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Public opinion polls have long shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see an end to race-based hatred and division.
American Baha’is share that anti-racist goal as a central principle of their Faith, and have diligently tried to bring it about since the early 1900s.
Harvard professor and eminent African American author and philosopher Cornel West describes that long-term Baha’i commitment to eradicating racism this way:
One of the first religious groups to really hit white supremacy and racism head-on decades ago – and by decades I mean many decades – and remain consistent about it. Baha’is fundamentally believe as I do in the sanctity of each and every person. … There is a real sense in which a Christian like myself is profoundly humbled before the Baha’i brothers and sisters.
Baha’is aren’t perfect, and certainly don’t make any claim to be free of racism – but the Baha’i teachings ask each believer to focus on that “most vital and challenging issue” and make every attempt to cleanse themselves of its effects. This passage, written in the 1930s by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith and its head after Abdu’l-Baha’s passing, illustrates just one instance of the repeated guidance given to both white and black American Baha’is in the interests of eradicating racism from themselves and from their society:
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 neither [race] 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
But some forces still strive for the opposite goal, stoking the fires of separation and promoting racial discord. White supremacists, fringe separatists of every color, and now even some opposing foreign governments all have a stake in creating hatred, disunity and racial disruption in the United States.
This disruption, most recently pursued through the use of various social media memes and tropes, has become a familiar tactic in our American culture wars. In fact, memes that highlight and heighten the racial divisions in American society provide a great deal of ammunition for both internal and external forces attempting to divide and further racially and politically polarize the country.
If you’d like to read a fascinating analysis of this disturbing trend, take a look at the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s bi-partisan report on the Russian government’s attempts to shatter the social cohesion of the United States by using a troll farm known as “the Internet Research Agency” or IRA.
The report, published in 2018, presents a detailed analysis of one country’s extensive propaganda activities in its attempt to influence the social climate, and ultimately the elections, of the United States. It concludes that Russian interference in the 2016 election amounted to:
A sweeping and sustained social influence operation consisting of various coordinated disinformation tactics aimed directly at US citizens, designed to exert political influence and exacerbate social divisions in US culture. – The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency, produced by New Knowledge, Inc., for the United States Senate Intelligence Agency.
The report found a massive amount of evidence proving that the sustained, ongoing, multi-year Russian operation to “exacerbate social divisions” in the U.S. targets those who identify as both left- and right-wing. But in a surprising revelation, the report’s authors wrote that the still-ongoing disinformation campaign primarily and most extensively targets one specific racial group:
- The most prolific IRA [Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm] efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted Black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets.
- The IRA created an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem.
- The IRA exploited the trust of their Page audiences to develop human assets, at least some of whom were not aware of the role they played. This tactic was substantially more pronounced on Black-targeted accounts. – Ibid.
Why would the Russians target the African American community? Apparently, the report concludes, to engender division between the races in the United States to destabilize and disunify the country.
These kinds of nation-vs.-nation efforts at generating internal weakness, disunity and destabilization aren’t new, but have now taken much more sophisticated forms in social media, masquerading as messages from legitimate black activist groups designed to propagate anger and disaffection. Those millions of messages all ultimately aim at alienating African Americans from trusting and participating in their country’s democratic processes – and from trusting their white fellow citizens. Remarkably, the Baha’i teachings predicted this pattern – and its impact on the potential destruction of the United States – almost a hundred years ago:
If the races do not come to an agreement, there can be no question or doubt of bloodshed. When I was in America, I told the white and coloured people that it was incumbent upon them to be united or else there would be the shedding of blood. I did not say more than this so that they might not be saddened. But, indeed, there is a greater danger than only the shedding of blood. It is the destruction of America.
Because aside from the racial prejudice there is another agitating factor. It is that of America’s enemies. These enemies are agitating both sides, that is, they are stirring up the white race against the coloured race and the coloured race against the white race. But of this the Americans are submerged in the sea of ignorance. They will regret it. – Abdu’l-Baha, as told to Diya Baghdadi, Star of the West, Volume 7, pp. 120-121.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report and Abdu’l-Baha’s clear warning from the last century ought to make us all question every online meme and media message that either subtly or openly attempts to drive a wedge between racial groups. If you see one of these kinds of messages, even if it seems to come from a legitimate activist group, question its origin. It may have originated with internet trolls whose job involves sowing suspicion, disunity and hatred for geopolitical motives.
Instead, the Baha’i teachings advise, we must recognize that our strength comes from our unity:
… in the world of humanity it is wise and seemly that all the individual members should manifest unity and affinity. 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! …
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. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace