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America and Race: We Have Work to Do

Hoda Hosseini | Aug 5, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Hoda Hosseini | Aug 5, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

I’m an Iranian-American, an immigrant who came to the lovely shores of the United States 32 years ago. Because of our religion, my family was forced to leave our homeland, and my parents braved every element to bring us to the United States simply to live and experience basic human rights and freedom. They wanted to escape blatant individual and institutionalized religious prejudice, and the literally cradle-to-grave overtly biased policies put in place against the Baha’is in Iran. This oppression against my co-religionists continues unabated by the regime of the Islamic Republic today.

Honestly though, from the first moments I arrived here in the U.S., I personally witnessed the same kind of prejudice here. African Americans experience overt, multi-layered individual prejudice and institutionalized race-based prejudice that adversely affects them all—and in every area of their lives, like jobs, housing, education, healthcare, etc. That widespread prejudice is almost identical to what Baha’is experience in Iran, with one huge exception—in Iran, we Baha’is had the ability to blend in with the “in” group, because of our skin color.

So I really connect with African Americans, and feel the pain that continues generation after generation.

Yes, as an immigrant, like all those who came before us and continue to try to live the American Dream, you are “taught” the doctrine of white supremacy right off the bat. In a most subtle way you are told: “don’t live there,” “don’t go to school there,” “don’t work there,” “don’t socialize with them,” and “definitely don’t marry them,” “make sure your kids don’t go to school with them either.” All this prejudice makes you realize that contrary to your highest hopes, there really are two Americas, one white and one black, separate, unequal and hostile.

If you join in with this divisive, polarized thinking and put it into action, the dominant group you’re privileged to join will keep getting bigger and stronger, and will guarantee that you and your group will continue to get ahead. That privilege grants a great benefit to you, at a great loss to others.

Well, thank God, I have never allowed myself to swallow the noxious, deadly poison of so called “racial superiority” or any superiority due to one’s skin color, ethnicity, religion, zip-code, culture or way of life.

As a Baha’i, I have always believed that there is only one race: the human race—that we are all members of one human family. According to every branch of science, no matter what shade of color, we all originated from one homeland: Africa.

Unfortunately historically significant populations, specifically African Americans and Native Americans, have been systematically denied basic human rights for hundreds of years. Those peoples continue to be oppressed, so sadly, right here in America—although in truth and reality we are one—we don’t treat each other as one. Color and class do make a big difference in the way we treat one another.

black-lives-matterSo just because things are going well for me here, must I remain indifferent to the racial inequality affecting my brothers and sisters of African descent—even though, as a white person, I’m also of African descent?

We live in Ft. Lauderdale where people of different colors, nationalities and creeds coexist, and I love it! I get to meet all types of people. I often find myself explaining the immigrant experience, like leaving your home country, learning a new language and customs, being adopted by America and loving it as your own.

I have spent countless hours with my African-American friends, neighbors and patients, hearing about what it was like to grow up black and often poor in America, and how so much is stacked against them. Every single black person I have met, every friend I know has given or received “the talk” on how to act and how not to act if stopped by the police. Every single one! Some of my black friends and patients are famous, they are doctors, wealthy and well-travelled—but most are everyday regular people. Regardless of who they are, though, they have all had “the talk” with their kids.

Well, I have never had to have “the talk” with my kids. Nobody in my family has ever had to, and as far as I know, none of my Iranian-American friends who are parents have had to either. Like most in the dominant white culture, I have always assumed and believed that all police officers are decent, kind-hearted, good people risking their lives every day to serve and protect. I have never, ever been afraid that a simple traffic violation would end up being more than paying a fine. The experience every person of African descent who I know is very much to the contrary—it is totally different. That means we have a lot of work to do.

I know America can be better. The Baha’i teachings promise us that improvement will happen:

The age has dawned when human fellowship will become a reality.

The century has come when all religions shall be unified.

The dispensation is at hand when all nations shall enjoy the blessings of international peace.

The cycle has arrived when racial prejudice will be abandoned by tribes and peoples of the world.

The epoch has begun wherein all native lands will be conjoined in one great human family.

For all mankind shall dwell in peace and security beneath the shelter of the great tabernacle of the one living God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 369.

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Comments

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  • Mark David Vinzens
    Aug 5, 2016
    -
    The Warrior of the Light is a believer.
    Because he believes in miracles, miracles begin to happen. Because he is sure that his thoughts can change his life, his life begins to change. Because he is certain that he will find love, love appears.
    Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light
  • Colette Harrison
    Aug 5, 2016
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    Hoda, this is a wonderful and thoughtful reflection of what cannot be ignored! We must uncover and undo both the overt and covert racism and prejudices of the old world order in our striving toward the new world order promised in the Baha'i Writings, such at the quote you offered.
    • Aug 6, 2016
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      Thank you for your thoughtful encouragement Collette!
    • Aug 6, 2016
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      Dear Helen! Thank you for your constant loving energy and enthusiasm in promoting racial justice!
  • Mazhar Shah
    Aug 5, 2016
    -
    A nicely expressed view point.
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