Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Everything You Know is Wrong! or Escape from the Kingdom of the Proknows

“Everything we know” said Hillary Clinton would win the nomination, Barack Obama couldn’t, John McCain was finished and The Patriots would win the Super Bowl, but The Oracle of The Matrix would tell us it ain’t necessarily so!

There’s a line from a sketch by the comedy group Firesign Theater: “Everything you know is wrong!”  This much I know.

Recent events have me pondering this line.   I’m tempted to speak like the Merovingian in “The Matrix: Reloaded,” and declare it as the only real truth, but modify it thus: “Everything we know is wrong!”  or “What ‘everyone knows’ is wrong!”

There are people who “know.”  Call them “professional knowers,” or experts, consultants, gurus, etc.  In the media, we call them, as a group, “punditocracy,” “the chattering classes,” or “denizens of the blogosphere,” — or shall we call it “the blowhardosphere”?  Every field has its experts.  Let’s call them “ProKnows” — one characteristic of ProKnows is to coin phrases.  Politics is rife with ProKnows.   Some of them have bona fide credentials — degrees in this or that, or experience covering politics; others have forced their way into the public forum through tenacity, or high volume or because they provide quotable copy for other chatterers.  And yet, particularly in the past year or so, the one thing we really know about this crowd is that all of them have been consistently wrong.

Just think of what the ProKnows “knew” at some time in the past year:

  • Hillary Clinton will walk away with the Democratic presidential nomination because of her name, her connections, her money, and the army of ProKnows at her beck and call, but she can’t win in November;
  • Okay, so this Barack Obama guy has thrown his hat into the ring, but he doesn’t have a chance (see previous item); besides, he’s black, or not black enough, and he has that unfortunate name, and nothing to his name but a nice speech from 2004; only starry-eyed neo-yuppies longing for the next JFK will vote for him;
  • John McCain has no chance to win the nomination because he’s too old, the Christian Right doesn’t trust him, he spoiled his independent creds by pandering to the Christian Right (that doesn’t trust him), his campaign stumbled early on;
  • Rudy Giuliani’s (short-lived) front-runner status, despite his divorces, and pro-life, gay rights positions, proves the Christian Right doesn’t matter any more (even though John McCain won’t win because of the Christian Right), and besides, once people get a look at him, they’ll drop him (actually, that turned out to be the case);
  • Mike Huckabee’s success proves the Christian Right still matters;
  • Mike Huckabee’s success proves the Christian Right doesn’t matter any more;

Some of these declarations were contradictory, while others were nearly universal, such as “Hillary is inevitable.”

I like to go back to “The Matrix.”  For me, not all roads, but a representative sample, lead to “The Matrix.”  Agent Smith, Neo’s archnemesis in the trilogy, keeps declaring the inevitability of his victory and Neo’s defeat and death.  He’s wrong repeatedly — although ultimately kind of right, but that’s another topic.  Also central to “The Matrix” is the battle between the computer programs named The Oracle and The Architect.  The Architect is the archetypal ProKnow: Even though, by his own admission, he has failed six times to create a flawless Matrix, he still searches for the technological fix, the more elegant equation, the extra bit of data that will somehow lead to a stable, infallible system based purely on everything “knowable.”

The Oracle, the archnemesis of The Architect and guru to Neo and his crew, possesses her own “knowledge,” but it is knowledge that escapes the known and the knowable, a.ka. the empirical, the verifiable, the quantifiable.  As she explains to Neo, The Architect’s job is “to balance the equation,” hers: “to unbalance it.”

We, the ProKnows, find ourselves often just like The Architect: confounded by what escapes our cultivated, quantifiable or at least rationally comprehensible “knowledge.”  And so, when we find ourselves, for instance, watching the New York Giants defeating the flawless New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, we witness the limits of our ProKnow knowledge, and fumble for some empirically feeble answer, such as “the Giants wanted it more” or “they found a way” (“life finds a way” sayeth the chaos theorist in “Jurassic Park”).  In other words, there was something beyond the playbooks, something we couldn’t draw on the screen with X’s, O’s and arrows — something that unbalances the equation.

Let’s go now to the final scene of “The Matrix: Revolutions,” the end of the trilogy.  The Oracle sits on a park bench, basking in the blazing new sunrise created by the child-genius Sati in honor of Neo.  Seraph, the Oracle’s faithful companion, asks the Oracle about this improbable outcome:

“Did you always know?”

“Oh, no,” the Oracle says, the sun illuminating her face, “I didn’t.  But I believed.  I believed.”

Coming soon: More examples of “everything you know is wrong.”

 

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Filed under media, movies, National Politics, Presidential Campaign

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’

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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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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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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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Filed under National Politics, Presidential Campaign