Tonight I figured out (at least to the point where things are acceptable to my present understanding) why I decided to study anthropology. Additionally, I figured out, again to my present satisfaction, why there are so many white folks looking for salvation.
This idea came to me as I explained to Nathan why we were going to go to the Black Men's gathering in July. The Black Men's gathering is a yearly week-long conference that was initiated by Dr. William Roberts, a Baha'i psychologist. Fifteen years ago, he looked around and saw that young black men were in dire straits - and that there was no real support or creative outlet for these men. He established the Black Men's gathering, held at Green Acre Baha'i school in Eliot, Maine, which focused on the spiritual potential and empowerment of Black men. This is not to say that only one portion of society need spiritual empowerment, but Dr. Roberts saw this as a need in the community and addressed it. Nathan went once before (the year before we were married) but missed last year (it wasn't in the budget for us). But this year we're going. I say so.
As I was telling this to Nathan, we were listening to gospel music. Gospel music always gets me to weepin'. In a book we have called Spirit of Harlem, there's an interview with a Japanese woman named Yuko Ichioka. She says, and I fully understand, "I hear feelings when black people sing. When I hear gospel in Harlem, I feel more open to God."
Anyway - I'm taking my time with this story. I know you're thinking, "get on with it," but I'm going to lace it up this way and that until I am satisfied with it. Just bear with me.
In many so-called "minority" cultures, there is a strong sense of community. There is a collective identity. There is a spiritual cohesion. Think about it:
Native American cultures have endured hundreds of years of persecution, and yet many have managed to preserve a sense of their heritage.
Free black men and women were imprisoned and brought to these lands and stripped of their culture, and yet they remained defiant and spiritual, preserving the rich fabric of their heritage by incorporating it into the paradigms that were enforced by their captors.
All over the world, non-western cultures have faced imperialism and subordination and yet they still hold the core of their beliefs, albeit oftentimes altered.
And what of my heritage? This is something I've been thinking of tonight. My mom and dad are in the process of identifying family ties far removed. In fact, I see a lot of advertisements for online geneaology services, which indicates this is a growing trend. But still - what about my spiritual heritage? When I think of western culture - my culture, I suppose - I think of materialism.
Ruhiyyih Khanum, the wife of Shoghi Effendi (the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith) and a world traveler, often remarked upon the disease of materialism which infects Western society. And just because I know that my essence is spiritual doesn't make me immune of this disease.
And materialism isn't just wanting possessions - it is attachment to the things of this world. It is a groos overreliance on counting and measuring - on oversciencing things. I feel ashamed to talk about spiritual things because our society is afraid of what it can't see - spirituality is fine and good in religious settings, but it doesn't have a place in the academic, scientific world. Citing holy texts as references in a paper will get you an F for not using proper sources.
So here I am, listening to the melodious spiritual emotions of the voices of this gospel choir, and thinking my heritage is materialistic and teaches me to want and to not trust instincts but to look for what I can prove with hard facts, and I am looking for balance and suddenly
It hits me. I don't have any spiritual cohesion in this society. There is no real outlet - no real place I can go to feel safe enough to discuss spiritual things. At every twist, there is someone wanting to argue the spiritual nature of things with me - to prove to me that what I believe is wrong. And I am on the defensive always, afraid to talk about what I believe because then I'll have to prove it. How can you explain in words what is in your heart? How can you convince someone that what moves you is justified?
I think that I'm tired of having to prove things to people: to prove my stand in a debate, to prove myself, to prove that what I believe is okay. And so I look to places where the soul is valued - the unknowable is part of the everyday. And I find these things in a gospel song, in the ritual of a Dinee in Arizona, in the Dreamtime stories of the original Australians.
I am looking for my soul.
Nathan once said to me that the reason that so many people like one of my favourite musical artists was because that group offered soul. And so many people are looking for it - so many people are wounded by materialism in all its varied forms - and so many are looking for healing.
So the souls of white folks - hidden like diamonds in the coal of materialism - they're not gone, just hiding. But its going to take a lot of help from the souls of black folks, and of all the other folks in the world, to help us reclaim them.