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Culture

A New Way to Define Race

Deshon Fox | Dec 27, 2014

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Deshon Fox | Dec 27, 2014

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

In 1776 Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America and the architect of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in that venerable document that, “all men are created equal”. More than two centuries later, the United States still desperately struggles to achieve the noble vision of its Founding Fathers.

America’s history is one rooted in slavery and racial division.

The recent killings of young black men in the cities of Ferguson and New York at the hands of white police officers serve for many as harsh reminders of the underlying racial divide that still plagues America. Notwithstanding the significant progress towards racial equality that has been made–after all, Barack Hussein Obama is President–there remains a pervasive ethos of racial inequality perpetuated by the American media at large, and more subtly but far more insidious, by socially accepted and widely used definitions of race.

Beneath the surface of politically correct exchanges, ethnically diverse TV commercials and magazine covers lies an undertone, unmistakable by even the children among us, that whiteness sets the standard by which every other race is measured. It is acceptable in modern day America for a person of mixed ethnic heritage to claim to be Black or to be ethnically mixed; however, under no circumstances can such a person claim to be white, even if he has a white parent. The white race is viewed by society as a pure race, unsullied by mixing with any other racial stock. The notion of a pure race is not only scientifically unfounded but, more importantly, is contrary to the spiritual principle of human equality echoed in the teachings of every divine religion.

Therefore, every man imbued with divine qualities, who reflects heavenly moralities and perfections, who is the expression of ideal and praiseworthy attributes, is, verily, in the image and likeness of God…. Can we apply the test of racial color and say that man of a certain hue — white, black, brown, yellow, red — is the true image of his Creator? We must conclude that color is not the standard and estimate of judgment and that it is of no importance, for color is accidental in nature. The spirit and intelligence of man is essential…. Therefore, be it known that color or race is of no importance. He who is the image and likeness of God, who is the manifestation of the bestowals of God, is acceptable at the threshold of God — whether his color be white, black or brown; it matters not. Man is not man simply because of bodily attributes. The standard of divine measure and judgment is his intelligence and spirit. – Excerpts from a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha at the Fourth Annual Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 30 April 1912, Handel Hall, Chicago, Illinois

We cannot undo the past; we can only expand our awareness sufficiently that we begin to understand intuitively and intellectually that all people indeed belong to one human race.

Interracial families took to tumblr last year after there was a backlash of complaints about a Cheerios commercial which featured an interracial family

Interracial families took to tumblr last year after there was a backlash of complaints about a Cheerios commercial which featured an interracial family

Beyond that, as we seek to broaden our concept of race, we need to develop a new language to describe one another. An age characterized by mass travel between continents and expanding populations of ethnically diverse peoples can no longer use such simplistic terms as “white” or “black” to define race. Such racial descriptions have little meaning, and say nothing of substance about who we are in the modern age.

In what category, for example, should we place a child whose mother has white and black heritage and whose father is of Indian heritage? Is this child black, white, or brown? Moreover, the color-coding system currently used in America to define race is, in the minds of many, associated with a period of racial injustice, and, as alluded to earlier, builds on the erroneous notion of a pure race. Today in America many people still think in terms of the white race and the colored race – the colored race being everyone non-white. It seems to completely escape us that white is as much a color as black, brown or red. The United States and many western countries define race as a political-social construct, and not an absolute truth.

The recognition of our common spiritual heritage resides at the core of the Baha’i Faith’s new, unifying vision of race.

Every human being is, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights”. Intellectually, many people find it easy to accept this definition; but it often proves far more difficult to remove every subconscious barrier to perceiving this as a self-evident reality. Whether we are of a pale skin tone, of medium brown complexion or a color approaching true black, we are all part of the same race of human beings. The diversity manifested in our skin tones, eye color, hair texture, shapes and sizes is to be celebrated in the same manner that we celebrate diversity in nature and within the animal kingdom.

The past is a part of us, but it need not hinder us from moving forward together as a single race of human beings. Our new language to define race must be one that excludes any phraseology or description that suggests any particular racial identity is superior to or more pure than any other.

The fate of America’s future—and the world’s future–depends upon our ability to unify an increasingly ethnically diverse population. Racial prejudice, whether it finds overt expression in the violence of a police officer, or hides within the private thoughts of a bus driver, represents a societal cancer that we must entirely remove from the body of America.

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Comments

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  • Charles Boyle
    Oct 22, 2019
    -
    I went to my local paint shop and had them scan my forearm: rather than "white" I am now officially "Camel Drive" from the Beauti-tone range... The ability to simultaneously reference and acknowledge our diversity while recognizing and accepting our unity is a mark of our spiritual maturity in this new age.
  • Sheila Guttman
    Jan 9, 2017
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    Right On! Mr.Fox i have been quandering this issue of categorizing
    People for a very long time and wish we as human race could simply stop it! And rise to a new level of consiousness. Im so called white and sick of it! I can't imagine if a person of color or so called color has to hear it daily how they must feel..
    • Deshon Fox
      Jul 14, 2017
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      Thanks for your comments Sheila...as we "grow up" we will do away will the silly notions of the color-coded meaningless racial categorizations that serve to keep in place notions of a superior/pure human race...that said, humanity has a long way to go still - but we will get there someday!
  • Deshon Fox
    Nov 20, 2016
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    Thank you.
  • Brian Scott Baskins
    May 8, 2016
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    Thank you, Deshon. As a fellow writer, I tremendously enjoyed this post. Oneness Principles of World Peace is a new ebook that embodies Baha'i teachings. Check it out. It's FREE!
    • Deshon Fox
      Jul 9, 2016
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      Thank you Brian. I will check out your book. You may also enjoy The Middle Theory, a work I published a few years ago!
  • Feb 1, 2016
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    The views of Thomas Jefferson and Abdul Baha are remarkably close. They are closer to each other in time, than either is to us. They both owned African slaves
    that they refused to emancipate and both harbored racist ideas about Africans. It is unlikely that either a 18th century man (Thomas Jefferson)or a 19th century man (Abdul Baha) will have anything important to say about our 21st century problems.
    • Sheila Guttman
      Jan 9, 2017
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      Sorry friend AbdulBaha never owned anyone. His blessed person was a prisoner from a tender age until he died at 75. And the center of the covenant of the Bahai Faith. The very essence of humility and exemplar of what a human being can and should arise to.
    • Feb 2, 2016
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      Philip,
      Not too sure where you got the idea that Abdu'l-Baha owned African slaves. Abdu'l-Baha was for the majority of his life a prisoner.
      "whether his color be white, black or brown; it matters not." - Abdu'l-Baha
  • Dec 31, 2014
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    Hi again Deshon
    I doubt you had in mind my idea of a new language, as in Zephanniah, when you responded: 'It will, for example, require a new language to record our history, one that provides a more well-rounded view of events and that excludes terminologies that subtly suggest that one ethnic group is inherently superior to any other'
    When the time's right consider the Master's take and how his words on 25th April 1912 in D.C. suggest how MUCH is yet to be unearthed about the history you reference so wisely and nicely in your article:
    "Therefore the question ...of an auxiliary international language has the utmost importance. Through this means international education and training become possible; the evidence and history of the past can be acquired."
    Baha'i love
    Paul
    Read more...
  • Dec 30, 2014
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    In response to Phyllis Elaine Vaught’s initial comment, I would like to further comment by stating I believe there is a fine line separating the past from the present. For instance, let’s pause on race issue and focus on another principle, such as the equality of women and men. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, “We the people” did not include women. Can you honestly say that women today have received complete equality? Is it really plausible to state if we “take into consideration the sociological differences between that time and now” that the issue of the inequality ...of women and men is no longer a concern? These sociological difference from the past still affect how we deal with each other today, although less blatant, they are still affecting us in their subtlety and thus making them harder to see and correct.
    Also, it was not my impression that anyone was trying to “judge” Jefferson. For myself, I was trying to say that he is not a very good example of a “noble vision” nor are the other “founding fathers” and just the phrase founding fathers in itself is a denial of the genocide it took to make this country. Also consider that a minimization of history prior to this so called “founding” of America is another denial. Isn’t it time we start to educate ourselves and make some changes in the concepts we promote? Isn’t it time we included everyone in this “noble vision”?
    Read more...
    • Paula, you have broaden the discussion...wonderful....it is true that the term "Founding Father's" in and of itself negates the contributions of the Native American Indians to the foundation of the North American Continent. Part of the purpose of the article is to draw attention to the needs for us to universally adopt new and more appropriate ways to describe one another. I live in the Bahamas. My history books in school said that Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World that included the Bahamas in the 1400s. Like "founding fathers" the term "discovered" is perhaps inappropriate given that Indians were living ...on the islands for many years before Christopher Columbus' visit....the process of humanity becoming aware of its inherent spiritual oneness, the equality of men and women, and so on, is one that will require conscious and subconscious expansion at virtually every level of human understanding. It will, for example, require a new language to record our history, one that provides a more well-rounded view of events and that excludes terminologies that subtly suggest that one ethnic group is inherently superior to any other...we are not there yet, but we are headed in the right direction, I think.
      Read more...
  • Dec 29, 2014
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    Acceptance of all humanity is a goal to work toward. Our youth should be guided in this direction respect for all life is desired for the growth of the human race. We have forgotten how important all life is to the Planets balance. Working toward the future we must share love for all life.
  • Dec 29, 2014
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    Thomas Jefferson, in his book “Notes on the State of Virginia” wrote of innate Black inferiority: “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” In the Declaration of Independence, he announced the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” yet he owned about 175 slaves. In his lifetime he only freed a handful.
    And the “Founding Fathers” that you mention? I am Native American and these men did not found ...my indigenous country. We were here thousands of years before. But I can tell you that these "Founding Fathers" perpetuated and endorsed the genocide of the Native people to near extinction. It is estimated that 30 million Indigenous peoples were murdered under the leadership of the “Founding Fathers”.
    Read more...
    • Thank you for your contribution Paula...indeed, it is shocking that "blacks" and "Indians" were not considered "men" by the prevailing society of the time...that being said, the spirit of the Declaration of Independence in it's present day - and much more enlightened - interpretation is that all human beings of every hue and class are created equal by the Creator....your comments on this topic are valid, however, as it reminds us that words and good intentions alone are not enough to bring about unity among the peoples of the world. We must truly embrace each other as equals and ...as spiritual siblings.
      Read more...
  • Dec 29, 2014
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    There is only one race -- Human. Variations in skin tone or other physical features are merely results of our common ancestors migrating out of Africa, and then settling in various climate zones around the world. I think it's far more interesting to look at history in terms of culture and ethnic traditions. For example, the aboriginal people of Australia and those of the Congo region in Africa might have similar skin pigmentation. But to describe them as "black" is pointless, in my opinion, because each group represents a distinct and richly different cultural tradition. Likewise, calling me "white" tremendously ...misses the point. My heritage is rooted primarily in Celtic and Germanic peoples -- which again, represent distinct and richly different cultural traditions.
    We also need to continue looking forward; there is more and more blending across lines of culture and skin tone. That is good. Acknowledging the past is one thing; being stuck in it is quite another.
    Read more...
    • Jan 1, 2015
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      Abdu'l Baha mentioned that there are three things over which we have no control. 1.) What happens to our soul in the state of sleep 2.) When we die and 3.) who we were born to. Shoghi Effendi also tells us to ' rise above the conditioning of the nations'.... which I think is a very profound statement. We are all conditioned by our upbringing, our education, our society , our cultures ... and need to rise above them to see with a universal eye.
    • Jan 1, 2015
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      Thank you for this Mark Heinz... and Brian, Paula and Deshon.
    • Dec 29, 2014
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      Mark, good point on the painting all white people with the same whitewash. As for being stuck in the past, for many people it continues to be their experience, and yes looking forward, if it is with an honest, open and inclusive dialogue.
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