Opinion: Letter to the Editor: From the Bahá’ís of Alexandria

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: From the Bahá’ís of Alexandria

To Mayor Justin Wilson:

Your May 29 letter takes a bold step in frankly acknowledging the pervasive culture of white supremacy that pollutes our nation and in sharing the collective despair that many are feeling. The consequences of racial prejudice are manifest in the patterns of disease, employment, wealth, housing, policing, injustice, and incarceration systematically visited upon its victims. We write to offer some humble suggestions to the implicit question your letter poses: what do we do?

We should start by acknowledging the moral bankruptcy of systems that perpetuate such injustices. We believe that there is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples. Our vision must go far beyond diversity training, EJI programs, initiatives in racial equity and policing, and bullet lists of new policy initiatives. These efforts will not suffice or succeed in the long run unless they are grounded in spiritual principles. We offer three principles for your consideration.

  • Oneness of Humanity. “Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch,” wrote Bahá'u'lláh. The boughs, leaves, flowers and fruit of that tree depend upon each other to flourish, just as the variety of the limbs and organs of the human body each contributes to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. The diverse flowers of humanity are likewise all interconnected and interdependent, as our present pandemic has so forcefully reminded us. As with the tree and body, sustained progress is the result of cooperation, not competition and oppression.

  • Abandon Prejudice. Those with privilege and power must make a supreme effort to overcome the conscious or unconscious assumptions of superiority and patronizing attitudes towards the “other.” Prejudice corrodes our individual behaviors and our collective policies. We must abandon the darkness of blind imitation of centuries of prejudice and assumption. We must open ourselves to the independent investigation of reality. We must see the individual, not “the type,” and regard the stranger as a friend and companion. We must approach one another, care for one another, and govern for one another with a commitment to “justice everywhere,” as Dr. King put it. “And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.” That’s Bahá’í scripture, but you will find it in all Faith traditions.

  • Be generous in prosperity. We live amidst some of the greatest wealth in human history. Our scriptures teach us to “be generous in prosperity;” to “be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy;” “a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.” We must all distinguish ourselves with individual acts of generosity to the needy. Those with power should recognize that a society is neither just nor sustainable with such extremes of wealth and poverty and must make it the highest priority to care for the most vulnerable.

We believe that Alexandria has the capacity and resources to develop policies and practices to eradicate the pervasive culture of white supremacy, to become a national model for enlightened policing, to make good on its commitment to “kindness and compassion,” and to be a beacon of inclusivity, unity and oneness. But policy remedies must draw on divine prescriptions. We believe that such measures must be grounded in these spiritual principles and harness the power of conscience, or we will be left with the structure of solutions without their animating light and spirit.

We look forward to working with you and the Alexandria community in addressing these urgent concerns.

Paul Glist

Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Alexandria