Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Black Religion, Baha'i Community:Part Two

For this next installment of Black Religion, Baha'i Community I decided to pose a question to a few Baha'is of different racial/ethnic backgrounds and see how they would respond. The question was "What do you think it means when the Baha'i Writings compare black people to the 'pupil of the eye'?" Here are four responses that I have received so far. I strongly encourage readers to include their own thoughts in the comment section. Let's do some thinking together about this profound analogy that Baha'u'llah has given humanity.

What “the pupil of the eye” means in concrete terms to me is that people of color have the vision that is so needed NOW. Without this vision, I believe we are doomed to fail in our endeavors; it’s life and death with me. My dad was trained as a history teacher, and history is favorite subject of mine. Over the last ten years, I’ve tried very hard to understand American history (and my own personal history), as well as current events, by looking through what I call a “racial lens” – a way of thinking that is very difficult for white Americans to acquire and which requires constant effort to keep focused at all. Without using this lens, I feel I miss the most important parts of any issue. I constantly seek out information from people of color - friends, neighbors and acquaintances as well as authors, speakers, comedians, etc., to find out what’s going on, and to really listen to the bounty I’ve received. Not only do I feel that this is the right thing to do, and part of my own spiritual responsibility, but it has become one of the joys of my life.

Helen Keniston Oney, white, music lover

I have two main responses. The first comes from an activity called the privilege walk. In this activity, everyone lines up, side by side, in the middle of the room. The facilitator begins to read out sentences, and those who identify with the sentence are asked to either step forward (when the sentence refers to a privilege) or step backward (when it's a disadvantage). For example, "If you've ever been pulled over by a police officer because you looked suspicious, take one step back. If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary or middle school, take one step forward." At the end, the room is pretty stratified, and many people end it here, using this as a demonstration that privilege does exist in our society. But I prefer to take it to the next step by asking people in the front of the room and people in the back of the room what they can see - what they know about each other. Those in the front, those with privilege, have to admit that they don't know much about what's going on behind them, whereas those in the back have been able to see the movements of the whole group, and know clearly the paths that have been taken. This is the way I understand the concept of the pupil of the eye being the "revealer of the contingent world."
People of African descent have borne the brunt of colonialism, racism, oppression, etc, and this has placed them in the way of much suffering. At the same time, we are now embraced by a Revelation that unmistakably declares that tests and suffering are a gift from God. ‘Abdu'l-Baha says, "Be not grieved; tests lead to the development of holy souls and the ardor of the flame of fire causeth the pure gold to shine and the violence of winds is conducive to the growth and thriving of a firm and well rooted tree" (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v2, p. 297). It seems to me that there is much wisdom and insight that comes as a result of being tested, of suffering, and finding solace, strength, and truth in God. In more practical terms, I think this idea of the pupil of the eye really calls us (the global human community) to think about who our leaders are, and to make sure that more of them are "founts of light" and vision, wisdom, and perspicacity. My other main response is just an offering of a quote from the Apocryphal Christian texts I recently came across, something that struck me when I read it and made me smile. According to the Gospel of Thomas (II:25), "Jesus said, 'Love your brother like your soul, guard him like the pupil of your eye.'"

My name is Negin, I identify myself as Persian, and I am a grad student in social psychology

Of all the fascinating things about the pupil of the eye, my favorite is this: When you look into a person’s pupil you see your own reflection. What’s more, the pupil of the eye has now seen you and the mind behind the eye perceives you, and the soul behind the mind understands you and the body containing the soul responds to you. The responses I have witnessed from “the Pupil of the Eye” — both in Africa and America — have been passionate, artistic, intelligent, courageous, physical and fascinating. Sometimes there is anger. Sometimes there is joy. But, consistently, black people have helped me open my eyes and see things I did not expect to see. They have focused my vision on the real rather than the imaginary, the true instead of the illusory. This is the grace of these souls. They have seen things, terribly ugly things, and despite this many, many, many of them continue to cultivate the courage to see and to reflect the beauty of the entire human family. People of African Descent make me proud of being a human being. They show me what is possible. They show me my problems in the context of the human experience. This is profoundly humbling and humanizing.

Bruce Grover, white, writer/musician

The scriptural pronouncement in the Bahá’í Writings that Black people can be compared to the “pupil of the eye” represents a profound affirmation of the potential latent with the souls of Black people. A part of what this means in my opinion, is that the ability to discover penetrating spiritual and intellectual truths has been highly developed in the DNA and subconscious of Black people as a result of the centuries of trials and tribulations which they have suffered during their existence on this planet. As a result, they have a heightened capacity for justice, compassion and love, qualities of the heart which the world needs so urgently today. The affirmation does not imply that every Black person reflects these qualities, but is implies that the potential is there and ready to shine forth with the right education.

Willis Burris, Black Accountant - Economist