Helping Others

Taking the Show on the Road and Finding a Man

Is racism kinda like peeling an onion?  One layer at a time?

Once I decided to live as if there was a God who cared about humanity, I began to feel that my efforts to overcome racism would not be in vain. I might not solve the problem in my lifetime but others might stand on my shoulders as I stood on the shoulders of others who had come before me. Because I had this kind of vision, I began to strategize for overcoming racism and that meant taking this work on the road. My workshop content assumed that most participants had learned the lesson of racism in one form or another. I used the three principles for optimum learning and to my great delight everything went well.

Starting off, I was afraid to do the workshops by myself.  I didn’t feel I could count on myself to keep thinking effectively under difficult, emotionally volatile situations. So I worked with another person of a different ethnic heritage than my own. Her name was Billie Mayo.  Billie was a dynamic partner. She was compassionate, keenly insightful, and courageous. She gave me the courage to take the workshop on the road. She of course added her insights regarding racism, being a teacher of African American heritage working in a school system with primarily African heritage children. Billie had been a member of the Baha’i Faith for years and so had lots of contact with people of different ethnic heritages. I taught Billie RC and she brought her excellent leadership to what I had developed. Together we stepped into this unknown arena, each quaking in our shoes.

Billie and I did our first workshop for a group (not primarily Baha’i participants) the Black Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1986. It was here that I first met my husband, Charles. He was in the audience and when he shared his feelings during the closing exercise, my heart was deeply touched by what he said. At that time in my life, I had decided to work diligently to find a husband. Over the past year, I had made a decision that I was going to find a husband the way one finds a job. I was going to interview.  My first step was to clearly define my requirements, then find out what his requirements were, and see if we were a good match. I was tired of the pretense—pretending to like football, trying to be what someone wanted, etc. I had done that too many times. I was determined to be myself and trust in the process. (let the chips fall where they may).

The only “problem” that I saw with this new, handsome, interesting man, Charles, was that he was African heritage. A workshop participant once said to me, “Is racism kind of like peeling an onion–one layer at a time?”Using my personal experience in answering that question was,  “Yes, racism is like peeling an onion.” Here I was working with an African American co-facilitator, Billie, doing a workshop for the healing of racism and I had never considered even dating a man of African heritage. It was so off my radar screen that I hadn’t even noticed that emotionally I had not considered marrying an African American as an option for me.  At that moment I stood face-to-face with another layer of my own racial conditioning.

Thinking that I was getting myself off the hook, I said to Billie, “If that man was a Baha’i, I would be interested.” Remember this was not a “Baha’i” audience. So I walked up to Charles after the workshop, introduced myself, and proceeded to ask him a series of questions. In short, he was not married or dating anyone. Only five years younger than me, he had been praying and looking for a wife for three years, and he was Baha’i! After my short interview, I told Charles that I found what he had to say at the end of the workshop very moving. I was looking for a husband and I wondered if he would be interested in getting to know me better. He did and the rest is thirty years of marriage and lots of learning on each of our parts.  By the way, the greatest difference that we had that caused conflict was that Charles was raised in a large family of nine children with a mother and father. I was an only child who grew up with primarily a single parent, my mother. As a child, he was never alone. For me, I was always alone. The other substantial cause of conflict was that we both are very visually-oriented people and we each loved to decorate!  It took a while for each of us to adjust to the fact that we had to blend our design ideas rather than have it just our own way.

Overcoming my racial conditioning to not dating or marrying someone of another culture or ethnicity took some emotional healing.  My earliest memory of the demand for racial separation happened when I was graduating from high school. A white woman, Viola Liuzzo, was murdered by white supremacists after her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. She had been driving a car with several African American men in the front and back seats of her car. A Klan member pulled up beside her window and blew her face off. I had gotten the message very early in my life that there was to be no “race mixing”– it was not safe.

So for the longest time, everywhere that Charles and I went, I was expecting to be attacked or killed by other whites. I was able to process those fears by saying this statement and then emotionally releasing the feelings and thoughts that followed. The phrase was, “I am going to be close to all people of African heritage even if I have to” . . . (first thought). My first thought was “be killed”.  My body rippled with fear. I repeated the phrase with relaxed delight over and over again during several RC counseling sessions until I noticed that I was no longer experiencing the same paralyzing fear.

Each step of the way towards overcoming my racial conditioning and helping others to do the same required some emotional work and reevaluation to keep moving forward and improving. Harvey was indeed right that the quickest way out of one’s deep hurts was to stop participating in societal oppression.

My life and my emotional well-being is a testament to this reality. I now have my full adult female voice. I can immediately and without reticence thoughtfully interrupt racist jokes. It takes a lot to scare me. Though I often work with a co-facilitator, I no longer have to work with one because I now know I can count on myself to keep thinking in almost any situation. Best of all, the whole world and all the people in it belong to me and me to them. I can hold my head high wherever I go, knowing who I am and what I am committed to, regardless how the “other” may see me. This is freedom.

I found as I traveled and presented workshops (initially called “Dialogue Racism” and “Healing Racism”) that I had some unique gifts as a program designer and facilitator. Years of childhood abuse had caused me to pay close attention to people and tune into how they were feeling. This has allowed me to create safe learning environments. Of course, along the way, I made some mistakes. But each “mistake” became a teachable moment and helped me fine-tune the program.

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