The Black Rose and the Development of Racism

When I was a child, my mother would read this story everyday. It was a story from Abdul Baha’s time in America. He travelled there when he was in his last days of his life in the early 1900’s. Bear in mind, here was a man from Iran completely different , wearing long flowing coats and turbans telling people this story.

Here is the story :

On this day, looking out the window, Reverend Ives was astonished to see a group of some thirty “noisy, not too well dressed… urchins[children], but spruce and clean, enter the house.” He followed them upstairs where ‘Abdu’l- Bahá greeted them, one by one, with smiles and laughter. The last one was a dark colored boy and when the Master saw him, His face lit up with a heavenly smile, and He exclaimed: “Here is a black rose!” Everyone present was impressed with a feeling of wonder, which increased when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, distributing a handful of chocolates to each child with a kind word, picked up a particularly dark chocolate and “without a word, but with a humorously piercing glance that swept the group, laid the chocolate against the black cheek. ‘Abdu’l- Bahá’s face was radiant… and that radiance seems to fill the room.” The children looked with real wonder at the boy as if they had never seen him before. “As for the boy, himself… his eyes fastened with an adoring, blissful look upon the Master…For the moment he was transformed. The reality of his being had been brought to the surface and the angel he really was revealed.”

It must have affected me because as a child and when I grew up I always thought Black to be the most beautiful and regal colour in the world. I was quite simply in awe of it. In El Salvador everyone was brown skinned, but very rarely did I see anyone of that specific colour or race ( I was to learn much later how even a slight tinge in another direction makes you Black or White, regardless of culture in the United States)

It shocked and made me cry when people said racist things because they knew nothing about Black culture. I couldn’t understand how someone could say those things. and it cut me to the bone. As a junior youth I was particularly sensitive to those comments.
i felt like it was cutting into a beautiful rose and I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand it. It was odd when someone at school in 8th grade told me that the only thing Black people were good at was basketball. I almost got into a fist fight over the stereotype. It was odd because the boy who told me this had dark skin, and technically would be discriminated just as much in the United States.

Growing up, many times I would stand out from the crowd. People would point and stare. I would get followed a lot. I was always the only one in the crowd, people knew i was foreign. However, I got used to it. I felt like I was this white speck in a sea of blue. When I went to very rural areas people would stare at me even more and asked if I got red in the sun. When my hair grew darker they said I wasn’t American enough although at this point I had ceased being American long ago.

And I dreamed of having black friends, they seemed so beautiful and ethereal. When I finally went to college I made sure I was in the multicultural dorm. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t so simple. Everyone I met was completely different, depending on where they grew up.
It was odd, but in college I didn’t stand out. No one stared. But they did ask stupid questions about where I grew up. I didn’t find I had the patience for it. My friendships came suddenly and easily. It came unexpectedly. I met Byalinah and Juliet and Myra in the college lounge , just sitting there and they suddenly just invited me. I felt like I won the lottery, that I was joining I world I never knew before. And I found it fascinating.
My next door neighbors were completely different perspective. Rachel and Farrah had grown up in Haiti, and like me had a different perspective than those who grew up in the United States.
Farrah however was weary of me. She said all white people were the same. She grouped me because of my race and ceased to know who I was.She didn’t trust me until halfway through our freshman year when someone committed a hate crime. We were in the bathroom and she told me ” My sister this is so sad”. I felt I couldn’t move or breathe. In a quiet moment, she finally offered her trust…and did away with some prejudices.

A switch changed in my way of thinking. I realized that my fascination with the beauty of this culture made me cease to see people as well, people. Yes, colour did determine a lot of things but who they were transcended this.

In college, even in classes people were obsessed with people being labelled as something or the other. A good amount of time was spent talking about how we are different, the prejudices, the injustices. I became aware of these things and became very angry about all the ism’s in the world.

In my Junior year i didn’t have anywhere to live. Standing in line I asked for dorms in Southwest. A woman looked at me warily and whispered ” The only thing we have is a room in the black floor “. First off, she said it in such a racist way that I felt compelled to combat her ignorance and defiantly I accepted.
Thus, I became the white girl in the 22nd floor. Everyone looked at me in such a hostile way, and no one really talked to me. The floor was a program specifically geared towards celebrating black culture.
No one had much interest in socializing with me, and many made fun of me behind my back. Granted there was other problems , mainly with who I was who clashed with my roommate. ( Who was a little bit crazy, she did take a knife out on me when she was drunk…) . I was a tad miserable, but I wasn’t going to leave. While I tried to blend in, it was really hard because no matter what I did they just sort of pushed me away. Except for Christopher and grew, who were nice to me I spent a good portion just sticking with my other friends. At this point I wasn’t really interested in making too many close friends as I already had a good amount of friends but at times their comments hurt me. It was almost that if they let me in It would ruin an argument of some kind.
I think I might have been able to break though if I had spent more time in the dorms, or if I didn’t have such a hard time with my roommate. However, the floor assumed I didn’t have any friends and were shocked when we went to the Hasa Ball and I knew most of the people there. I didn’t feel sad when i left the floor, especially when everyone protested because I was given a single despite the fact that I was white. I chose to leave because I didn’t have any connection with anyone, and it was fruitless to keep trying.

In college there was so much segregation. Where people seated in the Campus Center reflected their culture, interest and studies. I tended to weave in and out of groups, trying to know anything and anyone. I couldn’t understand it : You had this unique opportunity to know so many cultures and backgrounds and why not take it?

It wasn’t until I went to Cuba that I saw a difference. It was then I ceased to differentiate in my mind who was different, who was discriminated who was this or that. A cuban man said ” We are one people. It does not matter if I am black and he is cuban, we are all cuban”. I believed then, My mindset switched.
I realized how in my good intentions I had separated people and not realized that no one could possibly live up to my insane expectations. Black, white, brown, everyone made mistakes. But individuals were individuals.
All of the people I met were amazing but they became different and beautiful and unique. College prepared me to be patient when sometimes people are cautious towards me. When I met the indigenous girls in Ecuador, and they did not speak to me I tried to be patient. They became my sisters, and I realized that it took time to trust me.

I have been so blessed to know people from all parts of the world and have become a better person for it. I want my children to have the same experience. But whoever they choose to be friends with I want them to see that beautiful soul inside and not what they are supposed to be according to society.

We shouldn’t constantly point out what makes us different. Ending racism happens in quiet ways. Getting used to seeing people in different settings , from different races people start to eliminate the ” otherness” they had harbored. When my friend came to have lunch at my grandparents and they invited her in gladly, this was a quiet moment. This came from people who had said they would never let anyone in their house who was black, and there they were saying she was nice and great person. We begin to break down our walls when we see that despite everything, we all bleed. We all cry. We are all mothers and fathers. And we are only human after all.
And as we know ” If you do not prick us, do we not bleed?”


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