we live segregated and insular lives. It is challenging to go out of our comfort zones to make new friendships let alone friendships with someone from another race. The other reality is that our society sets up our spaces to keep us apart by race so now we are extra challenged to try something new.
In fact, in 2013 the Public Religion Research Institute reported racial homogeneity across social networks. It found that:
- 91% of white Americans say their social networks are also white with 5% another race.
- 83% of black Americans say their social network is black with 8% white, 2% Latino, and 3% mixed-race.
Another study from First Nations Development Institute and their Reclaiming Native Truth Project in 2018 revealed that 57% of Americans do not have a native friend. These data are astounding and makes me wonder about the state of our affairs. We clearly have our work to do as people.
The good news is that opportunities abound wherever we live — library groups, school settings, sports, music and interfaith activities, book clubs, volunteer and work opportunities. Eden Prairie offers opportunities like PeopleFest and the Human Book where we meet people from all racial backgrounds. What inspires me to choose racial amity is Abdul’baha’s promise from many years ago — “When the racial elements of the American nation unite in actual fellowship and accord, the lights of the oneness of humanity will shine, the day of eternal glory and bliss will dawn, the spirit of God encompass and the divine favors descend. ... This is the sign of the ‘Most Great Peace.'”
At the end of the day, let’s reflect on what we are doing daily to strive toward race amity. What is your first step? Here is a statement by Bahá’u’lláh to help us get started: “Close your eyes to racial differences and welcome all with the light of oneness.”