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 …
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.
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.