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What Do We Do When Our House Is on Fire?

Kathy Roman | Oct 2, 2020

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Kathy Roman | Oct 2, 2020

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

Although I find it surprising that among some individuals, there continues to be a debate over the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” let’s see if we can better understand its meaning. 

Simply, Black Lives Matter is a movement founded by three women in 2013 in response to the acquittal in Trayvon Martin’s murder. 

Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American 17-year-old, was shot in a Florida gated community on his way to visit relatives living there. Martin had no criminal record when he was shot and killed by neighborhood watch member, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman said that he did not regret his actions on the night of the shooting, despite warnings from the police, and that he felt what had happened, and I quote, “was all God’s plan”. 

Accordingly, the Black Lives Matter movement does not dispute the fact that all human lives matter – and it never has. Instead, the phrase asks us to focus on a segment of our population in dire need of justice and basic human rights. This portion of humanity – African Americans – continues to battle the fire of racial hatred and injustice, even after more than 400 years of oppression. This fire must be addressed and extinguished. 

Think of it, if you will, as a house on fire. Our first response is to rush to put out the fire. Of course all houses are important, but we must address the one on fire immediately. If we don’t, people will continue to die. In this fire we’re all first responders. We are one human family, and we need to come to the aid of all humankind.

At this crucial time in our history, blood runs in American streets from the effects of racial inequality. Do we step in and address the actual issues happening in real time, or do we dispute over semantics like immature children? 

Baha’is believe that achieving racial equality is crucial to the advancement of the world, and specifically, the United States. This 1916 quote from Abdu’l-Baha warned Americans:

Until these prejudices [racial, political, religious, patriotic] are entirely removed from the people of the world, the realm of humanity will not find rest. Nay, rather, discord and bloodshed will be increased day by day, and the foundation of the prosperity of the world of man will be destroyed. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 7, pp. 120-121.

When I was in America, I told the white and coloured people that it was incumbent upon them to be united or else there would be the shedding of blood. I did not say more than this so that they might not be saddened. But, indeed, there is a greater danger than only the shedding of blood. It is the destruction of America. – Ibid.

If you have a friend who is dying, you don’t complain to him about your health, you get him to the hospital. No one disputes that your health matters, but it is not the issue at the momentyour friend’s very existence is

This is why Black Lives Matter. 

Fighting the pandemic of racism must be our long-overdue focus at this critical time in history. Racism is a disease that infiltrates and degrades the social order. We must consecrate our efforts to heal this illness. If we ignore it, the fires of prejudice and hatred threaten to set our country aflame:

Racism is the most challenging issue confronting America. A nation whose ancestry includes every people on earth, whose motto is E pluribus unum, (out of many, one) whose ideals of freedom under law have inspired millions throughout the world, cannot continue to harbor prejudice against any racial or ethnic group without betraying itself.

Racism is an affront to human dignity, a cause of hatred and division, a disease that devastates society. – The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Vision of Race Unity, America’s Most Challenging Issue.

One of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, Alicia Garza, explained how black lives mattering is a prerequisite for all lives mattering:

Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important – it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end the hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free. – Alicia Garza, “What Black Lives Matter Means (and Why It’s Problematic to Say “All Lives Matter”)”

White lives matter already with regard to the government and police. Black lives experience discrimination – in fact, black Americans are disproportionately impacted by police violence. Black people are twice as likely as white people to be killed by a police officer while unarmed. Black Americans died at the hands of police at a rate of 7.2 per million, while whites were killed at a rate of 2.9 per million, according to a 2015 study. The statistics alone tell us that an oppressed, marginalized, and disenfranchised group in our human family is in the greatest and most dire need of justice, equality and the basic protection of their human rights. Our attention now must be on them, our beloved African American brothers and sisters. Let’s stop arguing about words and start focusing on the actions that will heal our nation.

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