I recently attended a presentation by an African-American friend who spoke about her experience of growing up in the Jim Crow South. It was truly uncomfortable to hear.
Why? Well, it required me to face what had happened to her and assimilate her reality into my own perception of the way I view the world. Ignorance is bliss, and there’s truth in this cliché.
It would be comforting to think that her experience was rare and a relic of the past, but we know that’s not true. Racism, both loudly and quietly, consciously and unconsciously is still practiced in its devastating ferocity, which not only damages the victim but the soul of the perpetrator as well.
Is There a Solution?
If the current news cycle has any validity, the material solutions to racism we’re now employing seem to be missing the mark. Legal and social remedies can make a difference, but they cannot eradicate racism from hearts and minds. Perhaps, the Baha’i teachings say, the solutions must also incorporate a spiritual component focused on human maturation – one that recognizes this profound insight offered in 1st Corinthians 13:11 in the Holy Bible: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childlike things.”
Baha’is believe that we humans are a work in progress – and will be so throughout eternity. That’s why the Creator sends us Divine educators, the prophets and messengers who give us the spiritual guidance to advance ourselves spiritually and as a civilization, according to our capacity at any given time.
In that sense the following observations on human maturation from Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah, prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, can provide us with a spiritual perspective that leads to a new understanding of how to deal with the evils racism and apply lasting solutions to that grave spiritual sickness.
Racism is a brutal legacy from our collective childhood, a result of our immaturity and our inability to see all people, regardless of color or class or creed, as one. To reach our collective maturity and eradicate racism, the Baha’i teachings say, we are each now expected to independently investigate the truth to illuminate our path forward, rather than simply following the old traditions and customs handed down to us by our ancestors. Abdu’l-Baha said:
Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore, depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise, you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God.
As individuals within a gradually maturing humanity, we can ask ourselves, will we choose the harder path by using our power to bear the discomfort of educating ourselves regarding racism and the terrible harm it has done and continues to do – and then take the responsibility to apply the necessary remedies? Or will we choose the easier one by remaining ignorant?
If we choose the harder but far more productive path, it requires us to find clarity as to who we are in relationship to each other. We must recognize that humanity is one organism and one family. There is no human pecking order and no spiritual justification for one under any circumstances, as Abdu’l-Baha pointed out repeatedly:
God is no respecter of persons on account of either color or race. All colors are acceptable unto Him, be they white, black or yellow. Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realize that all embody divine possibilities.
God did not make these divisions, these divisions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of God they are false and imaginary.
The Baha’i teachings offer us a way to assess where we are in the process of addressing racism, by giving us a point of comparison. Abdu’l-Baha rhetorically asked:
Throughout the animal kingdom, we do not find the creatures separated because of color. They recognize unity of species and oneness of kind. If we do not find color distinction drawn in a kingdom of lower intelligence and reason, how can it be justified among human beings?
Although bitter to contemplate, it appears that animals, at the present time at least, may be doing a better job at “oneness of kind” than human beings.
However, despite that current state of affairs, the Baha’i teachings offer us real solutions. We can each embrace responsibility for the independent investigation of truth; gain a spiritual understanding of who we are in relationship to each other; and be honest regarding racism at this point. Actions flow from belief, and the price we pay for this “sea of ignorance” will be self-inflicted, but the prize we can claim for our unity will be great indeed, as Abdu’l-Baha proclaimed to Americans more than a century ago:
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. All will be protected and preserved. This is the blessing and benefit of unity; this is the outcome of love. This is the sign of the Most Great Peace; this is the star of the oneness of the human world.
After the talk she gave, I was filled with deep admiration for my friend. By her actions she displays a character forged in the fires of life, and has emerged from those unjust fires with a loving heart.