"Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it."
One of these things is not like the others.
-Shoghi Effendi. Advent of Divine JusticeIt's black history month, so I'm going to talk about black history. The uncomfortable history. I want to talk about the America that just pulled a big wad of white supremacy out of its pocket and slammed it on the table for all to see.
When would you say the playing field was leveled for all races in America? When did we achieve the ideal of equality of opportunity?
Was it when slavery was abolished in 1863? No, the vast majority of African Americans were destitute, uneducated, continually terrorized, and regarded as inherently inferior to others. The thirteenth amendment left a loophole by allowing for slavery "as a punishment for crime". All the former slave states ramped up a convict leasing system that funneled black men, who may have looked at someone wrong, into being leased by the state to businessmen. Convicts performed brutal labor and were beaten. If one were to die, which one out of four of them did, the business owner could ask for a replacement with no questions asked. At one point 75% of Alabama's state budget was funded by convict leasing.
Was it all squared up when convict leasing was ended in 1928? Well no, the American brand of Apartheid left races segregated by force. Jim Crow laws were sold as "separate but equal", but in practice it was a way to exclude blacks from access to wealth and social status. Whites in power found creative ways to exclude blacks from voting, private mobs continued terrorizing anyone of African descent that they didn't like, and whites around the country who were opposed to slavery were also opposed to integrating blacks into their own communities.
Was racism finally erased when Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement that overturned the Jim Crow laws from 1964-1968? Not yet. While the legal framework for racism was eliminated, the situation in 1968 resembled a game of Monopoly where 3 white people went around the board collecting all the property, then the black person started on the board. They faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties and measurably worse outcomes in education, employment, family cohesion, and physical health. Even when the legal racism ended, the attitudes of racial prejudice continued to limit access to wealth and power, and the past abuses left multi-generational trauma that needs positive discrimination to be remedied. The disadvantaged black communities needed affirmative action to redress not only ongoing discrimination but the leftovers of centuries of violent oppression.
"If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise."
-Shoghi Effendi. Advent of Divine Justice
The many calls to end affirmative action are evidence that a lot of white people think the job is done. Is it done? Are the outcomes of African Americans on par with those of European descent? Only a very superficial look at the evidence would lead someone to such a conclusion. If the period of oppression is any indication of the need for correction, then the black population of the United States needs two more centuries of positive discrimination before we reach equilibrium. A few cases of a white person missing a job opportunity because a similarly qualified black person applied cannot compare to the continuing trauma of African Americans. Joy DeGruy, a noteworthy Baha'i author, wrote,
"I have often heard European Americans irately say, 'You know what, I didn't own slaves, okay? And I'm tired of feeling guilty about what happened over a hundred years ago, so get over it.'"
"My response to them is that I am not a slave now, nor have I ever been a slave, and as far as I know, nobody I have known personally was a slave. The fact is, I don't have any experience being a slave. However, 246 years of protracted slavery guaranteed the prosperity and privilege of the south's white progeny while correspondingly relegating its black progeny to a legacy of debt and suffering. It doesn't really matter today if either of us, black or white, directly experienced or participated in slavery. What does matter is that African Americans have experienced a legacy of trauma."
At a very basic level that trauma was legal until 1968. At a more complex level the trauma has continued in private interactions, as a result of continuing unfair discrimination, and also inherently as a result of the condition that black people found themselves in 1968.
For example, it is well documented that black sounding names like Roshonda, Lakisha, Jamal, and Malik will get a third less callbacks from resumes. In jobs, housing, police stops, even dating, people are still using skin color as a short-hand for class. The assumption that people of color are poorly educated, more inclined to violence, and lack job experience has become a self-perpetuating belief. There are so many examples like this that if you don't believe me, just ask any black person born and raised in the USA. There is ongoing discrimination to this day, so the first matter of business for today, in 2017, is to end any form of racial biases in our personal lives, our businesses, and in government policies.
If we could end the ongoing discrimination, then we can move on with our lives and be proud of our country, right? No, there's still more. Remember the monopoly example? If opportunity suddenly became equal, you still have the lingering effects of the deprived state of black communities all around the nation. These communities have been mostly unable to integrate with the larger society and stew in a sub-culture of poverty and anger. Black infants are almost three times more likely to die within their first year than white infants. Black families are several times more likely to suffer from obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, family violence, and unwed mothers. You might argue that these are largely a result of poor choices in a world of equal opportunity, but studies have found this to be true in all states, across all ages, education levels, and income brackets.
Unless you believe in some kind of racial superiority, which is absurd, then the only explanation for the poor outcomes among blacks is that they started from so far behind that it will take generations to catch up, and then only if the unfair discrimination ends and a positive bias is given towards helping them. To end affirmative action thinking that the job is done is wrong. We need more of it, and let's start with school funding. When these metrics for life start to show equality of outcomes across races, then we'll look upon our nation as a glorious example the unity of mankind. We're not there yet.