Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Race: Is it Pride or Prejudice?

Is this sign "racist"?
(Photo via

I've been following with interest all the talk in the media about the issue of immigration reform.One thing I've been struck by are comments made by some that there has been an alarming tone of ethnic nationalism at many of the protests in recent days that have brought millions of mostly Latin American immigrants into the streets of cities all across the country. Some have argued that displays such as marching with Mexican flags reflects "racism" and that there is a hidden agenda to "invade" the United States. A few have gone so far as to suggest that we are on our way to a "civil war" based on ethnic and national identity. This has brought to mind a selection from the Baha'i Writings that I think bears on this issue:

It [the world-wide Law of Baha'u'llah] does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race.

(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 41)

I've noticed that for some people any expression of pride in one's racial, ethnic or cultural heritage elicits a kind of hysteria, and charges of "racism". They reject the possibility of any kind of "hyphenated" American identity and view efforts at "diversity" or "multiculturalism" or "pluralism" as threatening to the well-being of the country. Where does this reaction come from? Another quote from the Baha'i Writings comes to mind:

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race...(italics mine)

(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40)

The psychology of those who claim that all expressions of ethnic or racial pride by minorities are "racist" springs from a superiority/inferiority complex, deeply embedded in the psyche of Americans due to our long history of oppression based on race. The whole notion of race has become so deeply enmeshed with a paradigm of viewing human beings as superior or inferior that many people are unable to conceive of it in any other way. If one racial group is putting itself up, then the only possibility for people who think this way is that other races are being put down. Thus a Mexican man waving his Mexican flag becomes a "racist". Clearly the line between pride and prejudice is a thin one and there are many people of all racial backgrounds who cross it (some never go back). The problem however is not that people come from different countries, have different skin colors or speak different languages. The problem is our attitude towards these differences. The Baha'i Writings recommend what our attitude toward diversity should be:

The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and colour from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them. (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 53)