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Honors Thesis, University of Colorado at Boulder, Ethnic Studies Department (Presented on April 5, 2004).

Thesis Advisor: Professor Alphonse Keasley; Committee Members: Professors Adrian Gaskins and William King.

Faith, Theory, and Practice:
Interracial Marriage as a Symbol of the Oneness of Humanity

by Benjamin Leiker



Contradictions between theory and practice, the private and public spheres, our actual and ideal conceptions of life, seem to be inevitable and perhaps impossible to avoid. However, how are we to continue getting closer to our goals of the abolishment of subordination of any people in hopes of achieving equality, unity in diversity, etc. while still living in a world which seemingly unconsciously and consciously disallows for the interconnection of humanity along lines of race, sex, and class? Synthesizing thought from Alison M. Jaggar on equality and contradictions, Laurence M. Thomas on the contradictions of love between the public and private spheres, Houston A. Gates Jr. on faith, Gloria Anzaldúa on new consciousnesses, and the Writings of the Baháí Faith on the establishment and education of the principle of the Oneness of Humanity, I will express that interracial marriage is a unique relationship between people which, under exploration, has the potential to be an independent, dynamic, and practical bond which will assist in living with our daily personal contradictions, while we work towards a world of unity in diversity.

Our ultimate goals of unity in diversity and equality can potentially be exemplified most through productive relationships that involve people from diverse backgrounds. Such relationships provide a fertile environment for living with social contradictions, while also working toward a more unified and beneficial relationship between the two involved. Interracial marriage serves as one of several symbols of the oneness of humankind that we claim to desire, despite the inevitability of sexual and racial privilege being practiced within any relationship since we are all to some extent a product of our society. The genuine consideration of the possibility of an interracial relationship creates an understanding of how to live with the contradictions of society while striving for our ideals. Thus, interracial relationships are an example of a potential environment where both strands of utopian and pragmatic thinking are developed and applied to one’s everyday life.

A Dynamic Approach to Issues of Racism: Living with Contradictions

Contradictions between theory and practice, the private and public spheres, our real and virtual values, and our actual and ideal conceptions of life and society, all seem to be impossible to completely avoid. However, how we are to continue getting closer to our goals of the abolishment of subordination of all people in hopes of achieving equality, unity in diversity, and peace, while still living in a world which seems to unconsciously and consciously disallow for the interconnection of humanity along lines of race, sex, and class? Alison M. Jaggar, the well-known feminist philosopher, suggests co-developing our pragmatic and utopian elements in our thinking, so that each may strengthen the other (25) as we continue down the path of complexity and understanding. This is one way in which our contradictions may lessen and assist in a social transformation by redefining and furthering our conceptions of equality and unity so that we may be better-equipped to act upon them.

Interracial marriage is one of many examples of a pragmatic act which has the potential of working towards a utopian model of society; a society in which race is not a determining factor of the quality of life. Interracial marriage is often an intersection of different backgrounds, identities, and cultures that provides a fertile and dynamic environment for living with contradictions, while also working toward a more unified and beneficial relationship between the two involved. There is an inevitability of sexual and racial privilege practiced within any relationship since we are all, to some extent, products of our society; a society which teaches and perpetuates both mindless and conscious prejudice, discrimination, inequity, and oppression. Ideally, we want to move towards a more unified utopian-esque society, yet we still function within the boundaries of inequality, division, and privilege.

We cannot limit ourselves to dealing with two sides of these issues; namely the "color-blind" and "affirmative action" stances.[1] In the "color-blind" sense, we do not want something as arbitrary as skin color to be a matter that determines the quality of ones life or affects opportunities, treatment, or even identity. We cannot be blind to the existing inequalities in opportunity and the oppression of people of certain races, classes, backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures, due to the hegemonic society in which we live. In these instances, it becomes important to create systems that will aid in creating more equal opportunity for such subordinated people. But at the same time, in the "affirmative action" sense, there is a problem with treating people of certain races differently from others as it creates and reinforces racial stereotypes. This leads to essentialist thinking where all people of a certain race are all the same, and so one application of an idea applies to all. Thus, depending on the particular circumstances, it seems more beneficial to struggle for equal shares in society, while in others, it is important to continually question whether or not conditions of equality and unity are being defined in terms of dominant society.

This connection of Jaggars discussion of feminism and sexual equality with issues of racial equality and unity in diversity demonstrates how all social constructions are intricately interwoven and brings to light the complexity of the problems of inequality, privilege, and oppression. The either/or situation that has been established in search of equality is clearly limited in its practice, as it ignores the particularity of each situation in which inequality exists. Recognizing the dynamic and ever-changing boundaries, ideals, and conflicts of our selves and our society suggests that we must better understand our current contradictions in the context of our utopian ideals. Jaggar suggests that a redefinition and new development of a "mutual care" that entirely transcends traditional feminist practices so we will better prepare us to "be responsive both to our common humanity and our inevitable particularity" (26). This attentiveness would provide us with a dynamic, practical, and independent notion of care that allows continual reflection and evolution in our understandings of the subordination and privilege of others, while allowing us the freedom to apply either "color-blind" or "affirmative action" responses to situations of inequality, depending on which is most suitable (Jaggar, 27). If we continue to remain static in our dichotomous labeling,[2] which implies superiority in one and inferiority in the other, thus leading to direct opposition, then it becomes difficult to transcend such limitations and gain closeness to our ideals. Therefore, Jaggar calls for a consciously feminist community, which includes an understanding of privilege in its many forms (such as racial and socio-economical privileges) that enthusiastically explores ways to lessen the hierarchy, rigidity in dichotomous thinking even within the two ways (color-blind and affirmative action) of seeking equality, and increase the awareness and understanding of privilege in practice (28).

Each interracial relationship is "particular" in its extent of functioning with the privilege and subordination of the individuals in the relationship. This implies that it would be difficult to judge the extent of the particularity for any interracial marriage. Observers of such relationships tend to focus on the differences and particularities of the two people involved, rather than the common humanity they both share. However, the presence of the inevitable unconscious practice of privilege within such relationships should not paralyze our efforts to work towards a more unified society. The application of Jaggar’s sense of care in the context of interracial marriage would allow those in interracial marriages to be sensitive to the problems of both the "color-blind" and "affirmative action" stances: that the color-blind view often leads to unseen and unquestioned privilege, while an affirmative action conception can create deficiency or inferiority. This care will allow for a dynamic approach to the contradictions, inequalities, and privilege within interracial relationships, rather than locking into one conceptual approach and thus slipping into privilege or perceived inferiority.

Contradictions between Values and Actions

Marriage itself is an extremely intimate matter in which, ideally, both individuals become physically and spiritually united in such a way that each improves the spiritual life of the other (‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Baháí World Faith, 372) though, undoubtedly, the condition of the institution of marriage affects the condition of society. Thus, if we cannot have good familial relations, how might we have good relations with people to whom we are not even related? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh who is the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, illuminates this point:

If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual; but if enmity and hatred exist within it destruction and dispersion are inevitable. This is likewise true of a city. If those who dwell within it manifest a spirit of accord and fellowship it will progress steadily and human conditions become brighter whereas through enmity and strife it will be degraded and its inhabitants scattered. In the same way the people of a nation develop and advance toward civilization and enlightenment through love and accord, and are disintegrated by war and strife. Finally, this is true of humanity itself in the aggregate. When love is realized and the ideal spiritual bonds unite the hearts of men, the whole human race will be uplifted, the world will continually grow more spiritual and radiant and the happiness and tranquility of mankind be immeasurably increased (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, 229).

Therefore, it is very important to investigate the character of those you may consider establishing such an intimate relationship with since that relationship is so central to raising children and establishing relationships in general.

In the process of investigating the character of another individual in the context of a romantic relationship, one not only learns about the other, but ones self as well. When getting so emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually close to another person, there is such vibrant exchange and interaction that a fertile environment for greater understanding is created by bringing to light contradictions in self, practice, and personal relationship-building. Interracial marriage too, as said before, is a dynamic, ever-changing interaction within itself and within society. This allows an opportunity for those involved to not only learn about the other as an individual, but also within the context of racism, oppression, privilege, equality, and unity, as well as how one relates to those practices, thus illuminating the contradictions between our ideals and our reality. Relationships of marriage, intimacy, and friendship, are so significant in our lives and highly valued by society, thus elevating them over any other kind of relationship, despite the increasing failure of marriage today.

An example of the contradictions between theory and practice, specifically between the private and public spheres of life, is not only using love as principle for justifying with whom we become romantically involved, but also as a morally justifiable privileging of ones own ethnic group. People often feel that when it comes to matters of romance, attraction, and the heart, that they are justified in loving only certain people who fit into their personal category of attraction, even if, paradoxically, their ideals consist of unity and equality. Attraction and our perception of the possibility of those we could love can clearly be affected by a society’s values, constructions, and other standards of attraction. Thus, our preferences in matters of love can be greatly affected by social constructions. Assuming that our goals consist of unity and equality, it seems contradictory to allow these prejudicial preferences to be justifiable criteria for actively choosing "same-race" relationships as a matter of principle.

Laurence M. Thomas brings out this contradiction in a moral sense by confronting the issue that "preferences for ethnicity that are expressed in the public sphere are subject to considerable moral condemnation" while similar preferences in the private sphere are beyond such moral criticism (192). He explains that, in the public sphere, along the lines of the "affirmative action" conception of race as mentioned earlier, "it is not morally permissible to say that because [person] Y is a Blue rather than a Purple, X will not be hired even though X is more qualified" (192). Conversely, in the private sphere, a Purple may agree that a certain Blue is more intelligent, attractive, and has a better moral character than a certain Purple, and yet would not have or recognize any obligation out of "consistency, common sense, or moral considerations" that would make it incumbent to at least begin a relationship with the Blue, instead of the Purple. Thomas explains that from situations like these, it seems as though ethnicity has more significance than personal qualities; it would be better for a person to marry an individual of the same ethnicity with lesser qualities of character, mind, physical attraction, and even spirituality rather than someone of a different ethnicity with far superior qualities. He notices how love is recognized as something independent and blind to the flaws of the other person, and yet ethnicity has such weight in the matter that it is "incomprehensible that love should be oblivious to ethnicity." Thus, if there is such a tension between our principles for relationships in the public and private spheres, and our romances and friendships are the most important bonds in our lives, then where does the justification come in for privileging our own ethnic kind for romantic relationships, how much do we actually value equality, and most importantly, to what extent does the functioning of privilege and subordination in our society limit the success and potential of interracial relationships (Thomas, 192-193)?

Thomas reminds us to be mindful of the distinction between our virtual values of our ideological rhetoric and our real values,[3] which are conveyed through our actions and transmitted to our children (196). This distinction allows us to better understand those contradictions we have between our theory and practice in terms of our private and public spheres. Making exceptions in our private sphere that we would not accept in our public sphere begins to lead to blatant and seemingly unjustified contradictions; individuals may unknowingly privilege those who match their ideals of a mate which they base simply on appearance, stereotypes, and lack of receptivity to difference in culture, traditions, or beliefs.

One worry is that if we value certain physical characteristics as more attractive, which we do, then there is no doubt that these preferences affect our decisions whether consciously or subconsciously. Thomas gives a "silly" example using curly hair (197). With the assumption that we want to be around people to whom we are more sexually attracted, if one finds people with curly hair to be the most sexually attractive, then that individual will not stop having that preference when hiring a person for a position. It is suggested that the employer might select an individual with curly hair because "she thought that person was more attentive to what she said, although the truth of the matter is that is she who was more attentive to the features of that person, whether female or male" (196). The point here, however, is that these kinds of outcomes, though not necessary, are "unavoidable in a society where people are allowed to privilege, as a matter of principle, their ethnic kind in matters of romance in friendship" (198). To allow the preference of ethnicity in the private sphere as a matter of principle is to allow ethnicity to have such dominance in our lives that is has become very difficult to establish any sort of equality in the public sphere. Thus, our private sphere is a microcosm of the public sphere, and so, the exceptions and privileges that we make in our personal lives are carried out in our public realm despite our "virtual values of our ideological rhetoric." Consequently, we indirectly teach our children these valuesthat it is morally acceptable to privilege our own ethnic group in terms of romantic tieswhich contributes to the perpetuation of inequality in the public sphere. With this unrecognized exception, it is no wonder that equality has remained only an ideal where we easily speak of the equality for which we are supposedly striving, while our society only reflects our privileging of ethnicity.

Logically, equality in situations of ethnicity is a clear goal. A step toward achieving it, in terms of romantic relationships, entails the abandonment of privileging any ethnic kind over another, whether it be the same or different. Thomas has essentially outlined what the ideal or utopian perspective of interracial marriage should be. This is the ideal in the sense that we would be justified in being "color-blind" for there would be no inequality about which to worry. However, it is also important to understand that the situation is not so dichotomous in the sense of right or wrong, nor is it appropriate to generalize for all peoplethat not all of us have the same worldview nor are we all ready or able to renounce our previously unquestioned assumptions, prejudices, and privileges. Each individual and relationship is particular, depending on the environment and the backgrounds of those involved, so it is difficult to determine the extent of its potential success in terms of equality or lack of subordination. Thus, a reason as to why we should even consider the possibility of equality or, more specifically, the potential of interracial marriage in a society plagued by inequality and subordination must be established as a valid and genuine possibility and reality of the distant future.

Interracial Marriage as a Symbol of Unity in Diversity and Equality 

In this thesis, I am arguing that interracial marriage has an independent, dynamic, and practical quality which can and will bring us closer to a society of equality and unity so that eventually we may be justified in only seeing others in terms of their character and not the color of their skin, their gender, or their class. In order to begin understanding the potential of interracial marriage and its positive role in the progression of the unity of humanity, while being mindful of the clear problems of prejudice, racism, sexism, exotification, and colonial fetishism, we must look into the importance of faith in issues of the progress of humanity’s development, the nature of change, and reasons why interracial marriage has a role in the unification of humanity. With this optimism and faith in the benefits of interracial marriage as one of many provokers of progress and unity, a transformation in perspective, theory, and action, and an understanding of how each of these interplay may be established so that a genuine consideration of interracial relationships may follow, along with the other responsibilities that come from such a consideration.

Too much focus on the difficulties and contradictions in one’s life blinds and paralyze us from the potential of moving toward achieving our ideals. Dwelling on our contradictions overwhelms and bogs us down. We all have our difficulties with which we are trying to deal and concentrating too heavily on them would stop us from functioning in the meantime. If I sustain a serious cut, for example, and continually dwell on it, complain about how bad it hurts and how much blood is being lost, the wound will become far more severe than, if upon the recognition of its seriousness, I choose to get help or try to treat it myself. This outlook would clearly lead to more fear than to even thinking about solutions or action. On the other hand, too little attention given to our contradictions would allow them to continue unwittingly and develop into harmful and unconscious habits, making it difficult to change or even gain awareness of them. For instance, if I completely ignored or was simply unaware of my lack of honesty in hopes to be in constant action without the risk of dwelling and stagnation, such a habit going unrecognized could lead to incessant lying and cause many more problems. Or more clearly, if a broken gear in a machine goes unnoticed, it will eventually cause the breakdown of the entire machine.

In this context, faith is a fundamental component to change through its mediation between theory and practice as well as between our ideals and the reality of situations. This mediation lessens the stress and burden of contradictions while also halting eventual paralysis of progress. With the establishment of faith in inevitably progressing toward our ideal and unseen utopia, we can balance between theory and action, focusing on constructive ways of reaching such ideals, understanding that it is something that cannot be achieved through one event or even several events, but rather through a gradual and never-ending process that is continually unfolding.

Houston A. Baker Jr. describes faith as "an affective disposition toward the symbolic that serves as a ground for belief" and as "evidence of things hoped for, the essence of things unseen" that is supported by symbolic resources which hold "the ‘unseen’ in the mind’s eye of the believer." Symbolic resources, such as metaphor, are the grounds on which theory and belief meet (5). This is the power of metaphor and analogy used in stories, literature, poems, novels, and religious writings. Our minds are allowed to go beyond the limited physical world though such symbolism.

Characteristics and processes of nature as symbols will help us to gain a strong belief of the potential of interracial marriage. These symbols can reveal to us how to frame our utopian ideals and help us try to make it a reality. Throughout the remaining pages of this thesis, symbolism, analogy, and metaphor will be used to help explain the oneness of humankind in the context of interracial marriage. Interracial marriage itself is symbolic of the unity and equality we have idealized. It is a sign of hope that we may continually gain closeness to a more unified and equal society, evidence of our utopian ideals, and the essence of our ideal world in its beginning stages. An infant is not born with capabilities of speech or walking, but that does not cause us to lose hope in the potentialities of that child. Nor is the maturity of a child a telltale sign of the maturity he or she will develop as an adult (Allen, 9).

As in Martin Luther King Jr.’s argument for desegregation found in his "I Have A Dream" speech, there is little hope for gaining nearness to equality if there is separation between people. Even though the integration was only court appointed and the equality being sought was based mostly in terms of dominant society, it nevertheless was the beginning of the process of discovery, trial and error, and learning what equality and unification may mean as well as how to apply it. Likewise, the simple consideration of interracial marriage for every individual is a beginning of the process to understand the meanings of these utopian ideals and ways in which to apply them. This process is surely going to be accompanied by pain, difficulty, and strife. However, if our responses consist of isolation, fear, and inaction, then deterioration seems more likely, and will thus cause even more pain and conflicts rather than progress. The action we must take involves not only delving into our individual selves, but a kind of practical application of the qualities we find within ourselves to encourage, motivate, and create unity. Humankind,

…Must ever strive that the divine bounties and virtues bestowed upon [us] may prevail and control [us]. Just now the soil of human hearts seems like black earth, but in the innermost substance of this dark soil there are thousands of fragrant flowers latent. We must endeavor to cultivate and awaken these potentialities, discover the secret treasure in this very mine and depository of God, bring forth these resplendent powers long hidden in human hearts. Then will the glories of both worlds be blended and increased and the quintessence of human existence be made manifest (’Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, 294).

Recognizing the latent potentialities within our selves and humanity as a whole requires a confirmation of our capabilities to grow and develop new skills, abilities, consciousnesses that we never before comprehended or were aware of. However, as mentioned before, coming to an awareness of such potential often involves faith, which can be arrived upon through symbolism, analogy, and metaphor.

Similarly, the current state of interracial marriage and marriage in general, which reflects the hegemonic state of our society that perpetuates the privilege of the elite and subordinating all others, should not be abandoned solely because it might not yet be "walking and talking." Instead, it should be understood more as having the potential to unite people, since it is such a unique relationship that involves two people of from diverse backgrounds. It is such diversity that allows for the greatest unity of all, for if all people were the same, there would not only be a lack of challenge in equality and unity, but it would be fruitless and void of beauty and worth. In many of the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, humanity is likened unto a garden:

Let us look rather at the beauty of diversity, the beauty of harmony, and learn a lesson from the vegetable creation. If you beheld a garden in which all the plants were the same as to form, color and perfume, it would not seem beautiful to you at all, but, rather, monotonous and dull. The garden which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form, and perfume, and the joyous contrast of color is what makes for charm and beauty…It is just this diversity and variety that constitutes its charm; each flower, each tree, each fruit, beside being beautiful in itself, bring out by contrast the qualities of the others, and shows to advantage the special loveliness of each and all (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, 51-54).

The form, hue, and perfume in the quote above are symbolic of the diversity amongst humanity. Physically, the color and form of all people contribute to the sensual beauty of humanity, but are not limited thereunto. The perfume, charm, and beauty, in the case of this analogy, are that of the unique character, customs, ideas, manners, habits, ideas, opinions, dispositions, contributions, and experiences of each individual and diverse culture. These only embellish the world of humanity and enhance the others’ beauty (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 292). It is through this appreciation that unity in diversity will contribute to the global peace, security and well-being that we seek. However, not only should we appreciate the diversity of humanity, but also it "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" (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, 53). Through genuine appreciation of diversity gained through involvement, seeking to learn, and caring interaction comes the cause of love and harmony.

It is not until we abolish disunity that we could ever hope to imagine such peace and security. Interracial marriage can be a source of this union on the micro scale, thus affecting society as a whole, only if it is carried out with a consciousness of the contradictions of our society and each person in the relationship is allowed to freely release their unique fragrance in a loving environment. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also explains,

This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, the difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love and multiplicity is the greatest factor for coordination (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 291).

To achieve unity across the constructed boundaries of race that have for so long kept us from realizing appreciation, closeness, or the strength of such harmonization of difference would reveal much of the potential qualities of humankind. The unity of humanity will reveal such potentialities beyond our own comprehension.

Clinging to patterns of behavior and traditions of old that are no longer suitable for this age will only perpetuate the problems that humankind has always faced. For so long racism, nationalism, classism, and religious divisionism have all developed in such wise as to eliminate any potential appreciation or unification. Thus, it is clear that an abandonment of these habits must take place before any sort of establishment of unity may arise. The history of oppression, subordination, division, inequality, prejudice, violence, murder, and wars all have the potential of becoming a "stimulus to assuming the responsibilities of collective maturity" as humanity gradually grows from its adolescence into adulthood, rather than a cause of despair. (Bahá’í International Community, "Who is Writing the Future?" 1999). To assume the potential of anything based solely on the past evidences of failure is the same as assuming that because I have never died, I will live forever. As said before, interracial marriage is symbolic of the unity in diversity and equality we have idealized in that it gives us insight into a society which is not governed by prejudices that restrict individuals’ love for one another or discovery of the latent qualities within them. Or, more fully expressed, our ultimate goals of unity in diversity and equality can potentially be exemplified most through productive relationships that involve people from diverse backgrounds. Such relationships provide a fertile and dynamic environment for living with social contradictions, while also working toward a more unified and beneficial relationship between the two involved. Here, it becomes clear that this thesis is only using interracial marriages as an example of such relationships. But, to be more encompassing, interethnic and intercultural relationships are such a symbol, possibly to an even greater extent.

Rather than clinging to dogmas of the past, it is important to generate a thirst for personal and social development if we hope to advance towards the reification of our ideals. This is a form of spirituality in which we strive for the betterment of humanity and ourselves through attainment of virtues (divine perfections). Acquiring this yearning comes from meditating upon the future life (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, "Star of the West" Vol. 19, No. 3, 69). This is another way of assessing our reality, our "pragmatic and utopian strands of thinking," and how they all interrelate and strengthen each other so that we may increasingly gain closeness to a unified world (Jaggar, 25). Hopefully this thesis can serve as a beginning to that meditation.

The reason that interracial marriage is a symbol of the utopian society that we envision is reason enough to strive for it, despite the many problems that may come from it due to the state in which society is functioning. To unify equally in the face of the conflicts caused by difference demonstrates an amazing potential and latent quality within humanity. This is because, unlike white supremacists who envision the creation of a monolithic society, diversity is an unavoidable and natural characteristic of humanity (and life) that provides an opportunity for growth toward unity. Instead of a society which is created through an elimination of people—those who are different, in the white supremacist view—the creation of a unity in which "the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens" (Bahá’u’lláh, The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh, 116) and brings all people together from different backgrounds, beliefs, and social geographies constitutes a more genuine relationship. It is an act of binding through creation of something new rather than destroying. Within the animal kingdom, though there is conflict between and within species, motives of destruction are not what fuel such interactions. Rather, they are functioning in a way that insures survival and maintenance of the environment. Eradicating certain peoples assumes immediately the superiority of some people over others, which is contrary to nature. Though each species has different abilities and capacities, each is needed for the perpetuation of the natural world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains, "The mineral evolves till it is absorbed in the life of the plant, the plant progresses till finally it loses its life in that of the animal; the animal, in its turn, forming part of the food of man, is absorbed into human life" (Paris Talks, 91). All exist for the continuance of nature, and keeping in mind the oneness of humankind, each contributes to our existence. Therefore, a relationship where two people can come into a union founded on equality, symbolizes our utmost potential and goal.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a utopian society where people are kept from loving anyone for reasons of race, ethnicity, class, or nation. It is even conceivable that a utopian society would not need these words because such distinctions would play no role since equality and unity would pervade all of humanity. In order to continue to move closer to this ideal, it seems contrary to deny interracial marriage or claim that society is not at a stage in which interracial marriage should be accepted. How can we learn to have more fruitful interracial marriages without struggling through difficulties to understand what works and to see what our conception of the ideal actually is? Arguing universally against interracial marriage is presuming that it is unachievable or that because we are not already at a state of perfection, such relationships cannot be fruitful despite the challenges of the contradictions between our ideal and our reality. If we do not allow imperfect interracial marriages attempting to function with and learn from the inequalities, then there is little hope in discovering how to create our ideal society. Thus, conditions of interracial marriage will remain the same the more we "stubbornly cling to old patterns of behavior" (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Oct, The Promise of World Peace, 1) without attempts to understand what such interrelationships between people mean and reveal to us about the nature of humanity, the latent qualities they manifest, and the social constructions that have developed which increase division. Thomas explains, "Love is simply too amorphous and complex a phenomenon for it to travel entirely along ethnic lines,"(199) and so we must strive to break down such lines of division so that love may travel freely as it transcends any lines that humanity may construct.

It is also important to note that this same amorphous characteristic of love is the very quality which clarifies that the genuine consideration of the possibility of interracial marriage for one’s self does not necessitate all people to marry interracially. The point is only to consider interracial marriage to the extent that the possibility of it happening affects one’s internal beliefs and outward behaviors and actions, namely, composition of friendship. If we truly value unity and equality, then we must create it within our lives. To consider the possibility of interracial marriage, it is important to put one’s self in contact so that friendships and relationships have the opportunity of happening. In addition, there are certain situations in which "same-race" marriage by preference, as a matter of principle may be acceptable. Instances where a person’s role in an institution or organization which involves ethnic, cultural, and communal solidarity and pride due to histories of prejudice, subordination, oppression, or genocide, "same-race" marriage is clearly appropriate and should even be encouraged. Counter to Thomas’ essay, to strengthen and unify communities of color, "same-race" marriages seems like one example of justifiable ethnic preference as a matter of principle.

Oneness of Humanity and Spiritual Education

Instead of the inculcation of facts being pushed from the outside in, education can be the development of the qualities latent within an individual; to produce the fertile environment and unconstrained conditions necessary for individuals to grow. As "The Great Being saith: Regard man [humanity] as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom" (Baháulláh, Tablets of Baháulláh, 162). The evolution of the manifestation of such latent qualities comes through guidance, experiences, and the freedom to reflect on them. The revealing of such qualities become apparent through ones actions. Baháulláh reminds us that, "all that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify this truth…" (Gleanings from the Writings of Baháulláh, 149). Thus, our understanding, awareness, reflection, development of the latent treasures that we each have, and any aspect of our education, relies entirely on our own decisions.

The education being spoken of here, however, is much more than the typical brand we see taught in our schools today. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains the kinds of education and the distinction of a spiritualized education:

The spiritualization of the educational process speaks not to acquiring a body of information, but a will to use that information in a mutually beneficial manner. Education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the progress and development of the body, through gaining its sustenance, its material comfort and ease. This education is common to animals and man.

Human education signifies civilization and progress—that is to say, government, administration, charitable works, trades, arts and handicrafts, sciences, great inventions and discoveries and elaborate institutions, which are activities essential to man as distinguished from the animal.

Divine education is that of the Kingdom of God: It consists in acquiring divine perfections, and this is true education; for in this state man becomes the focus of divine blessings, the manifestation of the words, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness.’ This is the goal of the world of humanity (Some Answered Questions; 1930, 8).

This divine education is the goal of the considerations of this thesis, in that through the faith in interracial marriage being a possibility and a symbol of the oneness of humanity, we must individually come to a discovery and a process of development of the qualities that lie latent within us.

Abdu’l-Bahá explains the qualities of humanity and of each individual begin latent within, and so our potentials are masked but revealed through a process of unfoldment through time:

So also the formation of man in the matrix of the world was in the beginning like the embryo; then gradually he made progress in perfection, and grew and developed until he reached the state of maturity, when the mind and spirit became visible in the greatest power. In the beginning of his formation the mind and spirit also existed, but they were hidden; later they were manifested. In the womb of the world mind and spirit also existed in the embryo, but they were concealed; afterwards they appeared. So it is that in the seed the tree exists, but it is hidden and concealed; when it develops and grows, the complete tree appears. In the same way the growth and development of all beings is gradual; this is the universal divine organization, and the natural system. The seed does not at once become a tree, the embryo does not at once become a man, the mineral does not suddenly become a stone. No, they grow and develop gradually, and attain the limit of perfection (Bahá’í World Faith, 312).

Continuing this analogy of the seed and the tree, in order to "cultivate and awaken" our potentialities, we must provide nourishment to our selves and humanity. Our water and sunlight: our education assists us in the development of our abilities through reflection and synthesis, and through the application of the qualities we discover within ourselves to encourage, motivate, and create unity. Such a process of gradual growth may eventually lead to our "buds" sprouting, our "petals" blossoming, our "fragrances" spreading, our "fruits" producing and our purpose being fulfilled. This fruiting process is the gradual manifestation of unity and diversity so exemplified by our ideal of interracial, interethnic, and intercultural relationships for which we must strive.

It must be made clear, however, that this form of faith in the oneness of humanity, the pivot of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, is not a "mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope" nor is it "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," but rather "concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family" (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, 42). Though marriage might not of the same scope as states and nations, it is indeed a core relationship to humanity. Therefore, it is important to continue this investigation into these essential relationships that bind all people.

Looking into the inevitability of our identities and self being influenced by our surroundings and thus, the affect such an influence has on our actions and behavior, it becomes apparent that it is important to understand the extent to which our actions are motivated by the environment or our ideals.

"We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions… If we desire therefore the good of the world we should strive to spread those teachings [spiritual teachings of Bahá’u’lláh] and also practise them in our own life. Through them will the human heart be changed, and also our social environment provides the atmosphere in which we can grow spiritually and reflect in full the light of God shining through the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh" (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, 84).

Thus, part of what leads to the change from ideal to actual is the practice of such teachings of the oneness of humankind. Through the practice of our belief in the oneness of humankind, we will undergo a transformation process internally as well as in our interactions with people. And because of the organic relationship between an individual and those in the environment, the spread of this belief may take place as well. This sort of radiance of belief is a form of teaching that confirms both the teacher and those who surround in the trust of the oneness of humankind. In this sense, the oneness of humankind is both an ideal and a reality. It is an ideal in the sense that it is something we are striving to accomplish so that all may be free to fulfill their potentialities, but at the same time it is a reality, though latent, because all of humanity would be unified and at peace if it were not for prejudice and social constructions built up around such a divisive quality. To the extent that we develop an "unshakable consciousness of the oneness of mankind" that is "a spiritual truth which all the human sciences confirm," though it is "infinitely varied" and diverse, will determine the extent of its establishment (The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, 28-29).

With the awareness and understanding of one’s self in the context of society’s social constructions and in the sense of how we are products of society, along with the responsibility that comes with a true realization of the opportunity of interracial marriage for one’s self, one can seem to have opposing internal perspectives; that of the previous worldview conflicting with that of the new worldview. The self-reflection process never stops, however, and serves as a way of trying to understand these new ideas in relation to the old, realizing how the new thoughts manifest themselves in behavior and action, and learning that the process of change takes time and practice. Gloria Anzalduá explains this process more clearly as it begins from developing a tolerance for internal and external contradictions and ambiguity. One adopts a "plural personality" where one accepts everything and nothing is rejected. To fully unite the contradictions and ambivalence beyond merely piecing together the separated parts of identity or balancing the seemingly opposing powers, a new consciousness comes into play. The new consciousness "though it is a source of intense pain, its energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm" of thought (Anzalduá, 101-102). It is this kind of awareness that brings about a synthesis of the two opposing sides, rather than adoption of one and rejection of another. It is through "a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave" that we create a new consciousness which breaks "down the subject-object duality." This duality is "the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts" (Anzalduá, 102).The investigation into the reality of those involved in interracial marriage, a seemingly contradictory relationship in terms of new and old beliefs for the couple, creates this kind of self-reflection that leads to an understanding and perception of the oneness of humanity hidden behind our constructed dualities by motivating a further awareness of one’s self, surroundings, social circumstances, and actions. When we find unity within ourselves, we will find our actions manifesting that unity and creating positive change by uniting others.

Part of the practicality and application of this faith and new consciousness in the potentialities in humankind, faith in the possibility of relationships, and creating a world of oneness is the continual reflection of self, and one’s relation to such ideals of equality and unity in our everyday interactions, as well as persistent consciousness in working towards practicing our ideals and awakening our latent qualities. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, describes the process of reflection and directs us to be aware of our never-ending endeavor to eliminate our prejudices:

The individual alone must assess its character, consult his conscience, prayerfully consider all its aspects, manfully struggle against the natural inertia that weighs him down in his effort to arise, shed, heroically and irrevocably, the trivial and superfluous attachments which hold him back, empty himself of every thought that may tend to obstruct his path, mix, in obedience to the counsels of the Author of His Faith [Bahá’u’lláh], and in imitation of the One Who is its true Exemplar [‘Abdu’l-Bahá], with men and women, in all walks of life, seek to touch their hearts, through the distinction which characterizes his thoughts, his words and his acts, and win them over tactfully, lovingly, prayerfully and persistently, to the Faith he himself has espoused[4] (Citadel of Faith, 148).

Such newfound awareness, faith, and consciousness would clearly generate a large transformation in any individual. From this transformation, there comes a great amount of responsibility in persistently trying to understanding one’s identity, behavior, surroundings, and actions. A responsibility produced by the genuine consideration of the possibility of interracial marriage is one of social interaction. It must change, for if one is going to allow for this new possibility, they must have different friendships and associations that no longer conform to the previous boundaries. It would be contradictory to say "I will have a relationship with someone no matter their race" and continue to socialize within the same social boundaries and comfort zones which previously consisted of "same-race" relationships. One cannot consider interracial marriage without having any social contact with races outside of their own, let alone genuine friendships. Instead,

If you meet those who are of a different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as colored roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them. Likewise, when you meet those whose opinions differ from your own, do not turn away your face from them. All are seeking truth, and there are many roads leading thereunto. Truth has many aspects, but it remains always and forever one. Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellowmen, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts. Rather, search diligently for the truth and make all men your friends (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, 53).

To do this is not easy because of the long history of oppression and prejudice among humankind, but it should not be expected to be a simple process. Patience, forgiveness, trust are very difficult qualities to practice, but it is the difficulty which allows for the worth, genuineness, and beauty of their exercise. Such practice can bring about the union and accord. Difficulty caused by conflict allows for opportunities of growth and union.[5]

The consideration of the possibility of interracial relationships is only reified when effort is made to simply establish genuine friendships with those of a different race. Thus, allowing the possibility of interracial marriage for one’s self requires an evolution in theory, character, behavior, and action. It becomes clear here how just opening one’s self up to a new possibility or theory in one’s life is the beginning of a change in social behavior and practice. New possibilities can come through action and experience, but a change in action and behavior cannot come about until one has fully adopted the new worldview.[6] However, one cannot be expected to completely change their behavior and actions immediately upon arriving at a new theory or worldview. When an end goal comes into one’s belief system, such as the practicality of interracial marriage, it is at that point where behavior starts to change and begins working towards that end goal.

What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless.

The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world's misery would very soon be changed into comfort. (Abdul-Bahá, Paris Talks, 15).

Again, signs of this initiation of change in behavior begins with developing friendships and establishing relationships across social borders of race, ethnicity, and culture which exhibit qualities and states of genuineness and purity in the sense that friendship is desired with no motives or hidden intentions besides friendship itself.[7] Therefore, we must live out this kind of friendship in our everyday life with everyone whom we come into contact by practicing qualities of truthfulness, kindness, inclusion, appreciation, and unity in diversity. Our theories must be a dynamic force which actively transform our lives (Abdul-Bahá, "Star of the West" Vol. 7, No. 18, 178).

This is the kind of education that must be taught through example and word to children so that we may restructure the world as we know it and to transcend all with which we are familiar. Shoghi Effendi explains that the oneness of humankind is such dynamic, unique, and revolutionary spiritual truth that its practice will illumine the world with a light it has never seen before. The oneness of humankind,

…implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds—creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. 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 (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, 42).

Jaggar’s call for and redefinition of mutual care seems reminiscent of this description of a new, independent, and dynamic assessment of all that has come before it. These changes are being made so that we may organically transform the structure of our society to be free of the prejudices and oppressions that we are familiar with today. No longer can we settle for familiarity and comfort. Rather, it is more effective to abandon the obsolete dogmas of division and competition so that we may plant the seeds of unity in diversity so that humanity may develop into a beautifully fruitful and fragrant garden.

To assure that this process begins; consideration should be given to,

Teaching the concept of world citizenship as part of the standard of every child. Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind. Universal acceptance of this spiritual principle is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace. It should therefore be universally proclaimed, taught in schools, and constantly asserted in every nation as preparation for the organic change in the structure of society which it implies (Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, 1985, 27-29).

Children are our future, and focusing on the future is what sparks our thirst for spirituality that enables us to live a life more in line with our ideals of unity and equality. To perpetuate the process of gaining nearness to a world society free from prejudice, it is essential to spread these teachings, especially to the young.

Jaggar speaks of creating a sheltered feminist community that is protected community, but not so protected as to not grow (27). Rather, it would become separate enough to transcend the boundaries and dichotomies created by society, but dynamic enough that it would be able to practically apply developed forms of self-reflection, processes of critical thinking, all-encompassed by the mutual care so that each particular case could be treated in all the ways necessary for lessening subordination. The spiritual education forms described by the Bahá’í Faith can be a strong foundation for a community to establish such practices and spread these teachings of the oneness of humankind. Spiritual education forms the foundation for all others to take root, thus, giving a strong widely-encompassing, personal and practical, as well as dynamic and strong perspective through which to perceive the world. This community also becomes a vibrant and protected space in which interracial couples can investigate their prejudices, privileges, and subordination within their relationship and in connection to society and the world as a whole. These couples can also demonstrate through words and example within their everyday life, the power of unity and the challenge of the contradictions of their environment.

Works Cited[8]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Foundations of World Unity. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1945.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Paris Talks. London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Promulgation of Universal Peace. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982.

 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1930.

Abdul-Bahá. Star of the West. Vol. 7, No. 18, 178.

Allen, Doug, Dwight Allen. "Millennial Optimism: Perspective from the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith on World Peace." Presentation at American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting. Denver, Colorado. 18 Nov. 2001.

Anzalduá, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999.

Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1952.

Effendi, Shoghi. World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1955.

Effendi, Shoghi. Citadel of Faith. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1957.

Jaggar, Alison M. "Sexual Difference and Sexual Equality." Theoretical Perspectives on Sexual Difference. Ed. Deborah Rhode. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. 239-254, 302-303.

The Compilation of Compilations Prepared by the Universal House of Justice 1963-1990, Volume I. Maryborough: Australia Publications, 1991.

Thomas, Laurence M. "Split-Level Equality: Mixing Love and Equality." Racism and Philosophy. Eds. Susan E. Babbitt and Sue Campbell. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Universal House of Justice. The Promise of World Peace. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1985.

Who is Writing the Future? Reflections on the Twentieth Century. Bahá’í International Community pamphlet. Maryborough: Bahá’í Publications Australia, 1999.


[1] These two stances mirror Jaggar's position on 'sex-blind’ and "sex-responsive" attitudes of equality (18, 20).
[2] Examples of such dichotomies as given by Alison Jaggar: culture/nature, mind/body, reason/emotion, where each of the first times is "associated with the masculine and considered superior to each of the second" (27).
[3] Clarification point: I understand "virtual values of our ideological rhetoric" to mean those values which we hold to be true, idealize, and often believe we are carrying out, but in practice they are not manifested, despite our intentions and hopes to do so. Our "real values" are those values in which we practice despite our ideals that contrast such actions. Thomas makes a point that both sets of values are transmitted to our children through word and example. For example, a parent could unconsciously scowl at an interracial couple as they walk by, which is contrary to that parent’s virtual values of interracial marriage being acceptable. The child then, understanding that the parent values interracial marriages, scowls at the couple as well. The real value is that interracial marriage is not acceptable, while the parent and child now practice their real values under the guise of ideals.
[4] The masculine language used here is only used by Shoghi Effendi because there is no applicable gender-neutral pronounces in English as there is in Farsi or Arabic. One of the key fundamentals of the Bahá’í Faith is the equality of women and men.
[5] Adapted from a Chinese proverb/character.
[6] The words "fully," "truly," and "actually," in all these cases means that a theory is believed to the extent that it begins to manifest in one’s behavior and actions.
[7] Friendship, for the purposes of this paper, can be outlined by a quote by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith: "Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path" (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, 15). Even outside the context of interracial marriages, marriages in general and genuine relationships between people begin from a state of friendship. Thus, interracial relations, when two people of different races become genuine friends, there is no attachment to anything but the qualities and character shown by both.
[8] To see a complete bibliography, please contact ben Leiker at
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