An excerpt from Mandisa Nakana Taylor’s ‘What are religions doing about racial inequality?’ presentation held on 12th November 2020
When I was little, I used to attend Baha’i children’s classes and I grew up with the notion that there is only one race of people: there is the human race and we come in different tones and shades, like the flowers of one garden. There’s even a song about it that just about every child who’s been to a Baha’i children’s class, knows.
Nature is a very big part of the way Baha’u’llah talks. Baha’u’llah is the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah always said that there are clues to be found and seen in nature, in the perfect balance, the fact that nature doesn’t compete but cooperates and this is how the world of humanity is described in the Baha’i Faith: it is likened to a human body, so every single cell, every single limb is working together in harmony and cooperation to make things work. All the religions know this to be true and science tells us that 99.9% of our DNA is the same.
“O children of men, know ye not why we created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other.”
So what’s the solution? Well, apart from beautiful quotations and Writings that inspire and touch hearts, what is actually the blueprint that has been laid down by the Baha’i Faith to eliminate racial prejudice? And the first thing that I came across was: “Forging strong relationships and bonds of friendship with people from all walks of life” – that being an antidote to the corrosive disease of all prejudice, actually. If we get to know people and really understand and ask questions – questions that perhaps would have been hush-hush, because at the end of a workshop that we ran with some children, they were able more boldly to describe people, just the way they are. Children are not colour-blind. They can very clearly see that there are differences between people. But they do not attribute those differences to anything negative, unless we, as adults, do that. So children can say words like: ‘that’s a white person’, ‘that’s a black person’, without it being an uncomfortable conversation. And that’s one of the barriers that was broken down - ‘I’m your friend, you’re my friend, we’re all friends’, yet we can say these things without the fear of hurting anyone’s feelings because we don’t mean it in a derogatory way and we can then ask questions.
The other thing was to make that deliberate effort to lift people up and to raise capacity in all walks of life in everywhere we go. That’s why Baha’is are always involved in classes and study circles that are specifically designed for this purpose, to raise people’s spiritual capacity, in order to be the noble beings that we were created to be. One example I got was way back in 1912 when ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the eldest son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, travelled to America, and He had the joy of meeting one of the first black Baha’is, whose name was Louis Gregory – and he was the son of slaves – and he, actually, just after the emancipation of slavery was able to further his education and become an attorney. ‘Abdu’l-Baha was invited by Mr Gregory to give a talk at Howard University, all about the oneness of mankind, and how to establish peace in the world. So, after this event, ‘Abdu’l-Baha was the guest of honour at this reception and it was an all-white reception and all these really very well-to-do people were there and ‘Abdu’l-Baha stood up before the food was served and said:
“Where is Mr Gregory? Please bring me Mr Gregory.” And they made a place-setting for him on the right side of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and He sat right next to Mr Gregory in 1912 in a room full of people where that would not otherwise have happened.
That’s an example of how it’s been of our Exemplar, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, leading by example.
So these inspiring examples, really about creating those bonds of friendship, and being able to have these conversations and to talk about oneness in a very real and practical way, so that we are walking with the same feet as one of the other quotations in the Baha’i Faith talks about and really it’s about not just changing our hearts as individuals but building our communities and completely reshuffling institutions as a result of that change.
Date: Monday 8th March 2021