Although poverty afflicts members of all races, its victims tend to be largely people of color.
Prejudice and discrimination have created a disparity in standards of living, providing some with excessive economic advantage while denying others the bare necessities for leading healthy and dignified lives.
Poor housing, deficient diet, inadequate health care, insufficient education are consequences of poverty that afflict African Americans, American Indians and Hispanic Americans more than they afflict the rest of the population. The cost to society at large is heavy.
Evidence of the negative effect of racial and ethnic conflict on the economy has prompted a number of businesses and corporations to institute educational programs that teach conflict resolution and are designed to eliminate racial and ethnic tensions from the workplace. These are important steps and should be encouraged.
If, however, they are intended primarily to save the economy, no enduring solution will be found to the disastrous consequences of racism. For it cannot suffice to offer academic education and jobs to people while at the same time shutting them out because of racial prejudice from normal social intercourse based on brotherly love and mutual respect.
The fundamental solution – the one that will reduce violence, regenerate and focus the intellectual and moral energy of minorities, and make them partners in the construction of a progressive society – rests ultimately on the common recognition of the oneness of humankind.
It is entirely human to fail if that which is most important to people’s self-perception is denied them – namely, the dignity they derive from a genuine regard by others for their stature as human beings. No educational, economic or political plan can take the place of this essential human need; it is not a need that businesses and school, or even governments, can provide in isolation from the supportive attitude of society as a whole.
Such an attitude needs to be grounded in a spiritual and moral truth that all acknowledge and accept as their own and that, like the oxygen that serves all equally, breathes life into their common effort to live in unity and peace. Absence of the genuine regard for others fostered by such truth causes hopelessness in those discriminated against; and in a state of hopelessness, people lose the coherent moral powers to realize their potential. This vitalizing truth, we are convinced, is summarized in the phrase: the oneness of humankind.
So essential is the principle of the oneness of humanity to the efficacy of educational programs that it cannot be overemphasized. Without its broad influence, such programs will not contribute significantly to the development of society. Beyond the mechanisms of education lies the essential prerequisite of a proper attitude on the part of those dispensing the curricula and, even more important, on the part of society as a whole.
On this basis, education is not only the shortest route out of poverty; it is the shortest route out of prejudice as well. A national program of education, emphasizing the values of tolerance, brotherhood, appreciation for cultures other than one’s own and respect for differences would be a most important step toward the elimination of racism and, as a consequence, the bolstering of the economy.
(Part 3 in a series on the Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue made in 1991. Printed with permission of copyright holder National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States with all rights reserved.)
Annette Reynolds has served in many capacities as a member of the Bahá’í Faith. She is the author of “Trudy and the Bahá’ís Spiritual Path in S.C.” and “Survivors Thrive: A view of the Battered Women’s Movement.” She is a member of the Morning News’ Faith & Values Advisory Board. Contact her and other board members at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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