Thursday, April 12, 2007

Black Power Comes From God

Photo of Tommie Jones and John Carlos, 1968 Mexico City Olympics

I wasn't going to do this. I wasn't going to say anything else about the Don Imus thing, but yesterday while I thought about it, something gnawed at my soul. What bothered me are the implications of the way that some people are discussing this incident. I know that I just wrote a piece about the power of words and I'm not trying to contradict that (we'll see if I succeed), but something about watching the parade of clearly well-fed, well-educated Black folk go on and on about how "hurt" they feel about Imus' comments started to bug me. What I concluded is that the excessive focus on how upsetting these kinds of statements are to African Americans is a way of saying that we are so fragile from the experience of racism in this country, that such comments are psychologically devastating to us, rather than simply offensive or annoying. If we want to talk about how language reflects the ways that race and gender have been socially constructed and how that relates to issues of inequality and oppression, fine. But going on and on about how bad African Americans feel, beyond a certain point, becomes paternalistic and condescending, which is just as bad as what was said in the first place. My personal experience and my study of history suggests that African Americans are made of tougher stuff. Let's talk about racism, sexism, and oppression, but let's stop talking as if every time a person says something sexist or racist or just plain ignorant, that we've experienced some kind of profound, debilitating trauma. Every Black American, even on their worst day is living proof that we have survived the worst that white supremacy could throw at us. As the Baha'i Writings recognize, African Americans have sustained "grievous and slow healing wounds" and I live with those wounds every day in my own life and the lives of people I love. However, there is more to who we are. We are a resilient people richly blessed by God. We are powerful (as all human beings are) because God made us that way:

"O SON OF BEING! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof." (Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting." (Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

"O SON OF MAN! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory." (Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

When I meditate upon my true identity as a noble creation in the image and likeness of God, I feel confident that I can chose to not allow my thoughts, feelings or behavior to be determined by the words or deeds of any other human being. They did not make me and they cannot destroy me. When I remember who I really am, I am empowered to chose to respond to others with nobility and grace in spite of what they do:

"Wherefore must the loved ones of God associate in affectionate fellowship with stranger and friend alike, showing forth to all the utmost loving-kindness, disregarding the degree of their capacity, never asking whether they deserve to be loved. In every instance let the friends be considerate and infinitely kind. Let them never be defeated by the malice of the people, by their aggression and their hate, no matter how intense. If others hurl their darts against you, offer them milk and honey in return; if they poison your lives, sweeten their souls; if they injure you, teach them how to be comforted; if they inflict a wound upon you, be a balm to their sores; if they sting you, hold to their lips a refreshing cup." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 24)

And furthermore:

"Soon will your swiftly-passing days be over, and the fame and riches, the comforts, the joys provided by this rubbish-heap, the world, will be gone without a trace. Summon ye, then, the people to God, and invite humanity to follow the example of the Company on high. Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 3)

I know that most people reading this post already understand what I've tried to say, but what I've been hearing on the news has compelled me to say it one more time at the top of my lungs. African Americans are not what people have done, or will do to us in the future. We are the pupil of the eye!