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5 Things You Can Do About Freddie Gray

David Langness | Apr 29, 2015

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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David Langness | Apr 29, 2015

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

During the past week, we’ve all seen yet more proof that we can’t wish away the issues of race, violence and the justice system in America. In Baltimore, the unexplained death of Freddie Gray has set off huge demonstrations, sporadic violence, the destruction of property and the outrage of millions.

The flashpoint, once again, involves the death of an unarmed black male while in police custody in the United States–but we can apply the same principles anywhere that racial division, prejudice and hatred happen. How can we, as individuals, eradicate the last traces of racism and its ugly effects from our own interior landscape?

The Baha’i teachings on the oneness of humanity offer the world an enormous depth and breadth of solutions when it comes to racism, its effects and its solutions. In just one very specific, clear and pointed passage written in 1936, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, urged Americans to take responsibility for and actively own the issues of race, no matter their color:

A tremendous effort is required by both races if their outlook, their manners, and conduct are to reflect, in this darkened age, the spirit and teachings of the Faith of Baha’u’llah. Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. Let them, while each is attempting to contribute its share to the solution of this perplexing problem, call to mind the warnings of Abdu’l-Baha, and visualize, while there is yet time, the dire consequences that must follow if this challenging and unhappy situation that faces the entire American nation is not definitely remedied.

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds. Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith. Let neither 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. 39.

So here, for your consideration, are five very specific recommendations for personal, individual solutions from the Baha’i teachings—immediate, practical things you can do in your community to help stop more deaths like Freddie Gray’s from happening:

  1. protesters-hold-hands-baltimoreJust as the Baha’i writings suggest, own the issue, regardless of your color. The injustice and scourge of racism isn’t just a “black problem”—it belongs to everyone. When you own this issue, you’ll naturally want to bridge the racial divide, listen thoughtfully and carefully consider what others say and feel: “Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others.” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72.

  2. Work diligently on your own inner prejudices. We all have them. Make a concerted effort to eradicate those attitudes and the self-interest that goes along with them: “Do not listen to anything that is prejudiced, for self-interest prompts men to be prejudiced.” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 42.

  3. Look at every situation with fairness. Don’t condemn the actions of others until you’ve walked in their shoes: “Cleave ye to justice and fairness, and turn away from the whisperings of the foolish…” – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 342.

  4. Work actively and constantly to search out close connections with people from disparate racial and cultural backgrounds—to seek and build the “intimate, informal and spontaneous association” with people of other races that the Baha’i teachings encourage.

  5. Stop thinking of yourself as different or apart from others, and begin considering yourself as part of one human family: “Turn your eyes away from foreignness and gaze unto oneness, and hold fast unto the means which conduce to the tranquility and security of the people of the whole world.” – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i World Faith, p. 182.

We often think of racism as an issue that belongs solely to those who suffer its effects. But that defeats the purpose, blames the victims, and means the majority fails to hear the cries or feel the pain of the minority.

When questions and controversy about race arise, some people tend to think of the entire race-based conversation as a one-sided diatribe, describing and denouncing bias and prejudice that they just can’t see—and don’t think they have. As a result, people of color often feel unheard and ignored despite their calls for justice, and frustrated that the dominant culture can’t or won’t acknowledge the issues.

Instead, Baha’u’llah asks everyone to be “upholders and defenders of the victims of oppression,” so no matter our skin color, we can all make our utmost effort, “day and night,” to put that principle into practice. Above all, remember the Baha’i admonition: “Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other.”

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Comments

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  • May 2, 2015
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    Hi - I'd like to see this article published in newspapers+news programs across the country! The solutions at the end, as well as the quotation from the Guardian these should be shared and consulted on, hopefully all over the globe, among all effected - which is most of us! Thanks for this article. Baha'is of Dubuque, Iowa
  • May 1, 2015
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    Ignorance, intolerance and prejudice are taught, or learned, through personal experience. Change of attitude only comes from within, again from experience, and also from enlightenment. I appreciate these five steps toward tolerance and acceptance as personal paths to change, so desperately needed in the current atmosphere of extreme poles of misunderstanding and mistrust. It seems inadequate to be "nice" and silent on this important issue, so perhaps the Pearl S. Buck's injunction "know thy neighbor as thyself'"will lead to better outcomes.
  • Apr 30, 2015
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    While I appreciate this article (and am a big fan of this site), there is a question of if the suggestions here are really applicable to the present dynamic. As civilians we should work towards race unity in the ways you wrote, but the issue becomes much more complex when there is an entire system behind it that is enforcing the racism. We can heal our communities from racism, but how do we heal those empowered by a badge? There's less incentive to change racist tendencies, and more is needed than these 5 things to correct a system that kills ...humans regularly, but cannot be held accountable. I wonder if Mr Langness might reconsider saying there are only "last traces" of racism today, when it is very likely that it is the same amount, but is expressed in a more subtle form.
    Read more...
    • May 4, 2015
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      Greg Hodges It's worth noting, now that criminal charges have been filed in the case of Mr. Gray's death, three of the six identified defendants are black. And one is a woman. I've long worried the "because racism" conclusion regarding this ongoing unrest over police tactics might have been over-simplified. And, at least in this instance, that seems to be the case. However, what I do see -- and what I don't think is being talked about enough -- is something you touch on here. That being, the increasingly paramilitary atmosphere and protocol among police departments, particularly in large urban ...areas. Perhaps more so than any time in recent memory, a significantly high percentage of officers are veterans, including many combat veterans. Police departments, I think, tend these days to frame things in terms of a struggle, or even being "at war" on the streets. And officers sometimes see fit to take on a mentality of dominance and punishment. It didn't used to be that way. It used to be, the hallmark of a good officer was the ability to defuse a situation. My grandfather was an officer for decades. And to my knowledge, he never drew his duty weapon.
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    • May 1, 2015
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      You ask how can we heal those empowered by a badge. Here's a quote from Baha'ullah that I think is relevant. "Justice, which consisteth in rendering each his due, dependeth upon and is conditioned by two words: reward and punishment. From the standpoint of justice, every soul should receive the reward of his actions, inasmuch as the peace and prosperity of the world depend thereon..." Basically, police officers should be rewarded for behavior that improves society and punished for behavior that corrodes society. But right now, in way too many American cities, the opposite is what's happening. The public ...policy that guides police hiring decisions, training, career advancement, etc. encourages reckless and oppressive behavior. And so long as police departments, as institutions, see people of color as threats to be subdued they will only continue to warp the minds and hearts of those who serve within them.
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  • Apr 29, 2015
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    I appreciate the reference to the writings that encourage calm, detached reasoning on this subject. Too often, it gets lost in the emotions. Regarding one of the terms de jour “white privilege,” I’ve recently considered contemplations on it from two people with somewhat opposing views. Tim Wise, a white man, argues that it is quite a real and powerful force. Walter Williams, a black man, argues that it’s largely a phantom construct, and discrimination against blacks by others is perhaps really the least of the black community’s problems – but that rather, many of its most troublesome problems are actually ...internal. So, ironically, a white man is arguing that blacks are more oppressed than many want to see or admit, while a black man is arguing that blacks aren’t nearly as oppressed as many want to imagine they are. Both make very good points – and I would encourage anybody to listen to and consider with an open mind what both these men have to say. In the end, perhaps the old axiom rings true: that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
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    • May 13, 2015
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      Erik Howard Erik,
      I think introspection is needed all around. That, of course, starts at the personal level, and is perhaps the first and most important task facing each individual. As far as being a “white male,” so to speak, I’m both skeptical and somewhat resentful of that label supposedly being a marker for having the world laid at one’s feet. Personally, I’ve never experienced that. Even with those supposed advantages, and with a college degree, I’ve spent a good portion of my adult working life one paycheck away from homelessness, and without health insurance. (After all, one can’t afford ...the payroll deductions for insurance when rent has to be paid.) We also must consider that many white men are steeped in cultural traditions that hinge one’s very sense of honor on the perception of fierce independence and absolute self-sufficiency. And if we’re perceived as holding all the advantages, that can put white men in the position of being thought of as the least likely to need help, as well as the least likely to ask for it. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that we’re one of the most at-risk demographics for suicide.
      Considering another matter, I recall hearing the story of an immigrant family from Nigeria that came to the U.S. with virtually nothing, and yet achieved considerable success within roughly a generation or so – thereby demonstrably defying many preconceptions from all sides about blacks and their chances in America. Indeed, some point to immigrants of all colors as examples of inspiration. I speculate this could be mostly for three reasons. First, they often still have strong and intact families (and by that, I mean multi-generational extended families.) Second, no matter how bad some of us might think we have it, they’ve probably seen far worse – so things that might knock some of us on our backsides won’t even make them blink. And third, they are far more likely to have a fresh, idealistic and optimistic point of view – in other words, they aren’t loaded down with the baggage many Americans pack around in the way of preconceived notions, bad history and still-festering wounds centered on race, class, bigotry, opportunity, etc.
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    • May 13, 2015
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      Or that the truth, and the responsibility, in those are that perhaps both of them are exactly where there are called and most productive in loving themselves, their community, and God. My point is that both are, in a sense, advocating for the other and it seems more often than not THAT'S where we are called to stand in relationship to each other.
      My job as a white male is to keep myself in a place of introspection and accountability and to communicate with others of my communities (male community, white community, Detroit community, 30-somethings community, etc). It is toward ...love of others that I take this role serious. And it is not my role/lane to formulate an opinion/action against the actions of those who are oppressed with whom I do not share experience.
      Read more...
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