Thursday, July 16, 2009

Race: The Power of An Illusion

Photograph of enslaved Africans in Richmond, Virginia (date unknown).

As a member of an anti-racism advisory committee at my job, I've been watching the documentary Race The Power of an Illusion. This documentary is really well done, informative and provocative and I wanted to recommend it to any Baha'i Thought readers who may not have seen it. Here is some information about the documentary from its PBS website:

Race is one topic where we all think we're experts. Yet ask 10 people to define race or name "the races," and you're likely to get 10 different answers. Few issues are characterized by more contradictory assumptions and myths, each voiced with absolute certainty.

In producing this series, we felt it was important to go back to first principles and ask, What is this thing called "race?" - a question so basic it is rarely raised. What we discovered is that most of our common assumptions about race - for instance, that the world's people can be divided biologically along racial lines - are wrong. Yet the consequences of racism are very real.

How do we make sense of these two seeming contradictions? Our hope is that this series can help us all navigate through our myths and misconceptions, and scrutinize some of the assumptions we take for granted. In that sense, the real subject of the film is not so much race but the viewer, or more precisely, the notions about race we all hold.

We hope this series can help clear away the biological underbrush and leave starkly visible the underlying social, economic, and political conditions that disproportionately channel advantages and opportunities to white people. Perhaps then we can shift the conversation from discussing diversity and respecting cultural difference to building a more just and equitable society.

You can learn more about the series here.

Watching this documentary reminded me of some of the statements made by 'Abdu'l-Baha about race during his travels in North American in 1912. Here is one example:

All humanity are the children of God; they belong to the same family, to the same original race...This signifies that racial assumption and distinction are nothing but superstition...All these in the presence of God are equal; they are of one race and creation; God did not make these divisions. These distinctions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of reality, they are false and imaginary. We are of one physical race, even as we are of one physical plan of material body -- each endowed with two eyes, two ears, one head, two feet. (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 299)