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The American Baha’i Community produced a pamphlet in 1991 entitled, “The Vision of Race Unity, America’s Most Challenging Issue”. The use of the word vision made it clear that Baha’is felt racial unity had not been realized at that point and that the issue preventing it was racism.
This frank appraisal of where we were then and where we needed to go still holds true today, almost a generation later. The fallout from America’s—and the world’s–failure to honestly and adequately address racism produces a reoccurring nightmare clothed in the guise of different names and locations. Whenever our national delusion of racial harmony disintegrates before our very eyes, we’re left confused, upset and conflicted.
In an attempt to understand the issues, the daily news cycle typically gets consumed with endless expert opinions, evaluations and assignments of blame, which then trickle down into personal conversations. Any consensus of thought or unity of action eludes us, as opinions largely line up along racial or political or class divides. The polarized debates make us face a very unhappy truth–as long as racism exists a deep distrust will remain on every side. It will not matter whether a particular law, a particular action or a particular verdict is just or not–one side or the other will view it as a deep injustice.
What has brought America to this point? The country’s founders professed the highest ideals, conceived before their time had come in human history. In 1782, America adopted one such promise, “E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many – One”, as the Great Seal of The United States of America. This was done at a time of great injustice and duality, as slavery existed and only white males who owned property could vote (except for Catholics, Jews and Quakers). America’s “founding fathers” left it to future generations to elevate our understanding, increase our understanding of one another, fight America’s deadliest war to eradicate slavery, and then struggle for another 150 years to fulfill their promise. It remains unfulfilled today.
Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith in the 19th century, taught the world a single simple spiritual truth–the essential unity of humankind:
Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 20.
From our beginnings, at the cellular level, we were created in unity. All human effort to separate ourselves, to establish a false superiority over others, degrades our humanity and fosters conflict. When we accept the spiritual reality of our own creation, we can more effectively confront racism and erase it from our minds and characters.
Although our government, through our representatives, has a responsibility to act, it will not be enough.
We now have the solution–unity. However, it will take individual initiative to reach across man-made barriers to establish the necessary relationships which can then progress into close association, fellowship, and friendship among diverse people. It is clear this will not be easy.
To continue to withhold genuine positive regard from any group of people stifles human dignity and propels us away from the promise of “E Pluribus Unum” towards a predictable future of pain, violence and bloodshed. We ignore the problem at our peril, and ignoring it exposes individuals, the country and the world to physical, moral and spiritual danger.
We must work together to erase racism. No other option exists. The abandonment of our prejudices requires a change in attitude at a level not yet witnessed on this planet. Baha’is around the globe, depending on the guidance Baha’u’llah has offered to humanity, seek to come together to abolish all forms of prejudice–and invite all like-minded people to reach out together toward that glorious spiritual destiny.
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