Welcome to the Month of Words 172
In this issue – Overcoming Racism
Understanding What it Means to be Privileged
Baha’i Basics – Racism: http://susangammage.com/bahai-basics-racism
The Problem of Racism in “Post-Racial” America
DC Black Men’s Group
7 Stories Showing How ‘Abdu’l-Baha Integrated the Races
1. At that time, Washington was the most racially and socially mixed Bahá’í community in America, but it had deep racial unity problems. The upper classes, including people like Mr. and Mrs. Parsons, still upheld the long-standing social conventions of racial segregation that were not easily overcome. Many whites were afraid to host multiracial gatherings in their homes for fear of what others would say. Many blacks were also reluctant to attend meetings because of their fear of insults and discriminatory treatment. An example: once ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said He wanted to host a unity Feast. The committee organized for the event selected one of the city’s most exclusive hotels – one was known for its refusal to admit black people. The black Bahá’ís thought it might be better if they did not attend and so avoid the problem of the color bar. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, however, insisted they attend and in the end all the Bahá’ís, both black and white, sat side-by-side in the previously segregated hotel. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 98)
2. In late May 1912, in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was evicted from His hotel because, as Mahmud noted, of the “coming and going of diverse people” and the “additional labors and troubles” for the staff and the “incessant inquiries” directed to the hotel management. “But,” Mahmud continued, “when the people of the hotel saw His great kindness and favor at the time of His departure, they were ashamed of their conduct and begged Him to stay longer, but He would not accept.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 111)
3. Just an hour before the luncheon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent word to Louis Gregory that he might come to Him for the promised conference. Louis arrived at the appointed time, and the conference went on and on; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed to want to prolong it. When luncheon was announced, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá led the way and all followed Him into the dining room, except Louis. All were seated when suddenly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood up, looked around, and then said to Mírza Khan, Where is Mr. Gregory? Bring Mr Gregory! There was nothing for Mírzá Khan to do but find Mr. Gregory, who fortunately had not yet left the house, but was quietly waiting for a chance to do so. Finally Mr. Gregory came into the room with Mírzá Khan.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who was really the Host (as He was wherever He was), had by this time rearranged the place setting and made room for Mr. Gregory, giving him the seat of honor at His right. He stated He was very pleased to have Mr. Gregory there, and then, in the most natural way as if nothing unusual had happened, proceeded to give a talk on the oneness of mankind. (Agnes Parson’s Diary, p 31-33)
4. Though most of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s time was spent with the rich, famous and white people, He gave special attention to their black servants, treating them no differently than their employers. On 4 August ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a group of 28 black people, and spoke of the importance of unity and amity between black and white people. He told them of the upcoming marriage of Louisa Mathew, a white woman, and Louis Gregory, a black man. The white people in the audience were amazed at the influence the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh had on everyone, while the black people were very pleased to hear about such integration. Some Americans considered the creation of unity between blacks and whites to be nearly miraculous and as difficult to accomplish as “splitting the moon in half”, but here was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showing that it could happen. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 161)
5. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked back to the hotel and said how nice it would be to eat in the gardens. The hotel manager, who recognized ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from the Denver newspapers, immediately brought out a large table and chairs. Fujita remembered that there were only five chairs at the table. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked why there was no chair for Fujita, the waiter said, “Well, he is your servant.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá then said, “That doesn’t matter. Make another place. It doesn’t make any difference whether servant, or different color. We are all one. He should sit there, and Fujita come here”. It was so beautiful. And all the Persians, five of them, around. And so, then the waiter was very much surprised, remembered Fujita later. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 207)
6. Howard Colby Ives tells … a story when about 30 of the boys arrived for their meeting: … Among the last to enter the room was a colored lad of about 13 years. He was quite dark and, being the only boy of his race among them, he evidently feared that he might not be welcome. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw him, His face lighted up with the heavenly smile. He raised His hand and exclaimed in a loud voice, so that none could fail to hear; that here was a black rose. The room fell into instant silence. The black face became illumined with happiness and love hardly of this world. The other boys looked at him with new eyes. I venture to say that he had been called black – many things, but never before a black rose. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 88)
7. Upstairs in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room the Master was seen at the door greeting each boy with a handclasp or an arm around the shoulder, with warm smiles and boyish laughter. His happiest welcome seemed to be directed to the thirteen-year-old boy near the end of the line. He was quite dark-skinned and didn’t seem too sure he would be welcome. The Master’s face lighted up and in a loud voice that all could hear exclaimed with delight that ‘here was a black rose‘. The boy’s face shone with happiness and love. Silence fell across the room as the boys looked at their companion with a new awareness. The Master did not stop at that, however. On their arrival He had asked that a big five-pound box of delicious chocolates be fetched. With this He walked around the room, ladling out chocolates by the handful to each boy. Finally, with only a few left in the box, He picked out one of the darkest chocolates, walked across the room and held it to the cheek of the black boy. The Master was radiant as He lovingly put His arm around the boy’s shoulders and looked with a humorously piercing glance around the group without making any further comment. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 100)
The Prayer that Freed the Slaves
Sanctified art Thou, O my God! At this moment, one slave (mamlūk) is standing before another slave and seeks, from him, his freedom. Yet his owner, himself, is naught but a slave of Thee, a servant in Thy Threshold, and absolute nothingness before the manifestations of Thy Lordship.
Standing before Thee, I bear witness, at this very moment, to that which Thou hast testified by Thyself for Thyself, that verily Thou art God and there is none other God but Thee … All mighty kings are mere slaves before the gate of Thy grace, and all the wealthy are the essence of poverty in the shore of Thy holy dominion, and all the exalted are abject lowliness within the glorified court of Thy bounty. Notwithstanding this, how then can this slave claim for himself ownership of any other human being? Nay, his existence is a mere crime, graver than any sin in Thy kingdom …
And now, O my God, since that servant hath asked from this servant his freedom, therefore, I call Thee to witness, at this moment, that I am setting him free in Thy path, liberating him in Thy name, and emancipating his neck from the chain of servitude, so that he may serve Thee in the daytime and in the night season, longing that my neck would never be relieved from the cord of Thy servitude. This verily is my most cherished desire and my supreme end. (Baha’u’llah, unpublished Tablet (A08212), provisional translation by Nader Saiedi, Ph.D)
The Path Home
“The Path Home” is a film commissioned by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada to honour those who contributed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is seeking justice and truth on behalf of residential school survivors, their children and grandchildren.
This film presents reflections of several people who had suffered from the tragic results of the residential school program in their childhoods, along with reflections from some of their children and grandchildren, today active in Baha’i youth programs
Racism Dance – Wildfire
The Wildfire Dance Theatre is a social and economic development project, consisting of youth artists dedicated to promoting Unity in Diversity by addressing social issues through the performing arts. Wildfire is a division of the Nancy Campbell Collegiate Institute. This group performs dance theatre or story-telling dance drama on various social issues such as racial unity, the equality of women and men, and the extremes of wealth and poverty. They provide audiences with:
- entertainment to make people laugh & smile and bring joy to people’s hearts
- education to cultivate knowledge and wisdom about the world and its peoples, and about social issues such as racism, violence and inequality
- inspiration to uplift, to give hope and to move people to act upon their nobility
In this selection, we see them perform the Racism Dance
Racism is Everyone’s Problem . . . Say Something
Have you ever been in a situation where something racist was said; and you didn’t know what to say? So did these people! Have a listen!
This book by Phyllis Unterschuetz is a collection of true stories from the journey of one white couple toward understanding their hidden fears, prejudices, and ultimate connection to African-Americans. It contains matter-of-fact statements about the fear and suspicion that both African-Americans and whites still harbor toward one another, and it describes how these barriers can, with the right amount of effort, be overcome. The book makes the case that both African-Americans and whites need each other and can ultimately connect through open-mindedness and tolerance.
The authors describe uncomfortable and embarrassing situations, examine their mistakes and unconscious assumptions, and share what they have learned about being white. They share insight from black friends and strangers who taught them to see beyond superficial theories and to confront the attitudes that have shaped how Americans think about race. But above all, their stories speak about the longing they discovered everywhere they traveled—a longing to connect and to heal from the racial separation that has so deeply wounded this country.
Scott Antilla of Harmony Works offers a variety of workshops and programs in race education; healing racism; building cross-cultural competencies; youth leadership and service programs for a multicultural society; addressing white privilege; applied skills for making change; implementing cross-cultural social and economic development programs and mediating conflict arising from race and culture.
His multicultural team of facilitators provide processes that advance multiracial and multicultural collaboration in communities, schools and the workplace.
The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace was established in 1993 at the University of Maryland. Their goal at that time was to study major issues of world peace as presented in the Universal House of Justice’s Statement “The Promise of World Peace.” It has grown to become an endowed academic program that advances interdisciplinary examination and discourse on global peace. While drawing certain initial insights from religion, the program aims to develop a sound scientific basis for knowledge and strategies that lead to the creation of a better world.
Through an active program of research and publication, Professor Hoda Mahmoudi collaborates with a wide range of scholars, researchers, and practitioners. She recognizes the value of a broad concept of peacemaking—which she refers to as a “worldview approach”—that addresses the many underlying issues involved and employs perspectives from diverse cultures. In particular, she is committed to forging international research partnerships that significantly expand and enrich the prevailing, Western-oriented model of peace education.
A core purpose of the Bahá’í Chair’s teaching and outreach is to encourage students to cultivate critical thinking skills, which lead to understandings about the complex nature of social change in the creation of a more peaceful world. Within this broad educational objective, students develop a set of values—including the importance of service to others—that are the basis of lifelong engagement in framing public policy in areas such as the social and behavioral sciences, science and technology, and the arts and humanities. Such values can also guide students in their international and civic life.
Our Readers Write:
I love reading your articles. Thank you for your wonderful contribution. I read that on July 10, Baha’is celebrate the martyrdom of the Bab. How about if we use to commemorate the martyrdom of the Bab, rather celebrating it. Keep up the beautiful job you are doing. (Manijeh Khorshidi)
Another thought provoking newsletter. Although it did occur to me that ‘Abdu’l-Baha would have eaten organic unprocessed food rather than that which is available in North American supermarkets, even pasteurization was not the norm during his time! (Clare Stodden)
Thanks to all who write in! Your encouragement really keeps me going!
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See you next month! Hope it’s a month filled with the right kind of words!