Finding a Way to Deal with the Hopelessness
As I came to understand racism, I realized that if I was going to be a good ally, I would need to start educating others. Yet the more I learned about racism, the more hopeless I became.
When I made that commitment to be there when the lynch mob came, I had no idea what I was agreeing to because I in no way understood the depth of the problem. My experience has confirmed that few people understand the depth of the problem unless they are directly faced with the onslaught of racial discrimination on a daily basis. Even then, they may not really understand racism. This lack of understanding is reflected in statements such as, “That was racist. Get over it!” When one truly understands racism, one realizes that you can’t “just get over it.” It’s more complicated than that.
As I came to understand racism more deeply, I also realized that if I was going to be a good ally, I would need to start educating others. Yet the more I learned about racism, the more hopeless I became. Although I was slowly reclaiming my ability to speak up and interrupt racist jokes, I was still in the grip of the fear and powerlessness from my early childhood trauma. I was terrified about leading and being visible. The support I needed to step out into the world came in the form of a very tall, muscular African American man named Solomon Atkins.
One day, I happened to go into my friend’s health food store where I met Solomon Atkins, a professor at a local college. Over a period of several weeks, we kept running into each at the health food store. Each time, we would greet each other and then begin an in-depth conversation about a variety of subjects. We eventually talked about racism and he shared some information about himself. He knew about RC and had practiced it for several years. He told me that he had been a member of the Black Panthers and had become friends with a former Ku Klux Klansman through the Baha’i Faith. He felt that what he had gotten from the Baha’i Faith was the most potent medicine for healing racism and creating social justice. Well, he had my attention.
Now I wasn’t a religious person at that time. I didn’t believe in God other that when I was in desperate situations. I had taught my twelve-year old son, Derek, that God was a “crutch” that people created when they needed hope and support. Nevertheless, I decided to check this Baha’i thing out, all the while I was fearful that Baha’i was possibly a cult of some sort. I went to a Baha’i children’s class with Derek. Classes were held in a member’s home. The best thing about this experience was the ethnic diversity of the people. At the beginning of class, Solomon played his guitar and sang with the children. One song, in particular, grabbed my heart. It went something like this: “We all live in the dream of one world, hoping that maybe someday we love as we were meant to love–as one people, one planet. Please God we may achieve it.”
I did not participate in the adult class, but instead read as much as I could about the Baha’i Faith while Derek played with the children in his class. Through my reading, I came to understand that Baha’is believed in what they call “the three onenesses”: the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of the human family. They believed that throughout the ages God has been guiding humanity to higher and higher states of maturity and understanding. God accomplished this through special souls such as Abraham, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and Mohammed who each brought the newest message to the people and the age in which they lived. Baha’is believe that the most recent in this lineage of “special souls” that had come to help humanity move from its collective adolescence to its maturity was the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah.
I could see where Solomon could have gotten his inspiration to overcome his racial prejudice and become friends with a former KKK member. Baha’u’llah’s writing often stresses the need to overcome all forms of prejudice and to recognize the oneness of humankind including the equality of the sexes. Baha’u’llah’s mission was to bring the spiritual nourishment that would help unify the world to recognize the three onenesses.
I took my son to the Baha’i children’s classes because he enjoyed them; he was learning spiritual virtues like honesty and compassion, plus he was having more intimate contact with children of diverse cultures and races which I had come to realize was important. I continued to read while Derek was in class. I could easily believe that Baha’u’llah was who He claimed to be, if I could just believe in God. I did not become a Baha’i at that time, as my atheism was just too strong.
But that was all to change when I went to a meditation retreat sometime within the next year or so. I had gone to this weekend meditation retreat based on the recommendation of a friend. It was required that each person meditate on a particular phrase. I was to focus on “Tell me who you are”. We worked in pairs and took turns asking each other the phrase we were assigned. Even when we were on break, we were instructed to meditate on our phrase. During one break, I saw a group of African heritage children, eight to ten years old, playing across the street from the retreat. Four children were each holding a little girl down by her arm or leg. A fifth child, a boy, got on top of her and pretended to move his body in such a way as if he were having sex with her.
I was so depressed to see children behaving in this way. When I thought about how overwhelming it was going to be to overcome racism, I was again filled with a deep sense of hopelessness. During that moment I came to believe that if there wasn’t a God who had a plan for our planet, there would truly be no hope. Suddenly I remembered that I was suppose to be focusing on the question of the workshop I was attending, “Who am I”. When I asked myself that question, the answer that I received was “I am a Baha’i”.
This put me on a new path filled with great hope.