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99. How Can We Heal Racism?

Updated: Jun 25, 2022

Moving Beyond Tolerance.

I began school back in the 50's when the education of all New Zealand children discouraged the language and knowledge of our 'conquered' indigenous people, Maori.

That system in which I was raised and - as an adult - was later expected to teach, was yet to be challenged by the effects of increased migration that, in that post-war period was beginning to take place all over the globe. It was yet to encounter the rapid influx of diverse people that were a result of increased means of communication and growing ease of travel.

In the meantime, our 1950's education continued to be the reflection of a largely mono-cultural society that believed in the polite assimilation of minority groups. It rested on the assumption that minorities would readily recognise the superior nature of our dominant culture, and would gratefully abandon all vestiges of their previously primitive life-style in eagerness to become one of us.

That post-war period was yet to be challenged by the growing diversity that this period of rapid change would progressively effect upon our world; of race, nationality, language, religion, or of gender opportunities. It was a time when our schools continued to give subtle priority to the education of boys, since the expectation was that girls would soon be mothers and would have no need of another occupation.

Our national school syllabus provided for one hour of Christian religious instruction per week, with the opportunity - seldom taken since it set those few children apart from the rest - for children of parents who objected to be removed for that time.

Our traditional channels of spiritual education - the churches and Sunday Schools - taught ideals like love and forgiveness, but did not educate children in acquiring practical skills - such as the practice of consultation, or friendship with people of diverse cultures and faiths - by which we could give practical expression to the ideals of love for one another, of equity and equality, and respect for human rights.

We needed to be taught how to actively express love and brotherhood in a diverse and changing world, how to demonstrate attitudes of mutual respect towards one another - attitudes that were grounded in an acceptance of religious and cultural diversity.

It seemed that the most we could do was to merely tolerate one another. We would do no harm, but neither would we wholeheartedly accept and embrace one another's differences. Even the toleration that we expressed was often not much more than a 'holding pattern', a temporary level of acceptance whilst we waited for the other person to see the light, to reject their previous beliefs, religion or culture, in favour of our own.

Tolerance is a step along the path. Like Hippocrates’ injunction in medicine, it is a state of merely doing no harm; an early, immature phase in the process that leads eventually to unconditional love and acceptance. Tolerance may, in the past, have been an essential first step in this process that leads to ultimate unity, but it is no longer sufficient to merely do no harm to others. The principle of the Golden Rule requires that we wish for others what we wish for ourselves.

In Ridvan 1963 the Universal House Of Justice wrote to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific:

We direct a special appeal to the indigenous believers in all parts of the Pacific region, men and women alike, to intensify their efforts to acquire a deeper understanding of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, and to strive for a position in the forefront of the promoters of the Faith through their teaching endeavors on the home front and their international cooperation in programs of the Ocean of Light. As the tensions and divisions of a declining social order increase, the believers throughout the Pacific Islands should provide compelling testimony to the potency of the Bahá’í Teachings through their manifest unity transcending tribal, national or ethnic barriers. The desperate search for solutions to the social and economic problems afflicting these countries is tempting people, in increasing numbers, to indulge in partisan political activities; the indigenous Bahá’ís should refuse to be drawn into such divisive pursuits and should strive to acquire a more profound insight into the nature of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which offers a pattern for a future society distinguished by justice and unity, far removed from the contention of competing political interests.

No one wants to be pressured to take on another person's values and beliefs, their culture or religion, and neither should we require this of others. It is not sufficient to love someone only to the degree that they are willing to change and to accommodate our own opinions about what is best for them. Neither is mere ‘wishing’ for others what we desired for ourselves sufficient. Wishes and hopes need to be translated into action.

Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha’u’llah revolve—is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced … It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world—a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units. – Ibid., pp. 42-43.


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