Longing: Stories of Racial Healing is a white couple’s personal account of a journey that pulled them out of their comfortable notions about race and into the lives of people of African descent, where they faced their greatest challenge – their own racial conditioning.
In 1997 Gene and Phyllis Unterschuetz set out on what they thought would be a six-month trip around the United States, traveling in an RV and giving talks about race unity. Six months turned into ten years; throughout their time on the road – during which they facilitated workshops, taught classes, and participated in hundreds of discussions – the authors documented their personal process of transformation. In this collection of true stories, they describe uncomfortable and embarrassing situations, examine their mistakes and unconscious assumptions, and share what they have learned about being white. They also introduce to their readers the black friends and strangers who taught them to see beyond superficial theories and to confront the attitudes that have shaped how Americans think about race. But above all, their stories speak about the longing they discovered everywhere they traveled – a longing to connect and to heal from the racial separation that has so deeply wounded this country.
The objective of these stories is to encourage readers to form authentic interracial friendships, convince them that they will survive their inevitable mistakes, and empower them to look honestly at their own conditioning. It is hoped that the book will be used as a catalyst for discussion in any venue addressing the dynamics of race.
Download our Reader's Guide for suggestions about how to use this book for group discussion.
Some principles that inspire these stories:
There is only one human race. We are all part of an organic unit, and our collective wellbeing depends upon our willingness to see each other as family.
The coming together of humanity is a divinely ordained process, the next step in our shared social evolution. Each individual has a role to play in this process.
Creating racial harmony and justice is an urgent need of the present time. The accomplishment of unity among people who have been separated by race is a necessary pre-requisite for the establishment of peace in the world.
Everyone in this country has been harmed by racial conditioning. This programming often functions at an unconscious level and dictates the way we perceive one another. Forming authentic connections with people from whom we’ve been separated is the antidote to racial conditioning.
The goals of Longing: Stories of Racial Healing:
to give readers hope that racial healing is possible and reassurance that there are many people of different backgrounds who are engaged in its realization.
to encourage readers to explore how racial healing can be demonstrated in their personal relationships.
to illustrate with concrete examples the challenges and rewards of uncovering and striving to eliminate racial conditioning from our minds and hearts.
to make a contribution to the work of creating healthy communities based on compassion and justice.
What’s different about this book?
Longing: Stories of Racial Healing is not a journalistic report or an activist’s manual, not one person’s memoir or autobiography; it does not debate or lecture. It avoids blaming, labeling, and judging, concentrating instead on the authors’ own fears and ignorance, their clumsiness and conditioning. Its stories sometimes cite examples of institutional racism, but they focus more on the change that can happen only in individual hearts. The book follows its authors’ progress over the course of ten years, divulging their secret thoughts, watching them struggle with difficult decisions, noting their expanding level of comfort.
There is an element that makes this book very different from others that address the issue of race. It is written by two people – a married couple – who set off together in an RV with no clue what they were doing and no intention of writing a book. They have neither academic credentials nor professional expertise. They became authors not because they thought they had something important to say, but because people who heard their stories urged them to write. Probably because of this lack of formal education about racial issues, their book bypasses theories and deals directly with the human heart. The encounters that moved them most deeply were chosen for inclusion in this volume, which reads more like a series of short stories than a work of non-fiction. However each story is true, describing real people the authors met in their travels and real interactions they experienced.
Phyllis and Gene propose to their readers that while racial prejudice has affected everyone in this country, it can be eliminated by forming interracial friendships, examining unconscious conditioning, and making decisions based on a belief in the oneness of the human race. Longing: Stories of Racial Healing gives examples of how this process can work and encouragement to those who wish to engage.
Is this book about race or about spirituality?
The stories in Longing describe the authors' efforts to overcome racial conditioning and separation. In some of these accounts, Gene and Phyllis use the principles and practical guidance of the Bahá'í Faith to help them identify priorities and make decisions. They also maintain that racism is a spiritual problem and that its solution requires the development of spiritual capacities. It is not their purpose, however, to suggest that their personal beliefs offer the only approach to racial concerns. Rather they hope the stories in this book will convince their readers that all of us need to call on our higher selves when addressing issues of race.