Monthly Archives: March 2008

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities

Other posts in this series:

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity.  (See this for an important disclaimer.) 

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Cure the Cancer!

In his “A More Perfect Union” speech, Sen. Barack Obama spoke these words:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.  I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas.  I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations.  I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.  I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

Obama is undoubtedly right: Where else could someone of his background find a place, and even earn a fair shot at the highest office in the land?  Although the process has been slow and painful, America is irresistibly evolving to live up to its motto “e pluribus unum” or “out of many, one.”  Yes, there is resistance, argument, confusion, but no turning back the clock.

Barack Obama’s story is only possible in America, but his is by no means the only story.  It is my story, my family’s story, and the Baha’i Faith made it possible.  I was a New Yorker, a former agnostic, of Lithuanian, German and Irish descent, when my friend Jan Smith introduced me to Terri Earl.  Terri’s background is African American, with the family tree including Cherokee and a man rumored to be a white English spy.  Terri’s mother, the youngest of eight, married a white man, and from that union came her biracial half-sister.  That sister’s children extend the family tree to Holland, and they include two blue-eyed redheads, and others that could be mistaken for Hispanic.

But the family tree also branches out to India, via Botswana (in southern Africa).  Terri’s cousin Charles encountered the Baha’i Faith on his travels to Africa, and in Botswana he met Gayatri, of East Indian descent, one of many East Indians living in various parts of Africa.  Charles and Gayatri later married.  They now live in Metro Atlanta, and have two African American English Cherokee East Indian children, a boy and a girl.

It’s not that Baha’is are required to marry across racial and ethnic lines, but we get plenty of encouragement.  When our son was little, he asked if he had to marry somebody with a different color.  The married Baha’i couples he knew included Black-White, White-Iranian, Black Iranian and Biracial-Hispanic.  (Because the Faith began and grew in Iran, there are many Baha’is of Iranian descent in America and around the world.)

Baha’is believe that marriages unite not only individuals, but families.  In my case, I don’t regard the people on the Kulkosky side as “my family” and the people on the Earl side as “her family.”  Everyone is my family and our family:

Thou must endeavor that they intermarry.  There is no greater means to bring about affection between the white and the black than the influence of the Word of God.  Likewise marriage between these two races will wholly destroy and eradicate the root of enmity.  — Abdu’l-Baha

… This union will unquestionably promote love and affection between the black and the white, and will affect and encourage others.  These two races will unite and merge together, and there will appear and take root a new generation sound in health and beauteous in countenance.  — Abdu’l-Baha

In marriage the more distant the blood-relationship the better, for such distance in family ties between husband and wife provides the basis for the well-being of humanity and is conducive to fellowship among mankind. — Abdu’l-Baha

For more information:

David Douglas and Barbara Douglas, “Marriage Beyond Black and White: An Interracial Family Portrait.”  Wilmette, Ill., Baha’i Publishing Trust.

The Vision of Race Unity: A Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States

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Text of House Resolution Condemning Persecution of Iranian Baha’is

H. RES. 1008

Condemning the persecution of Baha´’ı´s in Iran.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

FEBRUARY 28, 2008

Mr. KIRK (for himself, Mr. ANDREWS, Mr. WILSON of South Carolina, Mr. WEXLER, Mr. WOLF, Mr. CANTOR, and Mr. MCNULTY) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

RESOLUTION

Condemning the persecution of Baha´’ı´s in Iran.

Whereas in 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, and 2006, Congress declared that it deplored the religious persecution by the Government of Iran of the Baha´’ı´ community and would hold the Government of Iran responsible for upholding the rights of all Iranian nationals, including members of the Baha´’ı´ faith;

Whereas on March 20, 2006, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, revealed the existence of a confidential letter dated October 29, 2005, from the chairman of the command headquarters of Iran’s Armed Forces to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard, and the police force, stating the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, instructed the command headquarters to identify members of the Baha´’ı´ faith in Iran and monitor their activities;

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur expressed ‘‘grave concern and apprehension’’ about the implications of this letter for the safety of the Baha´’ı´ community;

Whereas in May 2006, 54 Baha´’ı´s were arrested in Shiraz and held for several days without trial in the largest roundup of Baha´’ı´s since the 1980s;

Whereas in August 2006, the Iranian Ministry of the Interior ordered provincial officials to ‘‘cautiously and carefully monitor and manage’’ all Baha´’ı´ social activities;

Whereas in 2006, the Central Security Office of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology ordered 81 Iranian universities to expel any student discovered to be a Baha´’ı´;

Whereas in November 2006, a letter issued by Payame Noor University stated that it is Iranian policy to prevent Baha´’ı´s from enrolling in universities and to expel Baha´’ı´s upon discovery;

Whereas in 2007, more than two-thirds of the Baha´’ı´s enrolled in universities were expelled upon identification as a Baha´’ı´;

Whereas in February 2007, police in Tehran and surrounding towns entered Baha´’ı´ homes and businesses to collect details on family members;

Whereas in April 2007, the Iranian Public Intelligence and Security Force ordered 25 industries to deny business licences to Baha´’ı´s;008 mstockstill on PROD1PC66 with BILLS

 

 

Whereas in 2006 and 2007, the Iranian Ministry of Information pressured employers to fire Baha´’ı´ employees and instructed banks to refuse to provide loans to Baha´’ı´-owned businesses;

Whereas in July 2007, a Baha´’ı´ cemetery was destroyed by earthmoving equipment in Yazd, and in September 2007, a Baha´’ı´ cemetery was bulldozed outside of Najafabad, erasing the memory of those Iranian citizens;

Whereas in November 2007, the Iranian Ministry of Information in Shiraz detained Baha´’ı´s Ms. Raha Sabet, 33; Mr. Sasan Taqva, 32; and Ms. Haleh Roohi, 29, for educating underprivileged children;

Whereas Mr. Taqva reportedly was detained while suffering from an injured leg which required medical attention;

Whereas on January 23, 2008, the State Department released a statement urging the Iranian regime to release all individuals held without due process and a fair trial, including the 3 young Baha´’ı´s being held in an Iranian Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Shiraz;

Whereas the Government of Iran is party to the International Covenants on Human Rights; and

Whereas in December 2007, the Iranian Parliament published a draft Islamic penal code, which violates Iran’s commitment under the International Covenants on Human Rights by requiring the death penalty for ‘‘apostates’’, a term applied to Baha´’ı´s and any convert from Islam:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

 (1) condemns the Government of Iran for its  state-sponsored persecution of Bah´a’´ıs, calls on the Government of Iran to immediately cease activities aimed at the repression of the Iranian Bah´a’´ı community, and continues to hold the Government of Iran responsible for upholding all the rights of its  nationals, including members of the Bah´a’´ı community;

(2) condemns the Government of Iran’s continued imprisonment of individuals without due process and a fair trial;

(3) calls on the Government of Iran to immediately release Bah´a’´ıs: Ms. Raha Sabet, Mr. Sasan Taqva, and Ms. Haleh Roohi; and

(4) calls on the Government of Iran and the Iranian Parliament to reject a draft Islamic penal code, which violates Iran’s commitments under the International Covenants on Human Rights.

 

 

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Iran Persecuting Baha’i School Children

Reports coming out of Iran show a new phase in that nation’s long persecution of the Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority.  The latest reports focus on harassment, intimidation, abuse and expulsion of Baha’i children in primary and secondary schools.  The Baha’i International Community first reported these abuses in April 2007, and recent reports indicate an escalating trend in recent months.

You can go here to find out more about this persecution, but here is a quote from the official U.S. Baha’i website:

Bahá’í school children in Iran are being subjected to cruel and harsh treatment as part of a government-sponsored campaign against the Bahá’í community. Reports indicate that Baha’i pupils are secretly monitored and reported upon by school officials, are subjected to vilification by their teachers and school administrators, and are forced to listen to vile and outrageous tales about the teachings of their Faith and the moral behavior of Baha’is. It has now become clear that Baha’i pupils in primary and secondary schools are being expelled on the basis of the stipulation in the “Golpaygani memorandum” that Baha’is “can be enrolled in schools provided they have not identified themselves as Baha’is”. Pupils are often expelled when they identify themselves as Baha’is, when they try to defend the Faith against utterly unfounded accusations, or when they respectfully attempt to correct gross misrepresentations of the Faith’s history in the textbooks they must study. It has also been reported that Baha’is in secondary schools are to be given grades sufficient to graduate but too low to allow entrance to university.

The above site also includes a link to a .pdf file offering more details.  That report includes accounts of expulsions, vilification of the Baha’i Faith, and even kidnapping and assault.  In a tribute to their classmates, some of these persecutions have led to protests and resistance by the Baha’is Muslim classmates.

What can you do?

First, follow this link for information about the current wave of persecutions.  Then, spread the word to all people of good will.   You can also contact your local U.S. Representative and ask him or her to cosponsor House Resolution 1008, which condemns the current persecution and calls upon the Iranian government to stop it.  HR 1008 is the 10th resolution Congress has passed concerning the persecution of the Baha’is.  Baha’is everywhere are grateful to members of Congress for their support of our beleaguered fellow believers in Iran, and their support of religious freedom in Iran and around the world.

For More Information:

State Department 2007 Religious Freedom Report on Iran, which offers details on the persecution of Baha’is, as well as Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Persecution.org, which focuses on Iranian persecution of Christians.

Go here for a 2003 article on the situation of Iranian Jews, but also this Christian Science Monitor article for a nuanced account of Jewish life in Iran in 2007. 

I have not yet found a good account of the situation of Iran’s Zoroastrians.  I welcome any contributions.

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A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Cure the Cancer!

Please see my previous post, “A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity,” for an important disclaimer.

A lot of people have been viewing my blog in the past few days, a few hundred and counting (not much by blogosphere standards, but the trend-line is up).  Aside from a bit of ego gratification, I take this trend as a sign I’m meeting the needs of people other than me. I’m particularly pleased with comments from two people in their 80s. Who says the Internet is only for the young!  Dorothy Schatz, 82, wrote this of her feelings about America’s history of slavery and mistreatment of Native Americans:

The pain in the very bowels of my soul has been caused by this anguish and wrong doing those of us that are white have ignored by our arrogance.

I am immeasurably thankful that this blight on our country is being talked about, in terms that will help us dispel this cancer from our country forever.

Another comment came from Dr. Jim Turpin, 80 years old:

Our blessed Faith , for the past 140 years, [the Bahai’ Faith began in 1844] makes it abundantly clear that the ultimate answer to racial unity is a spiritual one, recognizing in a profound way that racism is an abomination to our Creator …

In a way this identification with each other is not unlike the unity of a deep, eternity-long marriage, in that we need to recognize that we NEED each other, that limited to our own “color”, we are less than completed, less than whole.

That hunger for a new vocabulary, a new dialogue, for a unity that transcends our differences without eliding them, is real and widespread, and has been observed often as a key to the appeal of Sen. Barack Obama, particularly among the young. 

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us.  Let us be our sister’s keeper.  Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. 

For we have a choice in this country.  We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism.  We can tackle race only as spectacle …   We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel … and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.  We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

“We can do that, ” Obama went on, or we can say “not this time” and work together to solve common problems, such as education, health care, economic competitiveness and the war in Iraq.

But, as Jim Turpin declared above, the answer to our racial troubles [indeed, to all of our troubles] will not come from politics as we know it, but from spiritual sources.  Jim said in his comment: ” … this unity is supported by ample documented evidence that we- black, white, brown, red, yellow, “uncertain”- are truly made by the very same “recipe”.

Baha’u’llah provides the recipe thus:

Know ye not whey We created you all from the same dust?  That no one should exalt himself over the other … Since We have created you all from the same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest …

For the most part, humanity has not lived up to this high standard.   America, despite great strides, has yet to consistently and completely live up to the promises of its Constitution.  As Senator Obama said in his “More Perfect Union” speech:

What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

The Baha’i way is not through war or civil disobedience, but we, too seek to narrow the gap between the promise of our beloved nation’s ideal the reality of our time:

A rectitude  of conduct, an abiding sense of undeviating justice, unobscured by the demoralizing influences which a corruption-ridden political life so strongly manifests … a fraternity freed from the cancerous growth of racial prejudice which is eating into the vitals of an already debilitated society …

Thus, wrote Shoghi Effendi, great-grandson of Baha’u’llah, the Prophet/Founder of the Baha’i Faith — in 1939!  Through great efforts on the part of many brave Americans, the growth of that cancer has at least been arrested, even reversed, by some measures.  The controversy over the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s long-time pastor, proves we have yet to cure it.

Regardless of your party or whom you vote for, in fact, despite the political obstacles, you, too can work toward the cure.

Sources:

Effendi, Shoghi, “The Advent of Divine Justice,” originally published in 1939.  Wilmette, Ill., Baha’i Publishing Trust.

The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue.  A Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.  1991.  Wilmette, Ill., Baha’i Publishing Trust.

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A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity

DISCLAIMER: This post, and related posts to follow, represent my personal views regarding issues arising from the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama, and in particular the controversy surrounding Obama’s long-time pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  I have had no contact with Sen. Obama or anyone involved with his campaign.   These posts will include discussions of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and their application to said issues.  One principle of the Baha’i teachings is abstinence from partisan politics; therefore, nothing in this or any subsequent post is intended to, or should be interpreted as, endorsing or opposing any candidate for any office, or any political party, program or system.   I don’t know anything about whether Obama has had any exposure to Baha’i teachings or individual Baha’is.  The views of the Baha’i teachings in these posts are also my own and have not been reviewed by or endorsed by any Baha’i institution.  I encourage any blog visitors interested in official information about the Baha’i Faith to visit the following websites: usbahai.org, bahai.org

In his recent speech, “A More Perfect Union,” Senator Barack Obama addressed highly charged issues of Black/White* relations in the United States.  In particular, the speech dealt with controversial remarks by Obama’s long-time pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as well as Sen. Obama’s relationship with him.  While repudiating Wright’s most extreme views, Obama offered background information meant to help his audience understand the experience that could lead Wright and others to express such views.  The full text of the speech offers details.  To summarize, Obama reviewed the long and difficult history of racism and discrimination that was part of the black experience, and which still is, despite definite progress.  He brought up Black anger, which might “find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table,” and is sometimes exploited for politcal gain.  It might sometimes be voiced from the pulpit, and if that surprised many, Obama noted, it “simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.”

That anger can be counterproductive, Obama acknowledged, preventing alliances and distracting  Black people from dealing with their community’s problems.

But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

The anger is real …”  An important point.  The anger is real, even if it’s sometimes counterproductive.

But Obama then took a rare next step and addressed White anger as well.  He recognized the resentments of many whites who struggle to make ends meet and who don’t feel particularly privileged, who resent affirmative action and school busing meant to address injustices they didn’t commit, and who resent accusations that their fear of crime in urban areas is racist.  Those feelings, too have been exploited by politicians, talk show hosts and “conservative commentators.”

So here we all are, angry and resentful.  Now what?

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past.  It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life … it means taking full responsibility for own lives … 

And:

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams …

The Baha’i Faith believes that race unity is “the most vital and challenging issue” in the United States.  Vital, because the very life of the nation depends on achieving race unity; challenging, because it is difficult to achieve and makes demands on those who wish to achieve it.

Many years ago, Shoghi Effendi, great-grandson of Baha’u’llah, the Prophet/Founder, explained what American Baha’is must do to begin to meet the challenge:

Let the negroes [this was written in the 1930s] through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds.

For whites:

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at time subconscious sense of superioity, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerety of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds.

But the challenge faces both races:

Let neither think that the solution to so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other.  Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved …

Can we, America, that is, pull it off?  Obama thinks so:

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

The Baha’i Faith shares this faith in both God and our country.  See the post
A Prayer to Rein in the Forces of Division” in this blog for Baha’i scriptures praying for unity.  I leave you with these words from Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah:

God makes no distinction between the white and the black.  If the hearts are pure both are accetable unto Him … God did not make these divisions; these divisions have had their origin in man himself.  Therefore as they are aginst the plan and purpose of God they are false and imaginary.

All Baha’i quotes in these entry are from “The Advent of Divine Justice,” Shoghi Effendi, Wilmette, Ill., Baha’i Publishing Trust.

* I use “Black” and “White” with initial capitals to emphasize the terms are fundamental categories, not mere adjectives.  While it is certainly legitimate to interrogate the categories and their content, I leave that discussion to another day.

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Clark Chalks One Up for Peach County Students

For more commentary on Peach County issues, please check out Out of my Mind – Peach County Edition. 

Peach County’s new Superintendent of Schools, Susan Clark, has already earned her $145,000 annual salary with her first big decision, which cleared the way for two new schools that had been delayed for more than a year by unwise Board of Education moves.

As reported by Jake Jacobs in The Macon Telegraph, the BOE voted 4-1 to accept Clark’s recommendation for a new school at the previously approved (then disapproved) site on Kay Road in Byron and a new site on University Boulevard in the Fort Valley neck of the woods.  Chairwoman Norma Givens cast the only dissenting vote.

“Disputes about where to put the schools have gone on long enough,” the Telegraph quoted Clark as saying. “It’s been more than a year, and we’re not serving the children by not building a school. They need one.” 

The cost will be somewhere between $22 million and $24 million, with the state promising to pitch in $5.1 million.  The now rescinded BOE decision to drop the Kay Road site and a 341 site had virtually kissed off about $4.9 million.  Plus, we will now have two schools under construction at the same time, whereas the previous plans begun under Chairman Bill Gresham called for the Byron area school to go up first, then the Fort Valley area school.

Clark also showed resolve, deflecting Givens’ doubts about growth in East Peach and the possibility of students spending too much time on the bus.  Clark expressed a vision of improved schools attracting growth and requiring even more schools.  As for possible trouble with bus routes, she simply said, “We’re too wise to let that happen.”

Indeed, the people who work in the school system every day have showed enough wisdom to get kudos from SACS, which chastised only the BOE.  Is the board seeking Wisdom once again?  Things look promising.

Clark showed she’s in charge; she took the rare but permitted step of calling a meeting herself.  As Jake reported, Givens claimed only the chairperson can call a meeting, but the board’s policy manual (available here) states that any three board members or the superintendent can call a meeting.

Clark can call a meeting a week if she deems it necessary, as long as she keeps winning for the students.

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A Prayer to Rein in ‘Forces of Division’

Barack Obama, a day after decrying his pastor’s racially and politically inflammatory remarks, lamented the “forces of division” at work in the presidential campaign, reported CNN’s political blog.  He lamented Rev. Wright’s racial rhetoric:

“And it just – it reminds me that we have a tragic history when it comes to race in in this country – we have got a lot of pent up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding.

“But what I continue to believe in is that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of debates,” he added. “That this country wants something different.”

But how will we finally overcome our “tragic history” without some kind of debate, which inevitably arouses “pent up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding”?  To borrow Cornel West’s simple but deep phrase “race matters,” and so it will continue for the foreseeable future.  America’s 400 or so years of white supremacy and oppression won’t be resolved easily or quickly.  Obama is strategically correct that he can’t win the presidency with a racialized campaign, but beyond the White House, the whole nation has to solve the problem.

The Baha’i Faith considers race unity to be “the most vital and challenging issue” facing America.  Everybody probably knows it’s challenging, but it’s “vital” because the life of the nation depends on race unity.

How do we get there?  I’ll beging by offering this prayer written by Baha’u’llah, the prophet/founder of my faith, and then adress the issue further in future posts:

Oh my God!  Oh my God!  Unite the hearts of Thy servants and reveal to them Thy great purpose.  May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law.  Help them, Oh God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee.  Oh God!  Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love.  Verily, thou art their Helper and their Lord.

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