Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Seeking Light in the Darkness of "Race"

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Seeking Light in the Darkness of "Race"

Article excerpt


At this critical juncture in the life of society, it is tempting to focus on the most visible signs of racial conflict being featured on various media platforms, whether mainstream news outlets or social media. The level of urgency that currently appears to be building up with respect to race2 is largely a result of the level of media attention. However, I would argue that the situation has been urgent for a long while. Before the recent episodes of teens and even preteens being murdered with impunity, names like Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, and Nicole Brown Simpson became familiar to us. Albeit often under the radar of the news media, patterns of racial inequality have persisted in the criminal justice system, at various socioeconomic metrics, and in the sense of social esteem granted to those of a particular racial background.

With this in mind, this article seeks to analyze race primarily from a sociohistorical perspective. This "big picture" approach, I would argue, is more effective in uncovering the social significance of race as opposed to focusing on highly visible incidents that are, in the end, symptoms or flare-ups of a deeper problem. Presented for your consideration is a painstakingly forged reconciliation of sociological, spiritual, and experiential knowledge concerning race. In other words, this article reflects a standpoint based on what I have thus far gathered from sociological scholarship and my study of the spiritual teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, all filtered through my personal experience. Despite the inherent challenges and limitations, I believe that speaking about what I know to be true at this point in my holistic journey as a Bahá'í and an aspiring scholar is the most effective way for me to contribute to the discourse.

While I acknowledge that there are numerous examples of positive interracial interactions and social patterns, this article is focused on fundamental questions such as why "race" seems to be a permanent feature of society, how we got to the present situation with respect to race, and what might be some factors in liberating our social world from the dark scourge of race. As a result, this article tackles mainly large-scale sociohistorical dynamics that involve individuals, but mostly transcend them, especially those who stand out as exceptions to the rule. Given the sensitive nature of race as a subject matter, it could prove beneficial for the reader to be mindful that terms such as "White," "Black," "whiteness," and several others are mostly employed as general terms that do not imply a sweeping categorization of every individual characterized as such.

The scope of this article is, for the most part, purposefully limited to the United States, given its unique racial history and the sociological sense that race looks different in different social contexts. Our exploration begins with a sociological perspective that focuses on the nature of race and how it has expressed itself throughout US history up to the present day at both the structural and interpersonal levels of society. It is established within this discussion that race has evolved from misguided ideas on human diversity to become a cancerous element of our contemporary social structure that subjugates the populace and constrains our ability to forge authentic interracial bonds. We then explore insights from the Bahá'í Writings that offer an enriching social vision regarding human diversity and the means to establish community life conducive to interracial brotherhood. Finally, I offer some thoughts on how attaining and sustaining an authentic form of identity, and deepening this transcendent sense of identity in the company of like-minded collaborators, is the key building block to constructing transformative communities that embody the principle of the oneness of humanity-the pivotal social verity of our time that unites science and religion.

As a whole, this article runs counter to at least two tendencies, one tied to Bahá'í-centered discourse on race and the other tied to the social sciences in general. …

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