Tag Archives: race unity

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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