The foundation of race unity is love of God, and recognition that He created
us all from the same substance and wishes to behave towards each other with
love and fellowship and with tolerance and righteousness. The achievement of
race unity involves practical matters including how to treat racial differences
that have long been misunderstood (often willfully) and made the cause for
division. Many passages in the Bahá'í writings can help us in this effort,
providing as they do a range of teachings relating to various situations and
attitudes we may inherit.
It is helpful for us as Bahá'ís to periodically deepen on our Faith's teachings
relating to race unity in order to improve our understanding of their import
and our application of their principles. This is especially the case as we
teach the principle of the oneness of humankind and offer our community as an
example of evolving race unity.
A couple of years ago during a consultation on race unity a I heard a statement
to the effect that we as Bahá'ís are seeking "racial blindness" or "blindness
to racial differences" in our social interactions. Although this did not sound
quite right to me I held my peace lest I be the one mistaken and resolved to
find out what the Bahá'í writings actually do say about racial differences and
how we are to look at them. I felt this was important not only for my own
deepening, but also because one commonly hears similar terminology used in the
larger society as a positive quality. If Bahá'í teachings really do offer a
different perspective on race, it is important to know what that is and how
appropriately to phrase it. I would like to share some of what I found during
my personal research relating to this issue on the chance that it may be of
interest to some of the Friends.
The first step I took was to divide the phrase that prompted this effort into
its two parts: "racial differences" (or differences we call racial, since there
is in reality only one human race) and "blindness" (and other metaphors of
lacking a sense of sight or shutting it off). I then dealt with the latter part
first, as it seemed less complex, and saved the former, which was after all the
crux of the matter, for later attention.
Blindness is usually used metaphorically in a negative context in the Bahá'í
writings - blind in heart, inwardly blind, spiritual blindness, blind
imitation, etc. These are conditions which prevent one from perceiving the
Manifestation of God and understanding His message. Therefore, we should never
seek blindness, but rather its opposite. Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh gives the utmost
importance to vision:
"In this Day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase
vision is worthy of consideration. This vision acteth as the agent and guide
for true knowledge. Indeed in the estimation of men of wisdom keenness of
understanding is due to keenness of vision." Tarazat,
Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 35.
While vision is good, however, there are some ways in which we are instructed
to train our faculty of sight. For instance: "Let your eye be chaste,..."
(Lawh-i-Hikmat, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 138), and "Thine eye is My trust,
suffer not the dust of vain desires to becloud its luster." (Gleanings from the
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 322). Closing off one's sight is used
metaphorically in a positive sense in this context:
"O Son of Dust! Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My
beauty; stop thine ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of my
voice; empty thyself of all learning, that thou mayest partake of My knowledge;
and sanctify thyself from riches, that thou mayest obtain a lasting share from
the ocean of My eternal wealth. Blind thine eyes, that is, to all save My
beauty; stop thine ears to all save My word; empty thyself of all learning save
the knowledge of Me; that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive
ear thou mayest enter the court of My holiness." Hidden Words, Persian
This may be understood to mean that we should refocus our perceptions on the
spiritual in order to realize our highest potential as fundamentally spiritual
In the same vein, Bahá'u'lláh gives counsel on how to relate to each other:
"Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity."
(Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 67). It is interesting to
reflect on the parallels between the distractions of the material world and
estrangement on one hand and spiritual growth and the building of unity on the
other, and on how metaphors involving the faculty of sight are used in both of
the last two quotes.
The writings on racial differences appear at first to be a little less
straightforward, as they seem to instruct us both to see racial differences as
beautiful and to not look at them.
`Abdu'l-Bahá for instance compared differences in color and other aspects of
physical appearance among humans to the variety found in a garden and elsewhere
in nature. Such diversity, He said, is beautiful to behold, indeed more
pleasing than homogeneity, and should not be the cause of disunity.
"Let us look rather at the beauty in diversity, the beauty of
harmony, and learn a lesson from the vegetable creation. If you behold a garden
in which all the plants were the same as to form, color and perfume, it would
not seem beautiful to you at all, but, rather, monotonous and dull. The garden
which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in
which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form and perfume, and the
joyous contrast of color is what makes for charm and beauty.
..."The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony,
as it is in music where many different notes blend together in making the
perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and color from yourself, do
not mistrust them and withdraw into your shell of conventionality, but rather
be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different colored roses
growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them."
Paris Talks, pp. 52-3.
"In the realm of existence colors are of no importance... In the vegetable
kingdom the colors are not the cause of discord. Rather, colors are the cause
of the adornment of the garden because a single color has no appeal; but when
you observe many colored flowers, there is charm and display. "The world of
humanity, too, is like a garden, and humankind are like the many-colored
flowers. Therefore, different colors constitute an adornment." The Promulgation
of Universal Peace, p. 45.
On the other hand, Bahá'u'lláh tells us "Close your eyes to racial differences
and welcome all with the light of unity" (quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The
Advent of Divine Justice, p. 37). And 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborates:
"Let them look not upon a man's color but upon his heart. If the
heart be filled with light, that man is nigh unto the threshold of his Lord;
but if not, that man is careless of his Lord, be he white or black."
(Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 113).
If racial differences are beautiful, then why are we instructed to shut our
eyes to them in order to be able to achieve unity? Perhaps these passages
counsel us not to consider racial differences as distinguishing characteristics
and to focus instead on what unifies us. That unifying factor would be our
spiritual reality. It is certainly significant for the context of this
discussion that we are told to close off and redirect our sight rather than to
strive for sightlessness or "blindness." What is prescribed is the action of
training our perception rather than a state of impairment or absence of
However, noting the similarity between the passages beginning "Shut your eyes
to estrangement..." and "Close your eyes to racial differences...," one must
ask if there are any ways in which racial differences themselves may still be
viewed as barriers to unity? Perhaps racial differences are comparable in some
ways to material goods. We are permitted to enjoy material things but not to
the point where they come between us and God. Similarly, racial differences are
in no way a problem unless we allow them to prevent unity.
Differences that we call racial have, of course, historically been one of the
major factors defining lines of division among peoples. These differences,
however, have not been the cause of racism. It is misunderstanding of the
differences that has been at the root of racism. The answer, ultimately, is not
to try to ignore them but to learn to see them for what they are and are not.
The answer, then, is not "racial blindness" or "color blindness." Nor is it the
means to achieve race unity. Not even for individuals in early stages of
overcoming racism should this terminology be used, and it should never ever be
used to describe Bahá'í teachings on race unity. What we are seeking is, as was
so nicely put in The Vision of Race Unity, "to look at the racial situation
with new eyes."
Diversity in appearance should be a source of joy to a unified humanity, just
as variety in cultural traditions should be a source of strength to it.
Ultimately, however, they are insignificant, as it is what is in the heart and
how we relate to God that is important. By recognizing that the fundamental
human reality is found on the spiritual level we can appreciate the diversity
in which God created us and "discern with the eye of oneness His glorious