My admonition and exhortation to you is this: Be kind to all people, love humanity, consider all mankind as your relations… Strive day and night that animosity and contention may pass away from the hearts of men, that all religions shall become reconciled and the nations love each other so that no racial, religious or political prejudice may remain… – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 291.
During the past week, this series of essays has discussed the issues of race, violence and the justice system. We’ve focused on the recent police killings of unarmed black males in the United States, but the principles could be applied anywhere that racial division, prejudice and hatred occur. So now that we’ve finished with a basic analysis and a brief review of the problem—what about the personal solutions?
How can we, as individuals, eradicate the last traces of racism and its ugly effects from our own interior landscape?
The Baha’i teachings on the oneness of humanity have an enormous depth and breadth of solutions when it comes to racism and its effects. In just one particularly specific, clear and pointed passage written in 1936, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, urged everyone to take responsibility for and actively own the issues of race, no matter their color:
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. Let them, while each is attempting to contribute its share to the solution of this perplexing problem, call to mind the warnings of Abdu’l-Baha, and visualize, while there is yet time, the dire consequences that must follow if this challenging and unhappy situation that faces the entire American nation is not definitely remedied.
Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds. 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 has left on the fair name of their common country. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 39.
We often think of racism as an issue that belongs solely to those who suffer its effects—but that’s roughly equivalent to Adolf Hitler calling the Holocaust “the Jewish problem.” This blame-the-victim approach doubles the impact of racist actions, because it means the majority doesn’t hear the cries or feel the pain of the minority.
When questions and controversy about race arise, some white people tend to think of the entire race-based conversation as a one-sided diatribe, describing and denouncing bias and prejudice that they just can’t see. As a result, black people often feel unheard and ignored despite their calls for justice, and frustrated that whites can’t or won’t acknowledge the issues.
But Baha’u’llah asks his followers to be “upholders and defenders of the victims of oppression,” so no matter their skin color, Baha’is try their best to put that principle into practice. The Baha’i writings say “Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other.” With that in mind, here are a few suggestions, taken from the Baha’i teachings, which can help anyone from any racial background in their personal, everyday quest to conquer racism:
Listen and carefully consider what others say and feel: “Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others.” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72.
Be fair: “Cleave ye to justice and fairness, and turn away from the whisperings of the foolish…” – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 342.
Actively and happily seek out close connections with people of other races: “Inasmuch as your origin was one, you must now be united and agreed; you must consort with each other in joy and fragrance.” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 124.
Don’t think of yourself as different or apart from others: “Turn your eyes away from foreignness and gaze unto oneness, and hold fast unto the means which conduce to the tranquility and security of the people of the whole world.” – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i World Faith, p. 182.
These five starting points, crucial to any interracial interaction, can help us all, as individuals, begin to build the unity we so glaringly need as a society.