Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Black Nationalism: A Few Baha'i Thoughts

A picture of Marcus Garvey in 1924 courtesy of Wikipedia
Several months ago I read a remarkable book by Tommie Shelby called We Who Are Dark that I highly recommend. One of the most important statements he made was the following:

"Strains of black nationalism have become, for all practical purposes, a constitutive component of the self-understanding of a substantial segment of the African American population. These strains run so deep that an uncompromising and comprehensive attack on them will surely be met with hostility or suspicion, if it is taken seriously at all...The transformation of black political consciousness-or the political consciousness of any group, for that matter-is more likely to come about if the new vision can be comprehended as an extension of, rather than a radical rupture with, traditional beliefs of the group."

Shelby explains some of the elements that have constituted the various strains of black nationalism in American history, including the following:

"black self-determination, racial solidarity and group self reliance, various forms of voluntary racial separation, pride in the historic achievements of persons of African Descent, a concerted effort to overcome racial self-hate and to instill black self-love, militant collective resistance to white supremacy, the development and preservation of a distinct black cultural identity, and the recognition of Africa as the true homeland of those who are racially black."

If as, I have said in the past black people have be called by Almighty God to provide spiritual leadership in the creation of a new civilization and the Baha'i Faith is the key to unlocking this potential, then it is important to address black nationalism as "constitutive component of the self-understanding of a substantial segment of the African American population". This of course is a book length topic to get into so I'm only going to get the conversation going with a few Baha'i Thoughts. Shoghi Effendi has suggested that there is a "sane and legitimate patriotism" and my question is whether or not there is a sane and legitimate black nationalism? Here is one selection from the Baha'i Writings that may provide some illumination:

"Let there be no misgivings as to the animating purpose of the world-wide Law of Bahá'u'lláh. Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society, it seeks to broaden its basis, to remold its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world. It can conflict with no legitimate allegiances, nor can it undermine essential loyalties...It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race."
Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah

When I consider this statement in light of the question of whether or not there is a "sane and legitimate" black nationalism it seems to me "the world-wide Law of Baha'u'llah" does not aim at the subversion the existing foundations of African American life but seeks to "broaden its basis". It cannot conflict with ones "legitimate allegiances, nor can it undermine essential loyalties" that African Americans may have with each other or those institutions that have helped us to survive enslavement and systemic discrimination. It does not "ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, differentiate" African Americans from Americans of other backgrounds. It rather, "calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiriation than any that has animated" the African American community thus far in our history. I believe that it is possible for some strains of black nationalist thought and Baha'i thought to exist comfortably in the same mind and heart. While I may not walk around in a T-Shirt proclaiming myself as a Baha'i Black Nationalist, I can embrace black nationalism as a kind of moral imperative within the context of that "wider loyalty" and "larger aspiration" that the "world-wide Law of Baha'u'llah" requires.

What do you think?