Friday, May 09, 2008

Beyond Race Unity

A picture of some of my peeps at the Boston Baha'i Center

I've had the pleasure of spending the last two days in a training provided by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond as part of preparing to serve on an anti-racism advisory committee for the organization that I work for. It was an excellent training and I highly recommend the People's Institute to those who are doing the work of promoting social transformation. Here's a bit of info from their website:


The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation. The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, affectionately known in the community as The People’s Institute, considers racism the primary barrier preventing communities from building effective coalitions and overcoming institutionalized oppression and inequities. Through Undoing Racism™/Community Organizing Workshops, technical assistance and consultations, PISAB helps individuals, communities, organizations and institutions move beyond addressing the symptoms of racism to undoing the causes of racism so as to create a more just and equitable society.

Founded in 1980 by long-time community organizers Ron Chisom of New Orleans, and Dr. Jim Dunn of Yellow Springs, Ohio, The People’s Institute has impacted the lives of nearly 130,000 people both nationally and internationally. Through this process, it supports a cadre of anti-racist organizers who build leadership in and account to the constituencies where they are organizing.

Today, The People’s Institute is recognized as one of the foremost anti-racism training and organizing institutions in the nation. In a 2002 Aspen Institute survey of eleven top racial justice organizations, five credited The People’s Institute with having the most effective anti-racist analysis. Read more about The People's Institute here.

One of the things that I liked most about this training was that it focused our attention on how deeply embedded racism is in the very structure of American society in such as way that it does not require any intent on the part of whites to perpetuate it. They also emphasized its relationship to economic inequality and health disparities some of which you can read more about here, here, here, here, and here.

This training impressed upon me the depth and breadth of this problem and the fact that it will involve an intergenerational struggle for the full humanity of all Americans. It will require all of the qualities specified by Shoghi Effendi in his classic letter, The Advent of Divine Justice:

"Let neither [blacks nor whites] 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."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40)

This process, as I argued in "It's About Power, Not Picnics", will require an appreciation that "the purpose of justice is the appearance of unity amongst men" as Baha'u'llah has told us. It is when justice is neglected that unity becomes uniformity and religion becomes an opiate. We have to free ourselves from the notion that because we have a picnic once a year, have an ethnic dance or two at an event or listen to celebrity Baha'is give talks about race that we are actually doing something to change a social order that distributes power and privilege based on who's white and who isn't. It's the work of real social transformation that gets me excited and is what the Baha'i Faith is all about:

"Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind -- the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh revolve -- is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds -- creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world -- a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units."
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 42)