Many years ago, I had an experience that taught me a lot about racism. It showed me that improving racial harmony in society begins on the individual level.
Since girlhood I’ve loved and tried to live by the idea of loving my neighbor as myself. I’d been taught to take to heart this biblical injunction, which appears in many religious traditions in various forms. When I was a young adult, however, I had an experience in which I badly missed the mark and let in an unloving, prejudiced reaction that really hurt someone – and deeply disturbed me.
One morning as I was leaving for work, I discovered my car (which had been in the driveway) had been broken into and an expensive built-in radio had been dismantled and stolen. I immediately called the police. When asked by the officer if I had seen anyone at the car, I said no, but my mind immediately went to two young black men who had been in my yard the day before, checking out a small yard sale I was having, so I mentioned them.
They lived not far from my apartment, so the officer paid a visit. Their mother was visibly upset when she walked over to confront me afterward. I could not summon the courage to speak with her, because I felt so ashamed by how I had rushed to judgment without any basis for doing so.
I began some serious soul-searching. Why had I concluded that these young men were responsible for the theft? Was it simply on the basis of their race? I had to admit that my immediate blaming of them had been racial profiling and was totally unjust. I could see that I had no valid reason to assume they had stolen the radio, and every reason to assume they hadn’t.
Racial profiling, or profiling on any similar basis, is always wrong, but I realized I had also gone against the spiritual standpoint I value. My study of Christian Science has helped me see that the starting point for rightly judging others is to see that every individual is actually a child of God, made in God’s image, spiritual and good.
One aspect of this that I have always loved is the idea that physical appearance does not make up our identity. In fact, the opposite is true. God’s creation is totally spiritual, expressing all the qualities of goodness, beauty, grace, and love that our divine creator includes. As divine Love itself (see I John 4:8), God is infinitely good. So the divine creation must be also.
However, this grand spiritual fact must be understood and lived, not simply professed. I realized I had slipped into thinking of my neighbors as merely physical, defined by their skin color, and had allowed a distorted, uncharitable suspicion to associate itself with that outer form in my thought.
In an essay titled “Love your enemies,” the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, makes plain that even in a case where someone has done something wrong, we have to choose our thoughts carefully, based on the higher, spiritual understanding of God’s creation. She writes: “Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? Is it a creature or a thing outside thine own creation?
“Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception?” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 8).
I thought deeply about how in this case I had formulated an enemy in thought without cause, and how Christ Jesus gave us the opposite example. He loved everyone, regardless of their background. In fact, as the Son of God, he came into the world to correct distorted, material views of manhood and womanhood. He saw each individual for what they really were: God’s perfect, spiritual reflection.
This compassionate view, flowing from the heavenly Father, enabled him to heal the sick and redeem the sinning, and by lovingly interacting with individuals from marginalized groups like the Samaritans, he gave clear proof that he saw everyone in their true, spiritual nature, as genuinely holy and pure.
Inspired by these ideas, I saw my need to recognize that we are all absolutely equal in the sight of divine Love, our Father-Mother, and I prayed to become truly conscious of this. This Christlike view lifts the deceptive shade of ignorance, pride, and suspicious distrust of others based on race, cultural background, or other stereotyping. As I prayed, the spiritually correct picture of myself and those young men became clearer to me. We were brothers and sister.
Soon after, an opportunity arose to visit the family and to offer a heartfelt apology and also a gift. They seemed to appreciate this.
I couldn’t leave it there, though. I resolved to pay more attention to my thoughts daily and to be more alert to racial and cultural stereotyping, and to take a stand against it in my prayers and actions. This has also led to more meaningful relationships with others, such as the wonderfully diverse group of people I’ve gotten to know through monthly volunteer work. It truly feels like family when we are together.
Each of us can let God, Love, shape our outlook and lift us to a higher, more loving standpoint of ourselves and everyone we meet as God’s blessed creation – spiritual, beautiful, and pure. This dissolves the clouds of fear, racism, and undue suspicion that block harmony and progress.