"The Vision of Race Unity:
America's Most Challenging Issue"
A Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is
of the United States
Racism is THE MOST CHALLENGING ISSUE confronting America. A nation whose
ancestry includes every people on earth, whose motto is E pluribus unum,
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
Aware of the magnitude and the urgency of the issue, we, the National
Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, speaking for the
entire U.S. Baha'i 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 Baha'i community in effecting 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 resolve all the
teachings of the Baha'i 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 Baha'u'llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i 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 Baha'i writings offers compelling insights as in
the following examples:
Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity
of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created
thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee
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 dwell in the same land, that from
your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of
oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.
Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this
counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from 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 loving-kindness 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 nation.
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, 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
divers 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 Baha'is find relevance, direction, and fulfillment in the
teachings of Baha'u'llah, 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 mankind "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
The application of the spiritual principle of the oneness of mankind 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
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 work place. 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 most important to people's
self-perception is denied them--namely, the dignity they derive from a
genuine regard by others for their statute 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
hopeless, 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 economy.
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 the White Americans
and prevent the healing of old wounds.
Healing the wounds and building a society in which people of diverse
backgrounds live as members of one family is the most pressing issue
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 Baha'i
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 White nor Black
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 the 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 be
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!" Baha'u'llah 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 to 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 destiny.
We mention the experience of the Baha'i 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 Baha'i community was dedicated to the
principle of the unity of humankind. Baha'is 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 Baha'i 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 its consequence." Guided and inspired by such
principles, the Baha'i 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. Baha'is 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, Baha'is believe that both
spiritual and material development are dependent upon love and unity.
Therefore, the Baha'is 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 Baha'is of the United States is the
national administrative body for the Baha'is 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 Baha'i administrative bodies and of the 110,000 Baha'is
in the United States.
The Baha'i Faith is an independent world religion with adherents in
virtually every country. The worldwide Baha'i 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
Baha'u'llah was the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i 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."
Attached Questions and Answers
BAHA'I OFFICE OF PUBLIC INFORMATION
536 Sheridan Road, Wilmette, Illinois 60091 - (708) 869-9039
"THE VISION OF RACE UNITY AMERICA'S MOST CHALLENGING ISSUE"
WHO ISSUED THIS STATEMENT ABOUT RACE UNITY?
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States is
the national administrative body for the Baha'is of the U.S. The Assembly
has nine members and is elected annually by delegates from the 48
contiguous states. It directs, coordinates and stimulates the activities of
local Baha'i administrative bodies and of the 110,000 Baha'is in the U.S.
WHY WAS THE STATEMENT ISSUED?
Baha'is believe that racism is the most challenging issue facing
America. Despite all past efforts to improve relations between the races,
racism continues. The peace and security of the U.S. depend upon America's
commitment to solve its racial problems.
Baha'is believe that the teachings of Baha'u'llah and the experiences
of their community offer a means to eliminate racism.
HOW CAN AMERICA SOLVE ITS RACIAL PROBLEMS?
First, the people of the U.S. must recognize the spiritual and moral
truth of the oneness of humankind. Acceptance of this principle would
motivate people to abandon prejudice and to reorganize society.
The primary responsibility for achieving racial peace and unity in the
United States rests upon Black and White Americans. The process of
resolving the deep-seated division between Black and White Americans will
help end racism against American Indians, Hispanic Americans and Asian
The problem will not be solved easily or quickly. No real change will
occur without close association, fellowship and friendship among people of
all colors, cultures and backgrounds.
People of all colors, nationalities and cultures must be encouraged to
develop friendships, to socialize together, to enjoy their diversity, and
HOW DOES THE BAHA'I COMMUNITY FOSTER RACE UNITY?
The unity of humankind is the cardinal principle of the Baha'i Faith.
To Baha'is, the concept of personal salvation is linked to the salvation,
security, and happiness of all people.
The Baha'i community has more than a century of experience in creating
models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality, class, and the
differences of sex and religion.
The Baha'i community promotes minority involvement in all aspects of
its community life, administrative affairs and spiritual education. It
promotes interracial marriage; uses decision-making practices which foster
agreement without confrontation; and works with organizations which
advocate racial harmony. In 1957, the National Spiritual Assembly of the
Baha'is of the United States established the second Sunday in June as Race
Unity Day to nurture the vision of race unity.