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One of the paramount points I endeavor to share when I speak about race issues is that prejudice is not innate. After all, no baby is a racist.
I could recite the results of multiple scientific studies and statistics which explain that our racial prejudices develop through a process gleaned from the environment in which we live. Those studies show that we actually learn our prejudices from those we look to for our life lessons: our parents, siblings, teachers, peers, and sometimes even our clergy.
In my talks, I hold up a favorite painting that normally hangs on a wall in my home. It shows two babies, one black, one white, one reaching out to the other. You can’t help but sense their innocence, their lack of any distinction between them. They each recognize the other’s humanity, seeing beyond skin color to the heart and soul inside. Those who see it understand, and no further words are necessary.
The Baha’i teachings say that racial prejudice is the worst prejudice of all:
One of the great reasons of separation is colour. Look how this prejudice has power in America, for instance. See how they hate one another! Animals do not quarrel because of their colour! Surely man who is so much higher in creation, should not be lower than the animals. Think over this. What ignorance exists! White doves do not quarrel with blue doves because of their colour, but white men fight with dark-coloured men. This racial prejudice is the worst of all.
The Old Testament says that God created man like unto His own image; in the Qur’an it says: ‘There is no difference in the Creation of God!’ Think well, God has created all, cares for all, and all are under His protection. The policy of God is better than our policy. We are not as wise as God! – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 55.
I use that painting of the black and white babies because art speaks louder than words. Poems use words, but fewer, more concise, more pointed and more poignant words than prose. They stir us more deeply. Drama uses words, but in a manner that makes us feel like we are experiencing something firsthand. Music penetrates every nook and cranny of our being. When words are married to the music, we have better recall and the meaning takes root in our memory. Visual art speaks volumes without uttering a single syllable. That’s why whenever I speak to a group, large or small, I weave artistic elements into it.
The point the painting makes was reaffirmed for me by a real-life situation I recently read about. A mother related an incident that took place while her family was out shopping, and it went viral. She wrote about her young daughter Sophia, who got a reward after her successful potty-training:
She, of course, picked a new doll … While we were checking out, the cashier asked Sophia if she was going to a birthday party. We both gave her a blank stare. She then pointed to the doll and asked Sophia if she picked her out for a friend. Sophia continued to stare blankly and I let the cashier know that she was a prize for Sophia being fully potty trained. The woman gave me a puzzled look and turned to Sophia and asked, ‘Are you sure this is the doll you want, honey?’ Sophia finally found her voice and said, ‘Yes, please!’ The cashier replied, ‘But she doesn’t look like you. We have lots of other dolls that look more like you.’
I immediately became angry, but before I could say anything, Sophia responded with, ‘Yes, she does. She’s a doctor like I’m a doctor. And I’m a pretty girl and she’s a pretty girl. See her pretty hair? And see her stethoscope?’ Thankfully the cashier decided to drop the issue and just answer, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ This experience just confirmed my belief that we aren’t born with the idea that color matters. Skin comes in different colors just like hair and eyes and every shade is beautiful.” #itswhatsontheinsidethatcounts #allskinisbeautiful #teachlove #teachdiversity #thenextgenerationiswatching
That mother understands the concept of oneness, and a work of art by a doll maker helped cement that reality for her family—and perhaps gave food for thought to the cashier with the misshapen worldview.
After all, the Baha’i teachings warn us to:
Beware of prejudice; light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning. A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom. A star has the same radiance if it shines from the east or the west.
All the prophets of God have come to unite the children of men and not to disperse them; to put in action the law of love and not enmity.
We must banish prejudice. Religious, patriotic, racial prejudices must disappear, for they are the destroyers of human society. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 25.
If we want to build a better society, to bring unity to our world, we’d do well to take that advice to heart.