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The problem with prejudice

Hoda Mahmoudi, Baha’i chair for world peace at the University of Maryland, is traveling to the Rogue Valley to present three free workshops on the topic of race.

The workshops, titled “The Problem with Prejudice: an Obstacle to Peace,” and will be offered:

From 12 to 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Medford library, 203 S. Central Ave.

From 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Boardroom in Grants Pass, 1867 Williams Highway, No. 110

From noon to 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 87 Fourth St., Ashland

At each workshop, Mahmoudi will discuss the history of race in America and how addressing and accepting that history is a part of the solution.

“I’ll talk about how important education is, especially of children in schools, and how the curriculum in our schools doesn’t address the issue,” Mahmoudi said. “I think first of all we have to look at the history, which is unfair and unjust, and know that there is a social construction of race and, of course, we have a difference of skin color or the shape of our eyes or whatever, but we’re still one species and one people.”

She will also discuss personal responsibility in eliminating racism.

“You can pass all the laws you want, but ultimately it’s individual actions in trying to bring about racial equality that will make a difference,” Mahmoudi said. “That means looking at ways we can reach out to people who are different from us and get to know them. How do we break down the structural racism?”

As part of each workshop, she wants to hear from people about their idea of racism in the area and what ideas would work well here to bridge the divide.

“It can be as simple as breaking bread together, because I think there’s this huge level of discrimination in the country and segregation that keeps various populations apart, and breaking that cycle is a very important start,” Mahmoudi said.

She said she’ll also speak about the importance of educating everyone, especially children, to reconstruct our view on race in America.

“We have very strong research that shows even 3-year-olds look at skin color as the-darker-the-worse,” Mahmoudi said. “Even kids of color will say the better kid is the white kid, and this is disturbing.”

She said in her role at the university, her job is to learn how to accomplish world peace and to share that knowledge. She said she finds racism to be one of the biggest barriers when it comes to building a peaceful society.

“As long as you have a society where a group of people are marginalized and unfairly treated, there won’t be peace, because those injustices are so deep and so wrong, they basically take away a human being’s basic rights, their dignity,” Mahmoudi said. “And every human being has a right to dignity, so there will always be conflicts and tension and sometimes violence in that society.”

She said the best metaphor she could use would be to compare racism in American society to a human body with failing organs.

“In the human body, if you have a couple of organs that are not functioning, the whole system is not functioning properly,” Mahmoudi said. “It will lead to either chronic illness or death.”

She said the solution to racism doesn’t start on a grand scale, it starts on a small level and grows.

She said the best way to address this issue on the local level is to come together for discussion, reach out to marginalized populations and give them a voice. She said in any society it is the role of the dominant population to safeguard the marginalized populations.

“Who are the people that we just don’t ever interact with?” Mahmoudi asked. “In what ways might we be able to reach out to them? How can we sit at the same table with these people in our community? Breaking the fear of the other is one of the most important steps toward changing culture.”

Mahmoudi’s visit is sponsored by the Baha’i community in Rogue Valley.

Before joining the University of Maryland, Mahmoudi served as coordinator of the research department at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel, from 2001 to 2012 and has served in a variety of university capacities.

“Historically, we know that when human beings have cooperated, they’re able to accomplish amazing things regardless of their nationality or cultural background,” Mahmoudi said.

For more information about the workshops, call 541-708-1935.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

(Sept. 10-Story updated to reflect the organization's new phone number.)

Hoda Mahmoudi