The Iranian Woman Who Made Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Possible

A great woman in Bahá’í history set in motion the forces that led to Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential campaign.

DISCLAIMER: This post, and more to follow, discusses issues raised by the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on those issues.  In keeping with Bahá’í principles of non-partisanship, this post and others related to it are not intended to, and should not be interpreted as, endorsing or opposing any candidate, party or political program.  The views in this and related posts are my own and have not been reviewed by any Bahá’í institution.  For official information about the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the sites of the U.S. Bahá’í community and the International Bahá’í Community.

 

In her October 2007 Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politicsat Iowa State University, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton brought up the significance of the Seneca Falls Convention:

“One of the aspects of politics that has changed dramatically with the entry of so many women is that a lot of these stories are now just out there, people are talking about them, trying to determine what to do to give someone who is struggling a better chance. When I think about the struggle that women had to even get the vote I don’t get discouraged, I get inspired.

The first women’s convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. It was a hot July and a group of women decided that they wanted to meet together at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls to see if they could draft a statement claiming their rights as women. At that time of course our laws didn’t really give women rights in any aspect of life, not just at the voting booth but in inheritance and marriage and child custody and so much else. So these women and a few brave men joined together on that hot July day to begin a process that led to the Declaration of Sentiments. It was the first document that we know of anywhere in the world where a group of people had come and said women deserve their rights. …”

Unknown to those feminist pioneers, not long before the gathering at Seneca Falls, thousands of miles away in Iran, a.k.a. Persia, the woman now known as Tahirih (pronounced, roughly, TAH-hi-ray), which means “The Pure One,” launched the movement for gender equality that led, in America at least, to women’s suffrage in 1920 and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the first time in U.S. history a woman has had a shot at winning.  As to whether Clinton is the right woman for America, I leave that decision to the voters.

Tahirih was a revolutionary woman from a land where nobody expected one.  She was born around 1817 in the province of Qazvin in Iran.  Her unusually indulgent cleric father allowed her to receive a religious education.  But like any other Iranian woman in that time, Tahirih was given in an arranged marriage in her teens.  But that did not deter her later career as a religious heroine.

In 1844, Tahirih became a devoted follower of The Báb (The Gate).  The Bábis, as the Bab’s followers were known, believed him to be The Qa’im (“he who shall arise,”), also known as the return of the Hidden Imam, whom Shi’ites believed would usher in the Last Day and the coming of an even greater figure, The Mahdi. 

Tahirih traveled to various cities in the Ottoman and Persian empires, preaching the message of The Báb.  She had many talents that helped her cause: Tahirih was an eloquent speaker, a fierce and unbeatable debater, a gifted translator, and gifted poet (some consider her to be among Iran’s greatest even today).  She was also said to be a great beauty, but no authentic images of her exist.  Her life followed a pattern: she would arrive in a city and make a favorable impression on many people with the force of her personality, her deep religious learning and passionate preaching, and win converts to the Bábi cause (the predecessor of the Bahá’í Faith).  Then her activities would lead to often violent reactions; she would be arrested or run out of town, or both. 

To get a sense of Tahirih’s impact, readers need to picture Iran in those days.  Women’s status was extremely low — the concept of “women’s rights,” still controversial in the West, did not even exist.  Women rarely ventured out in public, and when they did, it was always in the company of a husband or close male relative.  And women were always covered from head to toe.  For a woman to speak in public, and to have arguments with male clerics — and especially win all the arguments — was revolutionary and more than a little dangerous.  That Tahirih was able to favorably impress so many and win converts testifies to her passionate devotion to her faith and rare abilities.

It was in the summer of 1848 that Tahirih made her most dramatic move.  That year was a time of great upheaval, with revolutions breaking out across Europe.  It would prove no less tumultuous in Iran.  In the summer of 1848, a group of Bábis met in the village of Badasht.  They had two purposes: To see what they could do about freeing The Báb, their leader, who was being held in a remote prison, and to decide the future course of their movement.

Among the people gathered at Badasht was Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Báhá’í Faith, who at the time was only a prominent leader of the Bábis.  Báhá’u’llah would not announce his own mission for another 15 years.  On a day when he was ill, Bahá’u’lláh asked some of the leading Bábis, including Tahirih.

The following is taken from “The Dawn-Breakers,” an account of the early days of the Bahá’í Faith:

” … suddenly the figure of Tahirih, adorned and unveiled, appeared before the eyes of the assembled companions.  Consternation seized the entire gathering.  All stood aghast before this sudden and most unexpected apparition.  To behold her face unveiled was to them inconceivable.  Even to gaze at her shadow was a thing they deemed improper, inasmuch as they regarded her as the very incarnation of Fatimih*, the noblest emblem of chastity in their eyes.”

 (* – The Farsi pronunciation of Fatima, the revered daughter of the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him.) 

Some believers ran off never to return.  Others stood speechless.  One cut his own throat and ran screaming from the tent.  Different accounts give different pieces of what Tahirih said on that occasion.  When she entered the tent, Tahirih declared, “The Trumpet is sounding! The great Trump is blown! The universal Advent is now proclaimed!”  The ultimate result of Tahirih’s declaration was that the Babis knew they were no longer an Islamic reform movement but a new faith, and they began to change their ways:

“That memorable day and those which immediately followed it witnessed the most revolutionary changes in the life and habits of the assembled followers of the Bab.  Their manner of worship underwent a sudden and fundamental transformation.  The prayers and ceremonials by which those devout worshippers had been disciplined were irrevocably discarded.  …”

A few weeks later, on July 19 and 20, 1848, the Seneca Falls convention was held.  Although women and men were already campaigning for gender equality, some consider the Seneca Falls gathering to be the event that crystallized the early women’s rights movement.  Although I can’t prove it, I like to suspect that Tahirih, on the other side of the world, gave that early movement its first big push.

As for Tahirih, the last four years of her life were largely spent under arrest.  The Bab was executed in 1850.  In 1852, two misguided Babis made a botched attempt to assassinate the Shah of Iran.  In the ensuing violent reaction, up to 20,000 Babis were murdered, often after prolonged and gruesome torture.  Baha’u’llah was imprisoned.  Tahirih was under arrest and kept at the house of an official.

Sensing that her death was near, Tahirih spent her last hours in solitary prayer.   Baha’u’llah’s son Abdu’l-Baha said this of her death:

” … she was sentenced to death.  Saying she was summoned to the Prime Minister’s, they [police] arrived to lead her away from the Kalántar’s house. She bathed her face and hands, arrayed herself in a costly dress, and scented with attar of roses she came out of the house.

They brought her into a garden, where the headsmen waited; but these wavered and then refused to end her life. A slave was found, far gone in drunkenness; besotted, vicious, black of heart. And he strangled Tahirih. He forced a scarf between her lips and rammed it down her throat. Then they lifted up her unsullied body and flung it in a well, there in the garden, and over it threw down earth and stones. But Tahirih rejoiced; she had heard with a light heart the tidings of her martyrdom; she set her eyes on the supernal Kingdom and offered up her life.”

Accounts differ as to when she said this, but Tahirih’s most remembered quote is: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Tahirih – a Martyr for Women’s Rights

The Tahirih Justice Center: An organization that helps women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence.

Tahirih The Pure,” by Martha Root, a biography.

Tahirih: A Poetic Vision” by Ivan Lloyd.  Includes some of her poetry.

TAHIRIH IN HISTORY: Perspectives on Qurratu’l-‘Ayn from East and West.
Studies in the Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, Volume 16
” A book of essays about Tahirih.

TÁHIRIH: A PORTRAIT IN POETRY, Selected Poems of Qurratu’l-‘Ayn. *

The name given Tahirih by an earlier teacher.  It means “Consolation of the Eyes”

 OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST:

On Hillary Clinton, Gender Equality and the Future of Politics
 

Obama Stirs Multiracial Dialogue

A More Pefect Union Through Race Unity

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

A More Perect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities

Obama’s High Ground on Public Dialogue

 

 

 

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Presidential Campaign

Amazon Bullying Small Publishers

I don’t have a book out yet, but this item worries me.  According to Writer’s Weekly, a top freelance writing site, Amazon.com is now bullying small publishers who use print-on-demand technology into signing contracts requiring them to use Amazon’s BookSurge POD service.  Those who refuse face no longer being able to sell through Amazon.  The dominant online bookseller is also barring authors and publishers from selling books at a discount below Amazon’s list price on their own sites, while Amazon itself reserves the right to discount.  These moves will cripple POD leader Lightning Source, and increase costs while reducing profits for authors and publishers.

Read this report by Writers’ Weekly Publisher Angela Hoy: It’s Getting HOT IN HERE: Amazon Under Fire in the U.S. and Abroad, which includes many links.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under media, News

On Hillary Clinton, Gender Equality and the Future of Politics

DISCLAIMER: This post, and more to follow, discusses issues raised by the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on those issues.  In keeping with Bahá’í principles of non-partisanship, this post and others related to it are not intended to, and should not be interpreted as, endorsing or opposing any candidate, party or political program.  The views in this and related posts are my own and have not been reviewed by any Bahá’í institution.  For official information about the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the sites of the U.S. Bahá’í community and the International Bahá’í Community.

Much has already been said about how historic the 2008 presidential campaign is.  Barring unforeseen events, the Democratic Party will either nominate U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman, or U.S. Sen. Barack Obama,an African American.  I have already posted about some of the issues raised by Obama’s campaign (see links below).  Today, I’d like to talk about Sen. Clinton and the issues raised by her campaign.

In her Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, Clinton said:

There has never been a better time to be a woman in America. It’s almost hard to explain to young women today how much things have changed — even just during the course of my lifetime.

She went on to say that as a girl, she wrote a letter to NASA expressing interest in becoming astronaut, and received an answer that those positions weren’t open to women.  In 2007, Clinton noted, astronaut Peggy Whiton was appointed first female commander of the International Space Center.

She pointed to several other signs of progress:

  • Women are the majority of students in law schools
  • Women are the majority of students in college
  • Women were the majority of voters in 2004
  • The U.S. House of Representatives has a woman speaker (Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.)
  • Harvard University has a female president

I’ll add a global perspective: America is behind the rest of the world in electing women to the top political post.  Some of the countries ahead of us are: The United Kingdom (Margaret Thatcher), Israel (Golda Meir), India (Indira Gandhi), Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto), Germany (Angela Merkle), Liberia (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) and Chile (Michelle Bachelet).  New Zealand is the first independent nation to grant women the right to vote, in 1893, 27 years before America got around to it (although women had the right in some territories before statehood).  New Zealand also has the distinction of having elected two female Prime Ministers: Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark, the current leader.  So it’s about time for America.  As to whether Hillary Clinton in particular is the right woman, I leave that to individual choice.

The ascent of women to the highest political offices is in full agreement with the principles of the Bahá’í Faith:

“Know thou, O handmaid*, that in the sight of Bahá, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness.  That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them.  Whosoever draweth near to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman.  How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Bahá, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.”  – Abdu’l-Bahá (son of Bahá’u’lláh)

(* – In the Bahá’í writings, men are often called “servants” and women “handmaidens” or “handmaids.”  “Bahá” is short for Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Faith, or the Faith itself.)

The election of Hillary Clinton or any other woman as President of the United States would fulfill predictions made in the Bahá’í Writings:

“In this Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the women go neck and neck with the men.  In no movement are they to be left behind.  Their rights with men are equal in degree.  They will enter all the administrative branches of politics.  They will attain in all such a degree as will be considered the very highest station of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs.  Rest ye assured.  Do ye not look upon the present condition [around 1911]; in the not far distant future the world of women will become all-refulgent and glorious.  For His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh hath willed it so!  At the time of elections the right to vote is the inalienable right of women, and the entrance into all human departments is an irrefutable and incontrovertible question.  No soul can retard or prevent it.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

But the movement of women into power and politics will have even greater consequences — Peace on Earth.  In her lecture, Sen. Clinton recalled meeting an Irish Catholic woman who had lost many family members, including her son, in the long-running “troubles” between Protestants and Catholics, Republicans and Loyalists, but who had founded a group of Protestant and Catholic women who came together “to talk about their needs and their fears over cups of tea.”

“I sat down with those women one day and I listened as they talked about how they had discovered that they all worried when their husbands and sons left their homes, and they were all relieved when they returned safely. And despite their differences, they wanted a better future for their country and their children. It was these women — and others like them — sitting around at kitchen tables, sharing pots of tea, who helped chart the path to peace.”

“The path to peace” is one of the fundamental purposes of the Bahá’í Faith.  Baha’u’llah wrote: “These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the Most Great Peace Shall Come.”  Gender equality is, in the Bahá’í teachings, a prerequisite for peace.

“When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed.  Without equality this will be impossible, because all differences are conducive to discord and strife.  Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it.” Abdu’l-Bahá

Readers will probably point out some obvious problems: Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq and makes a point in her campaign of being better qualified to be Commander in Chief than Sen. Obama.  Some of the women leaders mentioned above led their nations into wars.  There are plenty of military wives and mothers who proudly send husbands and sons off to war.

Yes, but we are still in the world dominated by masculine principles, by which even female national leaders have to abide.  It is difficult to imagine a world with a better balance of masculine and feminine principles, but Bahá’ís pray to bring about that world and we strive to build it.  Abdu’l-Bahá gave us a hint of that future world:

“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind.  But the balance is already shifting — force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy.  Hence the new age … will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.” Abdu’l-Bahá

Yes, we do believe there are real differences between men and women, and we believe there are masculine and feminine qualities — although they exist in both genders.  But we believe in equality of men and women, as decreed by God.  There’s more to be said, so keep reading.  In the meantime, your assignment is to imagine the coming age “in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”  What do you think it will look like?

OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST:

The Iranian Woman Who Made Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Possible

Obama Stirs Multiracial Dialogue

A More Pefect Union Through Race Unity

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

A More Perect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities

Obama’s High Ground on Public Dialogue

A Prayer to Rein in ‘Forces of Division’

5 Comments

Filed under National Politics, Presidential Campaign

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.

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under National Politics, News

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.

 

3 Comments

Filed under politics

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

 

7 Comments

Filed under Family, National Politics

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

3 Comments

Filed under Presidential Campaign