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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:
- We need to acknowledge and see the minority groups around us,
- We have to recognize that each minority group has their own histories and experiences with oppression that they still face today
- 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.