Race Unity Day and an Aries's Folly
Now, at this point I have to wonder...what part of my Aries nature decided to host a Race Unity commemoration next Sunday, June 10? The initiating side or the impulsive side? I really don't know. And I'm beginning to think this has to be one of my not-so-great ideas.
It began with something that Baha'is are encouraged (but not required) to do, which is become involved in the core activities of the Faith. Almost two weeks ago, I became inspired at a cluster reflection meeting, and I decided that for the first time, I would form my own teaching team. It's not that the other teams hadn't worked, but I really felt moved to do so. But I'm often moved to worked by myself because part of me thinks I can get things done a lot easier that way. That kind of thinking is typically Western in origin especially here in the United States, but it's also contrary to Baha'i teachings about the power of unity and consultation. (For more information about the Baha'i view of unity and consultation, please visit http://www.bahai.org/)
Clearly, I have some work to do as far as understanding those concepts. As fate would have it, I think I was elected to the Rancho Cordova Spiritual Assembly for that purpose. No one has ever groaned more when I found out that I was again on the Assembly. They say, if you resist a test, you will get it again and again. And again some more. I have a lifelong history of practicing resistance to anything, often on nothing more than general principle. It's surprising that I have remained a Baha'i for the past twenty years, considering my ample share of resistance to change. But here I am. God truly is Almighty!
However, I've been doing a lot of reflection, meditation and prayer about this Race Unity event and some disturbing thoughts have surfaced. As an African American, I have found that anger comes to me far too easily on the subject of racial prejudice. Bright red lightning flashes before my eyes, my jaw is set tight and my fists clench. That's just my body's reaction to the subject. My mind flashes pictures at a rate of a thousand per minute. Pictures of slave ships, Africans being sold on auction blocks, backs scarred and mutilated by whippings, black men hanging from trees and lamp posts as jeering white crowds laugh and point, black people being knocked over by high powered hoses during the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination...not to mention my own experiences as an African American growing up in mostly white neighborhoods during the 60s and 70s. I've lost track of how many times I was called the "N" word, and the number of fights that occurred as a result. Yes, I won. All of them. There's nothing on Earth more fierce than an enraged little Aries black girl with a demonic punch. I didn't care how many white kids surrounded me. I was going to fight or die.
Am I "over it"? Well, I thought so. Twenty years of trying to live a Baha'i life has, in spite of my recalcitrant nature, made some significant changes in my thoughts and actions. I stop, think and pray before I punch these days. Believe me, this is no small feat. Ask my ex-husband. On second thought, don't ask him. Anyway, I do know that I am much more open to ideas that I would have termed as being "too white" back when I was a Panther wannabe. (I was too young to join the Black Panthers without running away from my parents. And I wasn't down for the Revolution enough to disobey Mary and Richard Shortt.) You would never guess that I once wanted to "burn, baby, burn" if you saw me at Baha'i social events these days. I've even learned to appreciate rock, folk and bluegrass music. It's still not my favorite; it's not like I'm running out and buying those CDs. But I can listen and even hear things that I like in the music. I wouldn't have done that in my baby Panther days. I was too afraid of being called a "sell out".
Two images came to mind during meditation that showed me I still have a lot of destructive anger in me. One was, ironically enough, a race unity conference that I attended in the late 80s at Bosch Baha'i School in Santa Cruz, California. I remember that the session involved studying Shoghi Effendi's writings "The Advent of Divine Justice" about healing racial prejudice in the American Baha'i community. We read the section of the book that is titled "The Most Challenging Issue", then broke up into racially divided lines so we could consult honestly about the selection:
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 times subconscious sense of superiority, 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 sincerity 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. Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds. Let neither think that the solution of 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. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith. Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country. (pg 40, "The Advent of Divine Justice". Shoghi Effendi. Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois.)
I was with the black group of course, and the unified conclusion that we came after reading and consulting about the selection was that we didn't have to do a thing until white folks made a move toward demonstrating racial justice. "The Guardian said, 'through a CORRESPONDING effort..." one brother told the rest of us. We all nodded. That's right. We weren't making a move until white folks came correct. We returned to the session, pretty satisfied with our response.
Of course, that's NOT what Shoghi Effendi meant. But that's how we dangerously re-interpreted his words. What this experience has done is proved to me beyond a semi-particle of doubt that humanity NEEDS the Universal House of Justice, an infallible institution that is completely detached from the emotional and social tumult of the world that can offer clarity and guidance when we have neither. If left to our own devices, we would have done what so many denominations have done throughout history: re-worked words of the Ancient Book according to our own vain and spiritually immature longings. Blessed are we to live in age that has the means of correcting that tendency!
The second image that came to mind was when I read the "Willie Lynch" story. (please see the following links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lynch_Speech, http://manuampim.com/lynch_hoax1.html, http://www.afro-netizen.com/2003/09/willie_lynch_is.html,
I am ashamed to say that I fell for the hoax. This is in spite of finishing a master's degree in English, where I was trained to pick up discrepancies in language (the Willie Lynch letter contained words that were simply not used in 18th century speech), and to read all text with a critical eye. I didn't do that when I read the "Willie Lynch" speech. Why? Because my emotions over past and present mistreatment of my people overrode all academic training and basic logic. I WANTED that speech to be demonstrable point in America's history where blame could clearly be placed. I wanted that blame to be simple and clear-cut, not complex and difficult to fathom the way real life tends to be. It would been so easy to pin all of my rage and frustration about our inhuman slave legacy on one person--Willie Lynch. But of course, life ain't easy.
It is with all this tossing around in my mind that I am hosting Race Unity Day next Sunday. Y'all pray for me, please.
"The diversity in the human family 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.” Abdu'l Baha'.
"Ignorance is the most ugly thing when worn with pride."- Owen 'Alik Shahadah