Racism is the most challenging issue confronting America. A nation
whose ancestry includes every people on earth, whose motto is E
, whose ideals of freedom under law have inspired
millions throughout the world, cannot continue to harbor prejudice
against any racial or ethnic group without betraying itself. Racism
is an affront to human dignity, a cause of hatred and division, a
disease that devastates society.
Notwithstanding the efforts already expended for its elimination,
racism continues to work its evil upon this nation. Progress toward
tolerance, mutual respect, and unity has been painfully slow and
marked with repeated setbacks. The recent resurgence of divisive
racial attitudes, the increased number of racial incidents, and the
deepening despair of minorities and the poor make the need for
solutions ever more pressing and urgent. To ignore the problem is to
expose the country to physical, moral and spiritual danger.
Aware of the magnitude and the urgency of the issue, we, the
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United
States, speaking for the entire U.S. Bahá'í community,
appeal to all people of goodwill to arise without further delay to
resolve the fundamental social problem of this country. We do so
because of our feeling of shared responsibility, because of the global
experience of the Bahá'í community in affecting racial
harmony within itself, and because of the vision that the sacred
scriptures of our Faith convey of the destiny of America.
The oneness of humanity is the pivot round which revolve all the
teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. It is at once a
statement of principle and an assertion of the ultimate goal of human
experience on the planet. More than a century ago,
Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the
Bahá'í Faith, wrote: "The well-being of mankind, its
peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is
firmly established." It is a principle that issues naturally from the
genesis and purpose of human existence. The Word of God as presented
in the Bahá'í writings offers compelling insights as in
the following examples:
Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of
essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have
engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.
Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no
one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in
your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all
from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one
soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and
in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and
actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may
made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light!
Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness
the tree of wondrous glory.
All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing
civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the
beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit
his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and
towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.
Having gone through the stages of infancy and turbulent
adolescence, humanity is now approaching maturity, a stage that will
witness "the reconstruction and demilitarization of the whole
civilized world -- a world organically unified in all the essential
aspects of its life." In no other country is the promise of organic
unity more immediately demonstrable than in the United States because
this country is a microcosm of the diverse populations of the earth.
Yet this promise remains largely unrealized even here because of the
endemic racism that, like a cancer, is corroding the vitals of the
For too much of its history and in so many places the human race
has squandered its energy and resources in futile efforts to prove the
unprovable: that one portion of itself, because of separation by
geography, a difference in skin color, or the diversity of cultural
expression, is intrinsically distinct from another portion. The
ignorance and prejudice on which such efforts are founded have led to
endless conflicts in the name of the sanctity of tribe, race, class,
nation, and religion. Paradoxical as it may seem, in the consistency
of these negative efforts across the spectrum of the race, humanity
has proved the exact opposite: it has affirmed its oneness. The proof
is in the fact that, given the same circumstances, all people,
regardless of ethnic or cultural variety, behave essentially the same
way. In the futility of its efforts to classify and separate its
diverse elements, humanity has become disoriented and confused.
Unaided by the divine influence of religion, people are incapable of
achieving a proper orientation to their innermost reality and purpose
and are thus unable to achieve a coherent vision of their destiny. It
is in this respect that the Bahá'ís find relevancy,
direction, and fulfillment in the teachings of
Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of their Faith.
The oneness of humanity is a spiritual truth abundantly confirmed
by science. Recognition of this truth compels the abandonment of all
prejudices of race, color, creed, nation, and class -- of "everything
which enables people to consider themselves superior to others." The
principle of the oneness of humankind" is no mere outburst of ignorant
emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope.... It does not
constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal.... It implies an
organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such
as the world has not yet experienced."
The application of the spiritual principle of the oneness of
humanity to the life of the nation would necessitate and make possible
vast changes in the economic status of the non-white segments of the
population. Although poverty afflicts members of all races its
victims tend to be largely people of color. Prejudice and
discrimination have created a disparity in the standards of living,
providing some with excessive economic advantage while denying others
the bare necessities for leading healthy and dignified lives. Poor
housing, deficient diet, inadequate health care, insufficient
education are consequences of poverty that afflict African Americans,
American Indians, and Hispanic Americans more than they afflict the
rest of the population. The cost to society at large is heavy.
Evidence of the negative effect of racial and ethnic conflict on
the economy has prompted a number of businesses and corporations to
institute educational programs that teach conflict resolution and are
designed to eliminate racial and ethnic tensions from the workplace.
These are important steps and should be encouraged. If, however, they
are intended primarily to save the economy, no enduring solution will
be found to the disastrous consequences of racism. For it cannot
suffice to offer academic education and jobs to people while at the
same time shutting them out because of racial prejudice from normal
social intercourse based on brotherly love and mutual respect. The
fundamental solution -- the one that will reduce violence, regenerate
and focus the intellectual and moral energy of minorities, and make
them partners in the construction of a progressive society -- rests
ultimately on the common recognition of the oneness of humankind.
It is entirely human to fail if that which is the most important to
people's self-perception is denied them -- namely, the dignity they
derive from a genuine regard by others for their stature as human
beings. No educational, economic, or political plan can take the
place of this essential human need; it is not a need that businesses
and schools, or even governments, can provide in isolation from the
supportive attitude of society as a whole. Such an attitude needs to
be grounded in a spiritual and moral truth that all acknowledge and
accept as their own and that, like the oxygen that serves all equally,
breathes life into their common effort to live in unity and peace.
Absence of the genuine regard for others fostered by such truth causes
hopelessness in those discriminated against; and in a state of
hopelessness, people lose the coherent moral powers to realize their
potential. This vitalizing truth, we are convinced, is summarized in
the phrase: the oneness of humankind.
So essential is the principle of the oneness of humanity to the
efficacy of educational programs that it cannot be overemphasized.
Without its broad influence such programs will not contribute
significantly to the development of society. The very fact that
businesses are themselves implementing educational programs is
indicative of the glaring deficiency of the entire educational system.
As we have already said, beyond the mechanisms of education lies the
essential prerequisite of a proper attitude on the part of those
dispensing curricula and, even more important, on the part of society
as a whole. On this basis, education is not only the shortest route
out of poverty; it is the shortest route out of prejudice as well. A
national program of education, emphasizing the values of tolerance,
brotherhood, appreciation for cultures other than one's own, and
respect for differences would be a most important step toward the
elimination of racism and, as a consequence, the bolstering of the
The persistent neglect by the governing bodies and the masses of
the American people of the ravages of racism jeopardizes both the
internal order and the national security of the country.
From the day it was born the United States embraced a set of
contradictory values. The founding fathers proclaimed their devotion
to the highest principles of equality and justice yet enshrined
slavery in the Constitution. Slavery poisoned the mind and heart of
the nation and would not be abolished without a bloody civil war that
nearly destroyed the young republic. The evil consequences of slavery
are still visible in this land. They continue to affect the behavior
of both Black and White Americans and prevent the healing of old
Healing the wounds and building a society in which people of
diverse backgrounds live as members of one family are the most
pressing issues confronting America today. Her peace, her prosperity,
and even her standing in the international community depend to a great
extent on the resolution of this issue.
That the virulence of the race issue in America attracts the
attention of the entire world should spur this country to an
unprecedented effort to eliminate every vestige of prejudice and
discrimination from her midst. America's example could not fail to
have a profound influence on world society nor could it fail to assist
the establishment of universal peace. "For the accomplishment of
unity between the colored and white," the Bahá'í
writings proclaim, "will be a cause of the world's peace."
The responsibility for the achievement of racial peace and unity in
the United States rests upon both Black and White Americans. To build
a society in which the rights of all its members are respected and
guaranteed, both races must be animated with the spirit of optimism
and faith in the eventual realization of their highest aspirations.
Neither Black nor White Americans should assume that the
responsibility for the elimination of prejudice and of its effects
belongs exclusively to the other. Both must recognize that unity is
essential for their common survival. Both must recognize that there
is only one human species. Both must recognize that a harmoniously
functioning society that permits the full expression of the potential
of all persons can resolve the social and economic problems now
confounding a society wracked with disunity.
It is evident that both Black and White Americans in large numbers
are feeling deeply disappointed and frustrated by what each group
perceives to be a failure of the efforts in recent decades at
effecting progress in the relations between the races. To rationalize
this failure, both have been reacting by retreating to the more
familiar ground of racial separation. As the problems with crime and
drug addiction mount, the tendency is to use the seeming
intractability of these problems as a measure of the failure of years
of struggle on the part of both to overcome the barriers of centuries.
Formidable as is the challenge yet to be met, can it fairly said that
no significant progress has taken place since the days of the sit-ins
at lunch counters across the South?
Similarly, the victims of a protracted and entrenched racial
discrimination seek relief in the notion that Black Americans, White
Americans, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans are
so distinctly different from one another that all of them must stake
out their own cultural and social territories and stay within them.
Would this be sensible? Would it not be a retreat from the reality of
our common humanity? Would it not be a formula for the total
breakdown of civilization? Those who raise the call for separation
preach a grim doctrine indeed. If the nation is seriously to submit
to such a view, where exactly will either the Black or the White
Americans divide their cultural heritage, one from the other?
Racism runs deep. It infects the hearts of both White and Black
Americans. Since without conscious, deliberate, and sustained effort,
no one can remain unaffected by its corrosive influence, both groups
must realize that such a problem can neither easily nor immediately be
resolved. "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."
Both groups must understand that no real change will come about
without close association, fellowship, and friendship among diverse
people. Diversity of color, nationality, and culture enhances the
human experience and should never be made a barrier to harmonious
relationships, to friendship, or to marriage. "O well-beloved ones!"
Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "The tabernacle of unity has been
raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of
one tree and the leaves of one branch."
Our appeal is addressed primarily to the individual American,
because the transformation of a whole nation ultimately depends on the
initiative and change of character of the individuals who compose it.
No great idea or plan of action by the government or other interested
organizations can hope to succeed if the individual neglects to
respond in his or her own way as personal circumstances and
opportunities permit. And so we respectfully and urgently call upon
our fellow Americans of whatever background to look at the racial
situation with new eyes and with a new determination to lend effective
support to the resolution of a problem that hinders the advance of
this great republic toward the full realization of its glorious
We mention the experience of the Bahá'í community not
from any feeling of pride and ultimate victory, because that which we
have accomplished still falls short of that to which we aspire;
nonetheless, the results to date are most encouraging, and it is as a
means of encouragement that we call attention to them.
From its inception in 1863 the Bahá'í community was
dedicated to the principle of the unity of humankind.
Bahá'ís rely upon faith in God, daily prayer,
meditation, and study of sacred texts to effect the transformation of
character necessary for personal growth and maturity; however, their
aim is to create a world civilization that will in turn react upon the
character of the individual. Thus the concept of personal salvation
is linked to the salvation, security, and happiness of all the
inhabitants of the earth and stems from the Bahá'í
belief that "the world of humanity is a composite body" and that "when
one part of the organism suffers all the rest of the body will feel
Guided and inspired by such principles, the Bahá'í
community has accumulated more than a century of experience in
creating models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality,
class, and the differences of sex and religion, providing empirical
evidence that humanity in all its diversity can live as a unified
global society. Bahá'ís see unity as the law of life;
consequently, all prejudices are perceived as diseases that threaten
life. Rather than considering that the unity of humankind can be
established only after other problems afflicting it have been solved,
Bahá'ís believe that both spiritual and material
development are dependent upon love and unity. Therefore, the
Bahá'ís offer the teachings of their Faith and the
example of their community for examination, convinced that these can
make a contribution toward the eradication of racism endemic in
American society. We do so with firm faith in the assistance of our
Creator, Who, out of His infinite love, brought forth all humanity
from the same stock and intended that all belong to the same
household. We believe, moreover, that the day of the unification of
the entire human race has come and that "the potentialities inherent
in the station of man, the innate excellence of his reality, must all
be manifested in this promised Day of God."
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the
United States is the national administrative body for the
Bahá'ís of the United States. The Assembly, has nine
members and is elected annually by delegates from the forty eight
contiguous states. It directs, coordinates, and stimulates the
activities of local Bahá'í administrative bodies and of
the 110,000 Bahá'ís in the United States.
The Bahá'í Faith is an independent world religion
with adherents in virtually every country. The worldwide
Bahá'í community, numbering more than five million,
includes almost all nationalities and classes. More than 2,100 ethnic
groups and tribes are represented. There are 155 National Spiritual
Bahá'u'lláh was the Prophet-Founder of the
Bahá'í Faith. The central principles of His religion
are the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of
humanity. His religion "proclaims the necessity and the inevitability
of the unification of mankind.... It, moreover, enjoins upon its
followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth,
condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the
purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord,
proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the
foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human
society. It unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights,
opportunities and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory
education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the
institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy
and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorce, emphasizes
the necessity of strict obedience to one's government, exalts any work
performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship, urges
either the creation or the adoption of an auxiliary international
language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions that must
establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind."
Copyright 1991 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of
the United States.