Sunday, June 21, 2015

American Baha'is have yet to deal with and erase "The Most Vital and Challenging Issue"

The long excerpt that I have included at the bottom of this post is from a book called "The Advent of Divine Justice" which was meticulously written for American Baha'is by Shoghi Effendi (known to Baha'is as The Guardian of the Faith), and published in 1938. The book was intended to invigorate the American Baha'i community to teach the Faith to others in the United States and around the world. Yet, for the most part, American Baha'is remain "largely introverted", as former National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Universal House of Justice member Glenford E. Mitchell states in his 1967 paper, "The Most Challenging Issue: Teaching Negroes" (which I suggest that every Baha'i in the United States read: 
    ...If it has any standards at all, they are to be found in a convenient cross-fertilization of existential philosophy and socialist aspirations. With such a shapeless movement, it is difficult to separate black from white, to condemn totally or accept totally. There is no clearer example in all the world of mass confusion among idealistic, well-intentioned people who have lost their spiritual bearings. It requires impeccable fair-mindedness and divinely-inspired insight to judge it aright. One could summarize it as a revolt triggered by the unprecedented rampage of materialism, racism, and establishmentarianism, fueled by the heightened anxieties of the down-trodden and the aroused conscience of the affluent, and made magnetic by the vigorous commitment of its youthful supporters.
    3) In the face of such turmoil, the importance of teaching Negroes the Baha’i Faith becomes increasingly urgent. This urgency becomes more obvious as "other agencies that stand outside the orbit" of the Baha'i Faith flounder in their attempts to manipulate the loyalty, anxieties and frustrations" of America’s largest minority. But a large percentage of the Baha’is are uninformed about minorities and therefore are dangerously naive on the Negro question. This naiveté should be supplanted, if we are to assert ourselves effectively, with all the knowledge and insights that can be provided through books, planned experiences, and Baha'i conferences and institutes.
    While the non-Baha'i society breaks at the seams, the Baha'i Community remains largely introverted, scarcely taking advantage of the priceless opportunities which lie in the wake of this social turmoil, notwithstanding Shoghi Effendi's long-standing and apt directive.
My opinion is that Baha'is can no longer afford to remain, as Mr. Mitchell states in the above quote, "largely introverted". As predicted by Abdu'l-Baha' and Shoghi Effendi*, the blood of unarmed Americans who are of African ancestry have been denied due process of law has been flowing in the streets, and the deaths have been stacking up while the people who killed their own countrymen have, for the part, escaped prosecution.  

Here is a partial list, meaning this is only some of the people have been documented as killed by police or another person acting in a position of authority: Trayvon Martin, Miami Gardens, Florida. Michael Brown, Ferguson. Missouri. Eric Garner, Staten Island, New York. Dontre Martin, Milwaukee, Minnesota. John Crawford III, Dayton, Ohio. Ezell Ford, Florence, California. Dante Parker, Victorville, California. Tanisha Anderson, Cleveland, Ohio. Akai Gurley, New York City, New York. Tamar Rice, Cleveland, Ohio. Rumain Brisbon, Phoenix, Arizona. Jarame Reid, Bridgeton, New Jersey. Tony Robinson, Madison, Wisconsin. Philip White, Vineland, New Jersey. Eric Harris, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Walter Scott, North Charleston, South Carolina. Freddie Gray, Baltimore, Maryland. Damian Hunt, Saratoga Springs, Florida. There has also been a disproportionately high number of Black women killed by police officers, although this is not as widely reported as the other deaths.

As previously stated, the list of people killed by police is not comprehensive, as there have several unarmed Black women shot by the police and others who were shot but did not die. In a more recent case, an unidentified Black man was shot in the head three times yesterday (I am writing this on o6/21/2015) by two Los Angeles Police Department officers as he approached them for help with an apparent injury to his arm, which was wrapped in a towel. The officers claim that they thought he was hiding a gun. So far, there have been no updates about his condition.

The United States of America is in trouble. We, the people of this country, have been languishing in denial that we have racial problems, especially when we compare the conditions of African Americans during slavery and post Civil War segregation under the harsh "Jim Crow" laws. More specifically, the Baha'is of the United States have been charged by Abdu'l-Baha' during his his historic visit to the United States with ending racial animosity and helping to create a country that could demonstrate to the rest of the world what slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. referenced in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Martin Luther King, Jr.

If American Baha'is had acted in accordance to what Abdu'l-Baha' asked of them during his visit and what Shoghi Effendi wrote about in the Advent of Divine Justice, which I have included in this post, perhaps the bloodshed that we have seen since the death of Trayvon Martin, and more recently, the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were massacred by White supremacist Dylann Roof, and the climate of fear on the part White Americans and distrust for Black Americans toward their fellow citizens could have been abated. It is not, however, too late to shake off American Baha'is reluctance to confront this virulent disease of the soul. It is time for each one of us to study Shoghi Effendi's words, have consultations about them with our communities, and carry its healing message to the people of all races living in the United States of America. We cannot have the bloodshed that has been running in the streets continue to stain our souls. Here are the words of the Guardian:

As to racial prejudice, the corrosion of which, for well-nigh a century, has bitten into the fiber, and attacked the whole social structure of American society, it should be regarded as constituting the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Bahá'í community at the present stage of its evolution. The ceaseless exertions which this issue of paramount importance calls for, the sacrifices it must impose, the care and vigilance it demands, the moral courage and fortitude it requires, the tact and sympathy it necessitates, invest this problem, which the American believers are still far from having satisfactorily resolved, with an urgency and importance that cannot be overestimated. White and Negro, high and low, young and old, whether newly converted to the Faith or not, all who stand identified with it must participate in, and lend their assistance, each according to his or her capacity, experience, and opportunities, to the common task of fulfilling the instructions, realizing the hopes, and following the example, of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Whether colored or noncolored, neither race has the right, or can conscientiously claim, to be regarded as absolved from such an obligation, as having realized such hopes, or having faithfully followed such an example. A long and thorny road, beset with pitfalls, still remains untraveled, both by the white and the Negro exponents of the redeeming Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. On the distance they cover, and the manner in which they travel that road, must depend, to an extent which few among them can imagine, the operation of those intangible influences which are indispensable to the spiritual triumph of the American believers and the material success of their newly launched enterprise.
 Let them call to mind, fearlessly and determinedly, the example and conduct of 'Abdu'l-Bahá while in their midst. Let them remember His courage, His genuine love, His informal and indiscriminating fellowship, His contempt for and impatience of criticism, tempered by His tact and wisdom. Let them revive and perpetuate the memory of those unforgettable and historic episodes and occasions on which He so strikingly demonstrated His keen sense of justice, His spontaneous sympathy for the downtrodden, His ever-abiding sense of the oneness of the human race, His overflowing love for its members, and His displeasure with those who dared to flout His wishes, to deride His methods, to challenge His principles, or to nullify His acts.
 To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The consciousness of any division or cleavage in its ranks is alien to its very purpose, principles, and ideals. Once its members have fully recognized the claim of its Author, and, by identifying themselves with its Administrative Order, accepted unreservedly the principles and laws embodied in its teachings, every differentiation of class, creed, or color must automatically be obliterated, and never be allowed, under any pretext, and however great the pressure of events or of public opinion, to reassert itself. If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it. So great and vital is this principle that in such circumstances, as when an equal number of ballots have been cast in an election, or where the qualifications for any office are balanced as between the various races, faiths or nationalities within the community, priority should unhesitatingly be accorded the party representing the minority, and this for no other reason except to stimulate and encourage it, and afford it an opportunity to further the interests of the community. In the light of this principle, and bearing in mind the extreme desirability of having the minority elements participate and share responsibility in the conduct of Bahá'í activity, it should be the duty of every Bahá'í community so to arrange its affairs that in cases where individuals belonging to the divers minority elements within it are already qualified and fulfill the necessary requirements, Bahá'í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible. The adoption of such a course, and faithful adherence to it, would not only be a source of inspiration and encouragement to those elements that are numerically small and inadequately represented, but would demonstrate to the world at large the universality and representative character of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and the freedom of His followers from the taint of those prejudices which have already wrought such havoc in the domestic affairs, as well as the foreign relationships, of the nations.
 Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá'í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá'í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies. It should, above all else, become the keynote of the policy of that august body which, in its capacity as the national representative, and the director and coordinator of the affairs of the community, must set the example, and facilitate the application of such a vital principle to the lives and activities of those whose interests it safeguards and represents.
 "O ye discerning ones!" Bahá'u'lláh has written, "Verily, the words which have descended from the heaven of the Will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness." "We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations," He proclaims, "...that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled." " Bahá'u'lláh hath said," writes 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "that the various races of humankind lend a composite harmony and beauty of color to the whole. Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side without discord or disagreement between them." " Bahá'u'lláh," 'Abdu'l-Bahá moreover has said, "once compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth."
 "God," 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself declares, "maketh no distinction between the white and the black. If the hearts are pure both are acceptable unto Him. God is no respecter of persons on account of either color or race. All colors are acceptable unto Him, be they white, black, or yellow. Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realize that all embody divine possibilities." "In the estimation of God," He states, "all men are equal. There is no distinction or preference for any soul, in the realm of His justice and equity." "God did not make these divisions," He affirms; "these divisions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of God they are false and imaginary." "In the estimation of God," He again affirms, "there is no distinction of color; all are one in the color and beauty of servitude to Him. Color is not important; the heart is all-important. It mattereth not what the exterior may be if the heart is pure and white within. God doth not behold differences of hue and complexion. He looketh at the hearts. He whose morals and virtues are praiseworthy is preferred in the presence of God; he who is devoted to the Kingdom is most beloved. In the realm of genesis and creation the question of color is of least importance." "Throughout the animal kingdom," He explains, "we do not find the creatures separated because of color. They recognize unity of species and oneness of kind. If we do not find color distinction drawn in a kingdom of lower intelligence and reason, how can it be justified among human beings, especially when we know that all have come from the same source and belong to the same household? In origin and intention of creation mankind is one. Distinctions of race and color have arisen afterward." "Man is endowed with superior reasoning power and the faculty of perception"; He further explains, "he is the manifestation of divine bestowals. Shall racial ideas prevail and obscure the creative purpose of unity in his kingdom?" "One of the important questions," He significantly remarks, "which affect the unity and the solidarity of mankind is the fellowship and equality of the white and colored races. Between these two races certain points of agreement and points of distinction exist which warrant just and mutual consideration. The points of contact are many.... In this country, the United States of America, patriotism is common to both races; all have equal rights to citizenship, speak one language, receive the blessings of the same civilization, and follow the precepts of the same religion. In fact numerous points of partnership and agreement exist between the two races, whereas the one point of distinction is that of color. Shall this, the least of all distinctions, be allowed to separate you as races and individuals?" "This variety in forms and coloring," He stresses, "which is manifest in all the kingdoms is according to creative Wisdom and hath a divine purpose." "The diversity in the human family," He claims, "should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord." "If you meet," is His admonition, "those of a different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them, and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness." "In the world of being," He testifies, "the meeting is blessed when the white and colored races meet together with infinite spiritual love and heavenly harmony. When such meetings are established, and the participants associate with each other with perfect love, unity and kindness, the angels of the Kingdom praise them, and the Beauty of Bahá'u'lláh addresseth them, 'Blessed are ye! Blessed are ye!'" "When a gathering of these two races is brought about," He likewise asserts, "that assemblage will become the magnet of the Concourse on high, and the confirmation of the Blessed Beauty will surround it." "Strive earnestly," He again exhorts both races, "and put forth your greatest endeavor toward the accomplishment of this fellowship and the cementing of this bond of brotherhood between you. Such an attainment is not possible without will and effort on the part of each; from one, expressions of gratitude and appreciation; from the other, kindliness and recognition of equality. Each one should endeavor to develop and assist the other toward mutual advancement.... Love and unity will be fostered between you, thereby bringing about the oneness of mankind. For the accomplishment of unity between the colored and white will be an assurance of the world's peace." "I hope," He thus addresses members of the white race, "that ye may cause that downtrodden race to become glorious, and to be joined with the white race, to serve the world of man with the utmost sincerity, faithfulness, love, and purity. This opposition, enmity, and prejudice among the white race and the colored cannot be effaced except through faith, assurance, and the teachings of the Blessed Beauty." "This question of the union of the white and the black is very important," He warns, "for if it is not realized, erelong great difficulties will arise, and harmful results will follow." "If this matter remaineth without change," is yet another warning, "enmity will be increased day by day, and the final result will be hardship and may end in bloodshed."
                 (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 33)
The book was actually a long letter directed to the American Baha'i community, and intended to provide guidance to group of  people who were wrestling with very thorny social issues like the Great Depression, fears concerning an emerging war taking place in Europe, widespread unemployment, poverty, homelessness (Does that sound familiar?). While those problems were certainly difficult, the most divisive issue for the country and American Baha'is was (and continues to be in a slightly different mechanism these days), racism and its close kin, legalized segregation and violent oppression. represented during that time by the Jim Crow laws of the Southern states, and de facto segregation of the North, Midwest, and Western states.

*The predictions made by Abdu'l-Baha' and Shoghi Effendi made no reference to the specific race of Americans whose blood would be flowing in the streets. And it doesn't matter. Any blood, even a drop, shed because of racial hatred between Blacks and Whites is unacceptable.

An aside: There is no I can verify the statement I am about to make, but I think that when White Americans think of violent uprisings, they fear that it would be their blood flowing in the streets, as a consequence of the actions taken by their predecessors during slavery and segregation. I feel that this is an irrational fear, since the population of African Americans is comparatively less than that of Whites, and access to the money, resources and weaponry necessary for such a massively violent act is much more available to them. To debate that point is useless, however, as fear is a potent adversary that intercepts the logical functions of the mind. Because of these growing fears and simmering resentments, I pray that the American Baha'i community can heed the warnings of our times, and get into action.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Earth, Wind and Fire - Earth, Wind and Fire

The name of the group is Earth, Wind and Fire, and so is this song. It wasn't as well known as some of the other hits the group had, but then again, we bought a lot of albums back in the 70s, and played the songs that weren't always on the radio. So why am I posting the lyrics and song here? I don't know. One part nostalgia, and the other part because I love the music and the lyrics. The words have always calmed me down; made me put life in a more reasonable perspective. And the music, in my opinion, is beautiful It's also a reminder that at one point in my life, I was a teenager and idealistically hopeful about not only my future, but the future of the world. I could use a nice, big dose of that teenage enthusiasm these days.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

KEEP YOUR HEAD TO THE SKY (I'm trying these days)


"You can only take care of yourself. There's nothing you can do about anything else that's going on right now." I hear that a LOT from my fellow 12 steppers. I hear it so much that I quit confiding to them about what truly disturbs me these days. Amadou Diallo. Trayvon Martin. Oscar Grant. Alan Bluford, Ezell Ford. Kimani Gray, Michael Brown. Eric Garner. and 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was by himself, playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park. He was only five years older than my grandson. To me, he was still a baby. That isn't even close to the number of unarmed Black men who have been killed by police since 2007,

And people forget that an unacceptable number of Black women have been shot by the police, too.  Oh, you didn't know? Seven year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot by Detroit policeman Joseph Weekley as she lay sleeping on the living room couch under a blanket. And there have been many, many more. Adaisha Miller. Alesia Thomas, Darnesha Harris. Eleanor Bumpers. Erica Collins. Heather Parker. Kendra James. Their names aren't as familiar as the others to the public, but that doesn't make a difference to me. They are no less dead. And that is no less tragic.

I admit that I have a temper. I keep it check so much that people have paradoxically described me as : "easygoing", "placid", even "comforting to be around". If only they knew the tsunami that broils inside of me at times such as these.  I am reminded of a cartoon that I recently saw on Facebook. Los Angeles artist and radio show host Lalo Alacaraz drew it after self proclaimed vigilante George Zimmerman was found not guilty in July, 2013:
.

My own children are ages 33, 32 and 28, but it doesn't matter that they no longer live with me, and they haven't for years. I'm still their mother. And that cartoon very accurately and eerily captures what I feel each and every day. Not only that, I fear for my grandson. What kind of hateful world are we leaving for him to try to make his way through without the threat of being....I can't write that.   Even the thought of losing my children and grandson is indescribably terrifying because it is more a reality than Freddy Kruger or any other monster Hollywood can invent. Those people I named before? They were real, as were the police who killed them.

Here's where my temper comes into play. When I have shared my fears with my 12 step friends, they respond in ways that are predictable (I've been in various programs since 1987), and as infuriating as being stuck on Interstate 80 between Oakland and Berkeley during the afternoon rush hour, and an extremely old lady has wedged her car across two lanes in front of you. And she doesn't seem to know how to straighten out her 1972 green Volvo station wagon to move with the traffic.

My 12 step friends mean well when they say, "It's not happening right now. All you can do is take care of yourself today." "There's nothing you can do about that. Just focus on working on your program today." Oh yes, the power of NOW. I can do that. It doesn't erase the fear, but I can perfunctorily get through each day NOW. I'm  pretty that the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Michael Brown didn't wake up in the morning of those terrible days thinking, Oh yes, today's the day my son will be killed by the police, so I better find out who is going to do that so I can stop him! Not that they wouldn't do that if they had a very clear warning about what was going to happen. But no, that's not how life works, does it?  Who knows what might happen at any time, When I think about it, they probably were doing the "just for today" thing because that's how many Black people get through life. Whew! Made it through my eight hours. Gotta pay the rent today. Do I have enough money for groceries after I pay the light bill?

Yeah, that's the for real "ODAT* (One Day At A Time, which should be ODAAT, but oh well.) And I feel like screaming, "What do YOU KNOW ABOUT IT? You don't know! Stop givin' me that pablum crap!"

That's what I feel like doing. What I really do is get off the phone with lightning speed, or walk away before the fingers on my right hand begin to automatically curl into a fist. I'm sorry, I did mention that I have a solar flare temper, didn't I?  And with anger issues like mine, the last thing I need to do is give some trigger itchy cop a reason to take me out, too. There's no doubt in my mind that one of them would if I ever unleashed my anger, frustration, fear and resentment  Besides, my friends have done absolutely nothing to deserve that. Other than annoying me with those redundant slogans, they have been supportive, kind and loving. And I'm ashamed of myself for harboring these thoughts.

So what can I do? First of all pray, which is what I do upon waking up, and throughout the day. My favorite to recite whenever I feel the anger bubbling up and threatening to ruin my mood and day is this: Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!- The Báb (Compilations, Baha'i Prayers, p. 27) I say that prayer often.

I do work my program, try to do some professional writing and stay away from social media and MSNBC. That last part is not easy. I'm a journalist to the core, and we're all pretty incurable information junkies. I also pray for my family and friends, and for those who have lost their loved ones. And I try to remember to make my gratitude list. I do have so very much for which I am grateful. And then there is song by Earth, Wind and Fire. I fell in love with it the very second I heard it back in 1972 at age 14. It reminds me of what is most important in life: my personal relationship with the Almighty, the Creator of all there is. If you have the time, give it a listen.






Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Revolution You Do Not Want Will Start in the Middle

Dear Friend,
Voting rights are under attack across the nation, and I want you to help protect them!
When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, it got rid of a powerful tool to end discrimination at polling places.  States and localities across the country are now enacting and implementing anti-voter rules that will keep many Americans' voices from being heard.
I'm asking Congress to stand up for every voter and fix the VRA -- will you join me?
Thanks!

Don't believe it? Need more proof? Well, here ya' go!




Well, I know that's about all people can take in at one time. And I'm leaving the commentary out because I have some other things I need to write about. But right now, this issue feels very urgent. People, you had better understand something pretty soon. W.B. Yeats said it best in one of my favorite poems, "The Second Coming".  

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Where is the "centre" in the United States of America?  This is my opinion, but it's Missouri. The revolution you do not want will probably start in the middle.

African Americans lining up to vote in 1965 after the Voting Rights Act was passed: 
This picture is part of the America's Black Holocaust Museum collection. To see this historical photograph and more, click on this link: America's Black Holocaust Museum