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 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 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 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 an assurance 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 there 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."