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We Need to See Color: 3 Ways the Baha’i Writings Address Racism

Husayn Allmart | May 7, 2017

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

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Husayn Allmart | May 7, 2017

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

The Baha’i teachings inspire the need to urgently engage the scourge of racism with courage and love.

Filled with numerous examples we can draw from, those Baha’i teachings focus particularly on the life of Abdu’l-Baha, whose loving, prejudice-free example all Baha’is strive to emulate, and from the writings of Shoghi Effendi, Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson, successor and the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. Here are three examples of how the Baha’i teachings encourage us to engage with issues of racism in our daily lives:

1) We need to see color

One frequent response to racism is to declare, “I don’t see color,” or similarly, “We’re all one race—the human race.” While the intention behind these statements seems noble, reflecting a desire to “see beyond color” to our spiritual reality as children of one God, a color-blind approach to racism can also blind us to the concrete realities of race and racism. Instead, seeing color and diversity means understanding that racism kills people; that racial and ethnic differences all contribute to the beauty of diversity; and that Abdu’l-Baha saw race and celebrated it, rather than ignoring it or pretending it didn’t exist.  

During his 1912 visit to America a number of young boys came to see Abdu’l-Baha—who many called “the Master”—and he greeted them effusively:

His happiest welcome seemed to be directed to the thirteen-year-old boy near the end of the line. He was quite dark-skinned and didn’t seem too sure he would be welcome. The Master’s face lighted up and in a loud voice that all could hear exclaimed with delight that ‘here was a black rose.’ The boy’s face shone with happiness and love. Silence fell across the room as the boys looked at their companion with a new awareness. The Master did not stop at that, however. On their arrival He had asked that a big five-pound box of delicious chocolates be fetched. With this He walked around the room, ladling out chocolates by the handful to each boy. Finally, with only a few left in the box, He picked out one of the darkest chocolates, walked across the room and held it to the cheek of the black boy. The Master was radiant as He lovingly put His arm around the boy’s shoulders and looked with a humorously piercing glance around the group without making any further comment. – Annamarie Honnold, Vignettes from the Life of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 100.

2) We all have a role to play—and an initiative to take

In a landmark 1936 letter to the American Baha’i community titled The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi clearly laid out the duties and responsibilities both Caucasians and African Americans have to overcome racism:

Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith. Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil [of racism] has left on the fair name of their common country. – p. 40.

Clearly, Shoghi Effendi asked us here to make a determined, long-standing effort marked by genuine love and extreme patience to overcome the “patent evil” of racism. He encourages all of us, no matter what our racial background, to take the initiative and not wait for outside groups and agencies to do this for us. The challenge to address this issue with urgency and vigor could not be more stark or urgent.

3)  We need to be intentional about encouraging diversity

In the same volume, Shoghi Effendi quotes Abdu’l-Baha, who exhorts both races to:

Strive earnestly, and put forth your greatest endeavor toward the accomplishment of this fellowship and the cementing of this bond of brotherhood between you. Such an attainment is not possible without will and effort on the part of each; from one, expressions of gratitude and appreciation; from the other, kindliness and recognition of equality. Each one should endeavor to develop and assist the other toward mutual advancement…. Love and unity will be fostered between you, thereby bringing about the oneness of mankind. For the accomplishment of unity between the colored and white will be an assurance of the world’s peace. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 38.

The will, effort and intentionality Abdu’l-Baha calls for here means that everyone has the responsibility to eradicate the baneful effects of racism—from themselves and from the culture itself. That will not be easy:

A tremendous effort is required by both races if their outlook, their manners, and conduct are to reflect, in this darkened age, the spirit and teachings of the Faith of Baha’u’llah. Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 39-40.

That “will and effort on the part of each” race that Abdu’l-Baha refers to requires a number of things:

  1. We need to acknowledge and see the minority groups around us,
  2. We have to recognize that each minority group has their own histories and experiences with oppression that they still face today
  3. And it falls on each one of us to educate ourselves about these issues—and change our actions accordingly.

The Baha’i writings make it clear that eradicating racism is the job of every individual and every institution—that it is not a passing task that only falls to those affected.

This sacred duty is inextricably bound up with being a Baha’i, because we are all prey to this social and spiritual disease, no matter our color, class or ethnicity. Fortunately, we have numerous examples and pieces of advice on how to go about this critically important work with love, wisdom, and patience.

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Comments

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  • Nita Gandfor
    Jun 4, 2020
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    Thought provoking article. More relevant today than ever before!
  • Robert Green
    Dec 25, 2018
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    Born in Chile... have you not experienced racism personally. have you had success using the writings to bridge gaps. I've been "hearing" these Most Excellent Words all my life. I am finally excited to see them in practice too. for example this would have been a great time to share some of what you have learned... "And it falls on each one of us to educate ourselves about these issues—and change our actions accordingly." or how your actions have changed accordingly. thanks for writing those. some of these are among my favorite selections.
  • Aug 15, 2017
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    I think that one thing that I take away from this article is this line: "by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith". To me, what means that we need to do it ourselves, internally deal with it. I don't think that we have dealt with it, frankly at all, and avoid it at all costs, to focus on the basic administration and teaching.
    This take on this subject kind of upset me a little bit. I don't even really know why. It just didn't sit well with me. I don't think it's ...your place to do this topic, even though you can and did. I think you should focus on the Persian aspects of this same issue, in our community, and those challenges, and not just the Black and White aspect of it.
    Read more...
    • Robert Green
      Dec 25, 2018
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      that line" by agencies..." has always said to me that we would be instrumental in creating the environment for racial healing. that we would come to this knowledge by butting heads until we figure it out, and then tons of outside collaborators would pick up the successful activities that we discovered. im not really upset that he brings up the subject, but I agree with you 100% that he missed the mark by not discussing racism as perpetrated by and experienced by his racial heritage group. Persian, Arabic, whatever it is... most of the time these efforts annoy me because ...they talk about what "we" do. and I only want to know about what the 1 person writing is doing... we takes care of itself. if I do my part working on me.
      Read more...
  • May 8, 2017
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    In my imagination, in a wonderful future world most people would be of mixed race, but each of the races would be preserved just for the beauty of it.
  • Charles Boyle
    May 8, 2017
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    If racism and myopia towards injustice and prejudice was not an issue for us, Baha'u'llah would not have needed to tell us to attend to these shortcomings.
    Our biggest challenge is how to respond to the advantaged of unity without compromising the blessings of diversity...
    Great article, thanks for writing and sharing!
    • Husayn Allmart
      May 8, 2017
      -
      Thank you!
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