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Rather than perpetuating the many false ideas around race, we need to encourage our children and each other to discern and celebrate the diversity of each human being’s heritage.
Our heritages are the rich soil from which we sprang, and, together with the fruit of our own lives, they help to define who we are.
Heritage is inclusive of social and cultural realities, and recognizes that we are very complex beings who can trace many lines of ancestors from many backgrounds. Acknowledging each other’s heritage and diversity also legitimizes our own because we are reminded that, as human beings, we all share a common ancestry. The Baha’i teachings ask us all to recognize that common ancestry and work to bring about the unity it engenders:
God has endowed man with virtues, powers and ideal faculties of which nature is entirely bereft and by which man is elevated, distinguished and superior. We must thank God for these bestowals, for these powers He has given us, for this crown He has placed upon our heads.
How shall we utilize these gifts and expend these bounties? By directing our efforts toward the unification of the human race. We must use these powers in establishing the oneness of the world of humanity, appreciate these virtues by accomplishing the unity of whites and blacks, devote this divine intelligence to the perfecting of amity and accord among all branches of the human family so that under the protection and providence of God the East and West may hold each other’s hands and become as lovers. Then will mankind be as one nation, one race and kind—as waves of one ocean. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 51.
The belief in different races produces a strange kind of social blindness that tends to negate the reality of who we really are and render unseen the beauty of our individual characters. The wonder and complexity of our inner spiritual being also goes unnoticed under the myopia of racism.
Unlike beauty, racism is a sty in the eye of the beholder. It impedes our vision of each other to the point where we cannot see the beauty. But there is hope for us. As long as children continue to be born without the concept of race and raised by parents who strive day by day to cure themselves of the affliction of racial prejudice, there is hope that we will eventually inhabit the world Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of, a world in which people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This is no longer just a dream. Today there are places in the world where this is already happening. Baha’is throughout the world are striving to live this way:
When the racial elements of the American nation unite in actual fellowship and accord, the lights of the oneness of humanity will shine, the day of eternal glory and bliss will dawn, the spirit of God encompass, and the divine favors descend. Under the leadership and training of God, the real Shepherd, all will be protected and preserved. He will lead them in green pastures of happiness and sustenance, and they will attain to the real goal of existence. This is the blessing and benefit of unity; this is the outcome of love. – Ibid., p. 57.
For more that one hundred years Baha’is everywhere have endeavored to live according to God’s message of unity and oneness to the world. The following words of Baha’u’llah encapsulate God’s will for humanity in this regard:
Verily, the words which have descended from the heaven of the Will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness. – Baha’u’llah, cited by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 37.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Baha’is in America have been helping to turn racial avoidance and antipathy into cooperation and amity.
If you meet those of a different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them, and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Ibid., p. 38.
It is possible to change the way we view the world so that we perceive beauty and are not blinded by hatred and prejudice. Baha’i scripture describes the true beauty in store for us when we see those things that distinguish human beings as assets and not as hindrances:
In the clustered jewels of the races may the blacks be as sapphires and rubies and the whites as diamonds and pearls. The composite beauty of humanity will be witnessed in their unity and blending. How glorious the spectacle of real unity among mankind! How conducive to peace, confidence and happiness if races and nations were united in fellowship and accord! The Prophets of God were sent into the world upon this mission of unity and agreement: that these long-separated sheep might flock together. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 57.
Because we are essentially spiritual beings, when we depart from this physical world to the life hereafter, we leave behind all the aspects of this physical existence. The body does not accompany the soul on its spiritual journey. There are no races in heaven, only souls. The soul is the most important part of our being:
There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God. – Ibid., p. 44.
If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference. God does not look at colors; He looks at the hearts. – Ibid.
When we realize that one’s external appearance is secondary to one’s inner spiritual being, we are well on the way toward abolishing estrangement and conflict. There is little doubt that the only way to achieve this is through spiritual means. The Baha’i teachings clearly point out that by working toward racial unity we are rendering a great service to humanity:
Colors are nonessential characteristics, but the realities of men are essential. When there is unity of the essence, what power hath the ephemeral? When the light of reality is shining, what power hath the darkness of the unreal? If it be possible, gather together these two races—black and white—into one Assembly, and create such a love in the hearts that they shall not only unite, but blend into one reality. Know thou of a certainty that as a result differences and disputes between black and white will be totally abolished. By the Will of God, may it be so! This is a most great service to humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, quote in The Power of Unity, p. 68.