Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Educating Hillary Clinton and Every Other Girl

The Bahá’í Faith believes education will open all doors for girls and women, just like it did for Hillary Clinton.

DISCLAIMER: This and related posts discuss 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 2007 Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recalled the Harvard professor who told her, “We don’t need any more women at Harvard.”  So it’s Yale that has the chance to put a law school alumna in the White House, if voters choose her.  Harvard did wise up in the ensuing years, and now has a woman president, Drew Gilpin Faust.

In the years since Hillary Clinton entered Yale Law School as one of 27 women out of 235 students, a lot more doors have opened for women.  The U.S. Congress has its first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.)   Women have become governors, U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and cabinet ministers.  The first door to open for all these women, which opened all the other doors, was education. 

In her lecture, Sen. Clinton hailed, “The teachers who tell our daughters, ‘You are just as smart and capable as the boys, don’t you fail to live up to your potential.’ I think about my 6th grade teacher Mrs. King quoting from the Bible said not to hide your light under the bushel basket.”

The Bahá’í Faith believes in opening all those doors for girls and women through education, which is a fairly new idea:

” … if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man.  She is the coadjutor of man, his complement and helpmeet.  Both are human; both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity.  In all human powers and functions they are partners and coequals.  At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives, owing to lack of education and opportunity.  Without doubt education will establish her equality with men.”

Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said those words around 1912.  Women were still nine years away from the right to vote in the United States.  Wesleyan College, in Macon, Ga., chartered in 1836, was the first college for women.  A few others followed, such as Mount Holyoke in 1837, Vassar in 1861, and Smith in 1871, to name a few.  Boston University was the first American university to grant a Ph.D. to a woman, Helen Magill, a classicist, in 1877.   Wellesley, Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate alma mater, was founded in 1870 and admitted students in 1875.  The future, at least in America, looks bright for women, who, as Sen. Clinton pointed out, are now the majority of students in college and in law school.

College in particular gives women the opportunity to form the relationships and attitudes that create access to power and influence.  Women are increasingly gaining that power and influence.

“It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation.  This is pure imagination.  [Italics added.]  The difference in capability between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education.  Heretofore, woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development.  If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

But in the Bahá’í teachings, the importance of educating girls and women extends far beyond knowledge, skills and power.  Their education is vital to the development of children and thus to the progress of every nation and the whole human race:

” … the education of woman is more necessary and important than that of man, for woman is the trainer of the child from its infancy.  If she be defective and imperfect herself, the child will necessarily be deficient; therefore, imperfection in woman implies a condition of imperfection in all mankind, for it is the mother who rears, nurtures and guides the growth of the child.  This is not the function of the father.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

 The above statement does not imply that fathers have no role in raising and educating children.  Abdu’l-Bahá meant that mothers’ nurturing relationship with children is vital to their moral and spiritual development, which is enhanced by mothers’ education.  Bahá’ís consider this role so important that, if resources are limited, societies should give priority to educating girls and women.  The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing authority in the Bahá’í Faith, wrote this in 1985:

” … No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens.  Lack of resources limits the ability of many nations to fulfill this necessity, imposing a certain ordering of priorities.  The decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.”

 So we can see that the Bahá’í writings declare that equal education for women is indispensable to the material, social, cultural and spiritual progress of every nation and the world.  But it goes further.  Equal education and the equality it brings to women will not merely give them equal power in the same world, it will change the world:

“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 and distinction 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

If women leading the world to peace seems far-fetched at the present moment, that is because women haven’t yet won equality in much of the world.   America is further along than other nations.  We’re giving a woman a fair shot at becoming President, although we’re behind other nations.  But it it will take more than electing a woman here and there, as important as those victories are.   It will take a village, to borrow Sen. Clinton’s words — it will take every village, town, city, state and nation educating its girls and women.  It is only a matter of time.  How much time is up to every one who hears the message in the words quoted above.

SOURCES:

Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill.  2008 Edition.

Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice.  Bahá’í Canada Publications

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

The Iranian Woman Who Made Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Possible

On Hillary Clinton, Gender Equality and the Future of Politics

OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST:

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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Filed under education, politics, Presidential Campaign, religion

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

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

 

 

 

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Filed under 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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Filed under National Politics, Presidential Campaign

Multiple Answers to the ‘Race Question’ from the Same Person

Geraldine Ferraro’s comment that Barack Obama wouldn’t be where he is if not for his race understandably sparked a rhubarb between the Obama and Clintoncamps and around the commentosphere. 

My angle on this is a bit different.  Why is everyone so sure they know what Obama’s race is?  Why not declare — more accurately, in my view — that Obama’s current status is due to his races, not just one race.  His ability to appeal to different racial groups, and indeed, his mission to reconcile often warring camps — all have developed from his life as a multiracial person, which is what he is.

Obama presents a multifaceted challenge, and often a confusing one.  Witness how some say he “transcends race” or that they don’t see him as a black man, while others emphatically see him as black.  The consensus is that Obama is the first black presidential candidate and could be the first black president.   Virtually everybody knows Obama is the product of an interracial marriage, and the words “bi-racial,” “multiracial” or “mixed race” often accompany discussions of him, but still, when it comes to definitions, he’s black.

This is the case with other prominent people of mixed parentage.  When Halle Berry won her academy award, she tearfully declared it a great day for black women, then called out to her white mother. Despite Barack Obama’s success, despite a frizzy-haired, beige-toned kid in almost every children’s show and ad for children’s clothes and products, black plus white still = black.  In this supposedly progressive age, we have yet to exorcise the demon of the One Drop Rule, which declares that any black ancestry, no matter how remote, makes someone black. 

The purpose of this role has always been to maintain white supremacy.  The myth of white superiority, with its power and privilege, would collapse if it was no longer clear who was white and who was “other.” Although it has largely lost its legal backing, The One Drop Rule, well, still rules.

As the 2000 Census developed, a political battle raged over whether to include a “multiracial” box on the new form.  Black opponents of the proposal argued the category would diminish black numbers, power, federal funding and complicate continuing programs that fought discrimination.  Somehow, to fight white supremacy, it’s vital to preserve the very categories created to maintain white supremacy.  The Census Bureau found a compromise that maintained the basic five categories of black, white, red, yellow and brown, but allowed anyone to voluntarily check boxes for racial background.  About 7 percent of respondents checked one or more of those boxes.  We shall see what happens in 2010.

Why is it so hard to accept that people’s identity can be plural?  If “African American” is possible, then why not other combinations?   Call it Postmodern or whatever you call it, but aren’t we in the Age of Multiplicity?  But the logic of identity politics can’t accept multiple identity.  The integrity of the group and its social-political-cultural-economic demands require adherence to a dichotomous identity: either you’re in or you’re out.

“Many people have a hard time believing that someone can belong in several categories simultaneously,” wrote Dr. Maria P.P. Root, a psychologist, scholar and multiracial activist.  Children can see a ball as red and blue at the same time, and artists understand that red and blue make purple, but many people can’t apply this simple logic to race.  Not only do we have a hard time doing this, but we have a hard time believing it can be done. At more of an extreme, some people refuse to try,” Root wrote.

I dunno.  I’m married to a black woman.  Our extended family mixes black, white, Lithuanian, German, Irish, Cherokee, English and East Indian (via Botswana) blood.  My son wears his hair in dreadlocks and likes the song “Play that Funky Music.”  He doesn’t have any problem being black, white or other.

If Halle Berry or anyone else wants to self-identify as black, fine.  People have the right to self-identify, but that means other people have other choices.  To paraphrase the Army’s recruiting phrase.  Multiracial people want to be all they can be, or wish to be.

Here is Dr. Root’s “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage,” reproduced in its entirety, as per her request:

I HAVE THE RIGHT…

Not to justify my existence in this world.

Not to keep the races separate within me.

Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.

Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…

To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.

To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.

To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.

To identify myself differently in different situations.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…

To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multiethnic.

To change my identity over my lifetime–and more than once.

To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.

To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

© Maria P. P. Root, PhD, 1993, 1994

 

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

Among the many tributes paid to U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama is his alleged ability to “transcend race.”  I’m afraid this truly is a fairy tale.

It might be accurate, in a narrow sense, to say that Obama can, and must, “transcend race” so he can appeal to diverse political constituencies on grounds other than race.  In that restricted sense, Obama has clearly already succeeded. 

 In any broader sense, Barack Obama cannot transcend race and neither can America.  Race is too fundamental to America’s history, society, culture and sense of individual and collective identity.

But don’t just take my word for it.  During research for my masters thesis at the University of Georgia, I read a  lucid book titled “Racial Formation in the United States,” by Michael Omi and Howard Winant.  Here is a passage from my thesis that summarizes racial formation:

Omi & Winant define race as: “a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies,” and we should think of race “as an element of social structure rather than an irregularity within it; we should see race as a dimension of human representation rather than an illusion.” Omi and Winant (1994) see the concept of race evolving through racial formation, “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed and destroyed,” through an evolving series of racial projects.

So, according to Omi and Winant, the meaning of race can and does change through history.  No doubt various competing racial projects are changing its meaning even as I write.  If one of those projects has the potential to “transcend race,” I’m open to hearing about it, but I’m not holding my breath.  Witness how, over and over, discussions of Barack Obama shift, sometimes from one sentence to the next, from “transcending race” to identifying him as a black candidate.  During the campaign for the South Carolina primary, Bill Clinton took pains to point out Obama’s blackness.  The widely criticized trick backfired; South Carolina black voters apparently noticed Obama’s blackness, and overwhelming supported him.  No “transcendence” there.

It is historic, we say over and over, that America could very well elect its first black president.  Indeed, that would be a historic moment.  We’re already getting historic between Obama and Hillary Clinton.  But how is it possible to say we might elect a black president, and then insist that he or anyone else has “transcended race”?  If it still matters that much, then the color of his skin still counts at least as much as the content of his character.

Here are some corollary questions to think about:

Is it meaningful to say Hillary Clinton, John McCain, or any other presidential candidate “transcends race”?

If it isn’t meaningful to say of any of the white candidates that he or she “transcends race,” then what does that say about how we define race?  Which racial project is operating here?

We say without thinking that Barack Obama, whom we know perfectly well has a white mother and black father, is black, but I’ve never heard anyone say he’s white.  With multiracial celebrities abounding and multiracial children featured in advertisements, why does the “one drop rule,” which states that any portion of black ancestry makes you black, still rule?  Again, which racial project is at work?

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The Media and Barack Obama

Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Jim Wooten today asked the pertinent question, “Does the media prefer Barack Obama?”   Hillary Clinton clearly thinks so,” he writes, and continues:

Well, could I just point out that, in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time? And I don’t mind. You know, I’ll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw ‘Saturday Night Live,’ you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.” She was referring to a skit last weekend that had television journalists fawning over Obama.

“I just find it kind of curious,” Hillary continued, “that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues, but I’m happy to answer it. You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. I didn’t have a public position on it because I was part of the administration. But when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic.”

The suggestion that the media caters to Obama was advanced earlier in the day by campaign supporters. Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton adviser, said that “the press has largely applauded” Obama “every time” his campaign launches pesonal attacks on Hillary. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says the media has “relished” Hillary’s slide.

Wooten goes on to write that he keeps a TV going and gives it a look when something interesting pops up.  “Here lately, with the field down to two candidates, it appears far more balanced — that is, when I look up and the story is political, I’m as likely to see Hillary as Obama. ”  But that wasn’t the case earlier, when cable channels clearly preferred Obama, Wooten opines.

 He concludes by asking: “You report, you decide: Does the media prefer Obama?”

Well?  Media bias is hard to examine, since the examiner is inherently biased in the examining.  If you’re a Hillary supporter, a supporter of someone else, or simply skeptical of Obamamania, you might well assert that the media favors Obama.

But the perception of bias is common, maybe universal.  The most partisan supporters of the Palestinians are convinced the media are biased against their cause and let Israel get away with everything, while the equivalent on the Israel side are just as convinced  the bias runs the other way.  And they’re both criticizing the same coverage.

Given the above caveat, I do sense the media favor Obama.  From a journalistic standpoint, his personal story really is more interesting than those of the other candidates.  It’s a story to unjade us: The interracial marriage, the immigrant father, the son of the African immigrant who goes to Harvard, the relatives in Kenya following his every move.  The response to Obama, that “audacity of hope” euphoria, is genuine and reporters write about it, and thus inevitably fan it.

Still, my sense is that the media does favor Obama.  The media — by which, readers should understand, I mean mostly the political press — hasn’t liked Hillary from Day One, long before Obama appeared.

 It’s not just the-liberal-media-loves-the liberal, though.  The political press corps loves John McCain, at least since the Straight Talk Express days in 2000.  The media never liked Rudy Giuliani, g0ing back to his New York mayoral days, and he returned the favor.  Politically, Rudy is largely a bit further left than McCain.

Does the media’s playing favorites help the favored and hurt the disfavored?  It would be hard to support a “no” answer, but where’s the chicken and where’s the egg?  Do some public figures naturally rub reporters the right way and the wrong way (in a figurative sense)?

 In my case (I’m not a national political reporter, btw), I find it hard to warm up to Hillary and easy to warm up to Barack.  Full disclosure: I have a multiracial son, nieces and nephews.  I very much like John McCain on a personal level.  His personal story is also compelling.

But if the media’s bias is discernible, despite our constant pieties about “objectivity,” then aren’t we in trouble?  How much damage do we do to our credibility?  It’s too flip to say there’s not much damage left to be done; it’s immensely important to democracy that the press maintain its credibility and do its best to strive for objectivity.

During my brief stint as a college journalism professor, I tried to tell my students the reader shouldn’t be able to tell your political opinion or opinion of a person from your reporting.  I guess I didn’t teach that lesson — or any other lesson, I’m afraid — very well, but apparently neither did my colleagues.  Or is it the students who are the problem?

Back to Lesson One, anyone?

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