How’s about Pizza and Social Justice 

Pizza and Social Justice started as an outgrowth of a weekly dinner that my wife Nancy and I host at our house.  It’s an informal event with people coming on Saturday night, bringing a dish to share and enjoying fellowship.  It’s a fun time with a lot of good food and conversation.  Over time the events of the day started taking over more and more of the conversation, and we found that often the conversation would turn in the direction of Race and other injustices that were coming to the forefront of people’s attention.

Nancy and I are Bahá'ís and we were becoming increasingly aware of the racial issues being discussed at Bahá'í Conferences through talks we had heard from fellow Bahá'ís.  One was Joy DeGruy, who authored “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”.  Another was Michelle Alexander, whose book “The New Jim Crow” opened our eyes to the conditions in the country, how we have been “setup” in this System that is working as designed, and how we now need to begin taking action to combat its effects which are blocking progress of our goal (as Baha’is see it) of the Unity of Mankind.

Through this awareness we decided that it would be good to start hosting a discussion on Racism, but we wanted something that would be more {active}, so after some thought we came up with a format that would be simple and effective. 

Because we are Bahá'ís, we know “if you feed them, they will come”!  And since we decided to do this on Friday nights (we wanted to stay away from school nights as Nancy turns into a pumpkin quite early; on school days she gets up at 5:15 to go to work), we figured ordering pizza would be the easiest way to feed folks (plus, who doesn’t like pizza?).

Once we had the food (the most important part <lol>) figured out, the next thing was the format for the evening.  We wanted to keep it as simple as possible, and being a geek, I know there were a lot of videos on YouTube.  Remembering about Ted Talks we figured the 10-15 minute video/talk format would work perfectly for presenting a topic that didn’t take up the whole evening, leaving plenty of time for people to discuss the subject. 

The next thing was to think about how the actual discussion might go.  Because of the subject matter and the desire to approach it head-on, we knew that discussions had the potential to become heated.  We did not wish to skirt the issues so we came up with ground rules to govern the conversation.  We did this not to stifle conversation but to create an atmosphere of respect, openness, support and safety, because we realize the only way to alleviate racism is to foster frank and honest discussion between people with the goal of love and unity.

We took this approach from Bahá'í Scripture:

The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.

Author: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Source: Bahá’í World Centre, Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 1982 lightweight edition Pages: 320

The rules we instituted for conversation are few and simple.

Guidelines for conversation:

  • Work to create a judgment free zone. We want people to feel comfortable being open about their feelings without concern of someone challenging them or how they feel.
  • Avoid making it a forum for partisan political discussions but make it focus on the system of Racism, not individuals or groups.
  • Encourage people in your discussion to be brief as we wish to allow as many people as possible to have an opportunity to speak.

We had the first gathering in our home on the first Friday in November 2017, and have continued ever since.  We have grown the process since then. The following spring we heard about a group that was getting together to have conversations like ours but they went out in the greater community to bring people together.  They screened a documentary called “Racial Taboo” which was made by a white gentleman who set out to find out why it is so difficult for him personally to talk about race.  By now we had a nucleus of friends who were dedicated to working towards race amity and wanted to consider hosting such an event. 

It was not in the cards to pull together a gathering using “Racial Taboo” but we did have an opportunity to host a similar event showing a movie called “The Long Shadow”.  We hosted that event in late July, 2018 at a local High School where 80+ people attended and participated in the conversation after the movie. 
After that screening we made arrangements with a local church to host a 6 week series of conversations, to give people who were interested, an opportunity to join others who wished to engage in the discussion.

In planning the six weekly sessions we concentrated on ways to build relationships with the people involved.  We had a diverse mix of people and worked to focus on the conversation.  We carefully planned out the topics/videos to take the participants on a journey by introducing them to the concept of being an ally when it comes to combating racism, that one must call it out when one witnesses it.  Then we worked on discussion about implicit bias, the aspect of racism that is hidden in plain sight, how no one is immune from it, and that it is something we must be aware of as it is always with us.

One friend who attends has a unique outlook on it.  He calls himself a “Recovering Racist”, equating it with alcoholism.  It’s a disease that is always there and we can only work on it a day at a time because it never goes away, but we don’t have to let it control us.

After implicit bias we presented videos of people sharing their experience of becoming aware of their privilege, the things they went through in learning about it, and how they are working to alleviate its effects on their life and interactions.  We used this series to work all the participants up to what we felt would be the most difficult topic, Robin Di Angelo’s talk about White Fragility. 

Overall, the conversations went very well.  I can say that, though we were worried about the difficulty of the discussion, all-in-all it was very positive and I do not feel, from my observations that people held back at all.  Personally, I expected that at some point there might be some really “difficult” times with anger, screams, violence (I know it sounds dramatic but if you don’t plan on the worst, it will come and surprise you); but everyone was very loving and understanding even when asking each other (perceived) difficult questions. 

What is the reason for that?  I feel that maybe it is because we work hard to minimize {dissent}, to communicate that this might be difficult, but that we are here to help each other. That nurturing attitude helps people to weather the difficult times so they are not so difficult, to know we all have each other’s backs and that we are not here to blame, but instead to take responsibility for our imperfections and then move forward.

What does the future of Pizza and Social Justice hold for us all?  For me, I hope for us all to use it as a tool to learn that we are not here to hate because of the past.  We are here to come to terms with our past. This will enable us to relinquish our guilt and hurt so we are then able to work together towards a constructive and better future in Unity.

Adrian & Nancy McKee
Founders P&SJ