How Racist am I/are We?

In his Sunday New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof reports: “To my horror, I turn out to be a racist.”

Kristof had just taken an on-line test called “The Policeman’s Dilemma” from the University of Chicago in which the participant has to decide whether to shoot 100 black or white men who are sometimes holding a gun and sometimes holding a cell phone.  He reports he shot armed black men more quickly and holstered his gun more quickly when facing unarmed whites.  Whites and many blacks who take the test show similar bias, he added.

He then discusses Harvard’s “implicit attitude tests,” which reveal “a stunningly large proportion of people who honestly believe themselves to be egalitarian unconsciously associate good with white and bad with black.”

Kristof then goes on to discuss gender and race bias, and suggests gender bias might be harder to overcome.

I don’t wish to argue that point, but I do want to expand the context beyond what Kristof covered.  The tests Kristof reported on reveal something about individual bias, but from whence comes individual bias?  From our society and culture.  Racism in America is systemic.  It’s been built in since earliest colonial times.  It took America’s bloodiest war and the often bloody Civil Rights Movement to weaken the structure of racism.  Though no longer the mighty edifice it once was, racism still stands.  We can and must change individual attitudes, but only as part of the larger goal of dismantling the system.

 

 

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Let Us Now Praise Dangerous Men

NOTE: This post is my own opinion.  It has not been reviewed by or endorsed by any insitution of the Bahá’í Faith.  For official information on the Bahá’í Faith, please see these sites.  U.S. Bahá’í website and Bahá’í International Community website.

I’ve been bored the past week or so.  Anniversaries of significant dates can bring out the boredom in me.  It’s all the unoriginal things people write and say, in this case around Martin Luther King and the commemmoration of his death.  It is obligatory to wax poetic about “King’s legacy” and the “dream” and to analyze “how far have we come and how far we still have to go.”  If I were a gambling man, I would bet someone a nice sum that I could compile a speech or article about Dr. King using nothing but strung-together clichès, and get compliments about it.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I admire Dr. King and I hope and pray for the further development of his legacy.  I just get suspicious when people across the entire political spectrum can invoke King’s “legacy” or  a few cherry-picked phrases in order to gain some kind of political credit.  When you turn a man and his legacy into clichès, you make him safe and boring.  And Martin Luther King, in his day,  was neither safe nor boring.

King was not assassinated so that school children could write reports about his dream and his legacy, or to make him an icon for fireplace mantles, often next to JFK.  He was killed because he was dangerous.  That now much-loved dream was a nightmare to many.  If justice flowed and righteousness cascaded, that would threaten the unjust and scourge the wicked.  The fulfillment of that dream would have ended the racial power and privilege so vigorously amassed and fiercely defended.  The unfolding of King’s legacy was chipping away at the entire social order, and his moves into economic issues and anti-war activism expanded the threat.  In an op-ed piece in the the Sunday New York Times, King biographer and historian Taylor Branch wrote: “The St. Louis Globe-Democrat called Dr. King ‘one of the most menacing men in America today …’ ” At least one newspaper publically acknowledged King’s dangerousness.

Why was Mahatma Gandhi assassinated?  He, too, was a threat to the social order, indeed, the cultural and religious order.  He was killed by an orthodox Hindu, not an agent of the British Empire, although the empire had fought him and persecuted him for decades.  Gandhi was a champion of the downtrodden, of the Untouchables; he did not respect the ancient, established order.  That made him a threat.  With India’s independence won, Gandhi’s continued presence posed a threat to the interests of many within India.  Gandhi — that paragon of non-violence — was more dangerous than an army with guns and bombs.

Let’s discuss even greater, more dangerous men.  Why was Jesus Christ crucified?  He, too, was a threat.  He was a threat to the Jewish hieararchy and a threat to the Roman Empire and its social and political order.  Anyone who liked the established order didn’t want this Jewish agitator to gain a following.  This man who counseled turning the other cheek, this healer, this friend to prostitutes and all the lowly and despised, was more of a threat than armed revolutionaries.

Why did the Arabs make war on the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — and force him into exile?  Again, he threatened the established order and all its arrangements of power and privilege.  The Messenger of God and his followers exposed the decadence into which the Arabs had fallen.  That made him a threat to many.

Likewise, when The Bab arose in Persia in the 19th century and preached a new revelation, he threatened the power and privilege of the mullahs, and endangered the social order.  He was imprisoned and eventually shot by firing squad (of that incident I’ll have more to say in a future post).

The Bab announced the advent of Bahá’u’lláh.  He, too, was persecuted: tortured, robbed of his considerable wealth, and exiled repeatedly.  That mild-mannered, slight man was a threat to both the Persian and Ottoman empires.  Thousands of his followers were tortured and murdered.  That persecution continues today in Iran.  Baha’u’llah was dangerous.  Those who followed him believed such dangerous things as harmony of science and relgion, indepdendent inquiry into truth, equality of men and women, the oneness of God, religion and humanity — and a new revelation from God.

And so, next January 15 or April 4, or whenever the matter comes up, don’t bore me with more clichès about a pretty dream and a benevolent legacy.  Excite me, stir me up, agitate me — threaten me, with tales of the dangerous man who demanded that Christians be Christians and that America live up to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  On Easter and Christmas or any other day, tighten my guts with stories of that dangerous, yet meek, Jewish man who scared the mightiest empire on earth — and eventually conquered it.

I am a Bahá’í.  I follow a dangerous man, Bahá’u’lláh, who came to unite humanity, who came to drag us from the dungeons of our materialism, who hauls us kicking and screaming from the passions and divisions of our beloved politics.  He brings a world in which “none may exalt himself over another.”  He promises a future in which “these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars, shall pass away and the Most Great Peace shall come.”  He gives a global society: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”  If nationalism is in your soul, and you don’t have time for the duties of citizenship, then that’s a dangerous thing.

I’m working to bring about these dangerous things.  But I come, as my Lord and Master Bahá’u’lláh commands me,  in love, with open arms.

 

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Obama Stirs Multiracial Dialogue

Note: This post is one of several that discusses issues raised by Sen. Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech, from the perspective of the Baha’i Faith.  It is not an endorsement of Sen. Obama’s candidacy.  Please see the first entry (link below) for a full disclaimer. 

It took some time, but Sen. Barack Obama’s presence on the national scene is now shining the spotlight on multiracial people in the United States.  After steering away from race for most of his presidential campaign, Obama finally took on those inescapable issues in his “A More Perfect Union” speech.

In a March 31 article, New York Times reporter Mireya Navarro talked to some multiracial Americans about their experiences and their impressions of Obama’s speech.  The article began with the story of a Black-White woman whose black friends gave her grief for wearing a T-shirt that said “100 percent Black.”  That darn category problem again:

Being accepted. Proving loyalty. Navigating the tight space between racial divides. Americans of mixed race say these are issues they have long confronted, and when Senator Barack Obama recently delivered a speech about race in Philadelphia, it rang with a special significance in their ears. They saw parallels between the path trod by Mr. Obama and their own.

 The article notes how some people challenge multiracial Americans to label themselves “by innocently asking ‘What are you?'”  (I’m not sure how innocent that question is, but I’ll give those generic interrogators the benefit of the doubt.)  In a previous post on this blog, I brought the issue of multiracial people’s struggle to find a vocabulary to “describe themselves to themselves” and to describe themselves to others.

As the Times article put it:

Americans of mixed race say that questions about whether Mr. Obama, with a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, is “too black” or “not black enough,” as the candidate himself brought up in his speech on March 18, show the extent to which the nation is still fixated on old categories.

 “There’s this notion that there’s an authentic race and you must fit it,” said Ms. Bratter, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University in Houston who researches interracial families. “We’re confronted with the lack of fit.”

But the times they are a changin’, and that fit is getting a bit easier.  The Times reports the 2000 Census showed 3.1 million interracial couples (I assume this is all combinations) or 6 percent of married couples.  Those numbers are eight years old, with a new Census only two years away.  The 2000 Census also showed 7.3 million million Americans selecting more than one race, or 3 percent of the population.  But the really significant number is that 41 percentof those who self-identified as multiracial were under 18 in 2000.  Many of those legions are now in the Obama campaign, or at least expressing support for someone whom they see as like them.

Read the Times article, and view the accompanying video of a meeting of young multiracial people.  You’ll see people as diverse as the world.  Yet America, despite its motto “e pluribus unum” or “from many, one” hasn’t necessarily wanted to see these faces.

In an article posted on commondreams.org, Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker wrote of Obama:

He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.

This is the change America, or White America, at least, tried to “hide, ignore, kill” with laws barring the “abominable mixture and spurious issue,” of interracial sexual relations.  Yet a powerful counter-narrative has been at work for a long time.  In 1831 — 177 years ago – abolitionist activist and publisher William Lloyd Garrison wrote this about interracial marriage:

“If he has ‘made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth,’ then they are one species, and stand on a perfect equality: their intermarriage is neither unnatural nor repugnant to nature, but obviously proper and salutary,” [as democracy, education and Christianity spread] everyone would intermarry and, “… the earth is evidently to become one neighborhood or family.”

Such a vision was way ahead of its time, but we now hear such sentiments all the time.  It is a major theme of Obama’s campaign.  Baha’u’llah, the Prophet/Founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”  His son, Abdu’l-Baha, wrote this:

Consider the flowers of a garden … How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants … were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enriches and adorns the garden, and heighten the effect thereof. In like manner, when diverse shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest. Naught but the celestial potency of the Word of God, which rules and transcends the realities of all things, is capable of harmonizing the divergent thoughts, sentiments, ideas and convictions of the children of men.

 

Multiracial scholar G. Reginald Daniel discusses multiracialism from a more academic perspective, as summarized in my masters thesis:

“In the 1990s, the appearance of multiple or plural identities, be they racial or otherwise, are not merely symptomatic of the tendency of fin-de-siécle relations between humans to become ‘deranged’ or ‘disjointed,’” Daniel (2002, p. 83) writes. This “explosion of plural identities …” seeks to “ … transcend this loss of continuity by reconnecting and reintegrating humans with the life history of the universal and collective self,” (Daniel, 2002, p. 183). This emerging multiracial identity is based on “the ‘Law of the Included Middle,’” and thrives on concepts of “‘partly, ‘mostly’ or ‘both/neither,’” …

 

I know a lot of people who are “partly, mostly” or “both/neither” — my son, for instance, or my nieces and nephews.  Our family tree has roots in four continents: North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.  Although I’m still White, I’m not quite as White as I used to be.

So the next time you ask somebody, “What are you?” be prepared for an answer that might confuse you.  Just remember the confusion is yours.

Other entries in this series:

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity

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

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities

See also:

A Prayer to Rein in ‘Forces of Divsion’

Multiple Answers to Race Question from the Same Person

Why Obama (and the Rest of us) Can’t ‘Transcend Race’

Obama’s ‘Trip’ Over and Around the Color Line

Links:

The Mavin Foundation, which bills itself as “the nation’s leading organization that builds healthy communities that celebrate and empower mixed heritage people and families.”

The Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans, “the oldest, largest and most influential nationwide organization in the US representing the multiracial, multiethnic community.”

Multracial Sky at wordpress.com

 

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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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