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TITLEThe Same Yet Different: Bahá'í Perspectives on Achieving Unity out of Difference
AUTHOR 1Deborah Clark Vance
ABSTRACTBased on in-depth interviews with members of the Bahá’í Faith [in the USA] to uncover a description of how they believe they can bring together diverse people; development of a linear model of multicultural communication.
NOTES See also a shorter published paper abridgement of this thesis.

A Dissertation submitted to Howard University (Washington, DC), in partial fulfillment of the requirements for PhD, Department of Communication and Culture.

Also available in e-book format, vance_thesis_unity_difference.epub and, prepared by A. Bolhuis (2022).

TAGS- E-books; African diaspora; Change; Conflict resolution; Cultural differences; Cultural diversity; Persian diaspora; Race; Sociology; Tests and difficulties; United States (documents); Unity; Unity in diversity


This dissertation is dedicated to those who seek to understand what separates humankind and how to bridge the gaps.


Many individuals helped me carry this dissertation to its conclusion. First, I want to thank my advisor, Dr. William J. Starosta, whose patient and profound readings of the paper in all its stages helped guide my research. I also want to thank Dr. Richard Wright, Dr. Melbourne Cummings and Dr. Carolyn Stroman who gave direction to the work and critical insights into some of its problems. I want to warmly thank Dr. Pierre Rodgers for serving as the outside reviewer, who was such a pleasure to work with and whose keen eye helped to perfect this dissertation.

This project could not have been accomplished without the generous help of my respondents, who spoke with me for hours, enduring my probings and proddings into their personal lives.

I cannot fail to mention the support of my fellow students Andrew Jared Critchfield and Wei Sun, companions through these past few years of study. Both gave me tremendous moral support as well as providing sounding boards for all manner of ideas and problems across several projects, panels, papers and the final dissertation. Also Sharnine Herbert, who, though distant, sent me words of inspiration accompanied by the knowledge that this was a goal that was within my sights. Thanks also to Omowale Elson who sent several tips my way during the final stages of my dissertation preparation.

I also need to mention my children: Max, who traversed most of his teenage years with a a scholar/mother; Sonia, whose expressions of pride filled me with hope; Remo, who took it all in with a bemused curiosity. Finally, I want to acknowledge Steve, whom I married just as I completed the research and started to write (which set back my schedule). He cheered me on and would have even attended the defense if I wanted him to.


Table Page

1. The Respondents 48








Background 1

Statement of the Problem 5

Theoretical Framework 8

Rationale for the Study 9


Overview 15

Identity 15

Racial and Ethnic Identity 17

Intergroup Prejudice 22

Intergroup Power 27

Institutionalized Racism 33

Summary 37


Grounded Theory 39

Participant Observation 40

Open-ended Interviews 41

Description of the Population 46


Coding 47

Protection of Sample Population 49

Discussion of Data 49

List of Themes 50

Oneness of Religion (1) 51

Spiritual Nature of Humans (2) 53

Cultural Traits (4) 59

Personal States (5) 65

Consulting (6) 67

Taking Action (7) 72

Eliminating Prejudice (8) 77

Embracing Diversity (9) 82

Transforming and Growing (10) 86

Forging a Group Identity (11) 90


Discussion 96

A Model of Multicultural Communication 97

Social Structures – Constants Outside One’s Control 99

Internal States – The Make-up of Humans 104

External Bridges – Processes of Decentering 109

Growing Into Unity – Multicultural Communication 118

Implications for Trainers 123

Using the Model in Other Settings 125





















A cornerstone teaching of the Bahá’í Faith is unity in diversity, a concept whereby members of diverse cultures and backgrounds join together as one group yet maintain their cultural identity. This study looks at the perceptions of unity among members of the Bahá’í Faith to uncover a description of how they believe they can bring together diverse people.

In-depth interviews sought to uncover lived experiences, focusing on respondents’ perceptions of unity and probing into the process by which individuals from diverse cultures form a unified community. Using a constant comparison method, the researcher picked out phrases that represent salient ideas, located recurring themes that expressed the meanings, perceived a pattern of action and interaction as well as processes, constructed and arranged the categories as representations of the respondents’ interpretations of their perceptions

A linear Model of Multicultural Communication emerged that contains areas where trainers may focus: In a time-consuming process of decentering that includes consulting, actively eliminating prejudice and embracing diversity, respondents say they must abandon superiority, seeing their own culture as one of many possible positions. Respondents share foundational beliefs that serve as points of departure, such as that humans have both deeply ingrained traits and mutable personality states, the latter of which are linked to identity; that cultures are transitory in nature; that obstruction to communication comes from personal faults such as self-centeredness and preferring self over group; that one must be aware of her own culture of origin; that cultural differences are assets that can lead to a shared perception of the truth in situations.


If the physical environment is the earth, the world of ideas corresponds

to the heavens. We sleep under the light of stars that have long since

ceased to exist, and we pattern our behavior by ideas which have

no reality as soon as we cease to credit them.-- Lewis Mumford.


Resolving intergroup tensions poses one of the most intractable problems facing humankind, both on the community and national levels. The act of drawing boundary lines around geographic formations, naming them, and declaring that those within the lines differ substantially from those outside peppers human history with tales of clashes, battles, wars, disagreements, slavery and oppression as one group defeats another, relegating the vanquished to a diminished status. A hegemonic view of history would posit that the past provides a blueprint for future behavior, that history indicates the reality of human nature, that to the victor always have gone and always will go the spoils. So opposing sides grit their teeth as they face off in compromise, and both leave the table wondering if the other side gave up as much. Such a view provides little hope for actual and sustained peace among diverse groups. Might a new paradigm manifest itself, deposing those that went before, and providing a means for resolving conflicts that, rather than enervating both sides, enriches them?

Much communication research focuses on ingroup-outgroup perceptions and how these contribute to differences. Ingroup-outgroup conflicts range along a continuum, from interpersonal arguments to battles to genocide, gathering bitterness and bad history, growing such that children inherit the disputes of their forbears. Humans are born or opt into family, cultural, ethnic, religious, and national groups, any or all of which impact on their individual identity. Indeed, human beings reify the groups with which they identify. Social psychological research reports that individuals see outgroups not only as different but also as inimical; thus, research indicates that one should not expect another’s group to be viewed as positively as one’s own. For example, individuals in organizations must seek out and band with others of the same race or ethnicity to counteract the negative behaviors directed toward them from the dominant group (Nkomo & Cox, 1990). Some of this research hopes to pinpoint ways to resolve conflicts, transcending the differences in order to reach agreement. Only time will tell how many of these can be resolved by beginning to tackle them on an interpersonal level. This research does not problematize the necessity of the existence of groups, only their meaning.

A fundamental issue related to intergroup tension surrounds perceived similarity, especially as individuals forge identities from groups to which they feel an allegiance (Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988). Group identity feeds self-perception inasmuch as individuals negotiate cultural- or group- sanctioned ways of speaking, acting, thinking and believing (Wright, 1994). Indeed, people simultaneously draw identities from multiple groups, such as religious, political, national, ethnic and racial, which become more or less salient at different times, and which may pull them in opposing directions (Collier, 1994).

Among the sources of group identity most often blamed for conflict ranks religious affiliation, inasmuch as one's identification with a religion often carries a highly emotional dimension that can seem impervious to reason. The 2001 attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon by purported Islamic zealots offer concrete examples of acts that resist understanding by those outside of that identity group. Moreover, because of its involvement with fundamental cognitive structures and beliefs, religious affiliation also can obstruct agreement, for how can one easily accept the validity of opposing theologies? Most religions contain universal principles that explain the mysteries of human creation to their adherents. They also comprise cultural dimensions that reflect the lives of a particular group of believers such that, for example, a Roman Catholic in Peru and another in Chicago may perceive a deeper bond with one another than with a Protestant or Jewish conational. Religion provides the spiritual foundation upon which social and moral institutions rest; shared beliefs, moral views, world view unite people in communities (Heller, 1996).

The Bahá’í Faith attempts to unite individuals form diverse religious, cultural, racial and national backgrounds. An independent religion established in 1844 and with some 5 million adherents worldwide, it represents more than 2,100 different racial and tribal groups, 182 nationalities, as well as individuals from “virtually every nationality, religious background, and social class” (Bahá’í International Community, 2001). In its 150-year history, it remains largely untroubled by schisms. Bahá’í doctrine maintains that a primary function of religion consists of promoting unity, and that individuals of diverse cultures who enter the Faith must put aside racial, ethnic, and national antipathies to create this unity. At the same time, literature on inter-group relations proposes that the salience of differences usually overrides homophily (Epstein, 1978; Volkan, 1992). In the face of such research that categorizes group affiliation as a primary social-psychological construct (Omi & Winant, 1989; Pettigrew & Martin, 1987), Bahá’ís, in heeding their doctrine, face a difficult rhetorical task of fostering the unity their religion professes. What they learn about promoting unity may or may not have implications for dealings with and among non-Bahá’ís.

This study approaches individual Bahá’ís to investigate how they actually perceive unity, and how and whether they as individuals believe they have realized or will realize it. Because the Bahá’í Faith holds as one of its core principles the uniting of humankind, a goal about whose achievement Mirza Husayn Alí (known as Bahá’u’lláh), the prophet-founder of the religion, proclaimed extensively, Bahá’ís, those who purport to follow Bahá’u’lláh, should be expected to share a belief that unity is attainable, and to seek to establish it not only within the religion itself but also with others.

Even in the face of what seem to be insurmountable differences between themselves and those outside the religion, the stated doctrine of Bahá’ís encompasses the essential oneness of humanity, and that behaving accordingly provides a fundamental life task. Despite these lofty claims, little or no attempt has been made to investigate whether Bahá’ís believe they can accomplish or are accomplishing the task of increasing unity among diverse peoples within and without their diverse community. The study, therefore, examines how selected Bahá’ís perceive unity, and whether they see themselves to be successful in attaining it. If so, do they address something missed by the literature? If not, why do they persist? The study may reveal an approach to resolving cultural differences that could be adapted for use in conflicts beyond the community. If Bahá’ís feel they have not achieved unity, do they still believe that it lies within their reach or at least in the realm of possibility? Is seeking unity an individual or a joint quest? These initial questions arise before the formulation of actual research questions because Bahá’ís present themselves as a group that looks at the world of interpersonal and intergroup conflict and proposes ways to address them.

Statement of the Problem

Communication researchers look for the reasons for and solutions to conflicts as small as neighborhoods learning to accommodate new immigrants, which, unchecked, can lead to conflagrations such as the increased conflicts between ethnic identity and nationality throughout the world. Cannot individuals, repositories for cultural values, make individual choices in their responses to members of other cultures? Cannot individuals examine their cultures and decide to act in opposition to what they have internalized from them? In the case of such violent acts as ethnic cleansing in Cambodia and Bosnia, tribal violence in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Algeria; backlash against foreign-born in Europe and the resurgence of European fascism; Hindu revivalists’ destruction of the Ayodhaya mosque in India; and the bombing of New York World Trade center by Muslim zealots, are decisions to act not made by individual members of the groups involved? Even in a world where a sense of fragmentation and cultural survival preside, where lies the responsibility for perpetrating intergroup tensions? All can be traced back to beliefs held by individuals about members of other groups and cultures and how they see those others in relation to themselves and their cultures. This study will study the reflections of people in a community of faith who adhere to a doctrine that promotes unity, and investigate how they as individuals made decisions to act or not to act.

If all training regimens offer someone’s ideas of how to approach a problem, this study looks to articulate a Bahá’í notion specifically of how to address the problem of interpersonal and intergroup conflict with which this group says that it grapples. Much research indicates that opposing sides need to listen to consider each other’s claims and then to reach a compromise (Gurevitch, 1989). However, the Bahá’ís seek to alter the perspective of intergroup conflict by working at an individual level. Individuals from diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds face each other as they interact in local Bahá’í communities: they cannot escape their cultural differences and remain Bahá’í so they must find ways to coexist.

Bahá’ís share the same sociological pressures as do the rest of society. Despite their firm belief in the religion’s mandate to help the world achieve unity, the institutional memory in the U.S. American Bahá’í community records a time, lasting at least into the 1950s, when individuals of white Protestant background comprised the majority of believers. For example, Bahá’ís in Washington, D.C., functioning under segregationist Jim Crow laws in the early 20th century, held separate meetings for black and white believers. Such cultural and racial schisms inform much of human history and lead to a logical conclusion that as humanity always has been, thus it always will be. Yet the Bahá’í Faith also has a history of tackling such issues, as when Abdu’l-Bahá, then the sole interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings as well as head of the religion, traveled to the United States in 1912 and, at a dinner held in his honor, invited African American lawyer and Howard University graduate Louis Gregory to preside with him in the seat of honor in a dramatic show meant to inspire the American believers to confront tradition and cultural practices and put their belief into action. Moreover, contrast the efforts of the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, who established a race amity conference in 1921; bemoaned racial strife as early as 1926; and proclaimed in 1938 that “America’s most vital and challenging issue” was racism, this at a time when the Federal Housing Administration distributed a how-to manual for segregating housing; when segregation visited the military and sports teams; and when Nazism inspired a population (Thomas, 2001). These may seem small and insignificant steps in the face of the pressures of the world. However they illustrate the notion that cultural change is slow and gradual rather than cataclysmic, and that lasting change most likely works from the ground up, starting with individual decision and action.

Rather than focus, as do many intercultural studies (e.g., Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988; Hecht & Ribeau, 1991; Manusov & Hogde, 1993; Tajfel, 1978, 1981), on what divides members of interethnic and interracial groups, this study asks how group members perceive unity, inquiring about ways in which they seek common ground with fellow group members, as well as with non-Bahá’ís.

Research Questions

In presenting the interpretations of members of a group that seeks to transcend intergroup tensions and attain unity, this study has a two-fold task of investigating how selected Bahá'ís interpret their doctrine as it applies to creating unity; and how they apply their interpretations to bridging cultural differences among their members. It examines the reported interpretations of individuals of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds as they try to forge a group identity, specifically as members of a Bahá’í community, and explores the lived experiences of individual Bahá’ís and looks for a collective experience. Research questions include:

  • How do Bahá’ís interpret their doctrine as it applies too creating unity; and

  • How do they apply their interpretations to bridging cultural differences among their members?

Theoretical Framework

This study looks at how selected members of the Bahá’í Faith perceive unity, and how they work to form identity as Bahá’ís, even though they come from various cultural backgrounds. Do members give up old identities and cultural usages as they adapt as members of the Bahá’í community? If this is a religion that embraces all humanity, as it purports, then who is the “other”? What becomes of race domination and class subordination? Does an institutional racism pollute the interracial relationships? Do particular ethnic or racial groups wield power over others?

This study combines a grounded theory method with participant observation and in-depth interviews to explicate the communication dynamics used by the respondents as they enact unity. The study looks for experiential evidence that qualifies theoretical assertions on intergroup animosities. Ostensibly, it seems that Bahá’ís’ experience provides exceptions to the conclusions posed by the literature. Uncovering the communication dynamics within the Bahá’í community may provide insights about how such a multicultural community can guide other groups. This study attempts to qualify existing theory by examining individuals who appear to contradict the literature, a form of theory-extending through disconfirmation.

The literature reviewed relates to racial and ethnic identity formation, intergroup prejudice and intergroup power, anticipating a need for this groundwork when analyzing and describing the intercultural dynamics that occur among the diverse Bahá’í respondents as they pursue unity. The researcher, also a Bahá’í, employs in-depth interviews in a grounded theory procedure to uncover the lived experiences of the respondents who describe the process. Good grounded theory invites criteria of significance, compatibility between theory and observation, generalizability, consistency, reproducibility, precision and verification (Denzin, 1994). The findings of this study are presented in their final categories whose organization is discussed, followed by a discussion of implications and a model for attaining unity that can be adapted by intercultural communication trainers.

The qualitative researcher focuses on description and explanation that results from conceptually specified analytic categories (Huberman & Miles, 1994; Janesick, 1994). Grounded theory is the best choice to try to understand processes (Morse, 1994) such as those that lead to perceptions of unity among Bahá’ís. Data drives grounded theory whose construction derives from the data whose items are constantly compared among themselves during collection and analysis.

Rationale for the Study

Chen and Starosta (1998) state that because multiculturalism will provide the norm in the future, intercultural communication scholars should address issues that show how diverse peoples can peacefully co-exist. Bahá’ís point to successes in their ability to unite diverse people into friendships and families and may provide a working model of multicultural communication. Moreover, their experience calls into question the conclusions of much communication research that deals with ingroup-outgroup identity. That unity holds such a prominent role in the Bahá’í teachings renders the Bahá’í community a worthy target of study.

The focus of this research cannot be explained without also describing something about the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet-founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said in 1863 that when two people argue about religion, both are wrong because the fundamental purpose of religion is to unite humankind (Shoghi Effendi, 1982). Bahá’í teachings say moreover that unity lies at the center of human endeavor and serves as a prerequisite for peace. Writing in 1931, Shoghi Effendi, then the appointed leader of the Bahá’í Faith, noted Bahá’u’lláh’s proclamation that “the well being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established” (Shoghi Effendi, 1982, p. 203). He further states,

The principle of the oneness of mankind – the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve – is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope….It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced….It calls for no less than the reconstruction and demilitarization of the whole civilized world – a world organically unified in all the material aspects of life…and yet infinite in the diversity of the natural characteristics of its federated units. (Shoghi Effendi, 1982, p. 19)

Moreover, the Universal House of Justice, governing body of the religion, states, “Oneness of mankind…is at once the operating principle and ultimate goal” of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh (Universal House of Justice, 1983, pp. 545-546).

Further, Shoghi Effendi claims that “Social advances never occur in the absence of unity, and previous societies obviously valued some form of oneness and wholeness in their relationships” (Shoghi Effendi, 1982, p. 19). One example, Rom and Sint Gypsies who held their first national meeting June 1998 in Lanciano Terme, Italy, an event awaited for 600 years, asked for representatives from the European Bahá’í community because they saw them as being the standard-bearer and an example to follow for the unity principle it pursues. Inspired by Bahá’í teachings on unity, they formed a transnational federation of gypsy peoples (Bahá’í International Community, 1999).

The Bahá’í Faith proclaims that humankind has never been left without divine teachings revealed by God to particular individuals (“Manifestations”) who receive and proclaim these messages; thus God plays an active role in history and directs the progress of humanity via the revealed word. Each time a Manifestation appears, he or she renews God’s spiritual teachings, so that in reality there exists only one religion of God, revealed by one God to humanity bit by bit through time and in different places, according to the exigencies of the time and place of the revelation. The Bahá’í Faith accepts the authority of the words of the founders of revealed religions, and looks at the social teachings of all religions – including its own – as valid for only a limited period, and views other religions in a two-fold manner – as eternal spiritual teachings and temporal social teachings – such that the source of contention among revealed religions lies not in the teachings themselves but in some of the political and historical ways those teachings have been used to promote individual material wealth and power.

In order for unity to occur, two fundamental conditions must be met among individuals: They must agree about the nature of reality and they must agree on the authoritative means regarding any decisions that affect their association with each other (Universal House of Justice, 2001). Like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Bahá’í is a covenantal religion: God agrees not to abandon humankind and humankind agrees to recognize and obey the Manifestation. As a covenant is a voluntary social contract, this covenantal relationship is based on consent, as opposed to a social contract whose nature is determined by individual interests. In covenantal religions, individuals covenant with God and with the religion’s founder, agreeing to obey certain laws or principles for the welfare of the group, and leaving themselves free to abandon the group if they come to disagree with its doctrine. Like other covenantal religions, the Bahá’í Faith bases its thought on the notion that humans have a spiritual purpose (summed up in the very idea of the covenant between God and humans) and are endowed with reason which enables them to know God (Heller, 1996).

In the Bahá’í Faith, the covenant extends to the relationship between the believer and the Manifestation, Bahá’u’lláh, who left specific written instructions as to his successor: He appointed Abdu’l-Bahá to interpret the Writings; Abdu’l-Bahá in turn authorized his successor, Shoghi Effendi, to elaborate on the Writings; and Shoghi Effendi oversaw the formation of an elected consultative world body, the Universal House of Justice – described in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings – to succeed himself. Before establishing this body, local and national assemblies around the world had to form. Thus, local assemblies come together whenever nine or more believers reside in an area; then individual Bahá’ís assemble at a convention to elect delegates who elect national assembly members. Voting occurs by secret ballot; nominations and electioneering are forbidden. The Universal House of Justice and Shoghi Effendi were authorized to elucidate areas that the original Writings do not explicate. The Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi can never be altered, but the Universal House of Justice has some flexibility to change its own perspective and make new laws.

Because the Bahá’í Faith lacks a clergy, no one officially intermediates between individual members and the doctrine: Rather, individuals must read, understand, and act on the Writings to the best of their ability. As previously stated, the revealed words in Bahá’í texts cannot be altered, and there are only limited means for official interpretations. At the same time, a characteristic of revealed holy text is that its language is the “creative word,” meaning that its very nature invites multiple understandings.

Bahá’u’lláh spelled out a process of consultation which Bahá’ís must follow in their assemblies and monthly (the Bahá’í calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days) meetings. Individuals should begin with prayers and an attitude of seeking the truth of any given situation. Once they offer up ideas to the group, the ideas become group property and lose any connection with the individual who espoused them. Ideally, a group in consultation reaches consensus, thus the group collectively shares responsibility for enacting their decision. Another guiding principle holds that group unity weighs more than making a “correct” decision (Abdu’l-Bahá, 1956). If a poor decision has been made, this will become apparent, but only if the group supports it wholeheartedly, because then it becomes clear that the fault lies with the idea and not because of lack of support or active opposition (Bahá’í International Community, 1994). Thus members acknowledge that the only truth they can know is that which they collectively are able to discern, a truth relative to time, circumstance and the ability to reason or feel.

In a statement issued to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, the Bahá’í International Community delineated the implications that human unity holds:

  • Laws, traditions and mental constructs that favor one group over another are morally wrong and detrimental to all, and nations should abolish such laws;

  • Justice should prevail, including measures to enact economic justice.

Though acknowledging racial, national, and ethnic heritage as sources of pride, the principle of oneness disallows the artificial categorization of humanity into “groups” or “peoples” especially inasmuch as such distinctions allow even the most subtle form of separation or superiority (Bahá’í International Community, 2001).

Because of its experience with and mission to establish unity in diversity among its members, the Bahá’í Faith presents an optimal target for studying the process by which its members seek to unite. Bahá’ís participate in a religious organization that requires each and every individual to study the religious texts, to participate in a community discussion that contributes to a greater understanding of how the texts relate to their lives, and to act. Municipalities and states that observe their successes frequently ask them to participate in discussions addressing interethnic and interracial tensions.

Although Bahá’í individuals participate in such dialogues, describing what they think they do to enact unity in diversity, no one has as yet systematically studied the actual processes they follow. Examining this process may provide insights that can be reproduced by other groups interested in establishing unity among a diverse population, a need that is becoming increasingly pressing around the world.



Research into how individuals form their identities, how these identities connect with cultural groups, how cultural groups incorporate change, how cultural groups relate to other groups and how they interrelate within larger organizations should all provide a solid theoretical foundation for this study. Because individuals of various religious, ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds enter into the Bahá’í Faith by choice and bring with them the perspectives afforded by their cultures, the questions under study involve cultural identity and whether individuals override their cultural differences in communicating, worshipping, organizing themselves, educating their children and relating socially as they interact and work together as Bahá’ís. Related to the identity research, the conflict resolution research also offers a perspective that pertains to a study of unity in the Bahá’í Faith.


Identity relies to some degree on group membership. Two group processes -- perceived similarity and association -- work to reinforce one's identity as a group member (Wright, 1994). During the initial phases of interaction between strangers, individuals strive to reduce their uncertainty of the other in order to be able to predict the other's behavior focusing at first on demographic kinds of information. In the latter phases of the entry stages, they start to explore each others' attitudes and opinions and even learn to accept or fear people whom they deem more likely to initiate some behaviors (Berger & Calabrese, 1975). Body language may convey symbolic messages about a person's attitudes towards self and others (Harper, Wiens, & Marazzo, 1978). Individuals visually process information, noting the facial expression, clothing, body posture, physical stature, sex and skintone of those they encounter. Some of this information attains significance as a group identifier, while some of it has little or no significance, perhaps depending on cultural values.

Learning to read and evaluate this information may have developed as a self-protection skill. This same skill serves to determine that those who do not fit the prescription one has learned from her group must be on the outside. A person who passes – blends in with the dominant culture without revealing her ethnicity – knows the expectations for members of the subordinate group and avoids performing them, though accepting their legitimacy. The degree to which she can communicate successfully as a member of the dominant group depends on her knowledge of the communication “responsibilities” of that role (Stanback & Pearce, 1981, p. 25).

The perception that others are similar to oneself may deceive, yet individuals tend to communicate more with others whom they perceive to be like themselves. Perceived homophily is the degree to which individuals who interact appear similar with respect to such attributes as beliefs, values, education and social status. Communication occurs most frequently between a source and receiver who are alike, similar, and homophilious (Rogers & Bhowmik, 1971). The discovery of attitude similarity in a stranger leads one to expect the stranger will like her. Conversely, hearing that someone who one has not met has a dissimilar attitude might lead to avoidance of that individual (Sunnafrank, 1992).

Racial and Ethnic Identity

In virtually every human society, children inherit membership in their parents’ group and share language, history, values, beliefs, and behaviors (Allport, 1979). Besides these shared group elements, an ethnic identity assumes an out-group against which its members define themselves and what the group is not contributes to its definition (Volkan, 1992; Eriksen, 1993b). Ingroup members tend to treat and to assess each other more favorably than they do members of a perceived outgroup (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). Allport (1979) distinguishes between ingroup and reference group, and notes that minorities consider the dominant group – whites in the United States – as their reference group and tend to adopt its attitudes.

Humans have a psychological need to make a we-they distinction (Epstein, 1978). Indeed, an ethnic identity needs an out-group against which to define itself (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988; Volkan, 1992). In dialogue, the mere existence of one viewpoint may negate another's position: If people attach themselves to their points of view or ways of life, then they may feel threatened by the existence of another point of view or way of thinking. At the same time, Gurevitch’s (1989) observations of secular and religious Jews indicated that individuals are shocked to realize that members of their own group can think and behave like strangers. When expectations of ingroup members include the notion that perceived similarity denotes predictability, observing members of one’s ingroup behaving like strangers can create unease. In an extension of Berger and Calabrese’s (1975) uncertainty reduction theory, Gudykunst and Hammer (1988) focus on how intergroup comparisons precede perceived group memberships, asserting that saliency of group membership depends on the extent of uncertainty reduction.

Ethnic identity comprises a collection of identifications that people have with their ethnic groups (Hecht & Ribeau, 1991). Ethnic culture provides parameters within which interaction occurs, but it can never describe all of the properties of social behavior in that people's experiences vary. As an individual evaluates her group membership, sometimes comparing it to a dominant culture, the importance of her ethnic identity may fluctuate, but gains saliency during threats to group identity or upon comparison with another ethnic group (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). In one study, white subjects intellectually held that all people are equal, but still used a we-they vocabulary and an ingroup/outgroup categorization when referring to themselves and persons of color. They revealed that they saw persons of color as disadvantaged and deviant, possessing qualities that go counter to the respondents' norms (Yang, 1992). Individuals perceive relationships that they think should be present, based on their preconceptions or stereotypes (Aronson, 1995).

Preconceptions or stereotypes about other groups influence subjects to perceive relationships to unfold in ways that they expect (Aronson, 1995). Ethnic group members tend to perceive themselves as similar, viewing the world from their group’s standpoint while considering outgroups as “other.” Sometimes ingroup members are incredulous that outgroup members hold particular beliefs, to the point where they do not even perceive that values and beliefs contrary to theirs can actually exist (Gurevitch, 1989). Such perceived differences can lead to conflict.

Ethnicity requires that two groups perceive each other as being culturally different from themselves. Serbs and Croats, Sami and Norwegians, the Lue and Thais seem culturally similar to an outsider but perceive each other as distinctive. Discrimination on ethnic grounds can be called racism in Trinidad or communalism in Mauritius or India, though the events surrounding both can be analogous (Eriksen, 1993b). Racial identity formation is central to social relations. Race contributes to identity formation and comprises group dynamics. Racial descriptions should be viewed as fluid, unstable and decentered. Forming notions about race is integral to forming social structures – economic, political, and cultural/ideological. For example, the black racial category evolved during slavery and became central to social relations in the United States (Omi & Winant, 1989). By manipulating social stereotypes and using the legal system to coerce, the behaviors and social expectations of all groups reinforce dominant and subordinate racial categories (Marable, 1998).

Individuals tend to perceive members of outgroups as more similar to each other than are members of their own ingroups, and perceive the ingroup more favorably, a dynamic Tajfel (1978) calls the minimum group paradigm. One of his studies revealed that subjects said they like people who were total strangers but who shared with them a label, even though the label was arbitrary (Aronson, 1995).

Historical events and interpersonal interaction work together to form, maintain and modify identity (Hecht, Collier & Ribeau, 1993). Social pressures reinforce one’s membership in a group or category, and in order for a group to persist it develops customs as well as an awareness of its nature. Those outside the group may identify with group attributes if they possess similar attributes but cannot identify with other group members unless they also bond with the group's leader or central tenets, identifications which provide group stability (Wright, 1994). An individual’s behavior influences that of fellow group members who identify in greater and lesser degrees with the group and its values which, when internalized, provide a rather stable identity, influencing the individual’s own behavior as they contribute to her sense of self (Aronson, 1995).

The behavior of others guides group members in their own behavior (Aronson, 1995). The construct of conformity can be conceived as falling into degrees of permanence, and broken further into the subcategories of compliance, identification and internalization. Compliance differs from identification in that in the former, people come to believe in the opinions and values they adopt, though perhaps not so strongly as to never giving them up. However, when an individual internalizes values and beliefs, they become so much a part of her sense of self that they inform her doings, comprising the most permanent of the three types of conformity. Reward and punishment coming from a source of power strengthen compliance with group norms. Identification revolves around the attractiveness of the source of power, and internalization rests on the credibility of the source (Aronson, 1995).

A culture could be described by articulating its communication rules. Members of any one culture interpret particular situations and actions differently from members of some other (e.g., Blimes, 1976). Violating cultural rules, whether explicit or implicit, is considered a breach of appropriate behavior. Ambiguous or not, normative rules seem to be necessary to the functioning of human groups. Communication rules differ from social norms in focusing on prescribed message exchange, interpretation and interaction sequencing (Schall, 1983). Meanings become accepted, leading to patterned behavior. The patterns are ascribed values which, when reinforced, result in some patterns being preferred and others considered deviant. Thus cultures can be described by their rules and if one were to identify all the tacit and explicit rules, one could reconstruct the culture. Members of a culture usually know when they adhere to or reject cultural norms. If individuals consciously choose to follow the rules by which their group operates, it stands to reason that they would perceive others in terms of whether or not they follow the same rules or belong to the same group. While groups exert their own pressures on individuals to help the group thrive, individuals also have a need to belong, creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the group's need for cohesion and the individual’s need to belong (Berlin, 1982).

Language and labels contribute to identity, even when used by those in power to impose negative attitudes (Smitherman, 1977). Ethnic groups are usually subject to the language of the dominant group within their political realm, and that language becomes one of the tools that denies their ethnicity, however unintentional. Resistance to labeling itself becomes a type of ethnic identity. For persons of color, different economic opportunities may produce variations in identity (Gordon, 1976).

Sometimes individuals will treat another as out of the group category after attempts to place her within the category fail. In-group members are treated differently than out-group members. Treating members of outgroups categorically rather than as individuals is stereotyping (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). On the other hand, when ethnic groups are perceived positively, the individual members are seen as individuals. Also, a strong identity with one's group leads to greater confidence in dealing with outgroup members (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988).

Political and social relations among different ethnic groups seldom achieve an egalitarian state. Where many cultures co-exist, the overarching normative culture has been referred to as dominant and less powerful groups as minority or subordinate who experience stringent demands when communicating with members of the dominant group because they must work within the constraints of their own self-concepts and the dominant group's concepts of them (Stanback & Pearce, 1981). In the United States, power differentials have long existed between mainstream white culture and most other ethnic groups which are denied access to traditional sources of power and who may receive powerless and negative stereotyping (Hecht, Collier, and Ribeau, 1993). Cultures instruct their members as to who are suitable targets of externalization, whether negative or positive (Volkan, 1988, 1992). Minority groups, being out-groups, experience difficulty in achieving a positive social identity, as social identity is derived from group membership and positive social identity is the result of favorable social comparison between the in-group and others (Tajfel, 1978).

Intergroup Prejudice

When physical reality becomes increasingly uncertain, people rely on social reality (Festinger, 1954). Group behavior supplies them with information about what is expected of them. White miners in West Virginia lived integrated below ground and segregated above ground. Pettigrew (1959) believed that this was because of conformity to social norms. Likewise, people who moved to areas where there was anti-Semitism from areas where there was not, adopted the group value and also became anti-Semitic (Watson, 1950). People can be influenced in seemingly subtle ways.

Feeling the need for self-justification can lead to a person displaying prejudice. Bad behavior toward an outgroup becomes justified when that group has been devalued (Aronson, 1995). Another indicator of prejudice is low or declining social status (Crocker, Thomson, McGraw, Immerman, et al., 1987). Halstead (1988) identifies six types of racism: pre-reflexive gut racism, post-reflexive gut racism, cultural racism, institutional racism, paternalistic racism, and colorblind racism. The most basic, emotional one he calls pre-reflexive gut racism, which can be directed toward individuals or groups who are perceived as strange, foreign, or unfamiliar. Another category, post-reflexive gut racism, involves an ideology of racial superiority and domination. It also includes the practice of scapegoating. Next on the scale is cultural racism, which involves prejudice against cultures. In this category, minorities are encouraged to assimilate into the dominant culture.

Nakayama and Krizek (1995) call for an ongoing discussion of the effects of whiteness and cite Frankenberg whose assumption guided their inquiry: “Whiteness changes over time and space and is in no way a transhistorical essence” ( p. 303). Whiteness, like any other power source, identifies its own space, sets its boundaries, and determines who is on the outside (Nakayama & Krizek, 1995). Power in the United States lies in whiteness, a rhetorical construct rooted in history, a symbol rather than an essence, continually reinforcing its dominance with a mundaneness that helps make it almost invisible.

In the face of any outgroup threat to one's social identity, antipathy for the outgroup increases. On the other hand, when one has a strong identification with her group, she has greater tolerance for members of an outgroup. Ingroup bias rests on the perception that one's own group is superior. When individuals' social identities are threatened, their antipathy for the outgroup increases. A positive social identification might be achieved by either leaving the group for one that provides a more positive identification, or reinterpreting the comparison. Therefore, ingroup and intergroup comparisons are two aspects of social identification that should influence uncertainty reduction (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988).

Perhaps affiliating with a group is ultimately for the sake of personal power, which may equate in some way with security and survival. The history of human relations seems to confirm the attitude that Gurevitch mentioned, namely, someone else's beliefs intrinsically negate mine, so if hers survives, then mine must perish. Political boundaries (Native American hunters and aboriginal Australians were forced to relinquish their land to European settlers), religious thought (Christians felt they had to convert the indigenous peoples they colonized; Islamic zealots attack the symbols of the Christian West), and one's position in the economy (e.g., farmers with fences were pitted against cowboy herders), language (the Florentine rather than the Roman dialect became the national language in Italy), and economic system (the capitalist United States fears that the existence of communism will close potential markets), are all examples of ways of life which have been experienced as incompatible. If one is born into a cultural or ethnic group that has power, then she most likely will behave in ways and display attitudes that confirm the group membership. If one is not born into such a group, then she will either band together with her own group and collectively attempt to attain power, or dissociate herself from her original group to try to gain entrance into the more powerful group. Individuals may be moved to make their choices for a variety of personal reasons, depending on their experiences and circumstances.

Forms of race domination and class subordination are linked to historical and structural settings (Brown, 1985). Some racism is overt and blatant; but the unequal treatment rampant as institutionalized racism is largely covert as it is woven into accepted norms of the organizational fabric. The U.S. economic and political system, founded on African slavery, evolved into today's organizations and gave birth to many current assumptions about race.

Allport (1979) defines ethnic prejudice as a “pattern of hostility in interpersonal relations which is directed against an entire group, or against its individual members; it fulfills a specific irrational function for its bearer” (p. 12). When individuals are perceived as dissimilar, they are more often disliked and avoided (Pettigrew & Martin, 1987).

According to a number of researchers (Baker, 1995; Brown, 1985; Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993; Omi & Winant, 1989; Nakayama & Krizek, 1995; Orbe, 1998; Pettigrew & Martin, 1987; Stanbeck & Pearce, 1981), racism in the United States looks different from what it was in the past. Many white people believe that blacks have achieved equality and can no longer legitimately complain about being oppressed – affirmative action, they say, is no longer necessary because blacks have arrived. Yang (1992) found that although many whites intellectually hold that people are equal, they still use a we-they vocabulary and in-group/out-group categorization. Whites uncritically maintain a structural status quo, while asserting the insignificance of the race factor (Lykes, 1983). Though abandoned as a biological fact, race still is a social construct (Eriksen, 1993a). According to the same researchers, blacks perceive things differently: Racism no longer requires blatant attacks, but hides in the fabric of society; in the United States, it now tends to be expressed less directly and to be expressed in broad, generalized judgments of qualities or motive (McConahay, 1986). In a given situation where ethnic identity may not be salient, reference to it can be seen as a form of stereotyping. Discussing topics like immigration, affirmative action and learning English commonly serve as a surrogate for overt racism used in a variety of cultures (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993).

Self-fulfilling prophecies about out-group members can reinforce beliefs about them. Two illustrations of this include: (1) Believing that members of a minority are irresponsible, institutions prevent them from assuming positions of responsibility; without the opportunity to exhibit responsibility, minorities behave irresponsibly. (2) Where a dominant belief holds that self-interest motivates people, those who are not so motivated are considered deviant; so as not to be considered deviant, they frame their actions as self-interested (Hofstede, 1983). Those with differences are perceived differently; those perceived to be “different” are given tasks where probability of success is low, and when they perform poorly, are given a low evaluation. White interviewers behave with less immediacy to blacks. This differential treatment staves off minorities, but so does fear of failure (Ilgen & Youtz, 1996).

Whites’ not acknowledging the restrictions faced by persons of color is an oversight that some black individuals perceive as unfair because the playing field is not yet level and blacks as a group have not achieved equality. Moreover, black and white U.S. Americans emphasize different cultural values. Treating blacks and whites as the same, an idea that Scholfield (1986) calls colorblind, can reduce potential for overt conflict but fails to respond to diversity. Moreover, a lack of insight into one's own racial identity – prevalent especially among whites – fosters the concept that race is a taboo subject, which leads to intergroup tensions (Yang, 1992). As Gurevitch (1989) explains, in the state of conflict, common interests become severed, rendering dialogue impossible. Indeed, enemies believe that the existence of one position denies the other position’s right to exist, whereas the deliberate act of “not understanding” opens the way for a true dialogue.

Brown (1985) asserts that it is the consequences of actions rather than their appearances that makes them racist or not. Thus, although individuals do not believe themselves to be prejudiced, the consequences of their actions may produce racist results which they may fail to see, and for which they acknowledge no responsibility.

Intergroup Power

Social categories such as race and ethnicity comprise self-identity. The meaning of race shifts according to intergroup power relations such that, rather than an abstract concept, race concretely manifests itself in an unequal social relationship. Individuals act as selves as well as members of groups, and tend to be biased in favor of the ingroup and against the outgroup. Groups are defined as a collection of individuals within the organization who perceive themselves and are perceived as a group. Identity groups and organization groups both exist within organizations. Individuals are socialized into identity groups (race, gender, age cohort, family) which shape their worldview through shared historical experiences and their cognition in general. Membership in such psychological and cultural groups often lacks legitimacy to the point of being taboo in organizations.

Intergroup relations in one part of an organization are embedded in intergroup dynamics of the whole organization and of society. Group leaders’ and members’ behavior reflects power differences, affective patterns and cognitive formations of the group in relation to other groups. An intergroup perspective of prejudice would hold that knowledge about other groups is often a function of group dynamics, with group members attributing negative meaning to other groups. The struggle of groups to understand their relationship with each other appears in research on prejudice (Berg, 1984).

Organization groups are based on hierarchy, authority and division of labor, and they encourage organizational group identity while discouraging other forms of group identity (Alderfer & Tucker, 1996). Alderfer calls for a conceptual shift that recognizes that individuals do not shed their identity group affiliations (Chen & Eastman, 1997). Intercultural relations are usually hierarchical as well. If everyone “agrees” on the pecking order, lower-status persons perform degradation rituals as a way to stave off the uncertainty of conflict (Stanback & Pearce, 1981).

Cultural and ethnic groups often arrange themselves in a hierarchy within societies, may have conflicting interests, and may behave as though giving up some of these interests threatens their very existence. Thus mainstream white culture in the United States can be viewed as the dominant culture against whose norms and values other groups are measured. In comparing minority groups to dominant cultural values, minority groups are often perceived as wrong or inferior. Recent research on whiteness (Jackson, 1999; Nakayama & Krizek, 1995) demonstrates an increasing awareness among whites of their privilege. Whiteness is perceived as a construct that serves to prevent social cohesion (Jackson, 1999).

Political and social relations among different ethnic groups seldom achieve an egalitarian state. Where many cultures co-exist, the overarching normative culture has been referred to as the dominant culture and less powerful ones as minority, subordinate or co-cultures. When communicating with the dominant group, subordinate group members work within the constraints of their own self-concepts and the dominant group's concepts of them (Stanback & Pearce, 1981).

How does this privilege manifest itself at mundane levels, such as when black and white U.S. Americans join together to form groups? The social categories of race and ethnicity define an individual's social identity such that while upper management positions in the United States are held by older white males, females and minorities flood certain department ranks and occupations (Chen & Eastman, 1997). The disparity of power and economic relations between blacks and whites is illustrated by people of color and women scattered in lower-status positions and under-represented at the top in the managerial and professional sectors, notwithstanding increasing diversity in organizations (Baker, 1995).

A political component exists in-group/out-group discrimination, particularly when the in-group scapegoats the out-group – like Jews in Nazi Germany, Kosovar Albanians in Yugoslavia, Chinese in Indonesia, Tutsis in Rwanda – attributing the others as threats to their own physical survival when resources are scarce. Sherif showed in his Robbers Cave experiment that when groups are engaged in competitive activities which neither can win, they each develop negative stereotypes about the other (Sherif, 1966; Sherif, Harvey, White, et al., 1988).

The identification of insiders, singled out for special treatment and privileged information, suggests a group of less fortunate outsiders, usually women and minorities, shut out of the political network. Those defined as ingroup receive more communication, assistance, visibility and rewarding tasks from their superiors while outgroup members remain at a distance. Thus white males receive opportunities to achieve and advance, and when they do so, they appear more capable. Minorities and women are not given the same opportunities, so that their lack of successes reinforces initial stereotypes (Ferris, Frink, Bhawuk, et al., 1996). The dominant group tends to establish the general tone for all other groups. People perceived to be "different" receive tasks where probability of success is low, and when they perform poorly, receive a low evaluation. For example, white interviewers behave with less immediacy to blacks (Ilgen & Youtz, 1986).

Organizational politics involves conveying a set of informal rules to certain privileged groups while closing others out. Cultural biases reinforce the dominant group's hegemony. In the United States, communication patterns are measured against a standard based on whites (Nakayama & Krizek, 1995), particularly males. The behavior of group leaders and members representing a group reflects the power differences, affective patterns, and cognitive formations of their group in relation to other groups. White males are usually one privileged group and cultural biases reinforce their power. If white males are already well established in organizations, and minorities are the newcomers, it stands to reason that white males have defined the culture. Minorities become measured against a norm of communication patterns established by whites (Nakayama & Krizek, 1995).

Racial prejudice comprises beliefs and feelings which combine to produce a negative view of another group. When people are perceived as dissimilar, they are likely disliked and avoided. People attribute causes to others that confirm beliefs about them, ignoring situational factors. Thus white resistance to racial and ethnic change now exhibits more subtle, indirect and non-racial qualities. Stereotypes resist change, once established (Pettigrew & Martin, 1987). Institutional racism involves systematic policies of oppression against people of color. Whites maintain this structural status quo uncritically, while asserting the insignificance of the race factor (Lykes, 1983).

Ingroup members treat each other differently from members of a perceived outgroup. For one thing, members of outgroups are treated as stereotypes (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). When subordinate groups communicate with dominant groups, they compete against the dominant group's stereotypes of them (Stanback & Pearce, 1981). The dominant group's attitude toward the outgroup appears in speech behavior. Wood, Zanna, and Cooper (1974) found that when white men interviewed blacks and women, they sat farther away, made more speech errors, and ended the interview earlier than when they interviewed other white males. Their behavior negatively affected the interviewee. Nakayama and Krizek (1995) assert that because white people constitute the majority, they can surround themselves with people like themselves and remain unaware of the experiences of other groups.

Subjective and interpersonal elements can affect organizational behavior. Studies show negative attitudes of whites toward blacks. These sometimes subtle and indirect behaviors reveal themselves in eye contact, body language or eve a tone or undercurrent of which only blacks may be aware, leading whites to think them “overly sensitive” (Pettigrew & Martin, 1987).

Black and white managers show agreement in hiring, firing, and job opinions, but disagree in race relations, management groups and advancement. Black managers likely perceive how elements in the corporate system are structurally biased against blacks, whereas whites perceive that undeserving blacks rather than qualified whites receive accelerated promotions. In short, black and white managers may hold cognitively different theories about organizations. White managers also tend to perceive minorities and women as not possessing the "right attitudes" for higher-level positions and that “these people need to polish their image, improve their style, or smooth out the rough edges” (Ferris, Frink, Bhawuk, et al., 1996).

However, the dominant white viewpoint remains cavalier — diversity is fine as long as everyone tows the line according to whites' prescriptions (Alderfer & Tucker, 1996). In this regard, Chen and Eastman (1997) identified three perspectives on organizational culture: integration, differentiation, and fragmentation. Integration involves a cultural consensus, consistency, and homogeneity which may disguise the domination of some groups over others, though it may work well for homogeneous organizations. By downplaying differences, integration may mask intergroup conflicts. With demographic diversity, however, the cultural views of one group may not jibe with those of other groups, creating minorities who feel alienated and resist cultural dominance. The assimilationist emphasis of integration legitimizes cultural dominance, placing the burden of accommodation on other groups. An organizational culture derived only from the dominant hegemony does not take advantage of diverse perspectives for innovation and creativity (Chen & Eastman, 1997). On the opposite extreme, a differentiation perspective challenges the authority of management and can lead to fragmentation.

An alternative perspective sees organizations as political entities in which socially conflicting, irrational forces compete for power and influence, and challenges the traditional view of them as rational, objective, efficient, and fair. Politics in organizations operate according to subtle, implicit rules, although political behavior is not formally authorized, officially certified, or widely accepted by the organization. One acquires such skills essential for success by learning the rules which are doled out selectively to certain privileged groups while excluding others. The dominant group tends to establish the general tone for all other groups (Ferris, Frink, Bhawuk, et al., 1996).

Institutionalized Racism

Racism in the United States now tends to be expressed less directly. In a given situation where ethnic identity may not be salient, reference to it can be seen as a form of stereotyping. Discussing topics like immigration, affirmative action, and learning English is a surrogate form of racism used in a variety of cultures (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). Current antiblack prejudice lies in the gap between high principle in whites and their lack of support of structural change. The failure of whites to notice structural realities in organizations is tantamount to their acceptance of it. Like current racism, it is cloaked in nonracial terms (Pettigrew & Martin, 1987). It is the consequences of actions rather than their appearances that makes them racist or not; thus the system produces myriad consequences which are racist, although individuals in the system do not believe themselves to be prejudiced. Institutional racism involves systematic policies of oppression against people of color. Because most or all white people benefit from their superior position to blacks, racism is a rational and culturally-sanctioned response to struggles over scarce resources (Brown, 1985). Indeed, the race problem lies in the nature of U. S. American society (VanDyk, 1993).

White dominance has evolved into an ideology enabling whites to gain advantages in economic, social, and other relationships at the expense of blacks. The ideology holds that anyone who works hard and applies himself or herself can achieve power and money (Brown, 1985). Researchers have tended to study organizations as though they are homogeneous, overlooking the role race plays as a basis of domination and division of labor, and ignoring the fact that white managers also have race. Indeed, white males, the dominant group, have usurped the very category “manager” (Nkomo, 1992). This appropriation casts the experience of those who are not white males as non-mainstream. In the United States, a standard based on whites (particularly males) sets the norm for communication patterns. However, this scientific bias leads to faulty generalizations in the research. By being a rhetorical center, whiteness remains invisible and unexamined (Nakayama & Krizek, 1995).

Structural and cognitive barriers are not always independent of each other. Group membership influences cognition. Intergroup relations in one part of an organization are embedded in intergroup dynamics of the whole organization and of society. Group leaders' and members' behavior reflects power differences, affective patterns, and cognitive formations of the group in relation to other groups. An intergroup perspective of prejudice would hold that knowledge about other groups is often a function of group dynamics, with group members attributing meaning to other groups. The struggle of groups to understand their relationship with each other appears in research on prejudice (Berg, 1984).

The social categories of race and ethnicity define an individual's social identity such that upper management positions in the United States are held by older white males, while females and minorities flood certain department ranks and occupations (Chen & Eastman, 1997). The disparity of power and economic relations between blacks and whites is illustrated by people of color and women scattered in lower-status positions and under-represented at the top in the managerial and professional sectors, notwithstanding increasing diversity in organizations (Baker, 1995).

Embedded intergroup relations theory differentiates between identity groups and organization group (Chen & Eastman, 1997). Groups are defined as a collection of individuals within the organization who perceive themselves and are perceived as a group. Identity groups and organization groups both exist within organizations. Individuals are born into identity groups (race, gender, age, family) which shape their worldview through shared historical experiences. Membership in such psychological and cultural groups often lacks legitimacy to the point of being taboo in organizations. Organization groups are based on hierarchy, authority, and division of labor. Organizations encourage organizational group identity and discourage other forms of group identity (Alderfer & Tucker, 1996). Alderfer calls for a conceptual shift that recognizes that individuals do not shed their identity group affiliations (Chen & Eastman 1997).

Structural power relations and the cultural significance of that power can remain unaffected by diversity. Real integration involves a real change in values (Baker, 1995). Organizations tend to hire, evaluate, and promote those who resemble the decision makers. Although the organization may ostensibly value diversity or heterogeneity, human resource systems (staffing, performance evaluation, and promotion) tend to invite only similarity or homogeneity (Ferris, Frink, Bhawuk, et al., 1996). Cultural and social isolation, lack of promotion, last-hired/first-fired, disaffection, stress and discrimination are among the practices where institutionalized racism appears (Baker, 1995).

Ingroup members treat each other differently from members of a perceived outgroup. For one thing, members of outgroups are categorized stereotypically (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). Lower-status groups commonly conform their behavior to the expectations of higher-status groups. The choice of communication strategy rests on the lower-status person's perception of the relationship between the groups. Dominant white culture reserves higher status for itself and confers lower status on outgroups. When subordinate groups communicate with dominant groups, they compete against the dominant group's stereotypes of them (Stanback & Pearce, 1981). The behavior of group leaders and members representing a group reflect the power differences, affective patterns, and cognitive formations of their group in relation to other groups.

Subjective and interpersonal elements can affect organizational behavior. Studies show negative attitudes of whites toward blacks. These sometimes subtle and indirect behaviors reveal themselves in eye contact and in body language; a tone or undercurrent occurs of which only blacks may be aware, leading whites to think them overly sensitive. Blacks sometimes opt to stay away and not apply for, accept, or keep jobs in such places. The dominant white viewpoint remains cavalier – diversity is fine as long as everyone tows the line according to whites' prescriptions (Alderfer & Tucker, 1996). In this regard, Chen and Eastman (1997) identified three perspectives on organizational culture: integration, differentiation, and fragmentation. Integration involves a cultural consensus, consistency, and homogeneity which may disguise the domination of some groups over others, though may work well for homogeneous organizations. By downplaying differences, integration may mask intergroup conflicts. With demographic diversity, however, the cultural views of one group may not jibe with those of other groups, creating minorities who feel alienated and resist cultural dominance. The assimilationist emphasis of integration legitimizes cultural dominance, placing the burden of accommodation on other groups. An organizational culture derived only from the dominant hegemony does not take advantage of diverse perspectives for innovation and creativity (Chen & Eastman, 1997). On the opposite extreme, a differentiation perspective challenges the authority of management and can lead to fragmentation.

Diversity has generally signified gender or race, but could also include goals, values, thoughts, and role expectations. Whereas organizations claim that they want to maximize diversity in the workplace, human resource systems prefer similarity: Employers hire workers who are compatible with -- that is, demographically similar to -- themselves and others in the workplace. People are attracted to particular organizations, are selected if they are similar, and leave when they feel like they do not fit (Ferris, Frink, & Galang, 1993). Selection and promotion practices indicate that organizations actually prefer status quo and similarity, not diversity.


This literature presents the situation particularly in U.S. American organizations that draw form a heterogeneous population of diverse races and ethnicities. The white hegemonic view that dominates in the larger culture also reigns in organizations. Intercultural relations are usually hierarchical, racism is institutionalized and forms part of the structural fabric of groups, racial and ethnic groups continue to promote a we-they dynamic. With this as background, this study looks at selected members of the Bahá’í Faith, a religion that professes unity, to see what happens to these intergroup dynamics.

Researchers often examine intergroup communication in organizations with clear hierarchies through which an individual may progress. This study looks at a community comprised of individuals from many diverse cultures that attempts to subdue power struggles by leveling cultural hierarchies. Studying a religious group such as this provides the opportunity to examine communication behavior in a setting where material gain is absent – no one has acquired money or power from being a Bahá’í; and if one achieves recognition, her reward consists of invitations to serve on committees and task forces also without tangible gain. In other words, studying a group where such variables are controlled should provide some information as yet unexplored in the literature.


This study investigates how members of a religious community interpret and put into practice one of the paramount goals of their doctrine – unity. Bahá’ís possess a large body of written works, all of which in some way shapes their thinking and guides their action. Although Bahá’í doctrine is written, it invites and allows for individual understanding; thus individuals have some latitude in deciding what it means to them and how to implement the teachings. In other words, unity may hold different meanings for each individual.

In an attempt to find a meaning for unity that is held in common across the group, this study uses a grounded theory procedure coupled with participant observation and in-depth interviewing. Participant inquiry, interviewing and grounded theory form a strong procedural triad, sharing a common ontological perspective.

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory affords a method of analytic induction that helps to locate and describe relationship patterns. Based on the premise that truth is enacted and not external, grounded theory supposes that the researcher interacts with her data in developing a theory that emerges from the data. As an interpretive work, the study should include perspectives and voices of the respondents who perceive and interpret their own and others’ behaviors which the researcher then incorporates into her own conceptualizations. A successful grounded theory should contain plausible relationships among its concepts and sets of concepts (Strauss & Corbin, 1994).

As the researcher reads textual data, she makes notes on the margins. Such theoretical coding helps develop concepts, a procedure which helps prevent the research from accepting the voices on their own terms (Strauss & Corbin, 1994). Once a category has been determined for an incident is compared with it and others in the general category, thinking of a “full range of types of continua in the category” (Glaser, 1968). An incident should only be used for one of the many properties it may illustrate, but overall, the incidents must be coded into as many categories as possible. Codes, memos, and diagrams can help a researcher work from field notes to a conceptual understanding (Reason, 1994, p. 357).

The researcher seeks to develop a higher a level of generality among ideas than the qualitative material being analyzed, bringing out uniformities and diversities (Glaser, 1968). The researcher reduces the data to a smaller set of higher level concepts, finding generalities, seeking a parsimony of variables and finding ways to broaden the scope of applicability. The theory then becomes delimited by integrating details into the major categories, reducing them to a smaller set of higher level concepts. The researcher begins to think in broader terms by using a parsimony of variables, in order to enhance the applicability of the emerging theory. The emergent theory proposes plausible relationships among concepts and spawns theoretical properties of the category.

Participant Observation

Observations lead to common sense or cultural knowledge which is arguably the base of all theory and knowledge; the social scientist observes in a systematic way (Adler & Adler, 1994). The cooperative inquiry perspective says that research is always personal, that a researcher participates in what she describes. Concrete reality is the connection between subjectivity and objectivity, never the latter in isolation (Reason, 1994). Observers individually and collectively choose their reality and their knowledge of it .

The researcher in this study partakes in a complete membership role in the community. Forming a long-term trusting relationship between the observer and the observed, such as that which occurs in participant inquiry, has been inspired by a feminist ethic of caring and commitment that distinguishes it from a pure observational project (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). Collective secrets are “known but suppressed aspects of group life that would be controversial if revealed outside the group.” Participant observation is a way around this (Lindlof, 1995, p. 193). An “insider’s perspective is vital to forming an accurate appraisal of group life” (Adler & Adler, 1994, p. 380).

In an interpretivist study such as this, the researcher acts as a research instrument and plays an active part in interpreting the data. Identifying the categories that emerge from the data requires an understanding and analysis of the meanings conveyed by the respondents: looking for common themes and putting them into categories requires a filtering through the mind and experience of the researcher.

Open-ended Interviews

Grounded theory relies on interviews, naturalistic observations and an inductive approach to theorizing (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). Because the personal characteristics of the interviewer affect her perspective, and her perspective creates the reality of the interview situation, the interview is not a neutral tool – it produces situated understandings grounded in specific interactional episodes (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). Gathering data by conducting interviews allows an examination of the thought processes of respondents. Discourses reveal internal states and language use reveals the speaker’s characteristics (Black, 1970). Persons are the authors of their own actions – their intentions and purposes are causes of their behavior (Reason, 1994). In order to effectively perform grounded theory, the researcher must gather multiple perspectives and continue until the generic features in the data do not add anything new but replicate earlier data (Adler & Adler, 1994). Besides commenting on the world, a narrator relates events, opinions and self-descriptions such that the intended audience will understand them (Fisher, 1985).

A researcher looks for an interviewee who can speak cogently and amply about his or her experiences. As she moves through the process of interviewing, the interviewer should actively listen in order to hear the significance of remarks. Moreover, she should feel free to ask new questions, skip others, and reshuffle the order. The accounts of individuals represent their particular views on reality as they interpret it, incorporating views that fit and discarding those that do not. In gathering accounts, a researcher interprets the representations and forms her own representation (Lindlof, 1995).

In order to obtain information on beliefs and affiliations, this study interviews individuals, inviting them to describe their understandings so that the researcher may uncover their expectations, focusing on:

  • how Bahá'ís interpret their doctrine as it applies to creating unity; and

  • how they apply their interpretations to bridging cultural differences among their members.

Such in-depth, open-ended but topic-focused interviews should reveal descriptions of lived experiences of selected Bahá'ís as they relate events or situations they see as addressing the concept of unity. Rather than focusing on any single event held in common across communities, questions focus on respondents’ perceptions of unity within their Bahá'í communities and their lives. Interviews are tape-recorded. While the same basic set of questions were used for each respondent, it was sometimes desirable to follow a respondent’s lead down a side path in order to fully understand the concept he or she was trying to express.

This dissertation examines the reported interpretations of individuals of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds as they try to forge a group identity, specifically as members of a Bahá'í community. It explores the lived experiences of individual Bahá’ís and looks for a collective experience. The questions are informed by the identity formation literature that describes ingroup-outgroup perceptions, notions of group hierarchy and hegemony. The questions probe what Bahá’ís perceive unity to be, and how unity in this group incorporates the diverse cultures of its members. Research questions include:

  • By what process can individuals from separate cultural groups form a unified community?

  • Do community members profess a group identity that overrides their cultural distinctiveness?

Derived from these research questions, interview questions probe individuals’ thinking about any unity they may have experienced. The questions explore various states of mind and emotion and address aspects of interethnic and intercultural relations that appear in Bahá’í localities. The questions also attempt to identify areas where one culture may dominate another. They also look for agency – how do individuals see their role in establishing unity? How does their identity change in becoming Bahá’í? They may include the following: How do individual Bahá’ís perceive unity? Do some feel that task is to tolerate each other? Do some think that unity is the same as no difference among people? Do they see unity as an active embrace of the other? Do they see unity as liking the other?

Are the diverse cultural and socio-economic groups represented in the Bahá'í Faith committed to solving the same problems and, if so, how is this demonstrated? If the depth of commitment to resolving problems and actively working on community building comes from a shared religious belief among diverse members, do members suffer from the same social and economic pressures as the rest of society? Do cultural variations represent a completion of an identity that is only partial?

Interview questions seek to examine the thought processes of the respondents and promote a dialogue. All the same questions are used during each interview; but in order to actually understand a respondent’s meaning, the line of questioning may lead to different dimensions and trains of thoughts with each individual. Such a dialogue between interviewer and respondent may elicit change in both parties, as the act of performing research, like other human acts, does not leave the world the same as before. Some possible questions include:

  • Can you describe a time where you experienced unity?

  • What does it mean to be united?
  • Do you live in or have you lived in a community that is or was united?
  • Does your community have diversity? In what way are your community members diverse?
  • What are obstacles to unity?
  • How do you know when you have achieved unity?
  • What is the significance of unity in the Bahá'í Faith?
  • What does a person have to do or how does s/he have to live to achieve unity?
  • Is unity something one person can promote, or does it take an active effort on the part of both parties?
  • How can, if at all, third parties, such as institutions, produce unity among the believers?
  • Have you ever done anything to increase unity among others?
  • How do you perceive your ethnicity (race, nationality, religious background) within the context of the Bahá’í Faith?
  • Do you give up aspects of your culture to be a Bahá’í?
  • Does becoming a Bahá’í add onto your culture of origin?
  • Do any members retain a position of superiority and authority or inferiority and submission within your community?
  • Do some members expect others to adapt to their way of doing things? If so, are they aware of their expectations?
  • Do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís of different cultural backgrounds?

Having gathered and transcribed the interviews, the text will be analyzed to find an expression of themes held in common. As the themes emerge, they will be grouped into a manageable number of categories that include the collected, intended meanings of all the respondents. The categories should comprise a metanarrative that describes how the respondents, collectively and individually, perceive their role in achieving unity as members of the Bahá’í Faith.

As a member of the Bahá’í Faith, I am a participant observer. I have derived my research questions based on my tacit knowledge of the Bahá’í community. Moreover, the respondents understand that I share their fundamental beliefs and must be probed to elaborate their responses. Respondents understand that I, as their audience share their fundamental beliefs and know their stories. This will affect the way they relate information to me, as well as the way I understand this information.

Description of the Population

The Bahá’í Faith is a worldwide religious community consisting of five million members, many of whom reside in developing countries. In the United States, minorities increasingly join this religion which, in the early 20th century was comprised predominantly of middle class white Protestants. Some Bahá'í families, particularly those from Iran where the religion began in the 1840s, can count eight generations whereas American families may count as many as four. Still, because the Bahá'í Faith is a relatively young religious community, most of its members converted from other religions and are familiar with other religious traditions (e.g., Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem).

The sample includes adults born from as diverse backgrounds as possible to acquire a sample that can provide as wide a variety as possible of responses. As many various perspectives as possible were sought, with regard to sex, class, ethnicity, race, education level, religious background and country of origin. Such demographic differences among respondents should afford a greater wealth of storylines.



A schema analysis was employed to find a system of key beliefs and values, and felt or derived ideology in tape-recorded interviews with 17 respondents, each lasting between one and two hours. Respondents were located and asked a series of questions relating to unity, but also pursuing trains of the respondents’ thinking when such opportunities arose.

Written transcripts developed from the recorded interviews were reviewed in order to locate recurring themes. Phrases that represent salient ideas and themes that best express the meanings each respondent seemed to want to convey were picked out and coded using a system to mark themes in the transcriptions. Coding the categories involves a method of constant comparison (Glaser, 1968) in which incidents are constantly compared with their category and with other incidents, in pursuit of a system of categorization that adequately describes the universe of discourse and indicates a theory about respondents’ framework of reality. Coding helps to reduce subjective factors and identify cognitive domains of shared values, units that go together in order to explore values and beliefs that are contained in the statements. The statements were recorded on note cards that were sorted and resorted into categories, combined in various ways until a manageable number remained that seems to best convey the universe of meanings of the combined statements. The categories are presented in a logical sequence, each building upon the one before, leading from an internal individual belief through a speech process and toward a sense of group identity.

As called for in grounded theory, as wide a range as possible of respondents was sought and here (Table 1) includes 17 respondents, 7 men and 10 women; 6 African Americans, 6 Anglo-Americans, a first-generation Persian immigrant and a first generation Persian-American, 2 Asians and 1 Hispanic. Their ages range from 20 to 63, and their years in the Bahá’í Faith range from 1 to 38. The respondents include those getting by on low wages and a fixed income, who rely on public transportation, to those in management positions living comfortably; they represent the technical and science-minded as well as the artistic and humanistic thinkers.

Table 1

The Respondents


Subject Ethnic Bg Sex Age Bahá’í Since Occupation

Donald B M 49 1971 Clerk

Feridoun P M 27 1989 Computer programmer

Gloria B F 42 1973 Small business owner

Holly W F 30 2000 Artist & mother

Judy W F 55 1988 Consultant

Karen W M 41 1980 Housewife & librarian

Lena B F 63 1965 Retiree

Min A F 40 1983 Statistician

Natasha A F 40 1975 Housewife & mother

Olivia B F 50 1968 Art teacher

Roger W M 53 1962 U.S. grain inspector

Sam H M 53 1968 Supervisor

Shawn B M 46 1980 Chemistry lab technician

Sholeh P F 20 1995 Undergraduate student

Susan W F 53 1970 Neonatal nurse

Tom W M 45 1972 Marine biologist

Tanya B F 40 1983 Nurse


Key: W=White; H=Hispanic; B=Black; P=Persian; A= Asian; M=Male; F=Female

Protection of Sample Population

Original tapes were destroyed upon completion of the schema analysis of the transcripts. Those interviewed are identified only by a pseudonym to assure their anonymity.

Discussion of Data

Qualitative research calls for exploring the lived experiences of individuals and accepting as evidence that which they communicate. Because of idiosyncrasies in personal expression as well as cultural differences, themes held in common may appear in different clothes. The researcher’s task is to sift through the reports and determine ways to group the data. I asked questions based on my tacit knowledge of the Bahá’í community and looked for themes held in common. To do this, I looked at the narratives and sought ways to categorize what was being expressed

Data are organized into 11 structural and dynamic conditions that contribute to perceptions of unity among Bahá’ís. In seeking to portray the respondents’ meaning, the categories provide one way to understand what comprises the respondents’ thought processes about unity. As called for by a grounded theory procedure, organizing the data categories involves reducing them, comparing responses, looking for shared meaning, and devising categories that describe what respondents seem to be expressing in order to derive a theory that describes the perceptual processes. This researcher uncovered themes that run through the interviews, showing a universe of discourse that can be organized into the following categories. Lacking any of these may detract from a perception of unity.

List of Themes

  1. Oneness of religion;

  2. Spiritual nature of humans;

  3. Writings as law;

  4. Cultural traits;

  5. Personal states;

  6. Consulting;

  7. Taking action;

  8. Eliminating prejudice;

  9. Embracing diversity;

  10. Transforming;

  11. Forging a group identity.

Constructing and arranging these categories is the researcher’s representation of the respondents’ interpretations of their perceptions. The categorization uses respondents’ words as data, with all the caveats that pertain to the words of any individuals who present their thoughts and perceptions. For this study, it is not necessary to witness respondents’ behaviors to see if they match their stated belief, because the study limits itself to examining the experience that interviewees were willing to convey to a fellow community member; they may have responded in some other way to persons who were less familiar with their faith. The categories are conceived as building blocks, each constructed on the one preceding, and revealing a discourse that defines the community to its members and holds them together.

Oneness of Religion (1)

This is the most fundamental belief shared by the respondents. Although several respondents said they believed in human unity before being Bahá’ís, most also said that the main attraction for them to the Faith was its teaching on the unity of religions. Several came to the Bahá’í Faith looking for answers to the question of why it seemed that religions held notions of separate Gods speaking to separate people, while to them it seemed logical that God is one and the same for all religions. They describe their curiosity, before they converted to the Bahá’í Faith, about the way religions tend to gear themselves toward specific groups who are deemed as “saved” while the rest of the world is not. They held the view that one God created everyone, and that all religions come from that one God. Several noticed similarities among the world religions.

The way I came to the Faith was, I started out actually wondering why there was this notion of a separate God, or the notion that religions…were geared toward some…group of people, why they were the only ones being saved, you know? And then, you know, why the rest of the world wasn’t. (Appendix J)

God created all of us. It wasn’t a case of, you know, there being a God in Europe who created those folks, a God in Africa who created those folks, a God in North and South America who created those folks, a God in the Pacific who created those folks. One God did the whole deal. (Appendix A)

Respondents compared the Bahá’í Faith with religious teachings they knew. As Bahá’ís, they did not feel that they were rejecting their religion of origin. Min found similarity between Bahá’í teachings and basic Chinese morals and standards, and points out that much Chinese thinking rejects the old teachings of how a good Chinese should behave. Sam, Holly and Susan say they have not relinquished Christianity by becoming Bahá’í. “I feel like everything that I have held onto through Catholicism and through my own searching is enhanced by the Bahá’í Faith” (Appendix D). “We don’t have to give up being Christian, we don’t have to give up being Buddhist, we don’t have to give up being Hindu, you know?” (Appendix O). Tom and Olivia describe how being Bahá’í opens them up to accepting other faiths and in fact, leads them to an understanding of Christianity that is deeper than it was when they were actually Christian, even those who profess to having been devout Christians (Appendices L and Q).

Respondents condense their understanding of the essence of religions down to a few basic premises that they believe to be common among all religions – love for one another, detachment, selflessness, personal development. One respondent who sees herself as American first, says that she filtered religions through the concept of equality such as that which inspired the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Feridoun says that other Faiths may be working toward unity, but that the Bahá’í Faith is more progressive in trying to “break the barriers and implement ideas that will foster unity” (Appendix B). One of the Bahá’í Faith’s primary goals “is to establish unity at all levels: between the sexes, between religions, between races, between nations” (Appendix L).

Recognizing that all religions come from the same origin and are like different grades in a school, or different chapters in a book, leads respondents to say that they should embrace everything about other religions:

As part of that continuum, Judaism should be just as important to me as Bahá’u’lláh or Bahá’ís, right? Or Islam should be just as important because of its relationship. Historically there is the continuum that it has contributed to the Bahá’í Faith, right? That Christianity contributed to something else, that Judaism contributed to Christianity. (Appendix J)

Out of the belief in the Oneness of God emerges the notion that human beings possess an essentially spiritual nature:

Spiritual Nature of Humans (2)

The belief in the spiritual nature of humans grows out of and coincides with the first two categories. The notion of spirit appears throughout respondents’ discourse, including a vision of spirit as the essence of being human. Respondents share a notion of humans as spiritual beings that possess an essential unity, a soul, that transcends the material characteristics such as cultural diversities, sex, age, religion, race, ethnicity. Humans are the creatures of God whose “knowing and loving capacity is essentially what makes you human” (Appendix K). Tom and Susan describe unity as a spiritual reality that exists and needs to be discovered and understood. Those things that divide humans are material things, like culture and history, and they “can get in the way, and then when you focus on those differences and conflicts, then you have disunity underlying the essential unity” (Appendix Q). Being spiritual includes acknowledging that skin color and culture are incidental and that individuals must “integrate into our personal minds every kind of person in humanity as we are able” (Appendix C).

Because the Bahá’í Faith is a religion, its main purpose is to spiritualize mankind and teach spiritual behavior, like sharing prayer together, and including everybody. Spirituality comprises awareness. No matter what a sentient being manifests physically in the created universe, he or she is part of one spiritual reality (Appendix C). Individuals also recognize the spiritual nature of each other. “You approach each individual as if they were a divine spark” (Appendix J); “You have to be willing to be flexible, and just to really care, be concerned about somebody else” (Appendix F).

The spiritual beings should behave in a spiritual way and develop an emotional connection to build a foundation for unity. As a main prerequisite to unity, individuals need to manifest a “kind of spirit, a kind of attitude that fosters unity… and encourages being able to bring people together, peacefully, cooperatively” (Appendix A); “an environment in which people love each other” (Appendix L); and in which they “have respect for one another and recognize that basic nobility” (Appendix E). The words of Bahá’u’lláh “should generate a spirit within us to move forward, to be loving” (Appendix G). An individual who behaves as a “successful spirit” would have no “reason to lie, manipulate or hide something because your long-range goal is to be more spiritual” (Appendix L). Human beings have a spiritual connection that can be realized upon “breaking down the barrier where you see the other as oneself” (Appendix J). One respondent asserts that spiritualizing should not be confused with intellectualizing – spirituality is something that one feels, and sharing spirituality among humans probably occurs emotionally. In fact, intellect can block spirit, for example, “it’s still very easy for a lot of people to believe that people of non-European origin are intellectually inferior” (Appendix M).

Just as unity is experienced emotionally, it should be shared with others emotionally. Respondents report an affirmation of unity by the way they feel it. Judy experiences disunity through anxiety, Susan experiences united as feeling “centered” and balanced and “things go more smoothly,” and Roger experiences unity as the “sensation of love.” Min wishes that her Chinese friends could experience a Bahá’í community because she thinks it would provide them another perspective. Lena says that individuals catch and share the spirit with others, that it animates and propels believers to carry out Bahá’u’lláh’s mandate. Donald says that God has given humanity the task of realizing unity. Love, which is voluntary, may bring about unity (Appendices E and L) beginning with the family and spreading outward.

Because human beings consist of a spiritual nature, unity is experienced as a spiritual reality. Roger describes his experience of unity as “the sensation of love with a group of Bahá’ís, just seeing the people together of different racial and cultural backgrounds, black and white, Persian and American, just a feeling of being loved” (Appendix K). Min says, “I wish non-Bahá’ís have a chance to experience this, what’s in a good Bahá’í community, the unity that you know you can feel” (Appendix H). Recognizing one’s own spiritual nature, sharing it with others through love, and recognizing that spiritual connection comprise respondents’ understanding of the spiritual reality of human unity.

The first two categories conjoin in the next one, where God speaks to humans via the Revelation of the Messengers as embodied in the Writings:

Writings as Law (3)

This category logically builds on the two preceding. Once the respondents believe in the oneness of God, that Bahá’u’lláh provides the guidance for today and that humans have an essentially spiritual nature, they necessarily say they turn to the Writings, referring to these as the authoritative guidelines to their beliefs and behavior. They consider the Writings to be “truth, and that becomes the standard” (Appendix K). The first prerequisite is believing that Bahá’u’lláh is who he claims to be, a messenger of God. “If you do, then you gotta run with it.” (Appendix M). If he is, then what is revealed in his Writings provides the answers.

The Writings serve as a proof of Bahá’u’lláh’s prophethood, as Jesus’ words were a proof of who he was. The teachings provide a focal point for believers. Bahá’u’lláh abolished the clergy because

…now we’re entering the maturity of mankind and that everyone is now responsible for learning about the religion and administering it, but the functions of the clergy had to continue and he divided the functions into leadership and I guess you could call it guidance. (Appendix K)

Natasha says, “We basically unite in the teachings” (Appendix I). The Writings provide the standard common to all Bahá’ís, and the compass that shows followers how to behave.

If I disagree with somebody, it might be that the only thing we can agree on is that we both refer to the Bahá’í Writings and try to find out what the Bahá’í Writings say about something and then based on that, try to come to our individual understanding. (Appendix K)

The Writings benefit the followers by providing a standard of how they should behave. Respondents feel that the Writings provide more specificity those of other faiths: “Bahá’u’lláh says no backbiting. It’s so clear-cut” (Appendix H). Bahá’ís are encouraged to read and study the Writings, which provide a vision to strive for. Respondents perceive the Writings as a benefit – they allow them to maintain their unity because all turn to the Writings, and to maintain their commitment and its laws “which is generally called the term covenant by Bahá’ís” (Appendix K). Bahá’ís know what they should and should not be doing, and know that if they disobey the law, they could have disunity; this is a benefit because other groups that do not have such laws “do whatever they think is right…or they think everybody’s doing it so it must be okay” (Appendix H).

In fact, Bahá’ís are discouraged from looking at what other Bahá’ís say as authoritative, but rather are encouraged to refer to the Writings. “Don’t tell me about what you did over here. What do the Writings say? So other people would say, ‘Let’s ask the expert.’ That’s no expert” (Appendix P). Moreover, respondents believe that their fellow Bahá’ís must be held accountable for knowing what the Writings say, and to comply with the teachings. “If you read the Writings, you should know what you’re doing” (Appendix P). Tanya points out that some seem insincere in their attempt to obey the writings. Shawn says that community members can become disappointed with each other’s behavior if it seems inconsistent with the teachings. Behaving consistently with the teachings will create unity.

A certain amount of disagreement about the meaning of some of the Writings is acknowledged as not only possible but probable. Several respondents point out that how individuals understand the Writings can be a source of conflict. For example, Karen wonders how believers rank the teachings when there is a conflict, and thinks that some teachings may be more important than others at given times. Lena says, “We’re dealing with people who are putting more energy into being fearful than they are into following the Writings” (Appendix G). Shawn says that some Bahá’ís interpret some of the guidance

about how people should strive to do their best in whatever the occasion, professions, or so on. Some people take that to mean that everybody should go to college and get graduate degrees and become doctors and lawyers…and obviously if everybody did that, you wouldn’t have people doing other things, like fixing cars, houses, and farming and all the necessary things in society. (Appendix M)

Respondents see the ultimate goal of following the teachings as achieving a united community. Not backbiting and eliminating racial prejudice supply two examples the Writings suggest for how individuals should work toward unity. Certainly these are not simple, but go to the heart of interpersonal and intercultural relationships. Lena admonishes “If we would do what Shoghi Effendi says, then we could really change the world over night almost, because we have what no other people on earth have which is the reality of the oneness of mankind” (Appendix G); and Min says, “One thing about this that’s very different from other communities, Bahá’u’lláh’s principles, if you look at them, the final goal is to help you achieve the unity” (Appendix H).

Not only do the Writings provide a standard, but one that challenges believers to understand them and put them into practice. “Bahá’ís believe that things in their Writings are realizable – it’s not an intellectual thing” (Appendix M). Several respondents point out that the community has progressed over the past few decades in terms of “internalizing the guidance of the teachings” (Appendix M).

Cultural Traits (4)

This category and the next include statements about the make-up of humans. The first one deals with diverse cultural backgrounds. Respondents live in or have lived in different local communities which they describe, noting the range of cultural backgrounds that comprise the Bahá’í community. They portray some of their experiences interrelating with diverse cultures. Min points out how her Chinese friends do not have a place or opportunity to experience a diverse group as she does. Donald focuses on the diversity of behaviors – tactile and outgoing vs. shy. He also says that the Bahá’í Faith enables him to mingle with more kinds of people than he ever had or believed he ever would have. Olivia points out that her community represents both racial diversity and “a lot of East and West” (Appendix J). Natasha grew up in India and notes that people tended to stay among their own groups and not intermingle.

Cultural differences provide diverse perspectives. Bahá’ís in their communities mingle together with others who come from very different experiences which influence their point of view. Olivia sees cultural diversities as “gifts” that enable individuals to gain unique slants on reality. Being black enables her to “be much more analytical about our social construct and what that means and how it affects people of color and why it affects people of color, and why it’s a false construct” (Appendix J). Gloria prefers to focus on the similarities among people.

We all work, we have children, and cares, and concerns, we have wishes and challenges. We have family members who are nuts. We have all those things in common with one another. But we tend to focus on the superficial differences that are the expression of part of our genome, of part of the code of how God made us. (Appendix C)

Yet Gloria also points out experiences she has had as an African American woman, such as being tailed by security police while shopping for an engagement ring in a jewelry store.

The cultural differences do not disappear under the Bahá’í umbrella but continue to influence personal thought, in positive and negative ways. “We bring with it or to it some of the baggage that we have from other situations…that makes it hard sometimes to maintain a sense of unity” (Appendix J). Sam sees the Persian culture as one that is as different as possible from U.S. American, whereas Shawn sees many similarities between Persian and African American cultures. Gloria feels that she must “represent” within the Bahá’í Faith as she does in general, feeling that as a black woman, she is assessed before she opens her mouth. She says, “We’re still in a time where we have to be black. We can’t be human because we’re not allowed to be. Part of that is our own barriers, but by and large it’s not yet safe to just ‘Be’” (Appendix C). Tanya describes her hometown where blacks were spat upon at school, where in the Bahá’í community in the 1980s, the same sort of fearful behavior occurred: She recalls entering a living room and sitting on the sofa, prompting the white people on the sofa to get up and move to other seats (Appendix P).

Cultural differences also include being educated about the Other. Respondents talk about how upbringing has taught them how to relate toward people who are different. “Differences between people individually, ethnically, socially, and all the rest get used as reasons for splitting people up, dividing people up, and putting them into inseparable cubbyholes” (Appendix A). Respondents say that they carry this training with them when they enter into a multiethnic, multiracial community. As Lena puts it, “If we’re dealing in the greater society with racism and race issues, it means that we’re dealing with it in the Bahá’í Faith, because we are a reflection of what is in the wider society.” Further, she maintains the importance of realizing that “the black issue is a different issue than the Caucasian issue” and says that all Bahá’í communities have problems with race issues “because they’re not dealing with it” (Appendix G). As though to belie her, Tom describes the bigoted family into which he was born and his continuing to struggle to overcome his indoctrination. Holly also recognizes her programming.

Maybe guarding myself somewhat more if I’m walking down the street at night and there’s a black man walking towards me. You know, there are little things like that we all have been taught in the past…that…we could all move past. (Appendix D)

Others describe how cultural baggage includes notions of superiority which sometimes inspire friction from cultural practices. Besides Tanya’s hometown and Tom’s family, both mentioned previously, Bahá’í communities bring together in consultation on assemblies and committees and at the Feast, individuals like the respondents, who may at one time have associated with Black nationalists; a white woman from the suburbs and a black man from the city who never encountered people from different races while growing up; a woman who was regularly harassed for being black while growing up; a man who used to leave public pools when blacks showed up; Persians who fled Iran because of Muslim persecution against Bahá’ís; an African American woman married to an Eastern European; a former Catholic white woman married to a Persian; women from Taiwan and India; a former marijuana-smoking hippie; white men who served in the armed forces – all bringing their perspectives, experiences and educations into their Bahá’í community.

Min points out how fragmented are the ethnic groups in her work place:

At work, you have white community, Jewish community, Chinese community and black community kind of have little groups…Then sometimes, a lot of times people talk about…this person is maybe Jewish – they don’t like Chinese? (Appendix H)

Feelings of superiority may be unconscious assumptions about how things ought to be done. “Most people, even if they haven’t lived a perfect life, they assume that their world view is the world view” (Appendix C). Olivia and Roger see hegemonic behavior as unintentional and something that “if you’re aware of, you can try to overcome” (Appendix K). Gloria says “There’s a difference between people that are banding together to keep you out and people not necessarily banding together, but letting their assumptions about the way things work band them together” (Appendix C).

Being aware, though, is key and needs to be addressed. Old patterns of behavior are not limited to black and white, but apply to gender as well: “Men tend to, I’m not saying all men, but they still have sort of a dictatorial approach which comes out of this culture” (Appendix E).

Min says the Chinese see themselves as superior, and Sholeh and Feridoun, a young, first-generation Persian-Americans, and a young first generation Persian immigrant – see their parents’ generation as believing themselves superior within the Bahá’í Faith. Persian Bahá’ís fled Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution there. The Bahá’í Faith originated in Persia, so many of the Persians came from families that had been Bahá’í for generations. Some respondents mentioned a sense that some of the older Persians feel privileged because the Faith originated in their homeland. Moreover, the predominantly Muslim culture in Iran influenced the Bahá’ís there as well. Feridoun says that another factor is generational, that an older Persian is “like talking about 200 years back or more in America, because the culture’s different” (Appendix B). Sholeh says that because they come from a country where the Faith originated and the Bahá’í population is large, they “are used to doing things a certain way” and feel that they “know what’s going on” (Appendix N). Moreover, in Persian culture “the older man, he’s the head of the family and everybody pays respect to him” (Appendix B). Gloria notices that, as happens among Christians, some Persian Bahá’ís only show up for the holidays but “don’t know the administrative order and they’re not interested” (Appendix C). Roger describes a situation in which “a white person minority in a predominantly Persian community” may feel excluded. He says though that “Persians aren’t intentionally ostracizing you or ignoring you. But just because of their linguistic…and cultural similarities…the de facto reality is that you’re excluded” (Appendix K).

Donald focuses on communication style – the shy and quiet faced with the boisterous and tactile. Certainly the cultural and personality mix in some Bahá’í communities may blend more successfully than in others. As Roger says, some communities are more formal which seems to obstruct a familiar and friendly interaction among their members. Lena points out that becoming friends and getting to know about each other helps bridge the cultural gaps.

Members note that language, culture, background, experiences, and education can all be barriers to establishing unity in the community. Some respondents perceive culture as something dynamic and constantly transforming as individuals are.

Even though someone belonging to black culture in America has a lot of very nice things about it, at the same time, though, as the greater society progresses, it has to change. The argument could be made that any of the cultures as they are now won’t be in the future, if things happen as they should. (Appendix M)

European Americans tend to think that being completely unemotional is right and any sign of emotion is wrong. In reaction to that, black people have very sort of loud and celebratory way of communicating and they want to shove that down people’s throats. Neither one is right. (Appendix C)

Olivia feels that Bahá’ís have a responsibility to help the world appreciate cultural variety. She talks for example about how it took years for U.S. American society to recognize the contributions to music that African Americans made. She thinks that Bahá’ís should extol the contributions of other cultures and religions, too.

Personal States (5)

Having attested to their belief that humans are spiritual beings, and having acknowledged the diverse perspectives afforded by different cultures, respondents go on to focus on individuals who differ not only because of their culture, but also because of their personal capacities, education, or maturity. For example, Tom grew up in a family that taught bigotry where his grandmother said such things as “an Italian is just a nigger turned inside out”; and whose older brother whisked him away from the public swimming pool whenever an African American appeared at the gate. Because of particular personal qualities, Tanya recognizes that Tom sincerely struggles against his training as opposed to other white individuals to whom she refers with distrust, but notes that prejudice is a result of education. Shawn and Lena echo the point that upbringing is a source of prejudices. Lena says that people “have in their hearts what they have been taught to absorb as a way of life.”

Tanya also says that “Even if you haven’t been around minorities in your life you can still adjust to it” (Appendix P). Thus respondents acknowledge personal will as a factor in establishing unity. Moreover, because respondents strongly identify with the Writings and believe that “it’s important for Bahá’ís to fight their own spiritual battles” (Appendix H) and that fellow believers should take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, respondents mostly view conflict as deriving from personality problems, no matter what the culture.

Because respondents accept that fellow Bahá’ís believe in Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and are working to put those teachings into action, falling short of doing so originates in immaturity or fault. Several respondents said that individuals in their community had “personality quirks” or “personality disorders.” Gloria says that others may think certain individuals “are being jerks or rude. But I see it as really, really eccentric personalities and possibly disorderly personality” (Appendix C). Sam says that unity will occur “unless one party is mentally ill or on drugs or something” (Appendix L). Shawn perceives personality problems as creating barriers to smooth group functioning and cautions that “you’re not necessarily going to be impressed with everybody you meet [in a Bahá’í community] and there are people who are really struggling with some heavy-duty stuff” (Appendix M). Several say that personality shortcomings are responsible for all sorts of community problems such as complaining and condemning others for the sorry state of affairs, preventing unity during consultations and insisting on one’s own opinion or perspective which may include feelings of gender, cultural or racial superiority. In the most extreme cases, such individuals will leave the Faith.

Different opinions are to be expected. Roger says that in the Bahá’í Faith, “people are accepted. Or at least tolerated” (Appendix K). However, the expression of strong opinions can interfere with experiencing unity if individuals attempt to control the discussion with strongly held opinions, assumptions, and political behavior. Judy says that some personality issues “prevent the Assembly from being totally unified,” referring particularly to those who attempt to control the discussion (Appendix E). Sam says that if members expect others to adapt to their way of doing things, “it’s because they have managed to engineer that situation, but it eventually falls apart” (Appendix L). Gloria echoes Judy by saying that “in America people are so selfish it’s hard to feel any unity with them because they’re out for their own gain” (Appendix C). Tanya sees people who consistently dominate in her community and says that others seem to follow their lead. Generally, though respondents perceive these behaviors not as cultural or organizational dynamics, but originating in personal behavior.

Feridoun stresses that the structure of the Bahá’í Faith does not allow for individuals or groups to gain any power or control. “If somebody feels superior or feels inferior, they’re both faults of that person that they have to overcome…We don’t make anyone superior or inferior in our community” (Appendix B).

Consulting (6)

Categories 6-9 describe actions that individuals take in their attempt to become united. In the Bahá’í Faith, dialogue serves as the central point of human contact, providing the glue that binds the community. Individuals cannot transform their communities unless they talk together and share points of view, with a goal of understanding. The method involves reaching consensus, not necessarily by compromise, but by group members all uniting in their perception of a given situation. Olivia notes that one of her first experiences with Bahá’ís was in a home that was like “a beacon in a kind of central point where people all over the world came…it was a new format, and I thought, “they really sit down and talk about stuff” (Appendix J).

Understanding each other and connecting with each other require communicating with each other, “to forge a kind of agreement” (Appendix J). Lena stresses that “If we don’t talk about it, then it has no meaning, because only things that have meaning for you do you talk about and engage yourself in.” She also says that issues like “the healing of racism [is] really about listening to what other people are saying they have a problem with…their hurts or whatever” (Appendix G). Olivia cautions that Bahá’ís must not assume they have all the answers in their Writings but that “part of our responsibility as Bahá’ís [is] to recognize in the society what’s going on” which requires consultation (Appendix J).

Respondents perceive dialogue as necessary so that Bahá’ís are not “arrogant about the answer or that we have the sole solution…that’s part of our responsibility as Bahá’ís to recognize in the society what’s going on” (Appendix J). Talk provides a basis for understanding and leads to progress. “If you’re afraid to talk about it, nothing will change” (Appendix D). Barriers such as unspoken prejudices, resentments, and values may become visible through consultation.

When people don’t express their views, there are certain prejudices that come along with that. Because if they don’t know exactly where this person understands on a certain issue, they assume that this is their view, which can sort of, you know, it’s a silent sort of disruption. (Appendix N)

Talking with others enables one to “realize they’re no different than you. They’re struggling in their life” (Appendix B) which can bring about acceptance. “You like the warm weather, I like the cold weather and that doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, just that we’re different” (Appendix B).

Respondents welcome a diversity of perspectives and feel that they should be open to and listen to the views of others. “I think it’s my responsibility, or it’s my little bit [of] effort to help people look at things from different perspective” (Appendix H). “A lot of times, problems can be solved by bringing in different people with different perspectives” (Appendix K). Sometimes it requires effort: “I really try to pay attention to people of color and I seek out their company” (Appendix Q). Consultation requires as prerequisites open-mindedness, willingness to accept other’s viewpoints and backgrounds, and paying attention to different types of people. Further, the dialogue must not be confrontational but individuals should adopt the spiritual qualities mentioned earlier, so that “…people with different personality types [interact] in such a way that the wallflower types get a chance to speak, to talk, and to participate and not get drowned out by the boisterous type” (Appendix A).

Certainly, not sharing the same language obstructs the process of consultation. Several respondents mentioned a tendency of Persians not to speak English, although Min remarked how wonderful it was that the Persians learned English so well and wishes that her Chinese speaking mother could enjoy the same experience. Judy says that “Probably the greatest difficulty…for establishing unity within the Bahá’í community, is language. And this is why Bahá’u’lláh has said that there must be one world [auxiliary] language” (Appendix E).

When I got out here and there were all the Persians in the community? I think that can be a problem because everybody kind of goes off in their little group, speaking their little language, doing their own thing. And the cultural disjoint becomes really evident then. (Appendix F)

Min notes that “Bahá’u’llá says backbiting definitely can be one of the reasons for disunity” (Appendix H). Holly says that she thinks that by not participating in gossip in her close-knit neighborhood she can promote unity. Roger points out that “the Bahá’í Writings include other ways in which speech is approached, such as not backbiting, faultfinding and criticizing “whether you’re dealing with your family or your work or your friends” (Appendix K).

Included in consultation is the principle that when an idea is proposed, it becomes group property. Participants begin by throwing out ideas and letting them go. By ridding group discussion of the notion of the ownership of ideas, conversants have less room for maneuvering for power. Sam says that the “Bahá’í consultative method is to throw out an idea and work with our shared intelligence and experience instead of try to utilize our traditional American, competitive, egoistical point of view” (Appendix L). Roger describes consultation this way: “Interesting thing about consultation. You just let go. Once it’s expressed, it’s not yours anymore – it’s the group’s and can be either accepted or rejected as such, without your personal nametag” (Appendix K).

Certainly individuals are accustomed to other types of discussion, especially in the workplace. Judy says that individuals accustom themselves in the workplace to dominating in discussions where “the person with the loudest voice or the highest position…usually carries the day” (Appendix E). For them consultation is “a very new way of doing things, to have to learn how to consult rather than to dictate, and to cooperate” (Appendix E). Natasha mentions difficulties she experienced in India in discussions with individuals who were “very obstinate in what their beliefs were” (Appendix I). Sam talks about a committee comprised of “very strong personalities” who came to realize their purpose was to “serve God” and they needed to work hard to learn consultation (Appendix L).

By eschewing personal ownership of ideas and allowing groups to claim ownership goes a long way toward avoiding power jockeying in consultation. “In Bahá’í consultation, the primary thing is to find truth. Individually, there’s really no power at all. The power’s collective – it lies with the institutions, not with the members of it” (Appendix K).

In an ideal consultation, all participate, all voices are expressed and everyone listens with the goal of discovering the truth of a given situation. Consultation needs to be two-way and individuals relinquishing their viewpoint for a mistaken notion that this will achieve unity. Sholeh says, “If you have an opinion, there’s no reason why, if someone doesn’t agree with you, you should throw it out just for the sake of having unity” (Appendix N).

In an environment where interactants feel they can express themselves freely and others intently listen the type of agreement may go deeper than reaching a compromise.

Roger says, “I’ve kind of noticed other types of unity, like unity of thought and personalities, that comes into practice with the idea of consultation where you’re in a group having a discussion” (Appendix K). Although it takes two individuals to form a relationship, one of them can start the process, sometimes simply by her attitude. Yet one can also obstruct the communication.

Taking Action (7)

The category of Taking Action follows logically from Consulting, which is meant to result in action. Respondents note that believing in the Writings leads to believing in their potential to become realized. The Writings provide a focal point where Bahá’ís turn for guidance as they negotiate reality among themselves. They provide the springboard for consultation which in turn leads to action, both individual and collective.

The real emphasis is on our responsibility to service in a world context, to reach out, to create all kinds of associations, to create all kinds of contacts, to create avenues, you know, whereby people gain certain understandings of each other. (Appendix J)

Although consultation is necessary for individuals to know and understand each other, establishing unity in the world necessitates behaving in particular ways beyond just talking. Min says, “You cannot have just an idea. You have to have a relationship with other people” (Appendix H). Taking action provides the demonstration of unity, and unity cannot be achieved without individual and collective action. Sam puts it, “What makes [unity] real, because otherwise it’s just a manmade law, is exhibition. Creation” (Appendix L).

Sholeh says that unity is not something that comes automatically.

A group of people being united, I think they find something that they agree on…it takes effort to be united. I don’t think we just have to throw people in a room and we can automatically assume they’ll be united because obviously they’re going to clash at some point, there’ll be differences. But it’s action, I do believe. (Appendix N)

Respondents believe that the way they live their lives affects the world, that living according to Bahá’í principles should have a positive effect and that the guiding principle for Bahá’ís should be to behave in ways that create unity. As Judy says, “your priority in life has to do with what you can do to create unity”(Appendix E). Natasha says that simply talking will accomplish nothing. “Follow what you preach. If you say or do something that will not have effect, so you live the life according to what you teach or preach” (Appendix I). Indeed, putting belief into action provides a sort of proof of the truth of the Writings. If they are true and realizable, then their implementation should be able to demonstrate their realizability.

One of the things that attracted me to the Bahá’í Faith was…its explicit belief in the oneness of mankind and its explicit commitment to practicing implementing that ideal as a practical reality and seeing how they did that, seeing how they did or seemed to do it better than everybody else. (Appendix A)

Because they believe that the Writings are realizable and have experienced the united community that occurs when they are heeded, respondents are inspired to remain Bahá’ís. They also believe that their actions will prove the validity of the claims of their religion.

Respondents see the Bahá’í Faith as activist insofar as they put the teachings into practice. Actions must not only align with their beliefs, but they should also demonstrate them. For example Gloria maintains that “Every time we let injustice pass in front of us and not say anything, then we’re not living the life of a Bahá’í…If you’re going to build unity, you have to live unity” (Appendix C). Because many of the fundamental teachings deal with unity, putting them into practice takes many small and specific steps. A basic first step is that believers must be moved to act. Sholeh says, “If I’m going to talk to Mr. X here, but not the person standing across the room because he’s a different skin color, that’s not really showing people around me that I’m promoting unity” (Appendix N).

If people come to the Faith, whether they’re black or white, and think that they can just sit here and be comfortable, in a way it’s better that they don’t come…It’s almost like you’re in the way…Because then you become like a stumbling block… like a disunifier of the community. (Appendix G)

In fact, it is not enough to believe in spirituality and to consult and reach an understanding. Every action should reflect that understanding.

Your world view and what you accept to be true, not being completely honest with your beliefs and your practices, you believe in unity and oneness [but think] “Don’t be in that neighborhood, that’s not safe, those people are not safe.” – we don’t see so much of that in _______ among Bahá’ís (Appendix C).

Sharing a vision and a common goal and sacrificing time to work together provide a strong sense of unity to many of the respondents. Several respondents mentioned times they worked with others on projects in their communities as occasions when they really felt unity. Seeing others engaged in similar work offered evidence to them that their internal worlds were aligned.

Respondents say that individuals must exert some effort in order to realize their goals, and that it is not an easy task. They say that if individuals approach their efforts with sincerity, willingness to be open minded, to accept others and to compromise, they will succeed in establishing unity.

If you go with the intention of creating unity then you will get that kind of response, you will get a response. But if you go out to create conflict, that’s the response you’ll get as well. I think if you go out with the intention of creating unity, it will affect other people. (Appendix E)

Respondents expressed different views about the efforts of fellow believers. Some acknowledge that changing lifelong patterns proves difficult and takes time, whereas others express impatience with the efforts of others. Tanya underscores this: “For Bahá’ís, I don’t think they have an excuse, especially people who claim they’ve been Bahá’ís for a long time” (Appendix P). Lena stresses the importance of putting the teachings into action: “If we as Bahá’ís don’t bring that about, then it’s like null and void and then you have people coming and not staying because they don’t feel like we’re really seriously dealing with the issue of racism” (Appendix G). Olivia recalls the period when her father was a Bahá’í.

My father had a hard time when he was a Bahá’í [in the 1960s and 1970s] trying to understand why we weren’t working faster, you know, these wonderful principles that we have about issues you know, that revolved around racism…A lot of really tumultuous things were happening…He felt that…we were just, like, mouthing a bunch of words and people were really not at a stage where they had made that shift…The process is certainly slow, but I think we have the ability to speed it up. (Appendix J)

Several respondents say that individuals who want to establish unity with others cannot work in a void, but that others must be receptive to sincere attempts to overcome barriers. Someone must initiate the effort to reach out; however, exerting effort does not always guarantee success.

An individual can be a catalyst towards unity. But if nobody else joins you in that viewpoint, then all you are is a weirdo. All you are is a freak. You know? If you’re by yourself talking “unity, unity” and nobody’s getting it, then if there’s no one who can be catalyzed to move in the direction of unity, then unity will not exist. (Appendix C)

Taking action must be part of the fabric of the entire community, not just something that only occurs on the individual level among friends and acquaintances.

You need [a belief in the oneness of humanity] not only on the individual level, but also on the group or social level, because you need a society, okay, that besides individuals who believe that they can implement that in their lives, you also need a society that can embody that ideal in practice, that goal, in the way that it functions, in the way that it treats its members and teaches its members to treat each other. (Appendix A)

Some think it is necessary for Bahá’ís to provide a model for others. Gloria stresses, “For people to know who we are, and what we stand for, we have to be inside and out and we have to be, you know, toiling in the vineyard” (Appendix C).

Eliminating Prejudice (8)

Respondents focus on eliminating prejudice in interracial relations and mention the prominence this teaching holds in the Bahá’í Faith. It comprises another form of action, internal but manifesting itself externally. Some note having observed good interracial relationships before they enrolled in the Faith. Donald says, “From being around the Bahá’ís back when I was investigating straight through to the present, I have seen an appreciation and a value attached to black people” (Appendix A). A preponderance of respondents touched upon this fundamental teaching, particularly with regard to racial prejudice. Respondents say that Bahá’ís should be “working on” improving black-white relations. Some think that conscious awareness of race issues distinguishes Bahá’ís from others, even though Bahá’ís still may exhibit prejudiced behavior. For example, Shawn notes that “A lot of Bahá’ís are for the most part working on race even if they’ve got some baggage that’s not real positive.” Yet he also says, “Becoming a Bahá’í does not all of a sudden get rid of any latent racism you might have, or any other kind of bias you might have doesn’t magically disappear” (Appendix M). Tanya takes a dimmer view.

Some people are trying to work on it and I see like they get on the race unity committee…But then they still won’t let go, cause once that’s over with, they still have the same mentality and that needs to drop. If they could be in that race unity mode all the time, that’d be fine [laughs]. (Appendix P)

Respondents profess that Bahá’ís have a great deal of work to do, including eliminating their own racial prejudices, and they acknowledge that they have internalized cultural messages regarding race and need to replace them with Bahá’í teachings.

Maybe my parents taught me how to hate blacks or whites, vice versa, you know. But you should be able to say if you’re a Bahá’í that Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. All the Writings [are] in my heart. That’s what takes precedence to what I was taught as a white person or what I was taught as a black person in the Black Nationalist movement. And that’s what’s hard for Bahá’ís to do. And that’s my experience. (Appendix G)

The roots of prejudice include cultural conditioning, unfamiliarity, and fear of others’ behavior, language and appearance. Judy says, “People bring their cultural differences with them, and I think that…every culture grows up with prejudice and I think the prejudice in this country is the prejudice of race” (Appendix E). To work on eliminating racial prejudice requires getting to know each other, go out socially, even date and marry each other. Respondents talk about the necessity to be open to others, to be open to different ideas. Some respondents mention the fear of those who are different as a barrier, overcoming negative education by looking to the Writings for guidance. Susan says that it is easier to feel united with someone who appears similar to oneself.

Once you really know someone, that trash goes away…So now it’s really limited to strangers, is where those race things kick in…I don’t know if it’s anything you can ever really get away from. Fifteen years or so of serious effort on it. And it’s very rare, but still it’s…a shadow or something. (Appendix Q)

People who have prejudices usually have pretty much what they want, even if it’s on a lesser scale, you know. The amount of what they want. But they feel they’re pretty much better than somebody else and so the fear comes in, from my perspective. They feel they have to give that up. Then they feel that the person they have to give it up to or the group or whatever is less worthy. Do they work for it? Were they born in America? And all these kind of things, you know. It’s a fear thing, you know. (Appendix G)

Some respondents, particularly African Americans who were exploring the religion before they joined it, note that the Bahá’í communities they saw were dealing well with interracial relationships.

As more and more people come into the Bahá’í community in this country, they’re going to come with those prejudices they grew up with, even though the Bahá’í community is doing a lot better than the outside world in terms of dealing with racial issues. (Appendix E)

Respondents say that Bahá’ís are usually conscious of racial issues and grappling with them in their communities. Getting rid of prejudices, especially racial ones, is seen as necessary in establishing justice which in turn ultimately leads to a united world .

In a united world …there would be a universal standard of human rights, and there would be less fear: The majority would have less fear of the minorities on the national level and I think minorities would be in a position actually to have much more freedom to develop their cultural diversity. (Appendix K)

Respondents express the need for everyone to recognize how racism is structural, and how it relates to justice, which is a prerequisite for unity. Several say that they do not see a racial hierarchy within the Bahá’í Faith.

One of the things I look at when you look at a community is even, is there a Bahá’í hierarchy? That is, are the nonwhites subordinated somehow? And I didn’t get that impression. And to be honest with you from my perspective that’s an impression you can pick up on pretty quickly. (Appendix M)

A few mention class prejudice and ethnocentrism as a problem, which can get confused with racial prejudice, or can look like institutionalized racism. Tanya says, “I’ve found that we have class prejudice also, among certain groups. At first I thought it was race prejudice, but then I found some of ’em were strictly based on class” (Appendix P).

I can think of individuals who are still clinging to thinking that maybe Persians are more spiritual or have a finer sensitivity…And there are some Anglos who are very patronizing and condescending to people who don’t speak English well, and so that leads to, you know, how weird, two groups would be patronizing to each other. (Appendix O)

The Writings have given separate tasks to blacks and whites to rid themselves of racial prejudice. The tasks contain historical roots.

Shoghi Effendi says there’s something that whites have to do and that blacks have to separately, then there’s something that we have to do together, you know. And that’s where the fear comes in and that’s what we’re dealing with. (Appendix G)

Persian immigrants observe, imitate and internalize racial prejudice when they immigrate to the United States. Tanya says, “When I first became Bahá’í [in 1981] and then also the community in __________ was really bad, and some of the Persians picked up the prejudices from the people around them” (Appendix P).

Embracing Diversity (9)

This category represents another specific type of action, both internal and external. Respondents say that the Bahá’í Faith ties together and enables people of different cultures to come into contact in their sharing of a common belief, in putting into practice Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching of unity in diversity. Donald notes that “The signs, the emphasis, the value placed on unity – there’s also an emphasis and value placed on diversity” (Appendix A). Susan says, “That’s taken awhile for me to get with too, is that it’s okay if we’re different. It exists. I mean for us to have a better perspective would be good, you know, for all of us to have” (Appendix O).

Though the Writings teach the equality of the sexes and the races, and the necessity for all voices to be heard, cultural teachings run contrary. For example, Persian culture has historically subjugated women, and U.S. American culture struggles with race. Bahá’í teachings about racial equality clarify ways in which the races should deal with each other, thus Bahá’ís look to their Writings rather than their cultures for guidance. Thus, Judy points out that “Those of us that are Caucasian look with awe upon people of color and people who are of the indigenous background, because they have been given such a high station within the Bahá’í Writings” (Appendix E).

Respondents remain aware of how their cultures occasionally come up against the Writings. Karen says, “Culturally I’m American but there’s some ethnic things that still hang around my family, like what kind of food are we going to have or how do you celebrate, you know, day such and such” (Appendix F).

What Bahá’u’lláh has said in terms of diversity is real important for me at this juncture. I see myself first as a Bahá’í. I see myself then as a black woman. And then I see myself as a mother. You know, all these little delineations that go on in our lives. You know, you have different roles at different times. (Appendix J)

My personal family culture, you know, the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall it’s-so-cool-to-smoke-cigarettes-and-drink-martini culture, because you know, that’s the sort of thing my parents went through in their youth…then in the ’60s with the hippies and that whole approach, I had to give that up (Appendix O).

Because Bahá’ís understand unity as occurring on a deeper, spiritual level, cultural diversity conceptually poses no problem, except inasmuch as cultures may have evolved with behaviors contrary to Bahá’í teachings.

Diversity is both healthy – especially in nature and agriculture for example. It’s unhealthy to have a monoculture, just one type of plant growing. It’s healthy to have a diversity which is both pleasing and makes life more interesting and healthy and you also have organization. (Roger, 214)

Respondents generally view entering the Bahá’í Faith as an additive process that they need not relinquish their cultural heritage.

Being a Bahá’í of black…background…rather than losing anything, we have gained because not only have we gained a greater appreciation and understanding and greater valuation...a greater understanding of our value as individuals and as a people, by being Bahá’ís…we’ve also gained a greater understanding of and been able to contribute more to a greater understanding of ourselves as human beings and the rest of the races and ethnic groups. (Appendix A)

As Bahá’ís we have a really beautiful thing that ties us all together but at the same time we all come from different cultures, even if there’s somebody sitting next to me. You’re white, but you come from a different background. (Appendix D)

Given that a goal of consultation is to seek the truth which is multifaceted, different cultural viewpoint are often sought out and even celebrated.

People understand that their worldview is not necessarily the worldview, and that they’re open to everyone’s viewpoint, so when you have that going on, then people are able to celebrate diversity because, number one, they can see it as opposed to only seeing right or wrong. (Appendix C)

There are very few Chinese in the Bahá’í Faith especially in our area, so I feel like kind of like a token Chinese [laughs] … Diversity adds more excitement to the community. If you don’t have Chinese, and, you know, say the Chinese holiday comes up and you can share with people, this is what we do and like that, this always brings people together more. And also as a Chinese, I guess, the community appreciates having this racial diversity. (Appendix H)

Since they’re black and you’re white, they might have a different perspective on the same reality. It’s like you both could be looking at the same thing and seeing something different and the reason they see it differently from you is based on their different experiences and perceptions of reality. (Appendix K)

Given that another goal of the Bahá’í Faith is unity of humankind, respondents talk about some of the repercussions and their thinking about how to reach that goal. Lena says that people of different cultures “have to get to know each other. And then when we get to know each other, we begin to really love each other, and care about each other” (Appendix G). Natasha points out that because so many ethnic backgrounds and cultures and religions exist in the world, unity among them is indispensable in order for the world to progress (Appendix I). Sam says that when individuals are able to perceive other kinds of people as more similar than dissimilar, the barriers of distrust disburse and communication becomes easier (Appendix L).

Even Bahá’í communities differ among themselves. Some beliefs differ because of the “upbringing since childhood” of the individuals comprising it (Appendix I). Another contains members diverse in age, but not many who “make a real effort to interact with the elders” in the community (Appendix C). Sometimes Bahá’í communities are “too formal – you’re not necessarily friends with the Bahá’ís, you just belong to the same religion and you might meet in a Bahá’í function, but outside the Bahá’í functions you might never socialize” (Appendix K).

Cultural differences must be understood, accepted, and perhaps overcome. Culture is seen as separate, so although the Faith began in Persia, the respondents do not consider theirs to be a Persian religion.

There’s things you have in common [with people of your own ethnicity]. The more things you have in common with that person, maybe such as language or customs or whatever. But I don’t necessarily feel like I would prefer to stand more this way than the other way. I think the Bahá’í Faith creates – I can’t explain what it is, but you just know that there’s not really a preference, or like a group that you prefer, or you feel more that you have in common with. (Appendix N)

In other words, the Bahá’í Faith attempts to bring together people of all backgrounds and cultures. Being the same yet different is perceived as healthy and more interesting than a homogenized group.

Transforming and Growing (10)

Transforming and growing can be conceived as outcomes of the foregoing. Respondents express belief that life comprises change and growth, that humans continue to evolve. They see the core of being a Bahá’í consisting of dynamic individuals transforming themselves and their community. “The whole purpose of religion is personal transformation” (Apopendix K). They also see this as different from the thinking of the culture at large, where adults generally are not perceived as growing and changing, but rather as fixed and permanent. Although society acknowledges that children grow, that athletes, artists and students must work to perfect their skills and pass exams, it does not usually recognize that perfecting the human spirit takes effort.

If you’re an athlete, you know that training involves a lot of pain and you accept that. Whether you’re an academic student, you know you have to study to pass your test. If you’re an artist, you know you have to practice to develop your art. So it’s really no different in the spiritual world. It’s not a magic pill. You have to be willing to work and fail and keep trying and go through pain. (Appendix K)

A lot of people who haven’t accepted something like Bahá’í will say, “Well this is where I am, and that’s where I’ve been, and I’m always going to be this way, and that’s the way things are.” And they don’t have any hope of change or see any need to go beyond where they are. (Apendix M)

With growth comes tolerance for others in their own struggles, an acknowledgment that everyone faces tests and difficulties which are necessary to make individuals grow spiritually. Gloria says, “If you’re bringing yourself to account each day, saying your prayers, asking for those attributes that are most needed in society, then I think you’re setting yourself up for transformation” (Appendix C).

Because respondents believe that growth and learning take a long time, that change proceeds slowly and the Bahá’í Faith is in its infancy, they express patience for themselves as well as for others who are involved in their own transformation. As Judy observes, “It takes generations for people to change. I really think it’s going to be generations before we really realize what it is like to live in a unified community” (Appendix E). Shawn maintains that “People I’ve known in the 25 years I’ve been in, I can see that some of them have grown” (Appendix M).

Respondents talk about how Bahá’ís should not expect themselves or others to reach instant perfection, or indeed whether others seem to exemplify Bahá’í teachings.

If you’re going to base whether you stay or not on what you think who are some of the other people, you’re kind of missing the point really because that’s not the point. The point is for you to develop yourself and hopefully you can help other people develop. (Appendix M)

Individuals grow at different rates and some may never really succeed very well. However, some transformations can be radical. With growth comes tolerance for others in their own struggles, an acknowledgment that everyone faces test and difficulties which are necessary to make individuals grow spiritually.

Not only do individuals grow and develop, but so do communities and cultures. Traveling to other places and seeing how things are done can help individuals change. Showing love to others give them the opportunity to grow and develop. For communities to grow and change, letting go of old wounds, avoiding backbiting and faultfinding, letting go of opinions and expectations will all help the community grow. A world of unity, equality, and fairness will provide a base for intellectually, material and spiritual growth (Appendix L). Speaking of a community in which she experienced racial prejudice twenty years ago, Tanya says, “The last time we were in ___________, the community has changed a lot. We have black and Persians all going there” (Appendix P).

Where the Bahá’í community, say, was 30 years ago or 20 years ago, or even within the past 10 years… it wasn’t where a lot of the black churches were. Plus a lot of the black churches were very activist and the Bahá’í community hadn’t until really fairly recently been as activist in getting involved in external matters. (Appendix M)

There are those who expect others to do things their way, but I think that most of those who have that expectation, it so happens in this community, are trying really hard to transform that, to be more open. (Appendix C)

Bahá’ís come from all different backgrounds and contribute to the community, bringing their cultural differences, affecting each other. Respondents talked about how individuals with different cultural values may reexamine their own cultures in the context of the Bahá’í teachings and temper them. Gloria talks about how African American Bahá’ís she knows strike their children to get them to behave, But striking children is not in line with Bahá’í teachings. She struggles with this herself, saying that she knows know other way to get them to sit still when she fixes their hair. She also talks about style of worship and says, “We may have to give up our sense of silence is worship…We may also have to give up our belief that shouting is worship” (Appendix C).

Forging a Group Identity (11)

The ultimate outcome, following upon all the preceding categories, is perhaps forging a group identity: Sharing a common denominator is believing in Bahá’u’lláh and trying to live according to Bahá’í principles as spelled out in the Writings. Bahá’ís recognize that because of their common interest in the Bahá’í Faith, there are things they can discuss with each other that others would not understand or be interested in, like sharing a love for Bahá’u’lláh. Judy illustrates this with, “When I travel, it’s just like your family. You’re taken into people’s homes, you have a place to stay, you’re invited to people’s homes, and I just don’t feel there is a separation” (Appendix E). Bahá’ís feel comfortable with each other partly because they think similarly about spiritual matters and share a common goal, which are seen as providing a glue that transcends cultural differences like food preferences and language. The spiritual connection is thought to be a connection that one could feel with all humanity, but Bahá’ís see themselves as aware of it.

I’ve traveled twice to India. You have instantaneous rapport with the people even if you don’t speak the same language. You speak the same Bahá’í language. My husband’s family live in Columbia South America and we go visit there. And there’s just this instantaneous connection. And you feel like there’s nothing that separates you. There’s no separation whatsoever. And you have family all over the world. (Appendix E)

The Bahá’í Faith provides its members a group where they can understand how people from diverse cultures think, as individuals within the Bahá’í Faith are encouraged to understand each other.

We share a bond which is, you know, love for Bahá’u’lláh and that we’re Bahá’ís, and every aspect of our lives may not be similar. We may be in our own, you know, background. We may practice different things you know, like someone may not, you know, like the food that I like or, you know, speak the same language. But I don’t feel like, you know, we’re from, like I’m like an alien to them. There’s still always that bond that’s sort of universal. (Appendix N)

Respondents say that Bahá’ís share similar values and perspectives, though the group can encompass diverse personalities and cultures, including the tastes and preferences that go along with those things. Karen says, “Not that we’re monolithic or that we’re cookie-cutter people, but that there’s a certain common denominator, a certain sameness that gives us strength” (Appendix F).

You feel so much more comfortable with Bahá’ís, but it’s not like you don’t feel unity. Say my Chinese friends, it’s different. They’re friends. But everything we think is different, but we’re still friends. The Bahá’ís are different. The Bahá’ís are not Chinese but everything you think is the same. (Appendix H)

At the same time, respondents seek new forms of cultural expression.

There are cultural issues were brought into the Faith. While those things are very different, but we are the same, just like humanity is the same yet different. I don’t have a problem with this “the same thing yet different.” That’s one of the things that really excites me, but I’m clearly a freak (Appendix C).

Bahá’ís have emerged from a stage when Anglo tastes dominated and have entered one where diverse expressions exist.

Do we have to give up this resurgence of gospel music, which when I became a Bahá’í [in 1974] was forbidden…It couldn’t be more forbidden if it had been written in a text, because, you know, music was supposed to be Persian, or a certain variety of European, so you know, gypsies got left out too…It wasn’t supposed to be loud or boisterous or any other kind of way…’Course, time and again, there’s no such thing as Bahá’í music – there’s music that people play and they’re Bahá’ís…and most people play different kinds of music. (Appendix C)

Bahá’í institutions are of one fabric with the community, as their members are elected from the community. As Feridoun says, “Institutions are part of, not separate from, the community” (Appendix B). Respondents say they are at the early stages of the development of the religion and recognize that the community is in flux.


In its examination of ways in which culture impacts on individual identity, intercultural communication theory has been strong in dissecting how different cultural identities can serve as barriers to understanding. However, the literature rarely, if ever, discusses how individuals can overcome these intergroup boundaries while allowing them to exist. Attempts in this direction have been made by researchers who say that all communication is fundamentally interpersonal and that culture is a later addition. Such theories, however, underrate the importance of culture in forming individual identity and worldview; they also fail to address issues of power.

This study looks at a multicultural, multiethnic group that, although it views humans as metaphysically the same, does not dismiss cultural differences. Indeed, individuals comprise groups and cultures, and individuals take action, not groups and cultures, and when those diverse individuals come together to decide on a plan of action, they bring with them their cultures. If a way can be found to make a decision in an atmosphere where all viewpoints can be heard and where none takes precedence, then the individuals involved should feel some ownership for the group decision. Such a forum must be free from pressures exerted by coalitions and politics.

A group whose stated purpose is to promote human unity in diversity, the Bahá’ís provide a promising partner for dialogue about how they experience this stated mission. Research questions centering on Bahá’ís’ perceptions of unity and of their constructing a group identity sought to explore their experience rather than to test a hypothesis. A strength of a qualitative study such as this includes the openness of the inquiry and its interminability. Although, previous to the study, anecdotes circulated about difficulties within the Bahá’í community with regard to interracial relations, the scope of this study remained broad rather than focused directly on race. An added feature of this study is that the researcher herself adheres to the Bahá’í Faith and was able to gather data that might not have been shared in the same way with another researcher because of respondents’ assumptions about her tacit knowledge of basic Bahá’í teachings as well as of commonly shared stories.

The Bahá’í worldview includes the idea that two processes are constantly at work in the world – the old order crumbles as a new one emerges (Shoghi Effendi, 1982); many contemporary problems are considered as growing pains experienced as people evolve toward creating a world with greater international affiliation. The Bahá’í Faith, like other revealed religions, views human cooperation as the natural order of things, though it has been obscured by political struggles within religions (Universal House of Justice, 1996). To this end, Bahá’ís have known some success cooperating together in their multiethnic, multiracial world community. Although the literature (e.g., Brown, 1985; Hecht, Collier & Ribeau, 1993; Omi & Winant, 1989; Pettigrew & Martin, 1987; Stanback & Pearce, 1981; VanDyk, 1993) says that most intercultural groups experience particular conflicts, and that their unity is tentative at best and embedded with power struggles and institutionalized racism, this researcher sought to find how selected members of the Bahá’í community have approached the task of uniting together individuals of different races, ethnicities and cultures, and whether the nature of their struggle differs in any way from that of other groups.

After examining the statements offered by respondents, their intrinsic meaning was inferred in order to construct categories that capture a distillation of the elements considered necessary for achieving group unity and that best represent the community’s shared visions of unity. This was done by a constant comparison method, grouping and regrouping the statements, creating categories and constantly comparing the emerging data with the categories, until the respondents’ statements could be put in a manageable number of categories. Cultural tendencies in the responses were elaborated by the researcher, who drew from her tacit knowledge to offer a metanarrative on the Bahá’í view of unity.

The dense conceptual relationships that emerged from this grounded theory study are best presented discursively so as to more clearly convey that density. The study sought to find patterns of action and interaction as well as process, such as internal or external changes, all of which are best uncovered using a procedure that is close to the data (Strauss & Corbin, 1994).


What hope does this community offer that the intergroup theory predicts will only lead to conflict? This study sought to find answers to the following research questions:

  • By what process can individuals from separate cultural groups form a unified community?

  • How do Bahá’ís accommodate cultural differences?

  • Do community members profess a group identity that overrides their cultural distinctiveness?

  • Do any cultural groups reportedly dominate others in the Bahá’í Faith?

First of all, respondents report a strong feeling of unity with others in their communities, in their travels and in their worlds in general who differ from themselves in various ways – by culture, education, race, socio-economic level, point of view, education and even in such personality dimensions as introversion and extroversion. The feeling of unity is one they wish everyone could experience as they do. They define human unity as an awareness of a common internal substance, while allowing for expression of that substance to take many forms.

The data suggest that some behaviors will effect closer feelings of unity than others. The categories, reconceptualized here into a model, indicate necessary elements whose presence could lead another researcher to a similar finding in a multifaceted group that seeks a unified identity. The data provide an articulation of what it takes to attain the unity described by the respondents and is presented here as comprised of four levels. The following model describes each level.

A Model of Multicultural Communication

1.0. Social Structures – Constants Outside One’s Control

1.1 Oneness of Religion

    1. Spiritual Nature of Humans

    2. The Writings as Law

2.0. Internal States – The Make-up of Humans

    1. Cultural traits

    2. Personal states

3.0 . External Bridges – Processes of Decentering

3.1 Consulting

3.2 Taking Action

3.2.1 Eliminating Prejudice

3.2.2 Embracing Diversity

4.0 Growing into Unity – Multicultural Communication

    1. Transforming and Growing

    2. orming a Group Identity

An organic, linear sequence exists in the internal and external changes represented by these categories: The categories indicate that the processes involved in the quest for unity are not all under the control of individuals. The first group of categories in 1.0 comprise social structures (1.1 Oneness of Religion; 1.2 Spiritual Nature of Humans; and 1.3. The Writings) that represent foundational beliefs which serve as points of departure for the group and can perhaps find parallels in secular groups, such as doctrines, procedures and those beliefs that group members recognize hold them together and which each member agrees above all else to accept. They are profound enough to provide the Bahá’ís an unquestioned authority, paramount to the group’s cohesion. The intergroup literature notes that sharing central tenets and bonding with the group’s leader comprise identifications which enable group stability (Wright, 1994). An important step in the model is one’s awareness of the constants that comprise this foundation.

Growing out of the first category, categories 2.1 Cultural Traits, and 2.2 Personal States comprise beliefs about the makeup of human beings. Cultural differences, which are seen as more deeply engrained, are acceptable and even desirable as they may provide necessary perspectives. However, personal states comprise an area that also includes those hindrances which are perceived to be under an individual’s control – such as greed, illness, ignorance as well as pursuit of power, influence or personal gain – that prevent her from attaining unity. In this step, group members center themselves in an awareness of what about them is cultural as distinct from what are personal characteristics.

The actual work of unity gets done in 3.1 Consulting and 3.2 Taking Action, comprising communication processes and strategies that Bahá’ís use as bridges to unite among themselves and with the world. Subcategories 3.2.1 Eliminating Prejudice, 3.2.2 Embracing Diversity and 3.2.3 Transforming and Growing, include specific requirements and goals of consultation and action; these are conscious processes and under one’s control. These sub-categories especially, along with 2.2 Personal States, provide areas where intercultural trainers may focus their efforts in finding ways to recreate in other groups some of the successes Bahá’ís have experienced in becoming unified. Growing into Unity – Multicultural Communication, 4.0, with 4.1 Transforming and Growing and 4.2 Forming a Group Identity, include appreciating and enjoying each other’s choices, as well as learning from each other’s cultures, which involve decentering – extending outside one’s own culture to apprehend the others’ viewpoints (Chen & Starosta, 1998). The unity in the Bahá’í community does not rely on changing cultures wholesale, but on appreciating the perspectives they provide as well as aligning behavior to focus on the good of the whole.

Social Structures – Constants Outside One’s Control

Respondents’ understanding of unity stems from their shared belief in Bahá’u’lláh and his vision of world unity, an area that almost all the respondents mentioned. Many of the respondents were attracted to the Bahá’í Faith because they intuited a unity among religions, a predisposition that facilitated – and probably preceded – their openness to the notion of the oneness of humankind. This first category portrays the respondents’ most basic common theme, the belief that all religions come from the same God. For many of the respondents, this concept appeared logical even before they found a religion that held it as a tenet. Elaborated upon in the Bahá’í Faith as “progressive revelation,” this notion holds that teachings from the major religions are all from God and revealed by divinely appointed Messengers at specific times and places in human history, as part of an evolving process. Religious social (e.g., marriage and dietary) laws – function to establish order and are seen as temporary and relative to time and place, whereas spiritual teachings are absolute and continue through the ages.

A belief in the oneness of religion provides a firm foundation for the group, one that goes a long way toward eliminating barriers among Bahá’ís who come from different religious backgrounds. Most of the respondents converted to the Bahá’í Faith from a Christian background, and any denominational differences became wiped away upon their conversion. Among the Persians, one has a Zoroastrian father and Bahá’í mother, and the other two come from families who converted to the Bahá’í Faith from Islám during the 19th century. As Bahá’ís, they come to share a similar view of Christianity and of the authority of Jesus. Many say that they do not give up Christianity as Bahá’ís, and that instead they acquire a deeper understanding of Christianity. Susan says, “Our core belief is validated, that we don’t have to give up being Christian, we don’t have to give up being Buddhist, we don’t have to give up being Hindu” (Appendix O). Sam says, “I was a very devout Christian. I had the feeling that this was like going from junior high to high school…it was really like being in the same religion. I haven’t given up Christianity” (Appendix L).

In describing the dynamic of participating in an interethnic and interracial group, respondents express their shared belief in Bahá’u’lláh, something they mention as sometimes the only point they consciously have in common with other Bahá’ís. They come from cultural groups that place different emphases on such things as emotional expression, family relations, notions of hospitality, the importance of work, self-disclosure of personal information – and out of these differences they learn to coexist as a group. Belief in Bahá’u’lláh provides the central point of perceived similarity among Bahá’ís, and also grounds their thinking, affirming the intergroup literature (e.g., Wright, 1994) that says that perceived similarity reinforces one’s identity as a group member. However, this belief also opens the way for Bahá’ís to perceive themselves as similar to all believers, inasmuch as perceiving Bahá’u’lláh as the most recent in a series of messengers from God paves the way for these former Christians to accept the teachings of Muhammad as well, which they otherwise had not been moved to do. It also allows them to regard all of humankind as having had divine guidance at some point in history, clearing away any notion that God has chosen any race or culture above any other whereas they previously grappled with the idea of themselves as saved Christians. If it affirms the intergroup literature on perceived similarity, it does so by enabling Bahá’ís to perceive themselves as similar to all human beings.

Coupled with a belief in the oneness of religion is that of the oneness of humanity. Respondents say that oneness or unity is a spiritual reality. Susan says, “Unity exists anyway, whether we understand it or not” (Appendix O).

Unity is a reality that needs to be discovered. Because unity is the essential reality, and then you have those different things that people add on to their selves, whether it’s a cultural thing or history, can get in the way, and then when you focus on those differences and conflicts, then you have disunity underlying the essential unity. (Appendix Q)

That human nature is spiritual provides one of the most essential of Bahá’í teachings and one that sheds light on other teachings. As the spiritual nature is seen as essential, one’s physical circumstances, including nationality, cultural origin, gender, and socio-economic status are seen as incidental. The human spirit communes with God through prayer and when humans share prayer together, they witness their fellow humans’ submission to God which can establish bonds between them. “To create greater unity in the Faith we need to share prayer together. After all, the Bahá’í Faith is a spiritual organization” (Appendix L). Perceiving other individuals “as if they were a divine spark” furthers the spiritual fellowship (Appendix J). Cooperation is a basic human characteristic. Several respondents described human beings “as the creatures of God that have the capacity to know and love God. That knowing and loving capacity is essentially what makes you human” (Appendix K).

Because respondents believe that Bahá’u’lláh is a Messenger from God, they accept his revelation, transcribed in a body of Writings, as authoritative, having a divine origin and comprising a doctrine whose final word respondents agree to accept. This also describes other covenantal religions, those containing a pact between the religious founder who has revealed God’s word and those followers who agree to obey the teachings. The covenant is a personal one between followers and leader, and except in cases of flagrant disobedience, goes undetected by fellow believers. Each group member shares the experience of having a feeling of direct commitment to Bahá’u’lláh, which means that they should know what Bahá’u’lláh expects them to do. Says Tanya, “First let’s see what the Writings say. Find out from that” (Appendix P); and Olivia: “We’re encouraged to read the Writings, because the answers are there” (Appendix J). Shawn remarks on the responsibility of one who believes that Bahá’u’lláh is who he claims to be: “Do you believe that the founder of this religion is who he claimed to be, a messenger of God?…if you do, then you gotta run with it” (Appendix M).

Having been attracted to a religion that provides an acceptance of all other religions (defining religion as teachings revealed by a Messenger – a Manifestation – of God), Bahá’ís recognize the religion’s founder as a Messenger of God whose Writings are accepted as truth. The Writings provide guidance, a standard for reality and a glue that keeps the community together. Roger says, “We get guidance that provides us with a standard of what we’re supposed to be doing” (Appendix K). Min emphasizes that the Bahá’í Writings are “not just a doctrine, Bahá’u’lláh’s the law. I think it’s much more clear-cut than Christians” (Appendix H). Respondents also acknowledge that individual members understand the Writings differently, and say that the Writings take precedence over the behavior of other believers. Respondents moreover have little patience for other believers who do not study the Writings and assume that fellow believers will read and understand the Writings and follow their guidance and that this should resolve all disputes.

We have a common basis of law and understanding that we can refer to, so that if I disagree with somebody, it might be that the only thing we can agree on is that we both refer to the Bahá’í Writings and try to find out what the Bahá’í Writings say about something and then based on that, try to come to our individual understanding. (Appendix K)

Perhaps more than anything else, Bahá’ís derive from this category their confidence in the possibility of unity, as this is where they make contact with the divine because they believe that Bahá’u’lláh was appointed by God to reveal these teachings for humanity in this time period. The Bahá’í understanding of underlying unity contrasts with approaches where group members clash over methods, organization, procedures, values and purposes “because the participants are not fully unified in essentials” (Schwartz & Barnes, 1998, p. 218). However, because this category describes a specific belief system, it can only apply to other groups in its essence, that is, the shared belief among group members in a fundamental reality.

Internal States – The Make-up of Humans

Perceiving fellow humans as spiritual beings puts into perspective such questions as life’s purpose, which is to increase in the knowledge of God – a tenet left open to individual understanding. Moreover, because there is no clergy and no institutional hierarchy, Bahá’ís must take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, each individual must deepen on spiritual questions by reading the texts and discussing their meaning together. Sam says that an individual who sees herself as a “successful spirit” will not be concerned with material gain and power and thus “you’re not going to have a reason to lie or manipulate or hide something because your long-range goal is to be more spiritual” (Appendix L). Insofar as identity theory can be applied to belief systems, respondents believe that all humans share an identity as spirits, a condition that transcends cultural and linguistic divisions, a belief that paradoxically can leave room for different belief systems.

Before beginning this study, it appeared that focusing on issues of identity formation and intergroup power would likely describe the stress and strain of cultures coming together in the Bahá’í Faith to form a new group, as group members deal with interethnic relations. However, respondents preface any discussion about cultural difference with one about spiritual unity, seeing cultural diversity from a different angle. Gloria puts it, “Humanity is the same yet different. I don’t have a problem with this ‘same thing yet different.’ That’s one of the things that really excites me” (Appendix C).

While ethnic and cultural categories provide flavor, they also are seen as secondary to human spirituality. Bahá’í doctrine teaches that these differences can be overcome because of the beliefs that humanity is united spiritually and that the reality of this unity can be made conscious. Still, the identity theory literature does not fully explain what occurs in the Bahá’í group. A core concept which seems to originate in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings – unity in diversity – may to some extent challenge existing communication literature on identity formation. This concept also challenges Bahá’ís who try to apply it in practical terms, as it has no other model to which they can refer. For example, in the Bahá’í Faith, blacks and whites join in a covenant to resolve the race problem (Thomas, 2001).

Perhaps where unity in diversity is most salient is with regard to intergroup power relations. The Bahá’í Faith offers little incentive or possibility for individuals to wield power, as power lies in the institutions of the Faith which alone have authority to make decisions and can do so only when convened as a body.

In politics, the actual main motive is to achieve and to hold power. Truth is a secondary objective. I mean, all politicians would like to be statesmen, but the first fundamental thing is to get elected to keep power. The second is to try to solve problems and to find truth. (Appendix K)

Nakayama and Krizek (1995) say that minorities become measured against a norm set by white males. Shawn mentions his wariness as he investigated the Bahá’í Faith and says that a hierarchy is usually instantly apparent in groups. He wondered, “are the non-whites subordinated somehow? And I didn’t get that impression” (Appendix M). Similarly, ethnic identities in a group seldom achieve egalitarian status (Stanbeck & Pearce, 1981). However, cultural dominance is not always clear in U.S. Bahá’í communities, insofar as different cultural groups can form a local majority but this does not mean they dominate.

Respondents describe the Bahá’í Faith as something that individuals enter into and in doing so bring cultural teachings with them. Bahá’í communities reflect the culture in which their members live as well as their cultures of origin. Thus although humans are spiritual and refer to the Writings that are seen as truth, respondents also hold cultural assumptions through which they filter their understanding of the Writings and, consequently, of the truth. Moreover, because the Writings extol human diversity, members do not always know when a cultural view may be conflicting with the teachings. The additive strategy described by Hall (1976) suggests that individuals first must become aware of their own culture, then become aware that others have a culture, decide whether there are parts of their own and of the other culture they like, and choose among them, thus building a repertoire of conscious strategies. That individuals can behave this way indicates that they have control over the amount of cooperation they wish to extend, and they are not bound by their culture.

Similarly, the respondents describe how their encounter with the Writings encourages them to examine their own culture. They are not forced to give up cultural ways, except for behaviors inconsistent with the Writings. For example, in many (if not most) cultures, women hold secondary positions, but the Bahá’í Faith promotes their equality. Judy lives with her Persian husband but says that women have the greatest difficulty in the Bahá’í community not from the Persians but from American men. “American men still have some work to do…they still have sort of a dictatorial approach” (Appendix E). However, they are encouraged to listen to all points of view and promote equality of all members.

Respondents describe the value they place on diversity. Roger says that “unity implies that there’s two distinct groupings or more – they’re distinct and they have their own identity and they come together to achieve a common functional purpose” (Appendix K). Several respondents describe their ethnic origins which seem to present barriers to unity by establishing feelings of exclusivity. Min contrasts her experience in the Bahá’í Faith with that of the Chinese community where “you have some kind of excluding other communities. You say, ‘This is the way we do things and other people maybe they’re inferior.’ Chinese always think they’re superior” (Appendix H). Natasha says that among Hindus in India “it was usually one group, not mixing. There was always one group together” (Appendix I). Feridoun notes that “the Persian culture is very much different. Also, the generation gaps, because when you’re talking about an older Persian person, it’s more like talking about 200 years back or more in America.” Moreover Judy, married to a Persian, thinks that individuals who come from a predominantly Moslem culture will require “generations to completely eradicate a lot of the cultural things” (Appendix E). Olivia believes that it is important to value other cultures. “What we’re too easily ready to do a lot of times is to dismiss, you know, a whole culture because somehow it’s deemed insignificant or not important” (Appendix J).

The literature mentions power maneuvering within groups, as one culture tends to dominate and installs a de facto hegemony. Similarly, Gloria recalls occasions when one culture dominated the Bahá’í Faith. “Music was supposed to be Persian or a certain variety of European so, you know, gypsies got left out too…it wasn’t supposed to be loud or boisterous or any other kind of way. That was the way in which people interpreted Bahá’í music” (Appendix C). However, respondents emphasize that the community has grown slowly more able to recognize any sort of cultural dominance. Further, the Writings encourage them to reexamine their own cultures and traditions, which means that Bahá’ís often find themselves not participating in cultural celebrations with their families and neighbors. U. S. American Bahá’ís have struggled to give up their cultural expectations of religion that derived from their exposure to Judaism and Christianity and to see such things as musical expression of spiritual feelings and the correct way to express piety as culturally relative.

Judy contrasts her work experiences with those within the Bahá’í Faith. Whereas at work “[i]t is really about the person with the loudest voice or the highest position within the organization whose voice usually carries the day and that’s decision making in the outside world,” in the Bahá’í community “this is a very new way of doing things, to have to learn how to consult rather than to dictate, and to cooperate” (Appendix E).

As with third-culture building (Chen & Starosta, 1998), individuals build a bigger repertoire of behaviors, adding strategies and possibilities to what they already know cognitively and affectively. Perhaps they start to find it comfortable to form new behaviors by becoming involved with contrast cultures, which happens in many local Bahá’í communities where members come from various backgrounds. However, second generation Persians among the respondents complain that their parents have difficulty perceiving the Bahá’í Faith as separate from their culture of origin, which may be a hindrance in their ability to achieve feelings of unity with individuals from other cultures.

External Bridges – Processes of Decentering

Providing the arena where issues get worked out, a specific kind of dialogue is known in the Bahá’í community as consultation. Bahá’í consultation is to be approached prayerfully and with the intention of finding the truth in any given situation – a relative truth, that is. The Writings teach that it is better to be united than to be right; if a group reaches a wrong decision, its unworkability will become apparent, but conflict and power wielding confound group decision making. A principle of consultation is that all ideas expressed become group property, so all equally share in credit for success and blame for poor choices. The spiritual nature of human unity provides a structuralist take on reality, that a reality waits to be discovered. However, respondents believe they can only access a relative and temporary truth in their communities, and they approach this truth via consultation, paralleling the view of truth shared by interactionist theorists.

The processes described here involve acts of decentering, of moving outside one’s cultural position and seeing it as one of a myriad possible positions. Moving to such a place “in-between” may indeed require new skills in language as well as cultural understanding in a multidirectional process where framing and decoding messages happen at once (Chen & Starosta, 1998, p. 197). The respondents report some success with their communication approach that seems able to accommodate different cultural as well as personal styles.

Consultation (3.1) involves some steps which Bahá’ís perform that a secular approach may not. However, a prerequisite to the process of consultation is to accept that the purpose is to find the truth in a situation and to apply spiritual principles to the situation. Other groups might apply their doctrine from Category 1.0, their basic beliefs; for example, the U. S. judiciary relates laws back to the Constitution which all U. S. Americans agree to as basic principles.

Finding the truth includes the component of listening. If truth is the goal, and all hold a portion of truth, then all voices must be heard. The group must rally around this point, or they cannot move toward unity of thought. Different cultural perspectives are welcome here, but not any attempt to wield personal power, push personal agenda, or force one’s position on others. Each member in consultation must recognize that no one individual holds all the answers to the problem because all have a stake in the problem, thus no one individual can contain all perspectives. It is the task of every one to collect the data necessary to solving the problem, and to examine all the collective data. In sum, consultation involves acknowledging that because one has a limited perspective, she needs input – and indeed the necessary answers – from the perspectives of others in order to arrive at a decision that all can accept. Consultation is tentative and experimental; participants realize that the group can review its decision at any time.

Taking Action (3.2) forms a dialectic with consultation in that there exists a learning by doing. Consultation itself includes some form of action and has action as its goal, but deals with principles, ideas and truth. Yet it does not really exist apart from action. Consultation and taking action comprise visible events yet they depend on internal movement – transformation, eliminating prejudice and embracing diversity. An individual must approach consultation with others as a learning event out of which she may move closer to the truth about herself, her culture, other people and the world.

Consultation plays a primary role in establishing unity, as it provides the point of contact where members share their understandings and comprises a large part of community contact throughout the Bahá’í world. Assembly meetings follow the procedure as do community members in their 19-day monthly meetings (Feast) which are facilitated by a chairperson elected to ensure that consultation moves ahead smoothly, perhaps towards consensus. Respondents talk about the benefits of discussions, saying that you cannot “create a sense of unity in isolation. You create it by the encouragement of that discussion” (Appendix J). They use consultative principles with their friends and neighbors as well. Holly says, “If you’re afraid to talk about it, nothing will change” (Appendix D).

Bahá’u’lláh’s words should generate a spirit within us to move forward, to be loving, and all of that. So if we don’t talk about it, then it has no meaning because only things that have meaning for you do you talk about and engage yourself in. (Appendix G)

You have to extend to other people and realize that they’re no different than you, they’re struggling in their life. Acceptance is a big thing. And understanding, you know. You like the warm weather, I like the cold weather, and that doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, just that we’re different. (Appendix B)

Sholeh believes that one must be “willing to accept other people’s views and other people’s background. You have to accept where they’re coming from (Appendix N). However Roger sees the consultative method, wherein everyone must be given the opportunity to speak, as a benefit in that, “A lot of times, problems can be solved by bringing in different people with different perspectives…’cause they have different knowledge and experiences” (Appendix K).

Unity begins with consultation but needs to result in action, including the forming of relationships with others. Indeed, respondents deemed working together with a group on a common goal as an area where they feel unity. The emphasis in the religion is on service (Appendix J). Several respondents gave a variation of “If you’re going to build unity, you have to live unity” (Appendix C). Indeed, Donald says that “One of the things that attracted me to the Bahá’í Faith was…its explicit belief in the oneness of mankind and its explicit commitment to practicing, implementing that ideal” (Appendix A). Several say that the purpose of religion is to make its adherents uncomfortable. Roger points out that “If however you belong to a religion which is…commanding you as a law of God to associate with all people, then for the love of God you’ll have the courage and the motive to do things you normally wouldn’t do, which might initially be painful” (Appendix K). Moreover Lena says that “If people come to the Faith, whether they’re black or white, and think that they can just sit here and be comfortable, in a way it’s better than they don’t come. Because you know, it’s almost like you’re in the way” (Appendix G).

Eliminating prejudice (3.2.1) may be the hardest task because prejudices are so close to one’s sense of identity. Indeed, much of the intergroup literature seems to be a study on the blockages that arise from holding onto prejudices, constructs that lead to and comprise ethnocentrism, sexism, racism, snobbery and elitism, which are hard to root out because of their intimate connection with cultural identity. Individuals may cling to these areas because of personal states (2.2) such as egoism or greed, hindrances deemed by respondents as the greatest obstacles to unity. Critical race theory talks about being able to see things from a point of reference other than one’s own, which is something that the respondents describe when they tell about their work on race issues. Judy mentions looking at people of color who have been given a high station in the Writings. Furthermore, Roger (Appendix K) describes the need to include other perspectives while negotiating a perspective common to all. Eliminating prejudice is a process of transformation and growth, dynamics that provide both the goal and definition of the human condition.

If your purpose is actually to find the truth…you’re bringing your knowledge and opinions to the table, and once they’re expressed, they’re no longer yours personally, so that now they belong to the group…and the group tries to decide what’s the best way to go. (Appendix K)

The respondents describe a community where everyone must participate because the truth lies among the group, not in any one individual. Thus limitations exist in the self that cannot be fulfilled without input from the whole. The “spark of truth” emerges “only after the clash of differing opinions” (Abdu’l-Bahá, 1997, p. 93). Consensus is the preferred mode of decision-making, meaning that group decisions should be embraced by all. Solutions are never seen as absolute but more as working theories, responses to temporary needs or problems, right for the present. What respondents describe resembles decentering where communicants detach themselves from familiar cultural ways in order to find a common place with others (Chen & Starosta, 1998). This common place becomes known through communication, as interactants exchange feelings and ideas in search of solutions to problems affecting all.

Individuals who come to associate with the Bahá’í Faith usually originate in diverse cultures and as such may testify to the sorts of intergroup tensions identified in ingroup-outgroup and identity literature. Respondents say that they are spiritual beings who believe in Bahá’u’lláh and study his Writings for guidance on how to get along with each other. Does this mean they will succeed? Lack of maturity may prevent success (Appendix L). Different levels of awareness determine who will even begin to listen and who will insist on their way (Appendix K). Respondents generally perceive conflict as related to such personality differences which derive from education, upbringing, ego or illness, any of which can lead to power struggles. Ironically, though, the Bahá’í Faith offers no reward for anyone seeking monetary gain and little reward for anyone seeking power, inasmuch as the authority lies in the Writings and in Bahá’í institutions whose task is to consult based on the Writings and which only have power as a body. Moreover, gaining recognition usually means being called upon to contribute even more, as often happens to volunteers. Finally, to Bahá’ís schooled in the principles of consultation, a power-seeking individual is usually perceived as an egoist bent on obstructing the process and in need of deepening on the Writings, rather than as someone interested in finding a solution to the problems at hand.

Because respondents perceive individuals as undergoing a transformation process, they account for the possibility that an individual may be immature or ignorant of some of the teachings, believing that as the individual learns and grows, she will exhibit behavior that is more cooperative and more in line with Bahá’í teachings. Thus, if the individuals gain more familiarity with the teachings, they should be able to experience unity; yet some respondents acknowledge that particular individuals, because of personal issues, may be unable or unwilling to do this. Usually respondents see this as under someone’s control as Tom who says that “Ego is an obstacle to unity” (Appendix Q); Tanya who posits that prejudice derives from an individual’s upbringing; and Feridoun who believes that “if somebody feels superior or feels inferior, they’re both faults of that person that they have to overcome” (Appendix B); and Judy says that “There are some personality issues that prevent the Assembly from being totally unified…we have to work on strong personalities not dominating the consultation” (Appendix E).

Yet several respondents refer to “personality disorders,” making it sound as though these individuals were ill and unable to fully consult. Susan describes a conflict in her community where “one of the people…had a personality disorder and that maybe was the root of the problem” (Appendix O); and Sam says that “unity always takes place unless one party is mentally ill or on drugs or something” (Appendix L).

Respondents mention an ethnocentrism that Bahá’ís may bring to a consultation and that hinders the discussion. Judy sees it in men who often who are accustomed to dominating and are not accustomed to sharing the floor with women. Gloria, Olivia, Shawn and Tanya mention how some white individuals have assumed that their cultural ways, especially with regard to modes of worship and the type of music used in devotional meetings, should be expected; Lena focuses on class differences within the African American Bahá’í community in her city. Feridoun and Sholeh talk about how some Persians feel entitled to receiving special attention, but they limit this criticism to some of those in the older generation. Gloria joins them to note how many adults automatically dismiss what children have to offer.

Tanya discusses difficulties she has had with Anglo American and Persian Bahá’ís in her community. However, she ultimately and continually interprets their behavior as their failure to refer to the Writings. Lena, likewise, focuses on institutionalized racism and how the white middle class abandons the city to the poor African Americans. However, her greater hurt is one of class, as she laments that black Bahá’ís also leave the city, and then are loath to associate with her. She, like Tanya, attributes this to their failure to understand and obey the Writings. Lena says, “If we would do what Shoghi Effendi says, then we could really change the world over night almost, because we have what no other people on earth have which is the reality of the oneness of mankind.” (Appendix G). Gloria does not limit her critique to any one group but says that “Most people…assume that their worldview is the world view” (Appendix C). However, as the national Bahá’í community in the United States matures and increases its diversity, it moves away from and differentiates itself from its dominant white Christian origins. Gloria, Olivia, Shawn and Tom discuss the clashes that occur when those of Christian backgrounds, black and white, enter the Bahá’í Faith with different expectations of what worship should look like. All express how such issues can be worked out as a group, but first the white and Persian members especially must become aware that modes of worship are cultural and arbitrary.

People of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant background, the majority of whom are converts themselves to the Faith, so they tend to be the majority and tend to do things the way they’re accustomed to doing them. It’s not an intentional suppression of the minority but it’s something that if you’re aware of, you can try to overcome. (Appendix K)

Despite all the frustration Tanya expresses, her and her husband’s best friends are a white couple, one of whom, Tom, was also a respondent. Tom acknowledges that he was instructed by his family to feel and act superior as a white person and he struggles against that education.

The Anglo-Persian clash provides another arena where cultural expectations get worked out. Feridoun, Gloria, Judy, Shawn and Sholeh take note of areas where culture intrudes, primarily from an older Persian refugee generation perceiving the Bahá’ís Faith as so closely linked to their culture that they sometimes claim ownership. The dominant opinion expressed by respondents is that with time, this attitude will fade.

Although respondents discussed cultural, racial and gender problems they or others had experienced, they remained confident in the promise that their consultative method offered them a bridge that enabled their voices to be heard. Constantly reminding each other that they are all human and that cultures and personalities are different expressions of the divine provides a focal point for group members to overlook differences.

Growing Into Unity – Multicultural Communication

Individuals who enter the Bahá’í Faith sometimes have the mistaken idea that they should suddenly be perfect. Respondents note that the Bahá’í Faith is supposed to help them grow and develop spiritually, and that growth takes a long time. “I think it takes generations for people to change. I really think it’s going to be generations before we really realize what it is like to live in a unified community” (Appendix E). Besides the time it takes is the pain and discomfort. One respondent likened spiritual growth to the training of an artist or athlete. “It’s not a magic pill,” says Roger (Appendix K). “You have to be willing to work and fail and keep trying and go through pain.” Much of this transformation requires conscious effort. Even Bahá’ís who originate in the dominant U. S. American culture examine their culture of origin from a Bahá’í perspective and cease to identify with it as much as previously.

Judy says she “gave up a lot” of cultural things – specifically consuming alcohol and celebrating Christmas – though she found in the Bahá’ís a group of people who accepted the attitudes and feelings she held about life (Appendix E). Susan says she gave up “the ’60s with the hippies and that whole approach” (Appendix O).

The slow process of transformation, both of the individual and the community, follows a course from perceiving oneself as a material being toward greater consciousness of oneself as a spiritual being. It necessitates having a vision of how a spiritually more mature world might look. Growth is something to welcome and to strive for. It requires getting up and visiting other places. Gloria says, “If you’re bringing yourself to account each day, saying your prayers, asking for those attributes that are most needed in society, then I think you’re setting yourself up for transformation” (Appendix C).

Some of the transformation results from an influx of different ethnic groups into the Faith, such as Persian refugees and African Americans, and Hispanics. In the U. S. Bahá’í Faith, children of Bahá’í parents do not automatically enroll as believers, but make the decision to do so at age 15 after investigation, although Persian families may feel more family pressure. Along with the notion of transformation comes the belief that individuals are at different growth stages in the process, a belief that encourages patience among group members who perceive their co-religionists to be working on their own transformation. Respondents note that the Bahá’í community has matured over the years in the way it responds to social issues, and that individuals have grown as well. Some respondents are more critical of fellow believers, and point to their shortcomings, but again they say that if the offenders would deepen on the Writings, the problems would clear up. Still, some respondents acknowledge that although people may try to grow, they may not actually succeed.

Some people learn and change their behavior. Some people never learn and don’t change their behavior and they usually just keep annoying other people as they don’t change their ways. Or they might become somewhat isolated or inactive because they get annoyed with everybody ’cause everybody else doesn’t do things the way they want to do things. Or they might leave the Faith. (Appendix K)

No divine assist exists other than the Writings, and one’s own effort, and perhaps the answers to prayers. Some regard their own spiritual growth with the perspective that their lives transform continually so that their present stage is imperfect. Generally perceiving their growth gives them tolerance for the growth that others may experience and a hesitancy to judge others and to withhold comment. Sometimes individuals are not aware of their growth until they have experienced some internal change that affords them a clearer understanding of themselves.

Respondents note that the Bahá’í community has grown in its collective awareness:

[E]ven within the past ten years, it wasn’t necessarily socially, it wasn’t where a lot of the black churches were. Plus a lot of the black churches were very activist and the Bahá’í community hadn’t until really fairly recently been as activist in getting involved in external matters. (Appendix M)

Similarly they tend to see their cultures of origin – all cultures, perhaps – as changing and transitory in nature. Because Bahá’ís see the world and its individuals in a state of constant change, a world where things are fluid and it is their nature to be redone, today’s unity may be different than tomorrow’s. Differences are temporary and incidental, and should not be taken as being real and final. Shawn contrasts the idea of growth and change with the perception in the non-Bahá’í world where:

A lot of people who haven’t accepted something like Bahá’í will say, “Well, this is where I am and that’s where I’ve been, and I’m always going to be this way, and that’s the way things are. And they don’t have any hope of change or see any need to go beyond where they are. (Appendix M)

Roger muses that individuals accept that children will grow and develop but tend to perceive “adults as fixed and permanent, when in reality they’re not” (Appendix K).

Respondents mention the elimination of racial prejudice as a specific action important to the group’s success. The Writings offer a model against which Bahá’ís measure their communities, including the exhortation to believers to rid themselves of all types of prejudice. Some caution that Bahá’ís need to understand history to be able to know the origins of the “disease” of racism. Respondents point to the effects of cultural teachings regarding racial prejudice, mention how their co-religionists mostly strive to eradicate these things, yet some describe racist incidents within some Bahá’í communities including some things that are institutionalized racism – which are seen in the context of personal struggles with transformation, self education, maturation, self awareness, and sincerity. Shawn points out that “becoming a Bahá’í does not all of a sudden get rid of any latent racism you might have, or any other kind of bias you might have doesn’t magically disappear” (Appendix M).

This was an area full of emotion as well as thought. Respondents say that the Writings provide a remedy to racial prejudice, including the recognition of the spiritual nature of humans, the unity of religions, and the oneness of humanity. They also say that Bahá’ís are perhaps working on the issue more than other groups. Yet they express frustration that some of their co-religionists fail to grasp the depth of the problem or its real meaning, because, they reason, otherwise it should have already happened. Still, they remain positive and optimistic that elimination of racial prejudice will occur. All point to simple, personal acts, mostly including getting to know each other, listening to each other, working together, dating, intermarriage and ridding oneself of fears. Whites and blacks have different tasks to do, according to the Writings. Respondents say that if Bahá’ís read the Writings, they should know what to do.

People who have prejudices usually have pretty much what they want, even if it’s on a lesser scale…but they feel they’re pretty much better than somebody else and so the fear comes in…Then they feel they have to give that up. Then they feel that the person they have to give it up to or the group or whatever is less worthy. Do they work for it? Were they born in America? And all these kind of things, you know. It’s a fear thing, you know. (Appendix G)

Respondents describe a need to increase awareness of their own cultural assumptions. Gloria (Appendix C) bemoans the fact that “There are those who expect others to do things their way, but I think that most of those who have that expectation, it so happens in this community, are trying really hard to transform that, to be more open.” Yet she also points out that some cultural ways do not seem consistent with the Writings. For example, she says that some African Americans “aren’t quite sure what to do with that and still hit their kids” (Appendix C).

Implications for Trainers

As previously stated, this paper provides a Bahá’í articulation of how interpersonal and intergroup unity may be attained. The model is meant to apply to all sorts of problems, but the first steps are the biggest. That is, unless and until one holds a certain amount of belief in spirit, as spelled out in the first category, or elimination of prejudice as described in the third, resolving intergroup conflict will most probably take awhile.

A noteworthy aspect of this study is that the respondents seem to persevere first of all because of their belief that overriding cultural, racial and gender differences is not only possible but inevitable. Intercultural theorists do not adequately examine the role in communication of such an active belief system. The study suggests that communicants can subordinate cultural differences if they want to do so, and that a firm belief provides a compelling reason to do so, especially at times when empirical evidence would indicate that reality is otherwise.

All training requires postulations about how growth and change occur: This paper describes an approach based on the experiences of Bahá’ís. Even though this group of respondents expects to witness growth and change in interpersonal dealings among races, ethnicities, genders and nationalities around them – such as those which they have already experienced – they present their hopes with the caveat that such change will take years, perhaps generations. Looking toward a common authority believed to have revealed God’s word provides a very compelling rallying point for the group members. However, this rallying point is only a beginning; Bahá’ís still must take action such as reading the Writings which they use them as a basis for understanding and consultation, and attempt to actualize them.

Starosta (1988) cautions researchers not to overlook and override culture, and this study examines how individuals use the tools of their religion to confront cultural differences. The approach described by the respondents resembles more a multicultural building than the third-culture building addressed in the literature. Individuals of diverse cultures encounter each other in different localities and abide by the same consultative principles within the Bahá’í Faith. Though part of one group, they use different languages, music and approaches in their cultural expressions. Individuals, with their various cultural backgrounds come together in different localities, creating regional or national flavors that exist within a supra-cultural framework underneath which all individuals agree on certain principles. Moreover, as the respondents note, they could travel to India, Central and South America and across the United States and be embraced by the Bahá’í communities there. Thus the model describes how individuals expand the cultural boundaries they inhabit to allow others to fit in with them, or allow themselves to fit within the boundaries of others.

Using the Model in Other Settings

Interview questions include whether Bahá’ís feel obligated to unite with non-Bahá’ís, whether they feel able to unite with them, whether they perceive themselves as the same as or different from individuals who are not of the same culture, whether they relinquish anything in or add anything to their culture of origin when they become Bahá’í. Feridoun, Holly, Judy, Tanya and Tom describe their attempts at and experiences with breaking down racial barriers in their workplaces and in their neighborhoods as they attempt to apply their consultative methods in dealings with those who are not Bahá’í. A few respondents (e.g., Donald, Tom) say that had they not been Bahá’ís, there are certain groups with whom they would never have associated. Some (e.g., Gloria, Olivia, Roger) struggle with the notion that particular cultural elements not consonant with the Writings will eventually have to change. Some (e.g., Min, Natasha) grapple with the idea of how their relations with people outside the Faith compare with those inside, wondering with whom do they feel a closer connection. Some (e.g., Lena, Olivia) say that Bahá’ís as a group should embrace the contributions made by various cultures, especially minority ones.

While the efforts of selected Bahá’ís to make changes within non-Bahá’í contexts does not itself prove the universal applicability of Bahá’í precepts on unity, the model that has been extracted from the interviews allows that anyone who starts from a belief in human spirituality may move in the direction of unity in diversity. To this extent, the model proposes a means to transfer its findings beyond the Bahá’í community.

The literature on corporate cultures also suggests the possibility of a secular counterpart to spirituality. With regard to training, the mission statements of companies provide similar doctrines, consistent with the respondents’ claim that referring back to their Writings provides a necessary focal point. Intercultural and organizational trainers can adapt some of the insights provided by the Bahá’ís inasmuch as corporations and groups acquire a corporate culture and ask workers to transform themselves to keep with company ideals, and group members to act according to a different world view and behave towards others according to this view. Perhaps the closest thus far that corporations have come to a model of inclusiveness, Theory Z sets out an organizational model that employs consultation. However, consultation is used to inform all workers who may be affected by a change in company policy and allow them to voice their views. In this model, management does not share power to the point where employees’ voices are needed. Furthermore, it includes a screening for new employees to find those who fit into the corporation and will endorse its philosophy and values, and who also hold moderate views and a harmonious personality (Robbins, 1983).Contrasted with the model introduced in the current study, Theory Z primarily concerns itself with human relations, not with the exchange of many voices.

Schools and such municipal organizations as the police department have called on Bahá’ís in their localities for assistance in interracial training and conflict resolution in Chicago, Baltimore and Los Angeles, to name only a few. Bahá’ís themselves do not follow any prescribed formula for the training in which they engage. This model can help them gain insight into the groups with whom they consult. However, it needs testing to see which questions can be addressed and how soon it can address them. Intercultural conflicts differ in magnitude and severity and some may be more amenable than others to using such a model.

The model presented here suggests that successful communication across cultures may need to adhere to multilateral protocols, where none can presume to be the culture that establishes the rules, that communication succeeds when group members methodically follow certain steps, and that participants must become consciously aware of their cultural practices and view them as choices. It also suggests that working out differences may begin with some sort of covenant, an agreement to which all parties voluntarily hold, as with the Rom and Sint Gypsies previously mentioned. It remains to be tested whether other groups, secular or religious, whose members share similar core beliefs as this model (1.0 and 2.0) can enact steps 3.0 and 4.0 toward a similar unity in diversity among their members. It may be that some groups already follow these steps but are unaware of their process. These are areas where trainers and practitioners may focus their efforts.


This model of multicultural communication presents a process by which Bahá’í individuals form a unified community comprised of individuals from diverse cultures. Although community members are conscious of cultural differences, they do not insist that individuals change their cultural ways: they attempt to perceive cultural differences as assets that exist on the same footing. The model differs from third-culture building in that it does not ask individuals to relinquish any cultural differences in order to create a “third culture,” just as they do not relinquish their skin color or their sex, but to offer them as “gifts” (Appendix J) that can enrich the discussion.

However, all cultures contain dimensions that are under an individual’s control and which impede the process of uniting individuals of diverse cultures; the model does ask individuals to be able to separate out cultural traits which are fundamental but undergo glacial changes, from personal states which are transitory and can be changed at will, though perhaps with difficulty. Respondents perceive that any domination that exists in the process derives from individual personality problems rather than from intrinsically cultural elements.

Because awareness of one’s own culture comprises a fundamental step in this communication model, an implication of this study is that individuals across cultures must begin to understand their own internalization processes with regard to cultural modes of communication. Knowing the connection between communication and culture provides a necessary tool in an increasingly multicultural world, and its study should permeate school curricula at all levels. This is a step that can be applied to intercultural discussions anywhere.

Finally, the study indicates that individuals across cultures need to recognize that intercultural communication is a skill that must be consciously learned. Such a perspective can go a long way toward helping communicants rid themselves of prejudices, as they realize that there exists no precedent and no perfect model for intercultural communication.

Intended as a world system, Bahá’í laws are meant for individuals from every culture, so everybody has to change something, including Persians who come from the culture where the religion’s founder lived. Thus the effort to change one’s behavior – whether it be to eliminate prejudices, to pray daily, to treat women as equal or to give up alcohol or drugs – poses different challenges for individuals from different cultures, but all are challenged in some way. In perceiving their mutual struggle, members recognize that they share the process of transforming themselves. Because every human is an individual, every individual can find a myriad points of contact and difference with other individuals such that individuals can divide themselves in many ways. Thus unity is perhaps relative to any group; yet those who have experienced it deem it “a sense of cooperation and love and enthusiasm and happiness and joy” (Appendix K, 208).



What does it mean to be united?

For someone who grew up around and used words as much as I did, I’m drawing a very annoying blank.

Do you live in or have you lived in a community that was united?

Yes. Several.

Can you describe what you felt that gave you this sense?

Well, the atmosphere, the people, their attitudes towards me and towards each other, okay? Because back when I was investigating the Bahá’í faith, I remember I one time was being impressed, okay? By the attitude the individual and group attitudes of the Bahá’ís that I was meeting. Care, concern, the sincerity okay? And the sense that these various personalities and backgrounds were in fact members of a single community with its own values and perspectives, but diverse enough that it could encompass sometimes bewilderingly different personalities.

Was that different than other communities you’d been in?


In what other ways were these unified communities diverse?

Personalities, yes, ethnic backgrounds, ages, what else? I mean, I remember people the first time they’d meet you, they’d give you a big hug [demonstrates]. I’m not that much of a tactile kind of person. Meet somebody, you shake hands, okay. Give a big hug? Wow, okay. Also, people who were shy, okay? Sometimes shyer, more shy than I was back then. People who were boisterous: “Welco-o-me! Good to See you!” Yeah. Like I said, diverse age-wise, okay? The Bahá’í communities I’ve lived in and visited, I’ve run across kids, been around kids more often than in any other community I remember. Kids and infants. I’ve even babysat and helped raise a few.

Have you always been, before you were a Bahá’í, were you always interested in unity?

It’s something that I wanted and was searching for. Growing up was, in some respects it wasn’t fun for me. There were days and times when everything clicked when everything went right. There were other times when “Hey God, get me out of here!” you know? That kind of day even within my own family. Bah!

Even in your own family, you’d wanted more unity? Does your concept of unity include others?

Yes. Back before I became Bahá’í, before I even knew Bahá’í existed, I was always interested in other people’s religious perspectives, what they believed, what they thought, what they felt, what their values were, why they held those values. Growing up, there wasn’t much of that, growing up, all the neighborhoods, I spent my entire life growing up in one or another neighborhood in _____________. Every neighborhood I grew up in was either all black or were very definitely majority black. Every school I went to, except for the private high school that I went to, my spiritual parents, were all black or majority black. And overwhelmingly Christian. In fact, the only regular contact I remember having with non-Christians was the Jewish family that had a mom and pop store, in fact that we would buy food at , we were told, go down to the store and get this or that or whatever.

Were you Baptist?

No, Episcopalian. My folks weren’t originally Episcopalian, but since having the family under one religions roof, was or became important that’s where we went. It was good. I liked it. I was even an altar boy for a little while.

What do you think are some obstacles to unity?

Laundry list, that. So the problem is to find a starting point, an entry point, to the program. Obstacles to unity you say? Well, one obstacle is very definitely a bit of an umbrella. Differences between people individually, ethnically socially and all the rest get used as reasons for splitting people up, dividing people up and putting them into inseparable cubbyholes – the old Kipling “East is east and West is west and never the twain shall meet” kind of thing.

The ways people group themselves?

Yeah, the way people group themselves, and treat those groups as immutable unchangeable barriers, as lines and walls never ever to be crossed for no kind of reason, no way no how.

Do you see that within the Bahá’í Faith?

A whole lot less than everywhere else. One of the things that attracted me to the Bahá’í Faith was the fact that, was its explicit belief in the oneness of mankind, and its explicit commitment to practicing implementing that ideal as a practical reality and seeing how they did that, seeing how that they did or seemed to do it better than everybody else, I didn’t run across anywhere else in my research and searching, formally and informally. Definitely, check this out.

How do you know when you’ve achieved unity?

That’s something I’m still working on.

Knowing or achieving?

Both, actually. Because knowing when you’ve achieved unity is a matter of criteria, standards. What things do you look for? Do you have unity? Is it one of the benchmarks, one of the indicators for having unity that you have people with different personality types, loud boisterous types, the shy wallflower types, working together, interacting together with each other, non confrontationally, interacting with each other in ways in such a way that the wallflower types get a chance to speak to talk, and to participate and not get drowned out by the boisterous type? You have unity, does it mean that you have unity when whites, blacks and other quote unquote racial and ethnic groups come together under the same roof to talk about problems and concerns? When these groups are living and working together, cooperatively, rather than competitively and negatively at cross purposes with each other, do you have is it a benchmark of having unity when people from these varying backgrounds go out socially have picnics go to movies, but also date and marry each other and have kids and nobody’s calling for the war club: “No you don’t! Call out the troops! We are going to rumble!” Don’t need that. I’ve heard of places and people where people who’ve been traditional enemies of each other, not just generations, but they’ve been fighting and killing each other for uncounted centuries if not millennia. They become Bahá’ís and well, it stops. In fact, there’s a story I remember hearing last year. Perhaps its apocryphal perhaps it’s real. Out in. I think it was New Guinea or Australia, or something, but anyhow, the tribes out there, Bahá’ís were going to have a meeting in one of the counties or cities. And the Aborigines, Bahá’ís were going to come into the town for the meeting. These were folks that in times past if you were one side and somebody was from another tribe and you saw him as far away as that spit of land over there and you knew he was from an enemy tribe, grab your bow and arrow, grab your spear, find him, kill him, you know? Any kind of get-together, these are traditionally enemies. The city officials were worried because previous encounters had gone very badly – fight, bloodshed, and them having to come and pick up the pieces. When the Bahá’ís came in dressed as they do, with the traditional equipment that they do, carrying all the traditional stuff that they do, hey, nothing happened. You know? These were folks, you know! Maybe not as bad as literally kill you as soon as look at you, but bad enough. Okay, but they became Bahá’ís. And the ones who were Bahá’ís, it didn’t happen with them. Part of the point was that the people involved, the aboriginal people who traditionally were enemies and had been since way back.

How do you have to live to achieve unity?

Mmmm. You have to have kind of spirit, kind of attitude, okay, that fosters unity that fosters and encourages being able to bring people together okay peacefully, cooperatively, spiritually in a sense, okay because the key part of being able to have and achieve unity okay is having that spiritual recognition okay of the fundamental oneness of humanity . You’re white, quote unquote, I’m black quote unquote, we’ll get into that later on, or whatever else, quote unquote, but at rock bottom, physically and spiritually we are the same. God created all of us it wasn’t a case of, you know, there being a god in Europe who crated those folks, a god in Africa who created those folks, a god in North and South America who created those folks, a god in the Pacific who crated those folks, one god did the whole deal, recognizing that I just realized I lost the original question – spiritually – okay, and with its, the Bahá’í belief in the fundamental oneness of humanity and the idea that how this is a God-given reality, a God-given thing, a task that God has given mankind but especially the Bahá’ís to achieve, that is part of what you need, that spirit, that perspective, is part of what you need in order to live in unity. You need that not only on the individual level, but also on the group or social level, because you need a society, okay, that besides individuals who believe that they can implement that in their lives, you also need a society that can embody that ideal that practice, that goal, in the way that it functions, in the way that it treats its members and teaches its members to treat each other. Something you have to be able to hit from two angles, the angle of the individual and the angle of society, the angle of society in groups.

Let’s say you have an individual who has the angle of creating unity. Is it something that the individual alone can do?

Myself, I would be inclined to say no, because there’s’ an environmental aspect there’s an aspect of environment to this as well, because you can have a person, an individual be the most upright moral person on the planet a literal golden man so to speak, but hey, if you take golden man and drop him smack dab in the middle of an environment of lead, maybe he’ll be able to stay golden, maybe not.

What about Abdu’l-Bahá? Wouldn’t he be an example of an individual who could create unity?

Yes. That’s one of the reasons why he’s so often referred to and pointed to as being an exemplar, as being a living example, of what a Bahá’í is supposed to be like on an individual level.

What do you see as the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith? How do you perceive your ethnicity, your “so-called race”, within the Bahá’í Faith?

Good, actually, okay. Because I’ve felt individually and as a black person appreciated and valued. For reasons I won’t get into here, for most of my life I was never, and to a lesser extent even now, not much of a talker and not all that social really. For most of my life what I’ve thought and felt wasn’t all that valued or appreciated or considered okay. But as a Bahá’í and individually and also from being around the Bahá’ís back when I was investigating straight through to the present I have seen an appreciation and a value attached to black people, African Americans, Negroes, whatever terms – I have to admit I’ve always been kind of casual about that self-labeling bit, back when Negroes was the terms, hey, okay by me. When black became the term, again, okay by me/. Afro American? African American? No problem with me. I remember not attaching any real heavy significance to the particular label that was being used. When the labels changed I went along with the change cause one, I saw it, I could see the point behind the change and two, like I said, I was not I was never wedded or welded to any particular label.

So it’s not your race, it’s the label you’re talking about? Did you give up anything of who you thought you were as Episcopalian, as black whatever, when you became Bahá’í?

No. Being a Bahá’í of black or Afro-American background among both myself and among other Bahá’ís of that background we rather than losing anything, we have gained, because not only have we gained a greater appreciation and understanding and greater valuation – maybe valuation isn’t quite the word I want – a greater understanding of our value as individuals and as a people, by being Bahá’ís, okay? But we have also been able to make been able to contribute, we’ve also gained a greater understanding of and been able to contribute more to a greater understanding of ourselves as human beings and the rest of the races and ethnic groups a greater understanding and appreciation for them as themselves and as human beings.

Do you see yourself as the same as of different from people who are from other ethnicities? Bahá’ís, I should say.

Both, interestingly and actually and it’s not a contradiction no more a contradiction than the two sides of a coin contradict each other, or the different facets or faces of a geometric shape contradict each other.

Does your feeling of unity with other Bahá’ís extend out to others who are not Bahá’í? Can you also feel unity with others who are not Bahá’í?

Yes, and in fact that is one of the distinguishing things about the Bahá’í Faith, and is one of the things that attracted me to the Bahá’í Faith during that two-year period when I was officially and formally investigating because the Bahá’ís I met they knew at that time that I was not Bahá’í, okay? Some knew that I was interested and was investigating, okay, but there was no rush about it, no pressure. I was accepted as me, and that was not a problem was not perceived as a problem. Some Christian groups that I’ve run across back then, before then, and since then, if you ‘re not from their perspective, they will do what they can to persuade you, and in fact right now I have a co-worker who’s getting kind of the same treatment from other co-workers. Fortunately she’s on sick leave right now, so she’s not as directly under pressure as before

Are they leaving you alone?

Leaving me alone, no. But I’m not getting the kind of court press from them that she was. And that was and is beautiful and cool because I had always I can’t say always but long enough it makes no never mind, I’d always found that “Be like me, think like me, talk like me” attitude, well, offensive is the right word for that.

Do you think in the Bahá’í community there are members who retain a position of superiority or submission – groups of people – Persians, whites, blacks, men, women? You’ve mentioned boisterous versus shy, which is sort of an obvious one.

Well, yes, but over all less of that than I’ve found anywhere else, okay, because the signs, the emphasis, the value placed on unity, there’s also an emphasis and value placed on diversity. So that again in the Bahá’í Faith you run across a greater diversity a wider range of humanity individually and collectively than I’ve encountered or heard of anywhere else. It’s not perfect, okay, there are problems of communication and understanding between the various groups that exist under the Bahá’í umbrella, okay, but at the same time okay each of those groups okay gets more encouragement to participate is encouraged more to participate in the affairs of the Faith, individually and collectively. Again than anywhere else I’ve run across.

What do you do to promote unity?

Well, the way I try to treat people, try to remember that God created all of us and I am therefore obligated to act accordingly I have a small poster on my wall, it’s one of those, one of the few Bahá’í things that I have on my wall at work is that Golden Rule poster with the children, I have that there for two reasons. One, as a reminder to me of what I’m supposed to be, how I’m supposed to act and second, as food for thought for anyone who sees it because outside of efforts like what the Bahá’ís are doing probably there aren’t all that many people out there perhaps not all that may Christians who realize and recognize that the golden rule did not originate with Christianity or the Bible.

Do you have anything else you want to add about unity or your experience with unity in the Faith?

Being a Bahá’í, I’ve been able to go more places and interact with more different kinds of people than I ever had before. One of my early experiences, there was a conference many years ago in _____, it was I think. Well, I was lucky that I enough money to go. I was able to accumulate enough money to go. It was a beautiful experience. The whole time we were there, it was like the city was on its best behavior. Even the cops were polite, I mean granted that’s kind of a stereotypical thing to say, but it was true. One of the things that I remember – there were two things I remember vividly from that time. One, during a break in the conference we were outside. There was a group of Persians and they called me over to be in their picture. I’d never met them, they’d never met me, we’d never see each other again, but like I said, like a bolt out of the blue, they invited me to be in the picture they were taking. I never got their names and if I ever ran into them again I never knew it. Another thing, at one point in the conference they read a message that they had gotten form the janitorial personnel at the place where the conference was held okay. The message, the gist of it, was the janitorial staff was pleased and surprised and wanted to recognize the fact that in between the conference sessions they had had less work to do than they had ever had to do for anybody. But it’s the kind of thing that shows difference in attitude, okay, in the Bahá’ís the fact that they police themselves so well that the janitorial staff who probably didn’t have as much to do as perhaps they ordinarily would have to do. I’ve never worked at a movie theater for example and had to go through the aisles and all and clean up after a show. But I have a habit, I stay for the credits. Sometimes that means that I’m one of the last people leaving, I see how much stuff gets gathered up. And to run across a people that you don’t have to clean up behind, that’s noteworthy.


What does it mean to be united?

I think the main thing is probably elimination of the prejudice where you don’t feel like, no one feels that they’re better than the next person and that can create unity. And the fact that you know you’ve got you see unity in the groups definitely, but you don’t see it so much in the larger community. You don’t see it because of segregation whether it’s economical or racial.

Can you describe a time where you’ve experienced unity?

Yeah, there’s been definitely times. One place I definitely felt it when I was a kid was in New Era when I went to school and it was a boarding school in India. There were something like 167 different nationalities, so there was definitely unity there and there still is, because with the students from New Era we still keep contact and once in awhile we have reunions and things like that. There were, more than 50 percent were Bahá’ís.

To what do you attribute the unity?

I’m not so sure, because we were young. It’s different when you’re younger I guess because you’re playful, but there was definitely there was one thing that was significant was that a lot of the kids were from Iran during the time when the revolution happened, so that kind of brought people together. I was, when I left [Iran] I was 7.

Did you feel the unity with just the Iranian kids?

No, with all the kids.

You said that being united was eliminating prejudice. Would you say that it was a place where there was no prejudice?


Have you lived in another community where you’ve experienced unity?

Well there’s been situations, not so much a community where I’ve lived in because really, most of the places where I’ve lived I barely even knew my neighbors.

How about Bahá’í community?

[laughs] Sure, there’s definitely a common ground there, there’s definitely an understanding. There’s no prejudice. No one really looks at one person above another. There’s definitely a unity there. There’s some hesitation, because you feel sometimes a little like the unity is not there. There’s a lot of issues between the Persian for example, community, but it might have been the barrier of languages which could’ve caused it which is another thing that could be helpful toward unity is if people could communicate.

Well, this community that you’re speaking of, can you talk about its diversity?

Not so diverse.

Anything besides languages?

Cultures. The Persian culture is very much different. Also the generation gaps because when you’re talking about an older Persian person, it’s more like talking about 200 years back or more in America, because just because the culture’s different. For someone like me who has seen both, I can relate to both and I can see the points that they’re coming from, but it’s harder for someone who doesn’t who hasn’t experienced that.

What is the significance of unity in Bahá’í Faith?

Well, I mean that’s the purpose of the Faith is to unite all mankind.

Is there any difference between the Faith and other religions with regard to unity?

Well, definitely in that we have the world order, which is which keeps the Bahá’ís united, keeps us from becoming different sects, so that’s one thing that’s definitely significant. Actually it’s strange to me because when you go back to older religions, the older you go, it seems like they’re more broken up into separate groups. So Islam has the two major factions there, and if you go to Christianity, then there’s 30-something, and if you go to Judaism is even more. Hindu, they’re pretty branched off as well. And it probably has to do with the administration a great deal, the way it’s established, keeps us together, which is definitely a difference.

How do you know when you’ve achieve unity?

I guess when everyone involved feels content, feels happy about who they are and there’s not judging I guess, but that’s not, that would be the ideal, I guess, but there’s many levels, probably to unity. And the world has progressed to that level, because there was a time in the world that communities had no clue that there were communities you know, around them, so we’ve gone beyond that, at least now we know that there’s a world full of people, all kinds of people and ah that gap is kind of closing up, we’re learning more about each other, so I think there’s a group progressing toward unity

Nobody’s complaining is a sign?
That would be a sign I think. But you have to go beyond that. It’s definitely more that just not complaining, but that’s the sign I can think of. I’m trying to think of other things. It’s hard to say.

What are some obstacles to unity?

Again, language. Prejudice again, definitely. Another obstacle I think is a lot of people are, they’re always concerned for themselves which you have to be, of course you have to take care of yourself but you have to extend to other people and realize that they’re no different than you, they’re struggling in their life. Acceptance is a big thing, and understanding, you know. You like the warm weather, I like the cold weather, and that doesn’t make either of us right or wrong just that we’re different, and when there’s that acceptance, I think.

You’re talking about the world order and the purpose of the Faith is to unite – does your concept of unity extend to other people besides Bahá’ís?

Sure. I think the meaning of unity is really just one meaning, it doesn’t matter what faith. I think Bahá’ís are more progressive about trying to achieve those goals and break the barriers and implement ideas that will foster unity but I can’t say that it’s isolated to the Bahá’í community, no.

Is there a responsibility?


How do you have to live to achieve unity?

Again, acceptance I think is a very important concept. If only if you’re right and everybody else is wrong, you’re never going to achieve unity so you have to be accepting of people’s opinions, how they feel about different situations. For example, we were gathered either for a feast or something and people got into politics, it was during the election, and I noticed that there were people that liked George Bush there were people that liked Clinton. It was just a little discussion, like chit chat, And like _______ was talking about Bush and things like that and I realized that we could be totally politically somewhere else and still we were gathered together, still united . That’s what I think is important. Where you have people who totally don’t want to anything to do with each other just because of how they feel politically for example. So that’s important – acceptance and respecting other people’s opinions.

Can third parties like institutions produce unity? What’s their role?

I think institutions are very important in achieving those goals because whenever you have a base whenever you have a center where an idea’s being developed, it’s always going to be more effective as opposed to just things you do on a personal level will only go so far, but when you bring all those heads together you can definitely achieve a lot more. Within the Faith, even outside of the Faith, really. For example that theater company that was started by a couple of Bahá’í girls in New York. That’s achieved a whole lot and there’s many institutions like that where you know people who were involved in that may have otherwise never really thought about the issue but now they’re right there in the institution learning about it, they’re around people who are focused on achieving those goals.

What about the Assembly, or the Auxiliary Board, can they produce unity?

I think the Assembly is no different than people in the community, really. If they do a better job of organizing you know situations where people can learn more about what’s going on or what we can do – I don’t think Assemblies by themselves can do anything. If the community’s not involved, then nothing’s going to happen. But one thing that’s important, if there’s no unity in the Assembly, then nothing’s going to happen all the way around. But I don’t think just an Assembly can walk into a place where there’s no unity at all and feel as though everybody’s united over night. There’s definitely going to have to be – For awhile our Assembly did one thing that we haven’t been doing as far as language goes – translating. That helps, I think a lot, there was definitely more involvement when we used to translate. Mr. ____________, the way he speaks at a higher level, I can’t translate all the words. The one thing I’ve noticed with Persian, especially older Persian Bahá’ís, they’re very much educated, as far as reading-wise, their system was so different, they memorized things, they know all these poems. And that’s amazing for me. My dad for example, can recite things for you from just about anywhere, and I have a hard time memorizing just a single prayer. I guess it’s because we have to know a lot more. So language would be one thing that the assembly could overcome.

Are there other populations within the Faith that are as set apart or different as are the older Persians?

One thing I guess people should know, a lot of Persian Bahá’ís do feel like they’re in a – I guess, I don’t know, it’s hard to say, I don’t want to make them look bad, but they feel like they’re deserving of more respect because they’re Persian Bahá’ís. That’s only in an isolated group and it’s not right. And I see it sometimes and I don’t like it, you know, because they’re no more special than any other group. Most of the older Persians I would say because also it comes form a family culture, where the older man he’s the head of the family and everybody pays respect to him, and he’s the learned one and you know everybody goes to him to learn. It’s that kind of attitude carried over, not so much they feel like they’re better than the rest of the community, but they’re the elders. They feel they deserve respect as elders, some of them, not all of them. There’s people like Parvis, for example, you could classify him as elder, but his attitude is totally different, but he has of course lived here in America a lot longer.

Do some members retain an attitude of superiority ?

No, not really. The reason I say no is because on a personal level if somebody feels superior or feels inferior, they’re both faults of that person that they have to overcome. I don’t think it’s, we don’t make anyone superior or inferior in our community.

Do you think we have members who expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

Yeah, you could probably get that once in awhile.

Are they aware of it?

Probably not. They probably think that’s the way it should be done. One thing about our community, probably it’s the proper way to go about doing it, on a personal level I don’t like the same thing over and over again, you know, routine. I don’t like routine. In our community we kind of have that routine, where you do this, then you do that, that you do that. And I know those are things that have to be done. I always look at myself and a lot of times I hold back which may not be good, but I always feel like, well, what am I doing, how am I doing any better, and if I feel like I’m lacking, then I just hold back.

How do you perceive your ethnicity?

I’ve never really thought about it as being different. It just so happens I’m Persian. I guess in some ways I have to say I probably feel in a way honored, the faith started in Iran and all that, but I don’t feel any better in any better position. I do feel a little bit of honor. It’s a good feeling. I do have that ethnic pride and that’s you know, I hope that everybody has that, I hope that everybody is proud of who they are.

Do you see yourself as the same as or different from people who are not Bahá’í?

Definitely the same. We all add color to the world, so you know there maybe things good about me, there may be things good about another person, just culturally, that we can bring together but I don’t feel better.

Have you done anything to increase unity?

I’ve done thinks like within my friends. I’ve always tried, although it doesn’t always work out. I’ve tried to bring my friends together um that’s one thing I guess I’ve done. I mean, I’ve had friends here and there, for example going out, one friend wants to go here and there, I trey to make us go as a group. Like I said it’s worked out many times in the past, but doesn’t always work out because not everybody always agrees, sometimes we have clashes.

Do you have any stories or examples that would describe unity in the Faith?

Actually, when I was in Costa Rica, we went on a trip, me, _________ and ________, we went o Nicaragua, basically it was a youth conference. There were people form all over mainly. American but there were people from other areas too. There were actually a lot of non Bahá’ís too. What they had done was they invited different local groups, like artists that were just non-Bahá’ís, there was a dancing around, there was another group. In the end we made this huge like fire where everybody gathered around. I was looking around and I remember seeing how, like there were these big local people from Nicaragua, then there was a group of Bahá’ís together talking. I saw how people were all just kind of mixed up. It wasn’t like, okay, the Bahá’ís groups were there the dance group was there, it was a good feeling. That was a moment I really felt the unity. There was definitely a feeling. There’s certain feelings that I think, one is, all of a sudden you just have a new love for humanity, all of a sudden you see everybody that’s together and unity, and all of a sudden you love your race, the human race. That’s a feeling that comes, I’ve had that feeling a couple of times.

What’s the other time?

I felt it growing up, again in India. Here there’s been situations at certain conferences. I went to ___________ -- this was probably around the time where it dawned on me that I was a Bahá’ís – it was the first time that I acknowledged it. [I was] 16 or 17, something like that. It was the first time I every started reading any Bahá’í literature. And at that conference I really felt unity. I met a group of people here and there. I remember going away from that conference feeling unity.


What is the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

I think the reason that unity is significant to the Bahá’í Faith is because of the purpose or the mission of the faith which is to bring together all of humanity and to establish this one world . So I would say that’s the reason for unity. And it’s not just unity but it would be some of the other principles that would go in that the Bahá’ís believe that we’ve been taught that are elements that would help bring about his world unity. So that would be my be my big dogma answer, if there’s any big dogma in the Bahá’í Faith. But from a personal standpoint I think there are a variety of thoughts that I have about it and I think on the one hand it’s truth, because biologically we are one set of people and it’s probably really an interesting metaphor for the fact that if there are other beings that are like us that are sentient beings whose purpose is to know and love God in the created universe it’s to help us understand that no matter what they might manifest physically that we would all be one in view of all this creation, so it’s like a stepping stone to understanding the distinction between creatures who are not self-aware in that way, and creatures who are self-aware. It’s true on a biological level that humanity is one race so that unity among humans is something we should strive for which would overcome some of the social constraints based on that unity based on our own fear of different people, their race? Their behavior and to have a test as to their location their language their phenotype or what they look like or whatever.

Can you describe a time when you’ve experienced unity?

Yeah, I think the last time I experienced unity, and I think those are fleeting moments, what kind of unity? Recently I was asked to facilitate a diversity counsel for the friends school here in _____________. We had a dinner meeting and they – and there was some sort of facilitated process with them. And I spent a lot of time and I didn’t have a lot of hopes for that, that we would do something relatively mundane and they’d get something relatively mundane out of it. Maybe get them to focus on some goals and objectives, see what their task forces were supposed to do, you know something that’d be useful for them – I don’t know how much they were paying me, I forgot to ask – and what happened while we were there as we started through a process just looking at what is diversity, what is the purpose of this council, what is the strengths and challenges associated with that, they began to express at least in my opinion something deeper than we’re the diversity counsel and we want to make sure people are represented in the variety of ways here at the ____________ school and the student body and curriculum, blah, blah, blah. They began to express a desire to create a new way of thinking about difference at the _______ School campus which I articulated as a shift in the friends school worldview. And everybody was just lit afire by it and they were so brought together by it, and that was a real sense of unity. So I think when people can see through some of the normal issues that people have in terms of does everybody have equality, and what are the laws, and what are the policies and how many of “them are there and does it represent what they are in the population – you know, I think those types of things are disunifying but I think when people sort of focus on their greater purpose and begin to celebrate that greater purpose, it brings about unity so another lace I felt unity is right here in the ___________ community which has gone through some transformation – I’m talking about the very teeny tiny Bahá’í Community here in ____________, where right now we have a community that by and large is very much focused on unity – or very much unified in many ways. And I wouldn’t say that’s every single individual cause we’re not perfect – at many joyous feats and gatherings where everyone is so happy to be together and there’s’ no wrangling or any of those things. But those are moments you know, there are other days that aren’t so great, but not that many frankly since we sold our center.

You said earlier that it was fleeting?

Right and I think they’re fleeting cause that’s a moment but they’re not sustained. So that you’ll feel that moment, and like here in the Bahá’í community, you’ll see it repeated but it’s not sustained through everyday life. Usually people are – I think in America people are so selfish it’s hard to feel any unity with them because they’re out for is their own gain or their own purpose or their own needs or their own whines or rants or whatever, and you start to feel unity in that circumstance, and that’s why I think it’s fleeting, and also like say with this diversity council – that was a moment that they had whether they’re going to be able to sustain that or even have their you know information they need to sustain it, I don’t know if that will occur. See, that’s why I said it’s fleeting. I’ve never been in an environment where unity was a hundred percent of what was going on because everybody’s an individual and people are seeing things differently I know whether – everybody’s sort of moving in the same vein – people say that but when I think of other venues where as Bahá’í I felt that unity there’s also been great disharmony in the face of a very disruptive so that the unity happened at the same time – I can give you some examples at if you want.

Does everybody have to think the same?

I think an example would be useful. Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t give you this example. I was at a conference and at this conference they made an effort to include various types of expression, different types of art, in an attempt to, really very successful in my opinion. I heard a woman while waiting for the elevator to go to my room loudly and vehemently and really hatefully declaring her opinion about the fact that people vocalizing or clapping after a song that had any sacred verse or a prayer or something was so disruptive that THEY shouldn’t be allowed to do that, they do so and so and it’s not right, and this kind of music is not appropriate, and she was just having a field day so it’s not so much thinking the same, that everything has to be the same, but understanding that we’re all moving toward the same point. And that is unity, an understanding that we’re all moving toward the same point having the space of, the presence of person to step back and allow yourself to learn from what you’re observing as opposed to using your own limited experience and letting that determine what should be. That is the really, and is the root of disharmony and disunity because people assume that whatever has been their experience is either all right or in some circumstances all wrong, depending on whether you’ve been abused or whatever. But most people even if they haven’t lived a perfect life they assume that their world view is the world view. But when everyone’s moving in the same – in my mind what I mean is that people understand that their worldview is not necessarily the world view, and that they’re open to everyone’s viewpoint. So when you have that going on then people are able to celebrate diversity because number one, they can see it as opposed to only seeing right or wrong.

Do you have groups in your community that maintain that their world view is the worldview?

In ___________ I think that in my community there are I think we’re more afflicted with individual personality quirks – and I mean real, real personality quirks, you know, like people who really have something going on that makes them really, really different, so I think that we have that, but superficially I would say we don’t really have factions of people feeling superior per se except when it comes to children. I see that many adults feel far superior to children, and you hear their condemnation, the assumptions that are made. There was an incident recently and it really brought that out the people reacted, they acted on assumption, they didn’t try to fact find they just you know, there was an accusation and they said that’s right, those little children. And it cracked me up given the Ridván message for the 12 months – you can’t even hang with that for 12 months and get ugly when Ridván rolls around again? Come on, people you know, you could have play acted a little bit first, let’s pretend. They cracked me up quite frankly, because you know –

What about as individuals maybe, are these people who expect others to do things in their way?

I think there are those who expect others to do things their way, but I think that most of those who have that expectation it so happens it this community are trying really hard to transform that, to be more open. And if not specifically aware of it at every time, aware of it in other circumstances so there’s somewhere for them to go with that. What we have are some individuals who clearly have some personality disorders quite frankly, so you know I think they have real problems dealing with stuff so their reactions to things are inappropriate and sometimes they’re dogmatic like fags shouldn’t come to firesides, that kind of thing but being gay unless they give the message love Bahá’u’lláh and to ask a question about themselves and even if they don’t it’s not for you to judge. You know, you see that kind of thing going on and it’s you know, fear based like any other reaction.

Talk about diversity in your community.

I think our community is diverse in age but there’s not a lot of interacting with the elders. There’s only a couple of individuals who make a real effort to interact with the elders in our community – we have a lot of children, we have a lot of young people by virtue of all of our colleges here and the fact that public health always attracts Bahá’ís , um we have so we have a lot of sort of clusters of ages, and that’s good, we have some racial diversity, and in a city like ____________, you wouldn’t be surprised by that, but I think you’d be surprised by how few black people there are in the community given the demographics of _____________. Sixty-nine something percent black. I think that we have an intellectual bias because of the people who, like myself came here to go to school, study, often at higher education, and also lots of transients in our community which gives us a lot of diversity, a lot of people come through, stay a couple years and go, and provide us a lot of opportunity for some diversity, but a think that people are not really challenged. And there’s sort of the intellectuals and the others, people recognize it, it’s something that we actually consult on in our community. At one particular gathering, a lot of college students attend that the people who are holding it are really interested in getting more people in the community to come and attend but there’s some discomfort with that so people don’t tend to attend that, but on the other hand I have a sort of a stealth Bahá’í meeting which sort of transformed into a craft gathering and its purpose is to promote race unity and we have a lot of racial diversity – it’s a small group but you know, for ___________ – we have some black folks, some Latinos, Asian who show up from time to time, actually pretty routinely, and um it’s a pretty diverse group and event though there’s a bunch of college professors who hang out there because they’re some friends of mine and they like to knit, but you know, everybody’s really a lot more down to earth. When people come most are not Bahá’ís.

What are some obstacles to unity?

Self and ego always have to come first, the social norms and patterns. You don’t see it so much here in _____________ because the people who identify a whole group of people they don’t live here because they don’t want to live among blackies. The people who live here in _____________, Bahá’ís they don’t have that problem as much, not, they do have it some but not as much. So I think certainly your world view and what you accept to be true, not being completely honest with your beliefs and your practices, you believe in unity and oneness—don’t go down those, don’t be in that neighborhood that’s not safe, those people are not safe, that kind of thing, we don’t see so much of that in Baltimore city among Bahá’ís. Yeah, we don’t see so much people saying I don’t want to be around a certain kind of environment – well heck, we claim that’s you all out there in the county. That’s you guys that don’t come in the city, we live here, if you don’t wanna live in the city, you don’t live here. I think people are really striving. Our Assembly has chosen as its focus over several years race unity. We’ve sort of let it slide because of the emphasis on training institutes and the four year plan and now the one year plan but we’ve just said again that this is going to be our emphasis. But there are a lot of barriers. I think not having enough people is a barrier for us. If you don’t have enough person power to get the job done – 30 35 adults, plus one, ________ just declared – on the roles. Since I moved to ____________ we’ve always had somewhere – let me back up, we've always had around 50 in the community, children added in, so I think yeah on the roster there’s always been between 50 and 60 Bahá’ís, I’ve never seen it us with more than 60 since I’ve lived here. When we get close, people, you know, graduate and move. So um probably around 50 adult believers, some college age youth under 21, and probably 15 children who live in _____________.We’re just going back to (race unity) so that’s something we do spend a lot of time on but in terms of activities we haven’t been able to really sort of galvanize whether that’s what we should do. We’ve been given the mandate to hold an annual race amity conference and our various committee hasn’t been able to get it together so the assembly’s actually taking that back on themselves. So there’s a real commitment and I think it has a lot to do with the people who live in the city.

When you say you focus on race unity, what is the actual work on making unity between?

You see, now therein lies the problem. We have deepened and we have studied , we’ve had an assembly retreat and we have a plan, but we have a little trouble carrying our plans out so what work have we done? We’ve had an on-going institute here which was certainly supported by the Bahá’í community and the Assembly, and that sort of fell by the wayside, and we’ve had a race unity task force and we’ve had events and we’ve had a race amity event, um but in terms of sustained effort because there are so few of us, you know mamma’s gotta work. Everybody got children or jobs and again I think because we have a bias toward intellectuals and professionals, many of whom are in training, we have not a whole lot of money. The people who have some money, work like crazy, the people who don’t have money work crazier, you know, they’re working harder because they’re trying to make ends meet. You know, we just don’t have the mass, I think we don’t have the critical mass to make a difference. And I think that we don’t exploit opportunities in the community because Bahá’ís are still way too insular. They’re not looking for external grants to fund the work. They’re not – I mean nobody’s saying let’s set up an office . for example, I co-founded this agency with _________ who’s – okay so we don’t have – if we hadn’t founded this I would’ve look into founded an agency that’s focused on unity. But having done this I don’t really have the time to do the other work except that which I can bring to [my business] which I haven’t really begun to develop yet and see how I can do some of this work in an agency that is not a Bahá’í agency it’s doesn’t have a Bahá’í mission. So I mean, find people who really have the time to commit to that work. No one of the things I know my next work after [my business] will probably be that work unless I get distracted by something completely different which might be a school, which might be a Bahá’í school. But I think that would be the work I would do. I think we don’t think seriously about how to get that work done. We still try to do our mom and pop way of on the weekends, on the side, outside of our jobs. I think it really takes us founding institutions for the broader community that will show them what we supposedly know about race unity. As the only nickel and dime we can’t even get an ad in the paper. You know what I’m saying? So as long as we try to fund on a shoe string these activities, it’s always going to be a small group, and we’re only going to reach our little friends and family who don’t think we’re serious because they don’t see us doing the serious work, so what are we doing in ____________? Nothing . Thanks for making me feel good about –

Tell me, what does a person have to do or live to achieve unity?

Again, you know, we have the standard of the Writings to tell us that and I think we have to look there first, so I think what we have to do is to integrate into our personal minds every kind of person in humanity as we our able. So I think the first thing we do is live the life of a Bahá’í, and that means welcoming the friend and the stranger, not the one with the axe that wants to kill you – not the axe murderer – but understand that that’s not linked to color. Axe murderers come in all colors, although around here, in the U. S. they tend to be white. Just in case you were wondering. Just in case you were studying demographics. I really do think the first thing we have to do is strive to live a life that’s focused on God. It sounds like I just was at a funeral. It was the Reverend this and the Reverend that and Dr. Reverend so and so, and they talked about his man living a godly life and so you know, true. That was, if you’re in the calling that’s what you’re supposed to do. But Bahá’ís don’t get ordained, we’re not called or we are called but not in that way. So I think the first thing we have to do are the things that challenge me the most, pray daily, deepen on the writings, and deepen on those Writings that focus on the notion of unity and whether it will bind the pattern and why it’s so important. In understanding that this is one of the prerequisites so that we have to be really serious about that and we can’t let our lives be an impediment to that. We have to understand that every time we let injustice pass in front of us and not say anything then we’re not living the life of a Bahá’í, We’re living the life of an ostrich or an enabler, or somebody who really thinks that way so we may as well go join whatever, be really separatist and ignorant but if you’re going to build unity you have to live unity. So I think that’s the first prerequisite in building unity is understanding that it is subservient to the Covenant.

Does it take active effort on the part of both parties?

I think an individual can be a catalyst towards unity, but if nobody else joins you in that viewpoint then all you are is a weirdo. All you are is a freak. You know? If you’re by yourself talking “unity, unity” and nobody’s getting it, then if there’s no one who can be catalyzed to move in the direction of unity then unity will not exist. You have to have more than one person to have unity cause unity is not an entity unto itself – it requires to join things together. If it’s a force then it’s attractive, not repulsive. It can’t be singular.

How about third parties, like institutions – “the Bahá’í clergy” produce unity among the believers?

Number one, they have to produce unity among themselves. In other words and there are some institutions where even if there are diverse members, they’re not honored and respected in equal ways. You know, Assemblies up until we got information that instructed us and trained us that the secretarial work, the corresponding secretary functions were more than being subservient secretary in an organization or business that was a role that fell primarily to women while chair fell primarily to men. In __________ women do everything. Except for treasurer.

Talk about things you’ve done to increase unity among others.

Well, I have certainly held meetings and activities that were designed by me, meaning I thought I had designed them for the purpose of promoting unity. So like the craft Saturdays, see, I’m knitting now – I’m also trying to learn something – so craft Saturday is an event, an activity that I specifically designed to promote unity so that I can be doing something towards promoting race unity, and that’s particularly focused towards race unity.

How do you perceive your ethnicity within the context of the Faith?

Well, I’m black. But at the same time, I think that that’s an illusion on the one hand. On the other hand, I’m black. Because –why am I black? I’m black because my mammy and pappy were black – we’re one and there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s one race and it’s the human race but I live in a country where I am dealt with as a black woman all the time that I’m assessed before I can make a statement by my color and sometimes I’m given something or other special because of my blackness, but normally I’m discredited for it before I open my mouth. So within the Bahá’í community I feel like I still have to represent. And actually it was very funny. I met a young woman at the Southern Regional Conference in November. And this is a girl whom I’ve told many stories about and she was in my Sunday school class, much like many people we know, in Los Angeles and she was a young child – she was five and six, you know. I was teaching her Sunday school there should be a rule that young people should not teach little children Sunday school because you don’t know much about development and what have you . it’s fine if you have children young and you screw up your own kids but for Sunday school, knowing what I know no, I shouldn’t have been allowed loose around those children – shouldn’t have. You know, when I hear stories about you’re trying to make them recite and remember stuff. I had three to six-year-olds, number one, that’s a horrible developmental leap to have to deal with. And number two, you know, you should know something about those developmental leaps before you go start screwing kids up. What was actually it was really beautiful, she remembered me and she remembered me as a positive example and she was really beautiful. She was on fire and she serves on a regional committee for youth and she was a light. She was just beatific wonderful woman, in her early 20s, pregnant so she was radiant, she was glowing, she’s got locks. But she reminded me, I said, “How beautiful you are! Look at your beautiful locks, isn’t that funny we both have locks now?” She said, “Well you know, we still have to represent.” And it was so interesting for her to say that, that we’re still in a time where we have to be black. We can’t be human because we’re not allowed to be – part of that is our own barriers – that by and large it’s not yet safe to just be. Because if we simply “be” it won’t be safe for all the new believers who are black to become Bahá’í because nobody’s trained everybody else to deal with us as black people and they wouldn’t last , they wouldn’t survive in our communities. And they don’t. Black people

Do you have to give up aspects of your blackness to be a Bahá’í?

Not aspects of my blackness. But because however I am, I’m black. I have been teased about the way I talk, the way I look, and when they say, you know, you don’t talk like a black person and I say, yes I do I talk just like a black person. ’Cause I’m black. And I’m talking. But not everybody has that presence of self. You know? I’m sorry, you don’t have to sound like you came out of a Jim Crow cartoon to be black. That’s unnecessary. I don’t think I do. But I don’t associate superficial things with being black either. But a lot of people associate like, I was really distracted by this whole notion of being loud. I was at a meeting several years ago in ___________ , and some Bahá’ís were giving a workshop on race unity and this one woman just like erupted in you know loud talking and saying how some Bahá’ís are really uncomfortable with that, they say it’s not appropriate, but this is me, this is who I am and she was going on and on but I was looking in the writings, and you know, we’re not supposed to be loud. We’re supposed to be moderate – moderation in all things. So there are certain things everybody has to give up certain things. Whites in America have to give up their sense of superiority. Blacks have to give up their sense of suspicion, even though it’s justifiable suspicion. And everything we have to give up is we may have to give up our sense of silence is worship – to be completely silent is worship. We may also have to give up our belief that shouting is worship. You know, when you’re mature, you give up some childhood things. My girls are in a school they’re going to this ________ school. They’re teaching about fairies and all this kind of foolishness. They’re going to have to give that up. You know, I think it’s fine for their age, and I like the fact that it’s developmentally based, but they’re going to have to give up this belief in fairies. We don’t believe in magic as Bahá’ís . We don’t believe in fairies, we don’t believe in elementals, we don’t believe in ethers we don’t believe in those things. And the same way there are some things that we cling to that are comfort to us that I think we have to give up. Do we have to give up being black? Do we have to stop saying “HEY HOW YA DOING?” in the middle of a conference circumstance? No. Do we have to give up this resurgence of gospel music, which when I became a Bahá’í [in 1974] was forbidden. Forbidden like it was written. It might as well have been written down. It couldn’t be more forbidden if it had been written in a text, because you know music was supposed to be Persian, or a certain variety of European, so you know, gypsies got left out too. You know, it wasn’t supposed to be loud or boisterous or any other kind of way. That was the way in which people interpreted Bahá’í music. ’Course time and again there’s no such thing as Bahá’í music – there’s music that people play and they’re Bahá’ís, they’re people who are Bahá’í, and most people play different kinds of music. At the same time I know I’m going all around the robin’s nest to tell this story, but people um want to make excuses for sort of owning the territory as the downtrodden. You know, be able to have emotional outbursts, and what have you . It says very clearly in the Writings that we should be moving away from emotional outbursts, but we should be frank in our discourse. It doesn’t mean you should be cold fish either. What happens is because it says that we should be unemotional or to try to reduce emotion so that you don’t miscommunicate your intent, well, European, or Africans who more recently visited Europe before they came to America, seeing as we’re all one and we all came from Africa, more distantly displaced Africans tend to think that being completely unemotional is right and any sign of emotion is wrong. In reaction to that black people have very sort of loud and celebratory way of communicating and they want to shove that down people’s throats. Neither one is right. So yeah, there’s some things that I think I have to change about my culture, but again, look at how black people beat their kids. We’re not allowed to strike our children. Lots of black Bahá’ís I know aren’t quite sure what to do with that and still hit their kids. I’m trying not to hit my kids. I don’t know what to do. I’ve got to get those dreadlocks cause I can’t imagine making them sit still to get their hair done without smacking them with a brush – that’s how I learned. I mean how do you make a little kid sit still? I don’t know so they have wild hair cause I don’t know what to do with it. We’ve been having that battle because, you know, that’s the only way I know how to make kids sit still and train them so that by the time they’re three, four and five they just sit there you know, like magic. It’s not magic, they’ve been whooped. That’s how that happens so get with the program. Yeah, I have to let that go. Just like, you know, everybody’s got to let that go.

Are there things that being a Bahá’í added to your culture of origin?

Unless it’s superficially I’m not sure that I could say. We certainly have holy days but because we don’t have um dictate on the rituals on how things are celebrated, we sort of default to the ways that you celebrate or you end up not really celebrating cause you’re not sure quite what to do. So your celebrations are more hollow. You know, I do stuff with the community, but I keep thinking I want to get, like, a Naw-Ruz event like have people over for dinner and make a really big deal, but I never get it together cause I’m not quite sure how to make that start happening cause the world isn’t stopping for me to have Naw-Ruz in the middle of March. You know, I keep asking them to. I think certainly in some ways it’s expanded the language of black celebrations, but I know in my life it’s been very difficult to find a consistent rhythm of the events of the Bahá’í day, week, month and year, so you know I always forget feast, I forget to say my prayers on time and do some little tricks like you know, say the long obligatory once then say it again, then that’s two in 48 hours that way cause you know you’re going to blow I mean, you know, it’s ridiculous. So I don’t think yet I have really expanded my culture of origin in that way, in a way that – ’cause culture sort of implies ritual at least in the way we study and talk about culture in society and um the most superficial level that I have been at for many years-- rituals has been Bahá’ís don’t have rituals we don’t do rituals, I don’t do rituals. So with that attitude, it hasn’t really built into anything, whereas come from my own self, I’ve realized for myself that everybody has rituals, ritual is culture is life and that as a Bahá’í we’re not dictated what a ritual should be and a ritual has no religious value. So now I’m beginning to say, “Oh, that means we can have rituals, they just don’t take on religious significance and meaning.” So if every Ayyam-í-há, we do blah, blah, blah, it’s meaningless in terms of salvation or attainment or what have you, but there’s nothing to say you can’t do that, you see, I used to think you can’t do it. So I haven’t tried to integrate it into my culture. You know.

Do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís from other cultural backgrounds?

La, la, la. We’re the same because we love Bahá’u’lláh and we’ve been touched by him to be able to recognize him in this day when most people don’t get it – they’re still waiting for the Messiah or waiting for the Second Coming, or you know, they’re busily waiting for something that has already occurred. And the next won’t occur anywhere near their lifetime so get with the program, Christ has returned. Whoever it is you’re waiting for, he’s already come. Clearly that’s something I share with other Bahá’ís is that we were touched to make this recognition, otherwise if we weren’t touched then how would we be chosen to make it? At the same time I’m different than many other Bahá’ís because my experiences are different. I come from a really weird country, the United States where people are really freaking strange and we have really skewed values you know so from that standpoint. So yeah, and I think life experiences, I think that we make too much of the differences among people, just like we found in the genome that all the diversity in the human genome is in one percent of the genetic code, or something like that, they just recently found and I think that it’s that same way there’s a one percent superficial difference in our lives. We all work, we have children, and cares and concerns we have wishes and challenges, we have family member who are nuts, we have all those things in common with one another but we tend to focus on the superficial differences that are the expression of part of our genome of part of the code of how God made us. So, but those differences are cultural differences, they’re social differences, but the truth is, well you say you’re getting married. When you go to look for your wedding ring I bet people aren’t going to follow you around to see if you steal a ring like they did me when I was getting married and um, and that was almost 11 years ago, so you know 11 years ago, that happened, but it’s still fresh in my mind. I can still see the security guard’s faces and their ugly little uniforms and their little tacky handcuffs and cheapo guns following me around and making sure they ruined my happy day, or whatever. My experience is difference, it’s not the same as someone a Bahá’í who declares in a small village in India or in Tibet, or anywhere else. There are cultural issues were brought into the Faith, while those things are very different but we are the same, just like humanity is the same yet different. I don’t have a problem with this the same thing yet different, that’s one of the things that really excites me but I’m clearly a freak. My feeling of unity with other Bahá’ís – let me say that another way, another reason I feel unity with other Bahá’ís is because I know I’ve been on the road traveling and the car had broken down and I’d call Bahá’ís up and like “Hi, we’re two Bahá’í girls traveling around and we have money, we have food but our car’s broken, we need tows someplace and they’d say no you must come stay here, blah, blah, blah,” you know, all over the country, people put us up in their home, all across the country the car was breaking down everywhere I went. It was just awful, but I met all these cool Bahá’ís, so that was really wonderful. I also have experience and that has taught me that wherever I go there are Bahá’ís who made me welcome, although that’s not 100 percent.

Does feeling unity with other Bahá’ís preclude feeling unity with those who are not Bahá’í?

I’ve yet to feel unity with the world. That’s something that you don’t get just because you sign your declaration card but if that becomes a priority to you in term s of how you practice the Faith, its something that I think we as Bahá’ís should work toward. So whenever I’m faced with people who are treating me with disunity, you know treating me as less than, and try to think that, you know, this is really, really, this is my brother, really this is my sister – you don’t have to like your brothers and sisters, but they’re still your family so I believe that I worked to feel that oneness every day I don’t know if I’m good at practicing about it, so obviously, but that’s a different story.

Did you believe in human unity before you were a Bahá’í?

Yeah, I did. It was one of the things when I first heard about the faith, but not in there was no way to operational zed it before I became a Bahá’í. I think that one of the things being a Bahá’í allows you to do is to begin to envision unity as a real possibility for humanity. I think the problem for Bahá’ís is that many of us take that as, “Oh, we believe in unity and we don’t have to anything more about it.” But it starts with, you know, again it comes back to the fundamentals for the Covenant – you know, prayer, reflection, deepening. If you’re bringing yourself to account each day, saying your prayers asking for those attributes that are most needed in society then I think you’re setting yourself up for transformation. If what you’re asking for and what you’re looking for and what you’re reflecting on are things other than unity, if you’re reflecting on peace but not on unity, you’ll get deep on peace but not on unity. So if we’re in balance on our approach as Bahá’ís, if we care more about race unity than we do about equality of men and women, then we’ll be in balance in that way. In terms of a movement, that’s not a bad thing if we’re all working very hard on a little piece, but in terms of the transformative power of the faith, we have to be open to everything Bahá’u’lláh has provided for us.

Is there a responsibility to promote unity among others who aren’t Bahá’í?

Absolutely, unless we want to be a little community like the Shakers and go out of business once we all stop procreating. I mean it’s true, we’re here to transform – we’re supposed to be building the kingdom of God on earth, I don’t think we can do it with 50 adults in ____________ . We just can’t, we can’t do that. And in order to – we’re supposed to be establishing unity on the planet as a prerequisite to peace which is a prerequisite to establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. We got to add more people So I think it’s absolutely important to build unity with people who aren’t Bahá’í. It doesn’t mean just for the purpose of teaching them the Faith, but we have to. you know, for people to know who we are and what we stand for, they have to know us, we can’t just be inside, we have to be inside and out and we have to be, you know, toiling in the vineyard you know, we can’t just be hanging out on the margins. And the stuff I was saying earlier, you know, about establishing agencies for this work you know, we should be looking to build our work our lifework, in institutions and agencies that are designed to transform society that are based on Bahá’í principles that may or may not be Bahá’í institutions. They can be businesses, they can be nonprofit organizations, they can be educational institutions, they can be by or and for Bahá’ís and everybody who wants to subscribe to what Bahá’ís believe, or they can be by of and for a bunch of people who believe in things that are consistent with what Bahá’ís believe, but until you begin to do those kinds of activities, we won’t begin to reach our potential for upholding our part of the bargain. Again, that’s advice that I have by seeing what we’ve done in [my business].

What are the barriers to unity?

When you have a population of people who supposedly have a mandate or dictate to strive towards unity, their viewpoints to what that is would be very instructive, actually. In communities that are very large and happen to have the bounty of a lot of Persian believers who are more – I mean, I really see the Persian community as Persian Bahá’ís and then Persians whose families are Bahá’í you know what I mean? Persians who are Bahá’í, and Persians who ascribe to the Bahá’í religion and you know, they show up for Feast, they do Holy Days more than Feasts. They don’t know the administrative order and they’re not interested, because they’re like so many Christians, they’re like any other group of believers who say I have show up during these days, and that’s it . That’s pretty much what you have to do. They ‘re not focused on the covenant, not focused on transformation in any way. So in a community like that, what happens is for example racism is passed down as a legacy, where people say we don’t go in that neighborhood, those people are dangerous, and blah, blah, blah. So when you have that kind of thing going on outside of that I think that what happens in Bahá’í communities is that people who really disagree with the tenets of the Faith the way they’re laid out, leave the Faith or become covenant-breakers. I mean, I think that if they really want to have an argument they way the Faith is ministered to, they leave, or they misbehave in strange and consequential spiritual ways. People who are sort of apathetic to the spiritual aspects of the religion, and are just there for the cultural aspects of the religion, they just hang out on the periphery, they show up for holidays and everyone else knows what they’re supposed to be doing. So that you don’t, it’s very odd to find a community where somebody would say, “You know the white people in this community are really trying to keep us down.” What happens is that the white people in this community have a focus on unity, and there are things that they do that let me know that and sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable or not valued or what have you. But there’s a difference between people that’re banding together to keep you out and people not necessarily banding together but letting their assumptions about the way things work bend them together. So I think we have the other thing going on, so the only people who are speaking out and condemning people for the way things are, are the people with personality disorders. I’m sorry, When you see these behaviors people think that people are being jerks or rude or whatever, but I see a lot of t as really, really eccentric personalities and possibly disorderly personality you know and what are you going to do about that? Medicate them?


I grew up in such a homogenous culture. I grew up in __________ in a very open household, but didn't really have to deal with it because everyone there was white. There was a few black families, but basically we didn't have to deal with different cultures and different races.

What do you see as the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

I see it as absolutely essential in the Bahá'í Faith. I haven't been a Bahá'í very long but my feeling before I was a Bahá'í and as a Bahá'í is that unity is very important worldwide. We will never get our act together as a civilization unless we have unity. If we can't get past petty little your skin is black, your skin is white, your skin is yellow" then we'll never move forward.

What does it mean to be united?

United. Can we go back to that one?

Does your concept of unity include people who are not Bahá’ís?


Do you see a responsibility among Bahá’ís to create unity with non-Bahá’ís?

Do you live in a community or have you lived in a community that has unity

Yes, to a certain degree. I think the community I live in now – this street, this neighborhood – is generally unified. Everybody on this street knows each other, we all look out for each other, we take care of each other's children, run errands for each other. If anyone on this street needed help one of the neighbors would be there. It's mixed, but I would have to say, there's black and white people on this street, but it mostly stays in its own group – white with white, black with black. And it's more unified, the white people on this street are more unified. As far as I know, the black people don't associate very much with the other black people on this street, a little bit with the black people but it's not as unified as the whites are.

Does your Bahá’í community have diversity?


In what ways?

Well, the most obvious is color of skin. We have black, white, Persian, we have Asian, um we have people of different economic background, different education levels, different ages, so I would say we have a very well rounded community.

What do you think are obstacles to unity?

I think getting past prejudices that have been maybe taught when we were younger. For me, I like to think of myself as a non-prejudiced person but I know that I do have prejudices that I try not to acknowledge and try to put in the back of my head but they are sometimes there. Maybe guarding myself somewhat more if I'm walking down the street at night and there's a black man walking towards me. You know, there are little things like that we all have been taught in the past, maybe as children, maybe from people who were prejudiced and we heard them talking, that we could all, black white rich, poor, we could all move past.

How do you know when you've achieved unity?

That's a big question. I don't know if that's even happened. Personally, on a personal level, I think that there's a certain feeling that you have in yourself when you know something is right, when you know something is making sense to you. So if unity is achieved, for me on a personal level I would feel a certain vibration within myself knowing that that was accomplished, that that was right.

Can you give an example?

I do have a good example of a woman on my street who was a good friend of mine, who lived across the street from me and she moved out and a black woman moved in who I have become not very close with but we have a connection and we are able to speak about racial differences and racial conflicts that we both have very openly, and not excusing one or the other, but being open about it, and that is about as close to unity with somebody who's not a Bahá’í that I've had. With somebody who's not white, somebody who's out of my group entirely.

What do you see “your group” as?

Well, there's a lot of different groups, but I guess my group would be the people I associate with every day. And she probably would be a new member of my group, although she works a lot so I don't see her very often.

What does a person have to do or how do they have to live in order to achieve unity?

I think that by the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you is a good start. Be aware of how your actions and how your conversations affect other people, and not be afraid to talk about racial issues or class issues – gingerly I guess. We don't want to offend people At the same time if you're afraid to talk about it, nothing will ever change.

You mentioned the Golden Rule. Don’t you think Christianity has that?

Coming from a Catholic background? It was never instilled in the way that it is in the Bahá'í Faith. I think that the Golden Rule is the biggest thing that I got from my catholic upbringing, Beyond that I don't remember specific actions being taught by the catholic church. Or how to live your life. I was in catechism class and we were taught prayers and we were taught Biblical things studying the bible, but there were not any specific rules to live by that I can remember, other than to treat others with respect, to do to them what you would have them do.

Do you think unity is something one person can promote?

I think probably both. I think that um one person can promote it and if the other person is receptive – or the other people however many there may be – if they're receptive then it can evolve but sometimes it takes one person lighting the match to ignite other people. I think that's a hard question.

How can, if they can, third parties produce unity among the believers?

Since the Bahá'í Faith is so rich in speaking of unity and, I think that a start could be to reach out to the community that's around us and maybe do service projects or social events, reaching out to the community around us who are not necessarily Bahá'í.

Among Bahá’ís?

I'm not so sure if I think that this could work through the Local Spiritual Assembly, you know. I haven't been in the community that long, maybe the Bahá’ís could know each other as people a little bit better, instead of, you know, people just going to firesides and going to Feast and being very friendly and very social and genuinely happy to see each other, which is a wonderful thing, but maybe deepening our own relationships as friends and as Bahá’ís.

What attracted you to the Faith?

Through um, I think my initial push to get into the Bahá'í Faith was when I had my son. I had been searching for a very long time, reading a lot of books about psychology, a lot of new age stuff, anything I could get my hands on in a round-about way trying to circumnavigate God because of my Catholic upbringing and a lot of hypocrisy I saw in the Catholic Church, even at a young age it didn't make sense to me and a lot of the basic Catholic teachings didn't make sense to me, like why is creation and evolution separate, at a very young age. I questioned a lot of things in the faith, so searching, searching through my teens and twenties, ironically when I was 15 my mother said, if you want to come to church with us, please come, you're welcome to investigate any religion you want, please come and ask me if you have any questions, so she was very open to my growth and development spiritually, which is not an experience I think lot of people have, so I was very lucky in that way. When I had my son, my perception of God changed, I couldn't imagine before I had him what love was. I mean there's people I love very much in my life, but there's no person I could ever love as much as my son, and imagining that I love him so much it's only a fraction of the love God must have for us. So my perception of God changed, and it wasn't the Catholic perception that I'd had of God as somebody who's inflicting guilt on us and making us feel guilty for everything we do. He opened up to me and he was more of a loving father and at almost instantly I started researching the Bahá’í Faith. It was very profound and it was very deliberate the feelings that I had. It's the only thing in my searching that I can accept 100 percent, maybe not understand, but I can accept 100 percent of the teachings you know, I don't know how much research you've done in other faiths or other avenues of spirituality, but in my reading things you know a lot of times I would think wow this part of what they're saying really makes sense to me, but the rest of it – eh. You know, I can do without that. This was the first thing in my entire life that I was able to, even though I'm just scratching the surface of understanding, but that I could accept and practice.

How do you perceive your ethnicity within the context of the Faith?

I think that something that I've always felt, Bahá’í or not, is that people are people and that the color of their skin is part of what makes them who they are but it does not affect their quality of their soul. Maybe that’s too deep. That's something that I've believed as long as I can remember. Even though I grew up in a very white society, um I never I didn't have prejudices.

Did you have this feeling of unity before you were a Bahá’í?

Yeah, I did, it's something that made sense to me. I mean, why pick on somebody because they're different from you?

Did you give up any aspects of your culture to be a Bahá’í?

No I haven't been Catholic for a long time. I was raised Catholic, but I didn't practice. So in a spiritual sense I feel like everything that I have held onto through Catholicism and through my own searching is enhanced by the Bahá’í Faith.

Has the Bahá'í Faith added on to your sense of yourself, your identity? Ethnically.

Mmmm I thought becoming a Bahá’í, it’s easier for me to accept people for who they are. I just said I don't have any prejudices but deep down I'm not sure that that's true. I don't know, I think everybody probably has a few hidden away.

Do any members in your community retain a position of superiority?

I haven't noticed that.

Have you noticed if any members expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

Do you see yourself as the same of or different from people who are not Bahá’í?

I think a little of both. I think that as Bahá’ís we have a really beautiful thing that ties us all together but at the same time we all come from different cultures, we all come from different backgrounds, even if there's somebody sitting next to me – you're white but you come from a different background. So I think that there are things that are the same about all Bahá’ís but there are things that are different. But we're coming together for the same purpose.

Did you think that way before you were a Bahá’í?


What does it mean to be united?

I think one way or one definition of unity could be people having one common goal and moving towards it.

Can you describe a time that you've done anything to increase unity among others?

Having neighborhood gatherings at our house neighborhood dinners in this neighborhood where I live on this block, which I suppose would increase unity in our neighborhood, increase deepening of relationships, as a Bahá’í not participating in the backbiting that goes on in our neighborhood because it is a pretty close neighborhood, but a lot of people say things about each other which sometimes are hurtful, so not participating in that, hoping that that would create unity.

Can you narrate any stories that would illustrate?

I don't know if I could narrate a story precisely but I think that disunity is caused by some of the people in this neighborhood who say things about other people in this neighborhood, that definitely causes disunity and confusion and disharmony.


What does it mean to be united?

That is a very interesting question. I think being united means to be united spiritually think in mind, in perception, to be united in fundamentals of belief I think is what really brings people together I think you have an opportunity to work towards a common goal, to I think it all comes down really to two people or a group of people have to generally love one another, have respect for one another, and recognize that basic nobility, and I think from a Bahá’í perspective that we recognize that we may have differences but our love for Bahá’u’lláh will cause us to unite regardless of the differences that we have. From a Bahá’í perspective it’s our love for Bahá’u’lláh that brings about the love and unity that we have for one another.

You said perception and belief and then love for Bahá’u’lláh? Can you love someone of a different belief or difference perception?

Well, absolutely because Bahá’u’lláh tells us that we should love all humanity, that human beings are God’s creation and that we love one another for his sake and Bahá’u’lláh has told us that we should have fellowship with people of all religions so that obviously that love extends just because a person believes in Bahá’u’lláh or believes in the Bahá’í faith but we love all of humanity regardless of that, but it is our love for Bahá’u’lláh that will cause the world to unite because our love for Bahá’u’lláh is going to cause us to live as people said in the Kitab-í-Aqdas. The first responsibility is to recognize the Manifestation of God for today and our second responsibility is to be obedient to his laws and to his teachings and to his principles. And that will cause us to be united, not only in the Bahá’í community but beyond the Bahá’í community to at least work toward unity, but of course it starts within our own family. Unity starts within the family, just within ourselves, I think, and then within our family, within our Bahá’í community and we tried to extend that beyond our Bahá’í community in our relationships with one another and with other people.

You said we begin with love, then you said were commanded to love. How does love relate to a command?

I feel that our love for Bahá’u’lláh is going to cause us to love – and this is really true of all religions, I mean, to all the religions, Christian, Islam, all the religions are based on the principle of love, loving one another is really the foundation of religion. Well, I see it that we are asked to be obedient to the principles which are related to love – this is the foundation of all the religions of god that they should be founded on love for one another. And I think it’s a command of God.

The idea of unity, did you have a notion of unity before you were a Bahá’í?

I believed in unity very strongly. It was an emotional belief that all people should be united regardless of race, religions, class, gender, whatever is the cause of division among humanity I thought all of these things should not keep us from being united, and so unity is the thing that attracted me to the Bahá’í faith because it was something I believed in., I don’t know that I ever really analyzed or conceptualized what was meant by unity just people getting together, getting along together, respecting one another and truly loving one another, and more than just loving one another intellectually, but really loving one another in service to humanity.

Do you live in a community that’s united?

As Bahá’í communities go, it’s a fairly untied Bahá’í community, it’s not a perfectly united Bahá’í community. There are certainly differences do arise within the community, within our administrative body differences to arise. We try to remind ourselves that we’re Bahá’ís and we mean to be united, but differences do arise.

What are some of the differences?

Personality differences. I thank what happens in the Bahá’í community, we bring our outside training into the Bahá’í community, into our administrative body so many of us are used to working in professional environments that are not founded on the basis of unity, but are founded on the basis of competition and so people are in competition with one another, and lot of what is done in the way of communication among people in a professional setting is really competition rather than trying to listen and trying to come to the best solution it is really about the person with the loudest voice or the highest position within the organization whose voice usually carries the day and that’s decision making in the outside world, and a lot of people that come into the Bahá’í Faith come in who are very accomplished and professional people they run businesses, they’re very used to getting their own way, so this is a very new way of doing things, to have to learn how to consult rather than to dictate and to cooperate.

You called it a personality problem but it sounds like a problem of training or of education?

It is a problem of education, yeah, and it’s very difficult I think for people to change – I think it takes generations for people to change. I really think it’s going to be generations before we really realize what it is like to live in a unified community. Because I think people bring their cultural differences with them, and I think that the culture you grow up in, every culture grows up with prejudice and I think the prejudice in this country is the prejudice of race. Obviously as more and more people com into the Bahá’í community in this country, they’re going to come with those prejudices they grew up with, even though the Bahá’í community is doing a lot better than the outside world in terms of dealing with racial issues within the Bahá’í community, we know that this is not a perfect community and we that have a long way to go in establishing racial unity even within the Bahá’í community so that we are perfectly rid of the prejudices that we grew up with, and I think this is true of other cultures. I think that people who grew up in Moslem cultures where they were persecuted have a very difficult time doing away with the prejudices that they grew up with as far as Islám is concerned. And people who are of Islamic background that’s going to take I think generations to completely eradicate and a lot of the cultural things the cultural – I’m married to a Persian so I see a lot of the cultural issues that arise within the Persian community, just because not of the Bahá’í teachings, but because they grew up in an Islamic country. So I think it is going to take maybe a generation, two generations for this whole issue of gender equality to settle into the Persian community and again I think the generation of Persians who are growing up here in this country, but to have grown up in a community such as Iran, it’s very difficult often to just – suddenly – arranged marriages, there are still arranged marriages in the Bahá’í community. My husband who’s a for example who is a fifth-generation Bahá’í, whose mother had an arranged marriage, his brother had an arranged marriage. These are cultural, these are not, a lot of these cultural issues that stand in the way of unity are going to take a long time I think, more than a generation. When you take another culture and introduce it into this culture, I’m speaking of Bahá’ís who come from other countries, whether they come from Iran, whether they come from Africa, whether they come from South America, they come with their cultural differences they come with their language differences. Probably the greatest difficulty in the Bahá’í community, and I think for establishing unity within the Bahá’í community is language, and this is why Bahá’u’lláh has said that there must be one world [auxiliary] language. It is really a barrier in the Bahá’í community. And one of the issues that many communities are dealing with is the whole issue because there are so many Persian Bahá’ís especially in ____________ is how to assist the Persians so that they will become comfortable in English, because Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice has encouraged the Bahá’ís who are pioneering and who are living in other countries to learn that language and has asked that the Bahá’í communities conduct their Feast and their other activities in the English language. So one of the things that we are doing in _____________, we have a social and economic development project of teaching English as a second language and this is primarily for Persians, although it’s open to Bahá’ís as well as non Bahá’ís but it’s being introduced into Bahá’í communities, so this is being offered at the Bahá’í school. English as a second language, so we’re hoping that that will help again reducing maybe one of those barriers by helping the Persians. This is not so true of the younger generation Persians, but the newly arrived and some of the older generation Persians to help them feel more comfortable so that they can teach as well? I think it’s a real issue within the Bahá’í community.

Is there one group that you notice thinks their way is correct?

I think there’s a lot of truth to that and I think that the Persians that come from that culture, I think this is especially true of education, especially of children’s education and they’ve got a lot more experience in children’s education and they’ve had a lot of success because they’ve had established schools, and I think they come thinking that there is a better way to conduct children’s classes, or even to work with the children at feast. There are some communities that wonder how do you deal with children at feast. And of course the American community feels just as strongly about the way that they want to structure the education for children. So I think there’s a real area in which there are differences , culture comes that thinks its way is the best way, and a so this is something that we’re going to have to work a lot on.

Does your community have diversity?

From time to time we’ve had a little bit of diversity, but the ____________ Bahá’í community does not have a lot of diversity. It is a highly diverse community in the sense that we have people who live in _____________. There is a long established actually, Black community in _______________, and there is one black church in ______________, and we’ve tried over a period of time to establish a relationship with that church, but there’s not a lot of diversity in the ______________ community – there really should be. A lot of people who come to the _____________ area tend to be people who have come, are transient, there are, but the ___________ community also includes falls church, which is a highly diverse – a lot of Asian and Hispanic, but they are not represented in the Bahá’í community.

Can you describe a time when you’ve experienced unity?

I think there have been a number of times that – and it’s usually when we’re having a holy day celebration, when it’s totally spiritual. I think those moments you feel, it’s really a spiritual thing, experiencing. In consultation I would say as far as the administrative institution the spiritual assembly is concerned, there have been times that we’ve been strong and unified and I think we like to think we’re, I think you will know it when you see it, I never get the feeling that we’re totally unified. I still feel that there are some personality issues that prevent the Assembly from being totally unified. Though I think things are improving all the time? I think it’s not really knowing what good consultation is. I still think we have to work on strong personalities not dominating the consultation and I think that’s really it. I don’t think you can have strong personalities dominate and have complete unity. I don’t think everybody’s feels perfectly comfortable about that. I think it’s mostly in the spiritual settings, when we’re doing prayers, when we’re doing readings from the Writings, when no one can say I feel that, we do firesides, I do feel that in a sense there are times when the Bahá’ís are on the same page and there are times when they’re not. I’m trying to be really honest.

You’re talking about feeling unity in action?

As far as feeling unity in service, I think well there’s no question about it, when you’re teaching, when you’re doing a teaching project together, when you’re doing a service project together, that’s when you really feel unity is in terms of consultation, absolutely when the community is doing service together. I can think of I think some of the times when I’ve really felt that is teaching, in terms of going out and meeting people, I would say mass teaching, and door-to-door teaching, things like that, when you’ve got a groups of people together, praying together and going out – that’s when I feel it more strongly. This is when you feel like you’re doing the most important work of the Faith, and I think that everybody who volunteers who does that kind of teaching is doing it because they’re committed to it.

What are some obstacles to unity?

[Long pause.]

How do you know when you’ve achieved unity?

Interesting question. I feel that, to me it is something that you experience spiritually. You know when you’ve got unity when you got out of whatever you’re doing and you just have such a feeling of contentment and serenity. To me, when you have disunity, I experience it through anxiety so it may be an emotional sort of thing. You’re exposed to it, I don’t know how you explain it intellectually, it’s something that you experience emotionally and spiritually. Maybe it’s described by adjectives.

How do you have to live to achieve it?

I think it starts within yourself. You have to really be committed to unity, you know, within your own sort of priorities in life, your priority in life has to do what you can do to create unity, and then it starts within your family, and that’s the real challenge, I think it is more difficult with people you’re closest to. And it’s sometimes easier to have a superficial relationship with someone you don’t live with every day. It’s much easier to create unity than it is within the family. And if there’s unity within the family you have unity within the Bahá’í community. So I think it’s very important it starts within. I think everybody has to be on the same page. Everybody has to be committed to creating unity within the family. If everybody’s committed to create unity within the Bahá’í community, it’ll happen but I think when you’ve got differences in understanding what is unity and again it comes from deepening in the Writings as to what our responsibility is in creating unity, in living the Bahá’í life, and when we all have that understanding that Bahá’u’lláh gave to us, within our own capacities, I think we can all do a better job of dealing with that within the capacities that we have to create that.

What is the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

It is the Bahá’í Faith – one of the most fundamental teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. Unity, and one human family.

Can one person promote unity?

No, it think it requires some response from somebody, I think, but I do believe that if you go with the intention of creating unity that you will get that kind of response, you will get a response. But if you go out to create conflict that’s the response you’ll get as well. I think if you go out with the intention of creating unity, it will affect other people.

How do you perceive your ethnicity? You’re a white woman, American among Persians. Do you see white as having ay advantages or disadvantages.

Not really, that’s the one thing I really love about the Bahá’í Faith and the Bahá’ís I don’t think that we really, at least I haven’t observed in the Bahá’í community that I have been in. But there really is equality. In that sense and I would say that if there’s any superiority, it’s a superiority that has been clearly stated in the Bahá’í Writings, and those of us that are Caucasian look with awe upon people of color and people who are of the indigenous background, because they have been given such a high station within the Bahá’í Writings. The whole world will be illumined when indigenous people become Bahá’í and I think you know that if there’s any feeling, there should be any feeling of inferiority in terms of the Bahá’í Writings I think it’s the Caucasians who should feel inferior. I certainly have not felt that, it’s one of the things that really have been so wonderful about being part of the Bahá’í community, is an understanding that you’re not dealing with those issues in a fundamental sense. It’s really hard to come into the Bahá’í Faith not understanding that you have to work on those issues. As far as, you mentioned gender, that’s part of the equation as well, maybe that’s why I feel a little bit more strongly because this is where I’m at, and I think those of us who are women probably feel and understand more than just in an intellectual that there still may be some attitudes within the Bahá’í community and behaviors that would indicate that not everybody is in recognition that there should be gender equality. I think the intellectual is there, it’s just that it’s not fully integrated into one life. So clearly if you’re a woman and you’re in a Bahá’í community that’s largely Persian, there are some difficulties, but I would say that there is probably, its probably balanced off because of the difficulty that I think most Persians feel about integrating into this culture. I think that the greatest difficulty comes as a woman in the Bahá’í community, not from the Persian community, but from the American community, because those are the ones that you interact with on the same level in terms of communication with the generation, and I don’t my generation, these are the people the older generation have come with some language difficulties. Unless you live in a Persian home with a Persian, if you happen to live with a Persian you can see some of the issues that have to be overcome. But I think dealing in the Bahá’í community at large, American men still have some work to do. And it’s not that it’s done, I think that it’s done with some understanding that there are certain behaviors that interpreted by women as not showing the respect towards equality equal participation in consultation, not taking women’s views seriously. I think that’s still, I think it’s sort of the dictatorial, men tend to, I’m not saying all men, but they still have sort of a dictatorial approach which comes out of this culture. Now the younger generation coming up may have overcome some of these issues, but again I don’t want to make a blanket thing about the male Bahá’í community, but we still have a ways to go.

Do you feel like you gave up anything in your culture of origin when you became a Bahá’í?

I gave up a lot of things, but I think what I felt when I became a Bahá’í I was finding that a lot of the attitudes and feelings and views that I had about life were finally I found a group of people who accepted them. As far as changing, obviously there were things that I changed, things that were acceptable in the culture. Consumption of alcohol I suppose was one. Holidays. I think Christmas is one of the holidays that I just slowly phased out, because I had children when I became a Bahá’í, so each year we sort of diminished what we did at Christmastime, and now we don’t do anything. We don’t go away at Christmas at all. So it is really, except Christmas with grandparents, and exchange of gifts, they still exchange gifts, but in terms of within our family.

What have you added on?

There are a lot of Persian things, that was because of my marriage. We eat a lot of Persian food, Naw-Ruz is celebrated, my husband’s family celebrates . In terms of adding to, the Holy Days, I added prayer to my life, if we’re talking about spiritual aspects , I mean my life changed completely. There’s absolutely no question about that. My life became the Bahá’í Faith. That was the number one thing that I centered my life around, and I had never centered my life around anything other than work and family and the Bahá’í Faith became the center of my life so that everything we did with the family began to revolve around the Bahá’í faith. The children started going to Bahá’í school I started going to firesides, then we started going to feast every 19 days then we started having firesides in our home, and I was immediately elected to the assembly and I became an assembly member and working on committees – I mean my whole life changed. I became a Bahá’í in 1987.

Do you see yourself as the same as different from people who are not Bahá’í?

I think one of the wonderful things is you have an instantaneous connection with people of other cultural backgrounds. I notice when I’m traveling, I’ve traveled twice to India?, you have instantaneous with the people even if you don’t speak the same language. You speak the same Bahá’í language. My husband’s family live in Columbia, South America and we go visit there, and there’s just this instantaneous connection and you feel like there’s nothing that separates you – there’s no separation whatsoever. And you have family all over the world. That was the thing that really impressed my about the Bahá’í faith. After I became a Bahá’í we traveled to Chicago to visit the temple in Wilmette. Instantaneously we were invited to peoples’ homes. I’d never experienced such love, you know? It just I was just in a state of shock. I just like when I travel, it’s just like your family, you’re taken into people’s homes, you have a place to stay, you’re invited to people’s homes, and I just don’t feel there is a separation. When you start living together in close proximity there will be things that will probably come in the way of trying to maintain unity, but you’ve got that within families, so that’s a wonderful thing. I never got that [when I was Catholic].

How can third parties promote unity?

Let me just go back to something I said about Catholics – I left the Catholic Church as a teenager and so the Catholic Church has evolved in 30 years. Obviously people were very gracious in different cultures, but it comes form the heart, the hospitality. I think they have a very important role, that’s one of the functions, to promote unity within the Bahá’í community. They have many functions but I think maintaining unity, promoting, encouraging unity within the Bahá’í community is one of the functions. But I think there are many functions in which they can do that, by working with individual communities, by working with individuals, by working with Local spiritual assemblies, Auxiliary Board members and their assistants are often called to help with consultation of assemblies for example that are having difficulty, that are having disunity within the assembly, and so we’re called in to assist with the consultation with individual members in the community who might be having difficulty within their families, there’s conflict within the families, help the assemblies in those communities to work with those families, to refer them to outside sources, if these families are having marriage difficulties and family difficulties that can be referred to professionals. And to work with communities in helping them to fulfill their obligations to the faith, to help them to do their regular devotions, all these things help to build up the Bahá’í community, to encourage people to attend feast. Because you don’t build up unity in the Bahá’í community unless you actually spend time together the fundamental building block in any Bahá’í community is the Feast I think that’s the fundamental institution of the faith for building communities for just insuring that those regular Holy Days and Feast activities are carried out in the right spirit and that they’re regular and systematic and so forth.

What do you do in your life to increase unity among others?

I try to live my life in accordance with the Bahá’í principles as best I can and I try to promote unity within the work environment. I guess that’s the place where I spend most of the hours of the day, and not to participate in things that would occur in an office that could lead to disunity, and try to encourage people to get along . We’ve got some issues within our office and I try to, this is where you take the principles of the faith. Rather than share them with the person that you might be closest to in the office, you try to share them with the people who need to know. I would tell the director of the office if there’s conflict going on, within the office, to make sure that it is understood and not to perpetuate it by sharing it with other people in the office and we’ve had some issues within the office, quite confidentially, where I thought that there was some racial conflict between the secretary and my assistant, there was conflict going on within the office between these two people, and I felt that the person was not being treated fairly and there was a real conflict that occurred between the receptionist who is black and one of the administrative people who is white, screaming and I tried to calm the situation down and at that point the receptionist was crying, to give her as much encouragement as I could that she was doing what she was being told to do and that’s what I saw, and I told the director and said you really need to know how I see things. Things quieted down for awhile, but then a week ago I was out of town and she was fired, and I don’t know what happened but that was a situation where I tried to speak up whether it was in staff meetings or with the board of directors – I was on the board of directors – and you know I felt like very, very badly for what she was going. You know, I don’t think anything’s perfect, I don’t think this was a perfect situation, but what I think you try to do is encourage people, and the only thing you can do as an individual, that’s what I try to do.

Do you feel you feel like you can be united with others who aren’t Bahá’í?

Absolutely. And sometimes I feel I do think that I have close friends who are not Bahá’í, and I do feel that friendship is very strong, I feel unity there even though we disagree. But I think it is the spiritual, I believe that this is the foundation of humanity is if you have this strong bond and love for the Manifestation of God, and this is the source of your commitment and I don’t think the source of your commitment can be just intellectual, in thinking it was the right thing to do, I believe I’ve committed my whole life. But, did not have this love for Bahá’u’lláh the divine physician for this disease, conflict in the world is going to be – it’s just not going to. Legislation just isn’t going to happen. You can’t legislate people to love one another.

Does everybody have to be Bahá’í?

I think that for there to be the unity that we talk about in the Bahá’í Faith, where the world is truly, that the majority of people are going to have to be Bahá’í in order to have world peace that we have been promised and we’re talking about global peace, where people don’t kill one another. But to have, Bahá’u’lláh talked about the most great peace where people are truly living in harmony, everybody’s going to have to be Bahá’í, that’s just my understanding.

Is there a responsibility of Bahá’ís to extend unity to other people?

Obviously, to be of service to humanity, our love for Bahá’u’lláh, the way that we express our love is by serving humanity, and doing everything that we possibly can to bring about unity , is promote the Bahá’í principles. The best way that we can be involved to bring about the unity of humanity as I understand it is to promote the faith, to teach the faith, to serve our institutions, to build up the Bahá’í community.

I just think that the it’s the foundation for everything. Unity is going to bring about world peace.


What does it mean to be united?

I usually think of it in terms of working sometimes towards some common goal. To be together. That’s the one way to think about it I think the other way I think about it is family, trying to get that feeling that everybody is part of one family. It doesn’t always work.

Can you describe a time when you experienced unity?

The first district convention I ever went to it seemed very together. It was before they split ____________ into all the little units and so there were huge masses of us in _________________ there in the ___________ College. It was just a huge crowd and we all felt like we were really, that felt really together that time.

Have you lived in a community that is or was united?

I think the best united community we ever lived in was when we were in _____________ and there were four of us. And it was one of those things where we were little enough that we could really feel close to each other and we all knew what was going on with everybody else and we were also big enough to get things done – with four. We used to be, you know, ______________ used to take us other their wing.

What are some obstacles to unity?

One of them is not knowing enough about each other. This always sounds horrible when you say it, it wasn’t like this in ________________, but when I got out here and there were all the Persians in the community? I think that can be a problem because everybody kind of goes off in their little group, speaking their little language, doing their own thing, and the cultural disjoint becomes really evident then. Language is a good part of it culture probably is too. Everybody comes with different assumptions about what should be happening.

How do you know when you’ve achieved unity?

Probably just that you can actually work together, you can be a force, you can actually get things done. That’s part of it. Part of it is if you don’t care if somebody knows that your brother’s an alcoholic. Trust would be a good part of it. If you trust each other, know each other well enough to not really worry about it.

Does your concept of unity extend out?


Is there a responsibility to include non-Bahá’ís?

Not just as Bahá’ís but as human beings, we want to include as many people as we can.

What do you see as the significance of unity?

Not that we’re monolithic or that we’re cookie-cutter people, but that there’s a certain common denominator, a certain sameness that gives us strength. It’s harder to attack a whole bunch of pieces that are all bound together than to split apart.

What is the sameness then?

Probably just I suppose it would mostly just be the religion.

How does that extend out?

I guess cause all religions are one.

How do you have to live to achieve unity?

I think you have to think a lot more of other people than yourself, first of all, probably, and I think you have to be willing to be flexible, and just to really care, be concerned about somebody else.

Is unity something one person can promote, or do you need an active effort on the part of both parties?

One person can try, I don’t know how well, obviously to take two things and put them together you have to have some sort of cooperation or something on both parts. I think one person can try just by their attitude.

How can third parties produce unity among believers, if they can?

I think in a lot of ways the best thing a third party can do is to just put together people and mediate. The classic thing I think of is that whole peace in the Mideast thing and there’s not peace over there because no one has ever said, okay we’re all going to go in this room and we’re all going to sit down and nobody is going to leave until we figure out how we’re going to do it. There’s no unity because nobody has ever expected anybody to produce any.

Didn’t the Wye peace accords try to do that?

Yeah, they’ve done that several times.

What would successful mediation entail in that sense?

Sit and listen and make sure both sides don’t kill each other and maybe just bring up some different ideas or thoughts that they haven’t had or aren’t willing to consider valid because it’s not right in line with what they’re trying to achieve.

What have you done to increase unity among others?

Probably just the best thing I can think of is, I’ve always taught my kids to try to look for the good, you know, don’t copy and carry on the bad, and try to be friends with everybody.

Does your community have diversity?

I think in _______________ we were more diverse than we are out here, partly because _______________ is a much more cosmopolitan sort of culture to begin with than Baltimore and the Bahá’í population reflects it. You have people who are raised in all religions, you have people of all nationalities, and everything, and it’s not quite the same out here, you’re Persian or you’re English I get. ____________ strikes me as being very English somehow. They came, the stayed, and that’s how it is.

How do you perceive your ethnicity within the Bahá’í Faith?

Probably that I’m American first, and that is going to affect my attitude towards religion and it’s come home even much moreso to me how much my nationality affects my attitude towards religion because we’ve had a Moslem guy out in the Bahá’í Forum in ________________’s web site and it took me forever to figure out what it was because one minute he’s Shiite, one minute he’s Sunni, one minute he’s Iranian saying, the next minute he’s like, you know, his uncle was killed you know fighting for the Iraqis and I was trying to figure out what on earth was going on with this guy and finally one of the other Bahá’ís posted something that said it sounds like this guy was raised Sunni and he’s converted blah, blah, blah. And he comes back and he said, yeah, that’s exactly what happened. He’s from Iraq , he was raised Sunni, he moved to England while he was in England he became a Shiite because he decided the Sunni’s you know were totally clueless, and the Ali was the right person and should’ve been followed so he became a Shiite and now that he’s a Shiite he’s supporting Iran and everything and I read this and I’m still trying to get used to this idea because it sounds to me like this is roughly the equivalent of my Catholic relatives should be exactly in line with everything the government in Italy is doing. Doesn’t really make any sense at all. One of the things is that it’s reflected toward religion and just toward religion in general I think, I think probably my acceptance of all religions was probably influenced by the concept of equality you know or in America, like the philosophers of the Enlightenment were thinking of. Other than that I guess I’m German and French and Russian.

Did you believe in unity before you were a Bahá’í?

Probably by the time I think about 16 or so, I kind of decided that either all religions were from God or there wasn’t a God and they were all some things that somebody had made up and in that case it didn’t matter anyway.

How long have you been a Bahá’í?

About 20 years. On April 5th it’ll be 20 years.

Do you give up any thing of your culture of origin?

No. That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about because I made a comment to that Moslem and he said, “Well you don’t know how to talk to a Moslem.” And all I could think was, “Well how is a Bahá’í supposed to talk to a Moslem?” But I suppose there should be some room for feeling like you’ve added on some Persian or something like that, but other than liking the food I don’t think it’s really affected my culture.

Do you think there are any Bahá’ís retain a position of superiority or inferiority?

I think you’re probably going to get that in any kind of a community but I haven’t seen that much of it in the Bahá’í Faith.

Do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís from other cultural backgrounds?

I suppose in some ways different but probably only in the area of ethnicity. I think I probably cut to the chase and say yeah, we’re all human.

The ethnicity but not the culture?

The culture but not the ethnicity?

Yeah, I think so because I think you can make a case for ethnicity being something that kind of hangs around the background of the culture. Culturally I’m American but there’s some ethnic things that still hang around my family, like what kind of food are we going to have, or how do you celebrate, you know day such and such.

How you celebrate, wouldn’t that be cultural?

So you see those you see as differences between you and other Bahá’ís maybe, but not skin color?

Yeah, I think that’s probably it.

Does your feeling of unity does that mean you can’t feel unity with people who aren’t Bahá’í?

That’s kind of like saying you can’t love your mother and your father at the same time. I don’t think that really is the case.

Can you tell any stories that illustrate unity?

The one thing that always comes to mind when I think about crazy things I have done with other Bahá’ís is the second year I had been a Bahá’í I went out with ________________ to the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and it’s 3:00 o’clock in the morning and week you know, we met some other people there and bear in mind that I only knew

like one of these other people other than _______________, so we sat around outside the house of worship until we started freezing to death out there at 3:00 o’clock in the morning and we said, let’s go find a restaurant, so we went down there at 3:00 or about 4:00 o’clock in the morning and there’s nobody in there and everybody’s looking at us like we’re out of our minds. We get this table we sat down we all ordered food, and we sat there and talked and it was just a great time.

Unity because you had a lot to share?

Yeah, I think that was it.

Do some Bahá’ís expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

I think in some ways. And I think in some ways although we say we don’t have doctrinal disagreements we do because we’ll interpret the same thing you know a shade different form each other, well you know like which of these ideas is more important and I think we all have our little areas where we think something is more important you know. So I think every once in awhile there’s’ a bit of that and I think because, I don’t know, I’ve always had a terrible time with authority and a lot of times the idea that, you know, even if we don’t like what’s going on say you know we’ll do it that way and if it’s not right and I think that that sort of thing can set you up because it deepens on how much you feel that it’s the wrong idea the more you’re going to try to pull away form it, the more you’re going to get in trouble for it, the more you’re going to find more excuses to pull away, so.

Are you talking about the way people interpret the Writings?

Yeah, that’s part of it. I keep thinking about things that happened with like some of the academics who started niggling and pulling away and got in trouble for it and then decided that you know, people get into it and think it’s a great social thing then discover that it’s a religion and they can’t handle the idea that it’s a religion. I don’t know, I know there was some give and take and the House of Justice told them you guys, you’re getting too close to the line, you’re going to have to stop and then, from what I’ve understood of it, some of them did and some of them didn’t.

Other than that, other than I think conflicts with administration which is in a class by itself.

The way people interpret the Writings, how can they get you in trouble? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?

I think I’ve got an example. This kind of goes back to when [my daughter] was getting married, you know, last year. We called up and they said you can’t have any other kind of wedding service in the grounds of the House of Worship other than you know Bahá’í because it’s not, form the writings or whatever. And I thought, you know, it bothers me because I think that it’s upholding this idea that somebody got that we shouldn’t be reading something that somebody made up from another religion at the House of Worship because it’s supposed to be where scripture is being read. And it kind of you get fixed on that but then, what happened to the oneness of religion? It seems like you get focused on the little issue and you forget about the larger issue. It’s sort of like saying a Catholic can’t come into the house of worship and say a prayer like glory Be because you know it’s not you know scriptural, that kind of a thing. I’ve heard them read from the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita and stuff, the only interpretation I can put on it is that since the actual wedding ceremony itself isn’t biblical in origin that it was written by John Wesley or whatever, that that would be a reason not to do it. They don’t want white western wedding type stuff any more. They said they were trying to get rid of a lot of the cultural things to some extent, but if your wedding day and you want to make it kind of special it also seems to be taking that out too. It’s like, well how do you distinguish this day from any other day? Can I have a nice dress? Okay, maybe it’s not going to be white or whatever, but are you going to tell me now I can’t dress up for it? You know. And just little things like that where people start, you know, somebody makes a regulation that seems like a good idea at the time and sometimes I think that it kind of can lead us into conflicted areas.

You’re talking about how other Bahá’ís themselves are interpreting the Writings?

Yeah, I think it gets to be part of it. Somebody says, you know, what I think we ought to do is, say that, “Well, you can’t read anything at the House of Worship except,” and then you get into something that seems like it would be in conflict with some larger principle.

So how would you overcome that? Is this an obstacle to unity?

In some ways I think it is. I think it’s subtle. You know, because you know, you can read from the Bible and you know, that also leads us into funny gray areas. Like can I go in there and say my own prayers, because my own words aren’t revealed they’re just how I feel. There is to me in some respect they all kind of begin to shade into one another.


What is the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

All Bahá’ís aren’t taking seriously Shoghi Effendi’s admonishment about the most challenging issue. We seem to stress that the oneness of mankind is the focal point and the unity of mankind, you know, those for race unity and those sorts of things, But my personal experience at different conferences and workshops and various other meetings, when we talk about, when we really get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about race unity the issue of racism comes out, you know. But we don’t deal with it on an ongoing basis. And even here in _____________ where we have an institute for the healing of racism, it’s just a core group, a small group of people who attend it on a regular basis because it’s an issue that people just really do not feel comfortable dealing with. And so my experience has been to provoke that – the issue of the most vital and challenging issue. in fact this evening I’m going down to ____________. One of the Bahá’ís is hosting a session on the most vital and challenging issue and I want to be a supporter of that. because I feel very keenly about this as a person of African descent that it’s an effort to be in the midst of the healing of racism when blacks and whites get together and really seriously talk about it and listen to each other and make it something that when we talk about the oneness of mankind and race unity, that there’s a realness there based on the fact that we tried to deal with the hurts, the conflicts, the things that have separated people but in the Faith, when blacks come to the Faith in particular that they will feel comfortable in being in an environment that in many instances you hear people say that they think that the Bahá’í Faith is a white religion because there is an overwhelming amount of white people in the Bahá’í Faith, and that’s history, I mean we can’t deny that, you know. And when blacks come to the Faith, they’re not retained within the Bahá’í community over a long period of time like a person like myself. I’ve been a Bahá’í for 33 years now but there are many others that have come behind me and I’m sure in front of me that are of African descent that have not chosen to stay, you know. Because see, first of all, when I’m uncomfortable, I speak up based on what I know Shoghi Effendi has said, what Bahá’u’lláh has said, Abdu’l-Bahá and what the Universal House of Justice has said, and National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, all of these…but bodies don’t do that regardless of what’s in the Writings, in any writings, whether it’s at the local level, the national, the Universal House of Justice --if we as Bahá’ís don’t bring that about, then its like null and void and then you have people coming and not staying because they don’t feel like we’re really seriously dealing with the issue of racism.

Do others speak up?

Some do and some don’t. Those that don’t stay don’t talk very long, and when they talk up some of them feel that they’re not heard, so they don’t feel like – See, the healing of racism is really a process by which each person that would attend, go through. I mean, it’s not about condemning other people or confessing sins. It’s really about listening to what other people are saying they have a problem with, you know, their hurts or whatever. And I think as African American people, when they come to the Faith, I think they come because they say, “At last here’s something that says we want to deal with the race issue.” You see? And then when they come, if they’re disappointed they

say, then why stay because it’s not what they thought it was. So that’s really that’s the onus that we as Bahá’ís have it to help heal the hatred and the other animosities that any African American person or even a white person would bring that needs to be cleared out of their system.

One of the barriers is not being heard?

I think that’s why people don’t stay. I think when people come to the Faith and feel that there is a mechanism whereby they have an outlet, they have an opportunity to be part of a community that is really truly unified at expressing race unity, there’s no reason not to stay, see what I’m saying. I mean, it’s the dissatisfaction that people find in different Bahá’í community. See, each Bahá’í community is different because some communities have an overwhelming amount of whites and if you’re the only black, or there are very few black people in that community, you’re not going to fare as well probably as you would in a community that’s more diverse. So it’s, as I say, it’s just a variety of diverse communities that you have to look at. And I don’t know if this is exactly…and then you will put all this together and come up with something that I can look at…the other thing that I am is I will be frank at times because that’s my salvation, that’s my joy, that’s my realness, you know. And Bahá’u’lláh has given me that opportunity to be that real in the Bahá'í Faith as the pupil of the eye, you know he talks about the pupil of the eye. You know? And that puts an onus on us as African American people to be alike, you know to be willing to give up and to share with people that you feel, well what’s the use?

When blacks express feelings that they’re not being heard?

They don’t believe that they’re heard because a lot of times this is very painful topic, you know. And because we’re Bahá’ís we try to exemplify a certain amount of dignity, how ever much the hurt is, you still want to do it in a dignified way when you express it, you know. And especially if you say, the non-Bahá’ís are going to hear, what are they going to think of us. But they already know us. Nobody really wants to hurt the Faith, because it’s not the Faith, see? That’s the other thing to be clear about because if we would do what Shoghi Effendi says, then we could really change the world overnight almost, because we have what no other people on earth have which is the reality of the oneness of mankind. If we would do what Shoghi Effendi asks us. Shoghi Effendi says there’s something that whites have to do and that blacks have to do separately, then there’s something that we have to do together. You know. And that’s where the fear comes in and that’s what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with people that are putting more energy into being fearful in the Faith than they are into following the Writings. That we have around this issue.

The fear is whatever people want to deal with, or what?

It’s a fear of change it’s a fear of difference, it’s a fear of people that are different from themselves. That’s what it is. It’s basic fear. And even there are instances even within there are African Americans you know they say black on black crime, and they come down, and even within the Faith, even recently in _______________ even black on black anger expressed even on this issue, even on the most challenging issue. You know. So it’s a fear thing that everybody, you hear people say they’re tired of talking about it. How can you say as a Bahá’í that you’re tired of talking about something that is key. That’s the only thing that the Bahá’ís have, as far as I’m personally concerned, that’s different from other organizations and religions and this that and the other, you know because people are into social and economic development, people are even trying to deal with race issues, from the president on down, you know. But we have the process, because Bahá’u’lláh gave us that process to really rid ourselves of racism. Now. In faith. We say race prejudice because that's that personal thing that you have prejudice against a person who's another this another that. But racism is the social, that's the structure by which we all partake whether we want to or not, you know, and so that's the piece that, so if people are well educated and they're Bahá’ís and they choose to live in the suburbs as so many of them do, you know, that's their privilege but they're not excused from dealing with racism. But they think they are. When you're in the suburbs why do you have to be concerned with what's going on in the urban areas? Whether it's a Bahá’í community or anything believe in the oneness of mankind but I live in the suburbs. My children go to white schools, they don't have black friends, you know. And still we say that we want our children to be that first generation without prejudice, but how is it going to happen? If they don't have a diverse community to learn from each other. You see what I'm saying? So it's a maze of things but it's all clear. It's really all clear.

You talk about words as well as actions?

Yeah, and even if people hear you know what does it mean to them. It can only be translated into what the community eventually becomes or is at the moment.

You've been a Bahá'í for 33 years. Has there been any change in 33 years in the community?

It's been up and down. I remember in 1978 we had a conference in [this city]on ________________ Avenue with the YWCA a conference on the most vital and challenging issue. We had people from National. ______________ was a part of that. You know, praise be God! Luckily he's still there. But you get to a point where it drops off. People get tired of it. Some say they don't want to hear about it any more, you know, that sort of thing.

What is that an attitude of ?

My question is, what is it? If we're dealing in the greater society with racism and race issues, it means that we're dealing with it in the Bahá'í Faith because we are a reflection of what is in the wider society. Why do we keep fooling ourselves? I mean if you're tired of talking about it, then are you tired of being a Bahá’í? Because if you just says that I believe in the oneness of mankind and I'm going to a Race Unity Day picnic, what is that? If a person comes to the Faith and they come from Black Nationalist movement – are you familiar with what a Black Nationalist Movement and how people are, in one sense of the word indoctrinated to hate white folks? See what I'm saying? If Bahá’u’lláh reaches out and says to the heart of a person who's in the Black Nationalist movement, come unto me I can show you the light. This is a very, very sensitive issue. A person comes to the Faith, but within the Faith there are people that cannot deal with this person because they have in their hearts what they have been taught to absorb as a way of life, then do the Bahá’ís say in their actions, even if they don't say it in their words, they say in their actions that we do not have the love and the sensibilities to deal with you because your background comes from one that's different from mine. And then we talk about entry by troops. Who do we think we're talking about when we talk about entry by troops? So if we have not been through that process of dealing with that most vital and challenging issue which in reality is racism. It’s not the oneness of mankind. And that's what I think people can't hardly divide or separate out what the difference is. Shoghi Effendi was not telling us because of the oneness of mankind the whites have to do this and the blacks have to do that and then altogether we have to come together. If we do that, sure we will have race unity. But we don't want to do it. Because if the whites come together and do what they have to do and the blacks do what they have to do, it's like a listening process, saying yes, maybe my parents taught me how to hate blacks or whites vice versa you know, but you should be able to say if you're a Bahá'í that Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahá’í faith, Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, all the Writings is in my heart. That's what takes precedence to what I was taught as a white person or what I was taught as a black person in the Black Nationalist Movement. And that's what's hard for Bahá’ís to do. And that's my experience.

Were you in the Black Nationalist Movement?

Noooo. Because probably, I don't know, maybe I would not have stayed 33 years if when I came to the Faith people had that kind of attitude, you see what I'm saying? But because I've had the chance to grow and develop at least I have some semblance of tolerance for people that come from the Black Nationalist Movement, you know, with whatever they come with you see, but somewhere in there Bahá’u’lláh saw something, you know. And if we lose it and turn it away, we're really at a sad state of affairs, but that's what we're doing. Because we're not really taking the Writings and saying, “Bahá’u’lláh, I hear what you're saying and I also feel what you're saying.” See, you can, people can, we can read the Writings because it's like not too long ago, it's on the tape that _________________ gave on prayer. And he talked about Tahirih, and he said that in there, she said that – I don't have all the words in front of me now because I didn't realize I was going to think about this, but anyway she said that when she saw Bahá’u’lláh, it made a difference, the effect of her seeing Bahá’u’lláh. And on the tape he said that she had had the writings all her life, but what was missing was the enkindlement of the spirit. And Abdu'l-Bahá was the one that said this – he was quoting Abdu'l-Bahá when he talked about Tahirih – the difference was that she had seen Bahá’u’lláh. So that's what I'm saying, that reading the Writings, you have to do, you must do, even committing them to memory, all these things but if there's not that spirit – it's the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh that we need.

So the intellect won't do it?

It hasn't done and it won't do it. This is why the Feasts are not what they're supposed to be. I made a suggestion to the friends, talk to me – what does Bahá’u’lláh mean to you? If we would just sit and talk about what Bahá’u’lláh means to each of us, you know, we would feel something so if you don't feel anything, it's like you haven't done that thing, that heart to heart. So this is why when you go to the Christian Churches it's the music that brings it out, the emotion. We don't have emotion, we're emotionless people in a way, you know? And this is why we just deepened for two or three weeks or months from the universal House of Justice in 1986, I think it was about Feasts, you know, helping us to see that the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh has to be in the Feasts. Otherwise people think that they're boring. People come to the Faith and they go to the Feasts and they say, what IS this? You know? So I mean, it's the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh that's missing. It's also the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh that, if you really believe in the oneness of mankind and you have to believe that all the people that are out here that might that's called entry by troops that's going to come form every direction, every persuasion, everything . Are you ready? If you're not, when will you be ready? Are you fearful? If you're fearful, why are you fearful if you have the message of God for this day? And we're gong to be the ones to change the world? Look at this. We have to look at ourselves. It's not the listening so much as the opening of hearts, and to open your hearts you have to feel, but it's also the fear, the prejudging. How might this person harm what I have or what I am. I think prejudice is very tribal. It's very selfish. People who have prejudices usually have pretty much what they want, even if it's on a lesser scale, you know the amount of what they want, but they feel they're pretty much better than somebody else and so the fear comes in, from my perspective, they feel they have to give that up, then they feel that the person they have to give it up to or the group or whatever is less worthy, do they work for it, were they born in America, and all these kind of things, you know. It's a fear thing, you know.

Do you mean Americans or Persians?

Persians are considered to be white, you can't really separate them out. They follow pretty closely the path of white society, white privilege. This is the other thing, people are really afraid to hear about themselves. Because when we introduce this in the healing of racism, these are the kind of things that we talk about –white privilege.

In those meetings, those are usually people who are motivated to change?

Very few white people come.

In _______________ it's the other way.

In different communities we have different realities. But here it's all a part of the hypocrisy, but that's what it really is. Even though we institute for the healing of racism is held at the Bahá'í center but it's not a Bahá’í thing – so that's another excuse that Bahá’ís feel they don't have to go because it's not sponsored by the Assembly, or something like that. It's hogwash too. So my experience has been that we're really not up[ to snuff and be willing to deal with the most challenging issue which is a Bahá'í-sponsored situation by Shoghi Effendi who's the Guardian of the Bahá'í faith, who is the sign of God. I mean., yeah. Abdu'l-Bahá was the servant of Bahá’u’lláh. There's another name fothe Guardian. I co-sponsored a Feast and during the social part.

Do you have any idea, other than becoming better Bahá’ís, what are some of the solutions?

Really getting to know each other. For instance, one of the efforts I put forth and will continue to do is around black history very few whites attend when you have it at the center. People who attend mostly aren't Caucasian and so, because they don't have any interest in it. They just do not have any interest in it. For instance there are other people in the community who will bring forth certain things around for black history month, and it's invariably around Dizzy Gillespie, which is okay. He's a safe person you know, I mean, it would take a person like [me] to bring up something about Malcolm X you know what I'm saying? That sort of thing, because it's just not there. It's just not there. You know.

How big is your community?

It's like very other community in an urban area. It's about a hundred and something I think, and maybe when we have our treasurer's report, she says something like less than 30 contributing to the fund. That's the reality. I was going to say that some people even if they don't come to Feast but when she writes her report it's usually based on the number of who contributes.

What would increase people’s interest even in black history?

What I do is to keep building it. Sometimes you just keep doing what you're doing, you know, put it in the bulletin or whatever like that. It's not something that people jump up for joy about even when I tell you that we talk about black history. For instance at the black men’s gatherings, they do what they have to do based on their own needs. We had a vanguard conference in _____________ about six years ago. That was really the effort of the African-American community and others that wanted to be a part of it. There were whites that were there but that's why we have to do it that way because we know that Bahá’u’lláh has given us a place within the Faith, see, and people can't push us out, but there is that thing that people don't feel like they have to do anything but say they believe in the oneness of mankind and that's all.

What keeps you in the Bahá’í Faith?

Bahá’u’lláh. Because I believe in Bahá’u’lláh. I believe that Bahá’u’lláh truly is the Messenger of God for this day. I truly believe that. And I generate the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh in my own being, and I share that with other people To me that's the only way that you can stay in the Bahá’í Faith. I get to the point that I just tell people off, in the Feast or whatever. I'm very outspoken about the things that I see or a feel that people are very neglectful of. The thing that's come up recently that I personally talked about in the Feast is that the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh has to be a part of that. The spirit of Bahá’u’lláh not just reading the words. Because Bahá’u’lláh’s words should generate a spirit within us to move forward, to be loving and all of that, so if we don't talk about it, then it has no meaning, because only things that have meaning for you do you talk about and engage yourself in. At least, that's my belief. Because if I weren't interested in the Bahá’í Faith, I wouldn't go to Feast, I wouldn't contribute to the funds so I don't believe that people who don't come to Feasts are really truly contributing and trying to be a real Bahá’í spirit in the community. That's one of the things that you can do is just put yourself in one of the chairs at Feast and add to the audience, you know, and that way at least people can understand or see that you do have an interest, that you understand that the feast, even though it's not obligatory, it's necessary. Essential. You know. So things have picked up a bit. And I even talked about it. We talked about trying to reach Christians. I said, do we play music that when people that come to the Faith that are new from the Christian religion that they can hear something that 's similar that can be part of the blessed relation. You know. In other words, try to make it clear, and put it out there so people can say, well you know, we cut ourselves off because we only do this that and the other but if you're trying to bring Christians in and the Christians come and you want ’em to stay, you know when you think about letting ’em hear something that’s familiar to them so their spirit can grow and develop that sort of thing. You do this but for the most part you're alone. What [I say] is great, when [I] open [my] mouth people want to listen.

What does that mean?

It means that when you claim the Faith for yourself, you become the pupil of the eye and exude the spirit that God has given because he’s given us as a people a very special place because he didn't say any other group was the pupil of the eye.

I think of it as clear vision.

That's what it is, you know? But in order to have that clear insight, you have to contribute something, you have to be part of something. It's like there's something that you're always giving, that insight has to come in a tangible way. Everybody has insight, you know but those of use who are of African descent, Bahá’u’lláh has given us that special place. And see some people. I don't really get angry other than just what I'm saying. I can get animated in my voice, or maybe if I just use my hands but I don't carry hate to the point where, you know, if things look the way they look I can be hateful and say, you know, I don't want to be bothered with Bahá’ís or the Bahá’í Faith. That's not the thing you know even though you may feel like well maybe in the community, I could feel differently. It's not going to be any better than ___________ , everywhere you go it's something.

Do you see the tendency among African American Bahá’ís detach?

I was at the conference of __________ and one of the friends said to me that they had moved to another community because the community they were in wasn't up to their expectations and they didn't feel comfortable. So people move around a lot, I guess, trying to see if they can fit in or whatever. Because, and I'm a very outspoken person and a very strong person, but it takes a strong person to really be in a Bahá’í community if you're African American it really does. You get to a point where you say, well maybe if I go to another community, but all communities are having problems with these issues because they're not dealing with it. People just aren't dealing with it. Becoming friends , being involved with one another, understanding that the black issue is a different issue than the Caucasian issue.

What do you want white Bahá’ís to hear you say?

It's not so much a personal thing, for the most part, It's you see when you feel something, it's like, people that are emotional and blacks are emotional for the most part, there's some people that once they become educated, once they become one step above being poor, one step above being middle class, the attitudes change and it's too bad that we don't have enough time today…have you ever heard the tape by Richard Thomas? And he's in Michigan, young, black. And how this Persian doctor had befriended him and some other black kids. And then there are these middle class sort of blacks in the Faith that had an attitude, see what I'm saying, and so what I'm saying is that, some people when they become Bahá’ís – I'm talking about blacks now when they come to the Faith, they become snobbish it's as simple as one two three. I'm not going to mince words now. Or say some words that are action words – which is out of place. They have an attitude that there’s a certain way you must look, a certain way you must talk, a certain way you must behave, you know, that sort of thing. And I'm not saying he was misbehaving. But as Bahá’ís that sort of attitude can squelch the spirit of people that may not be at your level, whatever level you think you are above the norm or above the poorest among us. And it's these kinds of things that people feel even if you don't say anything That's why people are afraid of blacks a lot of times. Because you don't have to draw a diagram for us to understand because we can see right through you. You know, you can go up to _________________, and people will say well if you're this alert and you're this smart, then why are you up here in _____________________ you should have your own business, that sort of thing.

What's __________________?

______________ is like Watts in Los Angeles

That’s a class prejudice you're talking about?

That’s why it's so hurtful. _____________, you know him? We used to have feasts there before we had a center. I've heard people say we used to have such a crowd

come to Feast. The people that were coming to Feast, the Persians that was a stopgap. They had realtors working for them day and night. And as soon as the realtors found them a house, they were out of _____________ and into the suburbs. That's reality. So when we have Feast now, they don't come to _______________ for Feast. They would if we had a unity feast, But they have their own regional feast, you know, that sort of a thing. So that's makes the difference in the community. How we had so many people years ago. It was a stop-gap. They go to school whatever, whatever. But when we talk about the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh we darn better be serious because it's not going to always be like this, because entry by troops is going to happen whether it's in my lifetime or not. There are going to be some people who come into this faith that will turn these people upside down.

Ruhiyyih Khanum [wife of the late Shoghi Effendi] said exactly that when she came to ______________ a few years ago.

That’s why to me it’s so important that we deal with the race issue because once you start understanding why people are the way they are. People who have less than we do are really better off spiritually in many instances especially Africans. You know. And it's a pity that we all don't get to Africa more. I've been to Africa three times in my life and I hope that maybe I can get there one more time because I've never been to South Africa. In fact the first time I went to Africa in 1969 Ruhiyyih Khanum was there. And I did a book on Shoghi Effendi I did one on Mildred Mottahedeh and then Ruhiyyih Khanum and then it's, you know, it's really not just [in this city], it's everywhere. Getting back to the conference that I talked about in 1978, before that there was a paper that Glenford Mitchell wrote and two consultants to the writing of that paper were Dr. Sara Ferrera, and Dr. Eugene Byrd, and in this paper Glenford Mitchell spoke about the Advent of Divine Justice, the most vital and challenging issue and he alluded to the fact that it could even be recommended that that be required reading for new believers because it is vitally important. See, because if people come to the Faith, whether they're black or white and think that they can just sit here and be comfortable, in a way, it's better that they don't come because you know it's almost like you're in the way. I'm serious. Because then you become like a stumbling block, you become like a disunifier of the community where now the disunifiers are the people that want to promote the most vital and challenging issue, or the institute for the healing of racism they become disunifiers.


Yeah, rabble rousers. But see if it was required reading, people would understand that there's no hiding place. Because see, because I remember they told us, I think I had gone to south Carolina, I think it was for the dedication of WLGI there had been some whites that had declared as new Bahá’ís, but when they found out that they had to be in a group, or in a religion that had blacks, they left. So what you have, you have people that come and they hide behind whatever that veil is and they talk about the oneness of mankind. It doesn't work that way. Because if they haven't gone through that cleansing process then –

How do you think people can want to go through the cleansing process? Some people aren't moved by any spirit.

What I'm saying is, are they in the way of the progress of the Faith? See, National, the Universal House of Justice is doing everything that they can to move this Faith along. But there's retardation in the Faith.

Do you think there's regression rather than progress toward unity?

We're talking the words and that's good. But why aren't people coming to the faith. Why aren't blacks – where else can blacks go and be accepted by whites from a scriptural point of view from a reality point of view, and yet still it doesn't happen.

The New York Times Magazine talked about how black kids in high school would say, we're black and we know what that means and we want to be with ourselves, and the whites were perceiving that the blacks were putting themselves aside.

In these instances it didn't look like these blacks didn't want to be accepted by whites. It's going to be harder and harder because we stopped doing what we were supposed to do eons ago. That's why blacks aren't coming. It's harder and harder. That's why more whites are coming. It's unfortunate because it's not going to solve the problem that we're trying to solve. Because Ruhiyyih Khanum mentioned it in these letters that she wrote back in 1961 and I shared this with everybody I could share it with when I started putting my stuff together. She said, challenging observations on teaching in North America. And she talked about the Africans she said, The nonwhite world is stirring, Africa our civilization is beginning to crumble. I believe the responsibility of us being Bahá’ís, most of us still white, had at this time. We must make haste to obey the instructions of the Master and the Guardian and teach in active determined campaigns by every means in our power the American Negro and Indians. In the first place it is a duty placed upon us in writing. In the second place we need them in our communities for their characteristics of mind and heart can greatly help our Bahá’í community life, and in the third place we cannot estimate how far flung will be the repercussions of bringing these two races of North America into the Faith. She had just come back from after her visit to the United States in 1960. Amatu'l Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanum addressed the National Spiritual Assemblies of Canada and the United States. A slightly abridged version of her letter is being printed here in response to the many frequent requests for its republication.” I've gotten to the point where I can read it because at first I'd become so emotional dealing with it. [Cries] You know, it's like, ______________ – you’ve heard of him? He was here in the latter part of May. And one of the things he said was, we've really got to get an understanding those of use as Bahá’ís, because if you don't understand certain things, you miss so much, but once you get an understanding, that's how things start to coalesce and come together, once you understand people. But if I never get to talk to you, and you never get to talk to me, you don't know what I like, you don't know the things around me, what they mean to me, you know, I just see you at Feast and say “Alláh’u’abhá,” and I'm gone, that kind of stuff. First of all, you don't really have a community, you know? It's like, sometimes, I wonder do we have time to be Bahá’ís? We don't take time to be Bahá’ís. They don't have time to come to come to. Sometimes, it's like are we playing games or what? Being Bahá’ís is not a half time or a part time job or a fun thing playing fun and games but it isn't . You wonder sometimes if people really understand that. People come and they see people hugging and squeezing and carrying on and that's good, but that's not the essence of the faith. You know. We have to get to know each other. And then when we get to know each other, we begin to really love each other, and care about each other. You know?

What does it really mean to unite humanity?

Get to know each other. You can work together, you can be together you can marry together, you can do all these things when you understand the basics, you know.

But it doesn't mean you have to be the same. It's unity in diversity.

We didn't say anything about conformity. When people say, “I'm tired of hearing you say that,” what they're saying is “We're all the same.” Let me say this, I'm not calling any names, but I think in this particular instance, we had a retreat back in June. It really was a remark out of disrespect for another black person , there were two black people, you know. But there had been no names called, or anything, you know the word just came out about the vital and challenging issue, and this other person, they both were black. This was like black on black anger you know. So this is what I'm saying. Even though you deal with racism per se, there are so many layers of animosities and things that we haven't come to and we're not willing to come to we don't want to be bothered with that see. So and unfortunately both of these people were assembly members. Unfortunately. What happened was somebody at feast had said they were concerned about people that didn't come so somebody said, maybe if we had a retreat and invited the people that didn't come maybe they'd come and say what it was that keeps them from coming. Of course that didn't happen either. We had the retreat, but it was just the same people that come to the feast. So the people that don't come just don't come. Being black, you have to be stronger, I don't care where you are and what you're dealing with, whether it's in our out of the Bahá'í community. We're not part of the white privileged group, our Technicolor is here to say, there's nothing we can do about it . People have preconceived ideas and prejudices and stuff like that. But what I'm saying is I think that most people, black or African American that come to the Faith, because of the Writings, because of the interactions that they've seen even before they become Bahá’ís, they have great expectations of a community that is loving and serious. But then when some people come they say well you know, this that and the other.

Have you had conversations with Bahá’ís that leave about why?

There's only one white person that I know of that I was friendly with at one time that left the Faith. She probably could not accept. In fact, we both were followers of father divine. She kept her friendship still in the mission. She probably never internalized Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings. It doesn't have any bearing on me.

Any final things you want to say?

That's pretty much. it’s just that I think, we don't, I’m talking about [this city] right now. I don't think we have enough people in ____________, African Americans, that are absorbed or really interested in dealing with the most vital and challenging issue on a strenuous basis. There are some people that probably have more friendship with whites than they do with blacks in the Faith, but they don't want to deal with the most vital and challenging issue. It's a thing. They feel more elevated I guess being with whites than with blacks. They'll speak to me at Feast. Other than that, in spite of all of that. The black white thing for me is that I know that I'm a person of African descent and I promote whenever I can within the Bahá’í structure and within the Bahá’í framework for the African American and there are some whites that are that will be participants in whatever I do as far as exhibits and stuff like that. But I don't expect people from the suburbs don't come for anything like that. There's a lot to be desired among the whites and the blacks as far as two groups really being a part of each other, if you know what I'm saying, we have like this social epicenter, where the Persian mothers come in and they cook all the Persians and they make sure they have “Alláh’u’abhá, Alláh’u’abhá” that sort of thing. To me that's not friendship you know. Maybe it is to some people, that's the other thing . To me it's not. I used to entertain here a lot I don't do it any more, I still have I haven't really been up to par it's almost been two years now. When I used to entertain a lot, before we got the center this one particular Persian and even if I see him a lot, I can't always remember the names, but anyway, she came and she says, oh what a nice house you have ohhh. I didn't know what, you know? She was so shocked. This is your house? I bought it, you know. But you see once you get to know people you don't fall into that kind of stuff. You know? She lives up there around state college but she used to live in our community but she went to Africa and came back. She can get along with blacks. Even now she'll come down. The last time she came down she called and wanted to take me out to dinner. But that's the way she is.


What is the significance of unity in the Bahá'í Faith?

I think it is the foundation for bringing people together of diverse background.

Can you describe a time where you experienced unity?

I think there are times like when we work projects together, then you see that people have a common goal and then the people will say sacrifice their time and to work together and also a lot of time I feel, I don't know if that can be part of it, you don't feel you are that much different from other people. I remember there are time my roommate was Bahá’í, and I used to talk to her about a lot of things. There were times I realized that there is so much things we're in common, rather than compared to some of my Chinese friends, a different way of thinking that we were a little more thinking about spiritual things. And at that particular moment I realized she's black and the difference between us is the color of the skin. And you almost don't see that you know, you just feel very, very, feel like you're talking to just any other people, so you don't really think about that. It was just a very good feeling.

The cultural difference is, sometimes when you are in a community it's very close, the racial community, the Chinese community, there are certain things actually would set you apart and make you draw a line between your community – the Chinese community – and other communities. But in the Bahá’í Faith you feel like, because you have a lot of things in common, you work on a common goal, you don't feel that barrier is there, it doesn't exist. It's – it's different.

In the Chinese community, does each Chinese community not work on common goals across the community?

You have your own common goal but a lot of times your goal will be and you have some kind of excluding other communities. You say, this is the way we do things and other people maybe they 're inferior. Chinese always think they're superior.

How would you describe a community in China?

It's just like friends, what I would say is the friends I'm associated with. Lots of Chinese friends and the way we think. I can say, that's the way I used to think. Obviously I'm thinking differently. You know. Usually the way of thinking is different, it's quite different, your expectations, a lot of things are quite different form the Bahá’í perspective.

So, to be united, what does that mean?

To be united, because if you're Bahá’í, you feel like you should include. Your definition of united is broader, more global , it's more issue, Even the Bahá’ís are united, but what we're trying to do is we want this as a model where we can embrace all the people in the world.

It includes everybody?
Yes, everybody, you practice in the Bahá'í community, you say, this is the way to do it.

Do you think there's a responsibility to unite with people who are not Bahá’í?

Yeah, I think so, I think that's probably one of the things we need to work more on in the Bahá'í community. We feel very comfortable among ourselves. To work with other people, sometimes we have to have a kind of inference and realize that other peel have a different way of thinking and sometimes you have to think of a way to embrace the thinking.

You're saying unity is a way of thinking?

Unity is not just a way of thinking, it's a way to see how things should be work among you and you try to put it in action.

You have a goal or an ideal?

You have an idea, but you cannot just have an idea, you have to have a relationship with other people, how you want that to be, and then you have to kind of figure out a way to work to achieve it.

Do you live in a community that's united?

I think a lot of times the Bahá'í community, you can feel, most of the people are together and you feel like it's united. Sometimes one or two are probably they're kind of feel like not really that 100 percent part of it.

Do you sometimes fell that way?

From my community, I don't feel that way.

Is there diversity in your community?

Kind of. We have people from different racial background, we have Chinese, and white and Persian and black, we used to have Vietnamese and now we have people from different. Professionally, most of the people are well educated. Let me think – I'm thinking about within our community. And we have people with a different kind of needs. We have old people, we have people probably kind of mentally a little bit depressed, you can feel like there's a need, you know, and young kids, so it's kind of in one sense I would say it's financially not that diverse. We don't have really poor people There was a time when we had somebody that was having difficulty, financial difficulty. Education-wise everybody has a job. I'm trying to think so it's kind of a little bit. In one sense you can see diversity, it depends on what criteria.

What are some obstacles to unity?

Well I think selfishness can be an obstacle. Well, you know, Bahá’u’lláh says backbiting definitely can be one of the reasons for disunity. And also I think it's very important, Shoghi Effendi says it's important for Bahá’ís to fight their own spiritual battles. A lot of times that can be some kind of issue in the own community. If you don't fight your own spiritual battle, sometimes that can be a cause of disunity.

How do you know when you've achieved unity?

There's some kind of special feeling you have. It's just like in a family, everybody's together and you're and you're all you work well together, the family has unity, And this family is a happy family and it has a really nice, warm fuzzy feeling.

You can feel, so when you feel that way with your people in your community, sometimes you feel like there's unity.

How do you have to live to achieve unity?

It has to. Some of the things is, we have to be conscientious that this is something that as a believer we it's our goal, and I think one thing about this that's very different from other communities, Bahá’u’lláh’s principles, if you look at them, the final goal is to help you achieve the unity, the social laws and the spiritual laws, and so that is a way, that's the best guideline to do it. Because the Bahá’ís benefited form having these guidelines, these laws, and then we know when we do something then we say, this is in our law, we can't do it because then we have disunity. I think this is the biggest difference. ’Cause I look at other communities, not the Bahá'í community I have association with, because there's no such law there. So people just do whatever they think is right. It can be religious, it can be what they think that's the right way to do, or they think everybody's doing that so it must be okay.

Do you see it then that the Bahá’ís have a specific doctrine about unity and maybe Christians don’t?

Not just a doctrine, Bahá’u’lláh’s the law. I think it's much more clear cut than Christians. For Christians I think it's their determination but sometimes I think Bahá'í, it's more work harder toward achieving unity. That's the main thing for them, including other religions probably. If you kind of remind them, oh yeah we have that in the Bible. It's a part of, Bahá’u’lláh says no backbiting. It's so clear-cut.

Is unity something one person can promote?

Well, ultimately definitely need both parties together and definitely started with one party promoting it.

How can, if they can, third parties like institutions produce unity?

Like the Local Spiritual Assembly, I think institutions, my experience is institutions sometimes kind of channels that the believers, if they see them they're going off the track, and then try to channel them back. And with my people, you know, you get more people to think about one particular issue and then that helps to look at things form a different perspective and that is the help.

Have you done anything to increase unity among others?

You talking about if you see somebody there's some disunity and you try to do something?

Not just fix something, but some thing you've done to create unity.

Yeah there are things you're trying to help out, or trying to ease the tensions or something.

At work?

I'm not sure I'm working the right way, there's too much disunity it's heartbreaking. A lot of times in the Bahá'í faith we talk about how Bahá’ís handle certain situations when you are in that kind of environment. And now they say okay you just say, I'm not talking about that, and you just walk away. A lot of times they're just talking behind other people's back and you just walk away. One Bahá’í says, you know, oh yeah anybody wants a coke I'll go get a coke so other times when they want to talk about somebody, bad things, they say, Oh, yeah I want a Coke, can you go get me a coke? [laughs] Yeah, I think that person now definitely, it doesn't necessarily, the other people still keep on complaining, the problem, and he walks away. And then sometimes there are a couple times I try to tell people to look at things from a different perspective and then sometimes you know when somebody 's really upset or something, and that sometimes it doesn't necessarily sink in, what people can really look at it that way, so but, I think it's my responsibility, or it's my little bit effort to help people look at things from different perspective, other people's issues.

How do you perceive your ethnicity?

There are very few Chinese in the Bahá’í faith especially in our area, so I feel like kind of like a token Chinese. [laughs]. Yeah, I think you know a lot of times that you it's a diversity adds more excitement to the community. If you don't have Chinese, and you know, say the Chinese holiday comes up and you can share with people, this is what we do and like that, this always brings people together more and also as a Chinese I guess the community appreciates having this racial diversity.

Do you give up aspects of your culture to be a Bahá’í?

Actually, when I was investigating the Bahá'í Faith and I constantly compared the basic Bahá’í principle with the basic Chinese moral standards, the standards – the higher standards, I'm not talking about what people are doing now, from the ancient book, the good book. I found there was a lot of similarity and that was part of the reason it draws me to the Faith, I mean, help me to say, okay this is fine, so if you look at present , if you look at the Chinese community now a lot of way of thinking doesn't necessarily reflect especially here in the United States, it doesn't really actually reflect what the we think a good Chinese should be based on the ancient books, because a lot of people have rejected those – you have Chinese from different kind of places, Chinese from Communist country, or persons, they bring in something else, rejecting the old traditional moral standards, then you have Chinese from other places, maybe capitalist more capitalism kind of Chinese, and then after they come to the United States, they learn certain things, and they perceive – the problem is that Chinese community is very close, and most of my Chinese friends, they only associate with Chinese but their perception of what American, or thins country is, is from the television, and maybe from some of the people at work. So I think it's biased a lot of times, especially exaggerated a lot of things are exaggerated on the television, so I sometimes feel sad and my, I think I was lucky in the Bahá’í community have that exposure with many, many groups of people and so I have a different perspectives about you know different, you know, there are good pe0ple, they're different form the people on television. What I was trying to do was to help my Chinese friends to understand, there are people not thinking exactly the same as the people on television.

Where are you from?


Were you always interested in unity?

Yeah. I always like to learn about things I don't know and that's part of me. I'm not afraid to explore new things, but I'm cautious too, not before my exposure to the Bahá'í faith – I grew up in a Christian family and I came to the Chinese church here it anyway, it doesn't feel my spiritual need and at the time the Moonies was very popular lots of Moonies around, so I went to one of the Moonies, but all the time I felt like one thing I'm lucky is I didn't like some of the Chinese they come to this country, they immediately adopt whatever they think this country is which is a lot of times form the television, or they completely reject things and stick to their little world. I try to use what I know from the Chinese traditions and I think it was a good part to evaluate a lot of things in order to make a judgment, so I explored different things, I like to. That part of me is probably is the one reason that I go to the Bahá'í meetings, ’cause actually at the firesides, I look at that as I'm learning a comparative religion course here. I didn't know about the Bahá'í Faith when I was in Taiwan.

Did the Faith add to your culture?

Yeah, definitely.

Do any members of your community remain superior or not ? Any selfishness here?


Is it like everybody has to listen to them?

I think in our community, no. We have people very knowledgeable. We have auxiliary board, we have a regional counsel, but the person never says that what he says we have to listen, but he always has words of wisdom. So we feel that was good. We benefit from that.

You don't notice that some members expect others to adapt?

Do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís of different cultural background?

Can you unite with others who are not Bahá’ís?

You know, you feel so much more comfortable with Bahá’ís, but it's not like you don't feel unity, say my Chinese friends. It's different. They're friends. But everything we think is different, but we're still friends the Bahá’ís are different, the Bahá’ís are not Chinese but everything you think is the same. The only thing is I wish non-Bahá’ís have a chance to experience this, what's in a good Bahá’í community, the unity that you know you can feel, it really would bring a different perspective. You know, I'll give you some example, my mom's in a Christian church and they only go to the Chinese Christian church. And they have their own other problem. I just felt like they were cut off from the rest of the community. They were living in this country, even they don't speak English very well. The church provide the English classes for some of the people because if they to get citizenship they have to pass this English class, English test, but it was just an English class. Very often I thought, if she was in the Bahá’í community, I have seen these Persians come with no English and they were sitting on the Assembly and their English is just gradually, by being with all these people you know, and in this country, and their English is almost nothing, and then they can join the discussions – you know, in the beginning we always have to translate and then they join in the discussions, they become part of it, and that's very important, the language is very important to know a culture, and so I think it, you know, that's something they are kind of disadvantaged, left out.

Why don't they want to get out of that group?

I don't know if it has to do with age. I don't think necessarily, because I know young professionals, they still have their Chinese, It's not environment for them they feel like they can be part of. They don't have these – if you can think of the Bahá’í community in America is an American community with Americans even though there’s a lot of Persians. But they don't have that opportunity to experience it, to have a place where they can – they have the work place where they can deal with these Americans, but it’s different. There's a lot of things that happen in workplaces and you experience a lot of times, it's very negative. But if you notice at work you have white community, Jewish community, Chinese community and black community kind of have little groups. There are issues they talk about. Then sometimes, a lot of times, people talk about okay, does this person is maybe Jewish they don't like Chinese. You will start to define these kinds of things. It's very fragmented. Our work is very – they're trying so hard, one of the directors is pretty much left, you know, because all these racial problems. It has, it's very complicated. It's almost like a wound that I don't know how you can heal it. There's some kind of you know, before it was like predominantly in many workplaces, predominantly you have white male in all the management positions, right? So there is gradually, there is maybe a certain situations and then people feel like you know there are certain kind of prejudices in many workplaces because only certain people get promoted I'm telling you very frankly about this. So there was a time when you would have to go through these, sensitivity training. Actually the center was in such bad shape we would have to have one of these things where you say these things you don't like – you have a facilitator there, you have issues and you have things like that and you talk about it. Sometimes people try to say more politely, sometimes people couldn't stand it and they finally pointed the name you know. I have friends in China who said, this is like the cultural revolution it was awful. And you have to go there and have these little group meetings and in the end nothing happened. Because it's something almost only the director left. It's almost nothing happened. It was still there so later on, management also has the power and made decision and sometimes big decisions, and nobody knows about it. Then they say, okay we have reorganization, and then suddenly here's the reorganization. So later on they try to form a union —this is another thing in the Bahá'í faith we don't really support this idea of union because I mean – I'm a union member, it's not because I see the management and the regular worker should have these two kind of you know opposing positions, but the thing is they made all these decision without even let people know, it was very secretive. You feel like you need protection, you need that union to be there to protect you from being you know various things could happen. Even if the management could have the right channel to consult with the people, the workers, and things can evolve and work out together, then we don't need unions. That would be the most ideal situation, but it's not. So how many years, 5-6-7 years it becomes a shadow. I feel like they're a minority they're under-represented in the higher grade level and they're also – in some of the situations you really don't know, it's because of prejudice or it's because of the need of the work had changed, and things like that, and the particular position had become you know, the nature of the work had changed, and the minorities I guess was a prejudice. Every problem is a racial issue. Every problem become like that, and I think that's very sad and come around, and then promotion becomes a racial issue too. Because if there is under representative of minorities, okay, here is a promotion, this position, I think they're going to have a female. I don't know if that's the way they set it, but sometimes you feel like that was the thing that was played out, in order to kind of neutralize a little bit the situation there, but then you have other group of people get upset too because they see people shouldn't get promoted…There's distrust, definitely between the management and the workers, there's definitely distrust.

You're saying there's no common goal even though this is one workplace?

How do you define common goals? I always look, myself, I always look at our job, for example, our job is we're going to do surveys and present the surveys. The timing of it is important if you do a survey for the year 2000 you can't wait ’til 2004 to release it, right? So upper management what they think is timeliness is a priority, so translated down here is okay, you have to work fast. But the workers say this is all I work, I work 8 hours a day, I put effort and a lot of work depends on the previous and another person's work and the other person in this chain, so it's like you know, this is, I don't know you know, if you say, the upper management wants to have a daytime so and so in such a short time, and it's impossible, so who cares about it. There's no consequences really and everything pretty much, a lot of things people do – and that was a part of being naïve I didn't realize that – they choose to do what kind of work to do and what kind of work they don't do, a lot of times has things to do with how they see that work helps them in their advancement.

Wouldn't that be selfish?

Definitely. It's not for the goal of the, you know, the company, the common goal Common goal is like a slogan. I was, I have my own agenda – I always want to learn and so whatever gives me challenge, I like that. And a lot of times, because my husband's a manager, I always look at managers, I don't look at managers as somebody against us. I have friends telling me, that's it, you know. Management is supposed to be in the opposing situation. That's how they think and how can you have common goals. There's so much higher too. Whether you get funded sometimes you have to understand and look at it in the bigger picture, we have to look at this in a bigger picture, we have to do this because this is the justification for have funding for this project a lot of people say well, they're not going to fire us you know? Cause, but a lot of times, I can see they're pulling their hair out in management they're saying, how are we going to justify this to congress they say, …I can have a little sympathy for that because my husband has sometimes has to do that. Other people they don't have that experience. That give them the opportunity to know.

Can you see ways to apply Bahá’í principles to your workplace?

Consultation. That is definitely right now it have some of the things like say if we want to start a joint project, a joint design, kind of bringing people together, talk about it, s6ynthesize the whole idea together instead of this one person and that other person. And kind of informal that way, kind of a consultation. Definitely for small meetings and other things, I think that can help in the lower part of the organization help the communication, instead of people guessing what the message is. Why is it this way? What is the manager doing? One manager went to a training recently. Before the training she had to send out this questionnaire to some of the people who worked for her and to evaluate her performance. And one of the things it's like did you kind of let your employees know the overall goal of the organization. And after the training she actually had a low rating on that. She thought she was explaining pretty clear, but obviously she didn't . Abdu'l-Bahá says always look at the good qualities of people. That's something I want to learn. There's a lack of understanding of other cultures. Bahá’u’lláh gave guidelins and how to practice. Why don't I feel as close to my Chinese friends as I do to my Bahá’í friends? Why do I feel more comfortable with Bahá’ís? Every community outside looks united but even inside, to the outside it looks united. You can see that Persian community looks closer. But it looks like they're closer – first of all, they're all relatives. The difference is when we get down to it, we know we shouldn't do it that way – that makes a big difference. We have a glue there and other people don't have glue. We're at the very early stage of it. To the Chinese, they don't think it's not right. Bahá’u’lláh tells us, this and this – if I have that thought, I know that's not right. If a person really dwells on the negative things and not let it go, and not let Bahá'í principles take over, and you’re still linked to your old thought, you start to see with united eyes and say I was disunity. It affects the way you think about other things. If you don't look at things like that, you become that person to help the unity – that's how one person can help. It takes everybody's effort. Still every individual has their own role to play.


Can you describe a time you’ve experienced unity?

Well, at the moment I’m not sure because I’m not really being, I have seen maybe in a few times but I really don’t recall at the moment . Maybe in the family at times I have seen unity, in cases where there is you know problem or you know we have all come together to get it down. There is not any approval in that decision, we have all taken it together. Outside the family I’ve not experienced it as such because I’ve seen a lot of people from many backgrounds and their views are so different you know. When you say something they don’t believe the whole thing, they say their point of view they are not you know, they’re not exactly in agreement.

Do you see unity as being exactly in agreement?

I see unity also in the life, different types of backgrounds as such, even though they’re in different religions, the concept is mainly the same, but in certain principles there’s a vast difference, like in some religions there is not equality between man and woman.

You’re saying that some people say they have unity but you wouldn’t call it unity?

I don’t know in what way I’d call it.

What does it mean to be united?

United means agreeing in principle like believing in certain things and acknowledging that it is okay or it is correct. Many people disagree on many subjects so there’s no agreement on their viewpoints.

It has to do with their viewpoints or their beliefs?


Have you lived in a united community?

On several occasions we have experienced unity, but on several different occasions there is a wide gap, you know, so. I don’t know really. But it depends if the principles simply how it is and well we basically unite in the teachings, like my community I’ve seen in their beliefs and their day to day life, we have seen a lot of similarities, like there is no gap.

Are you speaking of the Bahá’í community?


Does your concept include people who are not Bahá’í?

Not really. I’ve not been that close with any other non-Bahá’í community as such so I can’t really speak for myself, but only on a few occasions with some few friends that I have kept in touch with basically they are not very you know religious, they are very open so they have not gotten really into the mind of you know life or whatever.

You can’t be united with them because you don’t believe the same thing?

If you’re calling unity believing or sharing a viewpoint, well, I can feel united with them. It’s not that I’m prejudiced because they are not Bahá’í as such, so whenever I have occasion to be with them I have that feeling of being comfortable and united, there’s no separation and no gap as such. The few people I have occasion to be with have been very friendly and open and such, so I don’t know that the viewpoint as such whether they believe.

Does your community have diversity?

Yes, mostly only in the upbringing of belief because we have different backgrounds from childhood, even though we are living in the same city as such, but we have been brought up in different ways so I believe we are different. Otherwise in thoughts and beliefs it is always the same, really.

What are obstacles to unity?

I think obstacles to unity is the way the person is brought up in their beliefs, and their religion and their upbringing since childhood because they are taught a certain way to see people or events and accordingly there is the feeling that that person isn’t right, isn’t true, isn’t correct.

So, cultural?


How do you know when you’ve achieved unity?

I really can’t say how. I think even though there are differences as such, you are willing to understand the other person’s viewpoint and accept it for what it is. And I believe that there is unity, acceptance.

Have you done anything to increase unity among others?

I have not had occasion or a chance to be out with people as such, so I don’t really get to talk it out really with them so I’m not. Before I used to work for the national office so there I would get occasion to speak so I would talk about unity and get the viewpoint of the other friends or some were fanatics and would not agree and some were very open and would want to know more.

Some were closed-minded?

You couldn’t get through, there was that gap. They were very persistent, they were very obstinate in w hat their beliefs were. But there were several different backgrounds so I could relate to them, but I have not the occasion or chance

How do you see your own culture?

I see it’s got its lapses as well as its advantages, so I believe it’s in the medium, I don’t believe it’s too fanatic or too open, I feel as if there’s a medium of belief on both sides. I’m open to both.

Your cultural background within the context of the Faith, are you a minority or

I’m from the Indian background basically so I don’t believe it’s the majority. In India my ethnicity basically, my ethnicity background is not in the majority. My father is [Zoroastrian] but mother is a Bahá’í so I was brought up as a Bahá’í.

If you feel united with other Bahá’ís can you also feel united with others?


Do you feel responsible to promote unity with others who are not Bahá’í?

I don’t feel that responsible at the moment because I’m busy raising children.

Do Bahá’ís have that responsibility?

Sure I was brought up to unity the people of the world as one so I believe in the unity of mankind, so whenever I get the occasion to do it, I surely do.

Do groups of people maintain attitudes of superiority?

In my experience I’ve not seen this apply at lower levels. I’ve seen in my community there’s no such degree.

In the past communities?

Most of them were from my background so I mixed in freely, I didn’t see any high or lo level. From the Hindu background, many lower class background and higher class background, I haven’t been in close touch with people of those background. Hindus were there but were a very small minority for the Bahá’í community in the area. Mixing together it was usually one group, not mixing – there was always one group together, one groups together.

Do groups expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

I haven’t seen that, really.

Do you see yourself as the same as or diff from?

Well, for me I don’t. I’m very free and open in that regard, I mix around with anyone from any background so I don’t have that feeling of he’s from another background. I’m very open and free with anyone from any background.

The main thing I see they don’t mix is the language problem mainly otherwise they live t heir style very free and openly unless it’s behind their back they talk and say things as such, that I really don’t know it could happen but I haven’t seen that so because someone is from a different background they don’t mix as such, only with the language problem I’ve seen there’s misunderstanding.

Do you think that one person can promote unity?

Well, sure, should be both ways because however much you try one way and the other person doesn’t respond it will be very, very difficult to get to so it should be mainly both ways you can get it from both viewpoints. It’s not that one person you know, has to get it through.

How can third parties promote unity?

The basic belief is unity of God, unity of mankind, unity of religion so these institutions are the examples of our society, they’re the ones that can bring it out mainly into the light.

What do you see as the significance of unity in the Faith?

Well the significance of unity is very important in the Bahá’í Faith because that’s the principle of bringing the people together into the faith and in today’s world we have so many ethnic backgrounds and cultures and religions so if we don’t have unity in these main fields we cannot progress into the future.

How do you have to live to achieve unity?

Basically is follow what you preach. Example, if you say something or do something that will not have effect, so you live the life according to what you teach or preach to the other people.

Do you have anything else to add about unity?

I only hope that the spirit of unity will envelope the whole world.


What is the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

I certainly think that as a principle it's important to start with a common basis of understanding. It allows for at least conceptually it allows for us to try to figure out what that is, you know, what that means, that it doesn't necessarily mean sameness, you know? And that it's real important to try to determine how we're going to get there as a community through our relationships to one another beyond, you know, race, or beyond religious affiliations, wherever they came from. I think that's a real task. You know, it's a part of I think the message of Bahá’u’lláh in terms of how we are to grow as communities. So when I think about unity as a principal to live by, then you look for it in every facet of your life, you look for it in as many ways as one can, I don't know if that's the question so much.

What is a common basis?

Well, I think the common basis has to be developed. I think that when I think of trying to focus in on the kind of social life, I think – a place from which to start, a place from which to begin to understand the other. I think that somewhere along there has to be a way of agreeing or coming to a consensus about what that common basis is.

Do Bahá’ís have to find that place from which to start?

I think so. I think the principles certainly are there to get us thinking about that and to start us thinking about it. I look at where we are right now just in terms of a society and there's real potential for polarizing. And so and polarizing along the issues of race, economics, you know, that’s another way that we could certainly polarize as a community and I think that what we have to be very careful about in my mind is really understanding what our common bonds are as opposed to those things that are or create a lack of unity.

The principles are a place to start, but they're not enough? Then what is it that they don't provide?

Actually, when I think about the Faith, I think they provide every bit of an answer you know to a lot of the ills and issues that are here. I don't think that there's a lack in any aspect. What becomes a lack I think is our understanding you know of what has been given. I think that it requires an incredible amount of deepening on what the principals means, it’s not a one-time reading. It's coming together to forge a kind of agreement or an understanding so to speak of what it means, these things I don't think you create a sense of unity in isolation. You create it by the encouragement of that discussion. And I think the other thing that really becomes quite significant is that we're encouraged to read the Writings because the answers are there, you know, and to meditate on them because the answer is there, you know, but we're also encouraged not to go into cloister situations you know, or in situations that isolate us from others, because you don't gain an understanding in isolation. You know, so that sense of commonality is created through the dialogue, you know the discussion that needs to take place. And the fact that a Bahá'í would think that they could go off and create a community would be nearly impossible because that's not what's there in terms of the Writings.

Do you think that unity, the concept of unity includes also people who are not members of the Bahá'í Faith?

Yes I do, absolutely.

So you see that there's a responsibility for Bahá’ís to create unity?

Yes, I do. Again the idea that the community is closed or small. The Writings certainly focus on a world community that we are essentially to take care of each other, you know to paraphrase. The real emphasis is on our responsibility to service, in a world context, to reach out, to create all kinds of associations, to create all kinds of contacts, to create avenues you know whereby people gain certain understanding of each other. And I think those we are – I mean it's one reason I became a Bahá'í because I absolutely think that it's too hard and too difficult to be isolated and try to understand what others are thinking or what they are about, so I don't see that there is a lack of encouragement in that respect. Definitely are encouraged to associate with other faiths, and with other individuals so it definitely is a strong aspect.

Would you say you had a belief in unity before you because a Bahá'í and that's what attracted you?

No, I didn't have a belief in that. I think the way I came to the Faith was, I started out actually wondering why there was this notion of a separate God, or the notion that religions were very specifically they were geared toward some individual or group of people, why they were the only ones being saved. You know, and then, you know, why the rest of the world wasn't. How is it that our worship sort of took place you know in a kind of almost closed environment where one person was giving the message so to speak, and other people had to accept that, you know? I think that – without question – and I think that it never felt right, you know. So I didn't necessarily come to the Faith thinking about unity. I came because there was a lack of it, from what I understood, from where I came.

Where were you before?

The Baptist church. And not even strongly so. My parents you know grew up in the church. Their whole sense was you know you don't take everything that's being told to you. That it's very important that you try to understand what's being told to you for yourself because some of it's not true, you know. So from that point of view they were fairly liberal in their own thoughts about what it was important to know and to learn, and to seek sources for yourself so they actually taught us that it was important for us to explore and to investigate as many things as we could in terms of knowledge. Yeah, I felt really lucky and I do believe that somehow I came here with very enlightened parents.

Do you now or have you lived in a community that is or was unified?

My family. They're pretty, they were pretty amazing. Yes and no. I mean I think that certainly in the way the society was structured, there were certain limitations put upon the black community I think, and I think that in growing up where we lived in ____________ ’cause I grew up initially in ______________ but then we lived in ___________ County, another community, in _____________ if it were anything close to what I remember I think the neighbors kind of looked out for each other, and I think that's probably true for other communities as well. I think though I remember neighbors being my mother's friends being from where she grew up, my father, you know work buddies, they were basically in our home, so I felt that that was really a cohesive kind of environment that I understood pretty much, my aunt s and uncles I’d always see them, it was encouraged in terms of family to always visit, you didn't have to call anybody you just went. So I think in terms of close friends and family I think it was pretty nurturing environment I think that people generally tried to be aware of what was happening with each other.

Do you get that in your Bahá’í community?

I think in the Bahá’í community, yes it does exist. I think that I wish it exists moreso I think that again we're at a very nascent stage in some instances where we don’t always know what's happening with each other, but I think that there's a strong sense of caring and a strong sense of crossing all kinds of lines in order to express that feeling and I sense that that if there was an evolution in the community that that meant we would just step beyond the bounds of friendship and become a larger family that model, that Bahá'í model is it because I think that people do tend to want to become, you know, both spiritually and mentally those people that we've been encouraged to become, certainly as the Christ said, you know, to treat your neighbors well and to love your neighbor as yourself, you know all those things I think Bahá’ís tend to exemplify that to me moreso than any other community that I've lived or gone to.

Can you describe a time when you experienced unity in a Bahá’í community?

Probably in the ______________ home, they had firesides when we first moved to the county in which they invited myself and my parents up and I think it took me awhile to, to realize what was going on, but what I noticed in that environment was that people really broke down things in very layman terms in term of religion and talked about it, and they enjoyed fellowship together with no real sense of self consciousness you know it was really very open some of the first people I met when I became a Bahá’í were from places so far away I'd never heard of you know? And I thought this is just really fascinating that you get in this black community this house that was like a sort of beacon a in a kind of central point where people all over the world came, all over the country came and did this sort of presentation, and it was a new kind of format, and I thought they really sit down and talk about stuff. And I think I was allowed to go to the Feast, the 19-day Feast which I thought, I didn't think anything of it at the time until I became 15 and then I couldn't come tot he business portion anymore, but it was sort of funny because I realized that there were things that that really between the summer schools, the firesides and the __________'s, them being very open to taking us, my sisters and I places, I think that my world view came from that situation, that environment.

Did your parents become Bahá’ís?

They became Bahá’ís after I did.

So how long of you been a Bahá'í now?

Almost let me see, I became a Bahá'í when I was 15, about 35 years.

Do you feel your Bahá'í community has diversity

Absolutely, I think that in terms of backgrounds in which people come from, I think there's racial diversity. I think there's a lot of East and West. When I say that I think there are a number of Persians in the community, a number of people you know from the states in the community. I think you've got in the community certainly the economic levels, although it's predominantly middle class. I see that that diversity is certainly there. People in terms of perfusions, people in terms of although I think class is the wrong word, socio economic level, I think there are a lot of diversity there.

What are some obstacles to achieving unity?

I think our ability to hold onto old wounds and I also see one of the obstacles is arrogance you know and I think that's a real large part of some things that need to be addressed. In communities. I see some of the obstacles, is that become important and I think that Bahá’ís have been really good at doing this is that doing basically the teaching efforts, the reaching out efforts, unless we do that I think I see that as a possible barrier, not being able to accomplish some of the goals.

What do you mean by arrogance?

I think that the notion that that there's one way to do something, or a better way to do something, without having explored you know those possibilities or you know, whatever that conversation is, I think it's arrogant to maybe assume the role of someone who is all knowing, you know, because of the color of one's skin whatever that's about, that becomes a type of arrogance. I think that, I don't know, other things that I think are really kind of interesting is trying to address from the point of view of shielding especially in terms of racism, trying to address that truthfully and honestly, because I think that the only way that we overcome, and I don't think that Bahá’ís are more privileged to understanding without investigating what that means, how to deal with that in terms of what it means unless we're honest, I think that this is a very difficult subject and I think that Bahá’ís are the first to tackle that subject again I think that's where part of the admiration comes in. You know my father had a hard time when he was a Bahá'í, trying to understand why we weren't working faster you know, these wonderful principles that we have about issues you know that revolved around racism. And I'm sure a number of black Bahá'ís at that time – you know, we're talking’60s, ’70s, you know, and a lot of really tumultuous things were happening. I think he felt that at the time we were just like mouthing a bunch of words and people were really not at a stage where they had made that shift, you know, there were some people that had but not a lot That's something, you know. That's something that I think the process is certainly slow but I think we have the ability to speed it up. You know, I think our communities have a model in which to make that a reality in terms of removing those vestiges of racism that exist within society, but I think the historical nature of it and how it evolved, the evolution of it, has to be understood before you can remove it. So I think it's arrogant to think that we have the answer without investigating what that answer is about. You know. That we have the prescription, that we have the medicine through Bahá’u’lláh, but we don't know what the disease is yet.

Your father was disappointed but didn't leave the Faith?

He did. My mother was a Bahá'í but she kind of followed him. I think part of it, you know was because that whole comfort level at the time they wanted to move back to, they had, they left having a great deal of respect for Bahá’ís. It wasn't that they left angry – my father did initially you know, but I think in the end what he realized was that they were very good people for the most part. My mom the same way – they absolutely loved the Bahá’ís that they knew and certainly the ones that they met . Whether they understood what it was that they'd gotten into, that could be another question for them to answer. I think that could've been part of it, you know. They were, they thought they were missing some aspect of the community, and specifically the church community that wasn't happening in the Bahá'í Faith. But even beyond that, their response to the Bahá’ís was always really excellent. We hosted one of the first retreats, you know, on the property that they had when we were living on ___________ Road. It was an interesting time. They made up the first assembly. And then, I think about five years later, they resigned.

So your saying that in some way the community members don't understand what racism is?

I'm not saying the whole community, I'm saying it is part of a lesson I think we all go through. And I say our community, when I look at the ______________ County community I think there's a lot of folks there who know and understand and reach beyond you know a large part of that community, I think, our new Bahá’ís are afraid to talk about it. I don't see that as a being problem but I do think that we have to be careful not to be arrogant about the answer or that we have the sole solution and when I say that I mean that it's about really looking at that issue comprehensively, and really recognizing what is a part of our upbringing, and really recognizing what is happening in the environment. And I'm not saying again that Bahá’ís don't recognize that, I'm saying that's part of our responsibility as Bahá’ís to recognize you know, in the society what's going on.


Recognizing that we're affected by it, absolutely.

Also what you're saying is that we should say we have unity when we say we're Bahá’ís?

They were adults and I was a teenager and wasn't at their level. All I know is that they were really upset you know and when he talked, my father was you pretty strongly vocal about his feelings, you know and how he saw things. And felt it was really important that if you believed in the oneness of mankind, you gotta get out there and do something about it. Much more political about it, you know. And I think the politics in the Bahá'í Faith was, you know, well we're going to wait and see how this evolves, and Martin Luther King is doing all this stuff and maybe, but he's Martin Luther King and he's a Christian so I mean there was that kind of discussion too.

Wasn't there a culture shock? Those Bahá’ís didn't know what to do with new Bahá’ís?

That's exactly right. I had a dear friend who'd come with a toothbrush in her back pocket…

How do you know when you've achieved unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

[long pause]

I don't think we've achieved it yet. I think it'll be beyond my lifetime. When I look at this Faith, it's 160 years old or something? So I do look at it in terms of a time frame. About the times in which Bahá’u’lláh lived, and yes he wanted his community to be unified but there were all kinds of internal struggles there, you know? And when Shoghi Effendi was trying to make things happen I see all kinds of internal struggles there. So I don't think, I think as I said, I think we've been given a really sort of glorious opportunity, a wonderful opportunity, and yet I think that we are you know just a hair's breadth away form achieving that. We're not there yet.

You're more patient than your dad? You're seeing it in a longer time frame?

Yeah, longer time frame. Both my parents died recently. My father and my mom something like 6 years ago, and that was kind of traumatic for me, but I think what was important in my situation was they never stopped me from being a Bahá’í. They certainly encouraged it. They thought the mores, the social morals , all those things were very important. The concept was very important to them. It's something I think they wish they could have seen happen sooner in a larger community, in the context of a larger community, cause I think in the context of a large community those were the issues that were being raised, you know, those were the things they were seeing on a daily basis.

In the world, you mean?

Yes. Not in the Bahá'ís community. So I think the Bahá’í community for them was a refuge away but it wasn't real for them.

It feels like that for me. I know what you mean.

It was just too quick a break for them from what they were used to and they understood and their friends weren't Bahá’ís. At that point in their lives they were making a whole new set of friends, what at 50 and 60 you know, so.

So how would a person have to live to achieve unity.

Well, I think it's again it's important to live outside the box. I think it's important to be willing to be open to others. I think that you have to be open to a variety of ideas and you have to be able to let go of the prejudices, you know, things that may keep you blocked so to speak, not able to see beyond the kind of narrow focus. So I think again to me it goes back to the writings. It's essentially trying to develop a respect, even more than a respect. It's truly about breaking down the barrier where you see the other as oneself or as the brother or as that spiritual connection to You and so I think that's the only way to achieve it is to kind of develop that kind of spirited relationship that really is important to understand where that person is coming from.

Is unity something one person can promote or does it take an active effort on the part of both parties?

That's a really hard question only in that I can see it both ways and I guess when I think about by again by promoting an act of unity or by promoting unity as a single individual I think yes, that a single individual could do it but again I think about the manifestations of God that's what they were about, they were about promoting love and unity and the kind of evolution that man is to take spiritually so I see that as an idea, right? An idea that's being promoted and certainly their actions follow that idea and so maybe that's form the point of view of a manifestation . from the point of view of how we deal with each other on the basis of individuals I think if certainly one person decides you know, you are not my sister or brother then the dialogue is cut off because you haven't created a way, or a two-way kind of communication or avenue of understanding. So I think it takes a lot of effort on the part of one individual to get across that idea, and I think it also takes a lot of patience to get across that idea and in that respect I think that that there's you'd hope it's a two-way street, you know, but if that individual is persistent enough and open enough and willing to take the abuse [laughs] it might be possible, you know, as a single individual.

I don’t know how I’d answer that myself. How can, if at all, third parties such as institutions produce unity among the believers?

[Long pause] By reflecting those principles. By certainly providing an example, you know, whatever it is that they're doing. And I think ah to me the local spiritual assemblies are a reflection of the community life, The national assemblies are a reflection of the community life in other words, when I look at those institutions, they're Bahá’ís, they're essentially Bahá’ís who provide the guidance to some degree to communities and I would say they provide the guidance to communities and I think it's very important that their lives and their their actions reflect the ideals.

Have you ever done anything to increase unity among others?

Yeah, I have. I think the, I think that it's important again as a teacher anyway to establish some sort of communication you know especially in classroom situations, so I look at the classroom as a means or a way of having students kind of carry forth on ideas or e express ideas, or if a statement has been made that I find disparaging to another, to have them talk about and reflect on why they said it. I feel like I'm in a very special role, you know, with young people because I think that a lot of times they're allowed to get away with things, you know that and they don't think necessarily, so it's real important to make them aware of what they say and why they say it, and sometimes it sinks in and sometimes it doesn't and I think that's a real important aspect of how we are to communicate with them or teach them. And then I feel here I'm allowed to do a lot of things. I've brought in speakers. I've attempted to do it in my art work, In other words, when I do art work I try to incorporate those ideas about issues as they related to unity, whether it's you know, dealing with the issues of racism or dealing with the issues of spirituality or whatever. But those are again the artist is in some way also the teacher in the kind of work that they do, and there's some that do better at teaching than others, and I feel that that's one way of looking at what's being done in our times because I think there's a lot of question about what goes on in art making and why, and why doesn't it look like a Renaissance painting. And I think there's a reason for that, I think there's a reason to address what's happening now and how it's happening. And why it's happening, and some if it's not pretty, you know. Some of those issues that people are dealing with on a daily basis are not beautiful issues, they're human, you know, and I think our humanity happens to take us both at it's lowest and its highest in terms of the variety of where we are as beings and where we aspire to and what I try to do is deal with the whole inspiration/aspiration side of it. So I try to look at the art work in terms of that, I try to incorporate the concept of consultation or meeting, where we meet in small groups. I belong to a group here called Seed which is focused on diversity. I work on Bahá'í race unity day community with the secretary in the county who is the chairperson _______________, from there we reach out the government and the schools, and try to create an event with all these people who are involved who are interested in the principle of race unity [the big thing in June] is a significant way to be involved in our immediate community and be a Bahá'í as well. I do a lot of stuff in terms of government and try to again make sure that if I'm chairing a committee or something there's a chance for a kind of cohesiveness within the committee. I treat the art department the same way here. I try to make sure that nobody's left out of the discussion. I think that in terms of acting or trying to make it certainly a part of who I am and what I do I try to make it happen. I'm not always successful there are times that I feel not so much as a Bahá'í, because I feel there's a great source of strength there. But if something doesn't happen or if something goes wrong, or if people aren't receptive, you know, then I realized that either I have to back off or you know reassess what I'm doing and maybe it's not coming from the right place.

How do you perceive your race and religious background within the context of the Bahá'í Faith?

First of all I think that what Bahá’u’lláh has said in terms of diversity is real important for me at this juncture. I see myself first as a Bahá’í. I see myself then as a black woman, and then I see myself as a mother, you know all these little delineations that go on in our lives – you know, you have different roles at different times. I think that the scientific principle that we're all one is truly a Bahá'í principle and race is not an issue. Race is not even a place from which to starts because it 's not existent, scientifically it's not existent. So I think that the fact that we all have different skin pigmentation is you know an act of genetics and that's it, you know and I feel that therein lies the nobility you know of taking on the issue of race because we all have these incredible gifts and I think my skin color in my mind is one gift. It's like, all right, in this juncture in time you in that time span, these are the issues that you have to deal with in terms of your race according to the social construct of the times and how people have gone about creating these false notions about race. I think that becomes a kind of interesting kind of play on our tests, you know, what are we given to deal with and I think that I've never thought of it as a burden per se, I've always thought of it as an opportunity for me to understand who I am as an inner being I also thought that ah what it makes me do is certainly be much more analytical about our social construct and what that means and how it affects people of color and why it affects people of color and why it's a false you construct so I think from that point of view there has been a sort of opening as a Bahá'í in terms of understanding of why I feel the way I feel about a lot of things The issue of race is a big on for this country and I think we have to we have to come to grips with that and why suddenly why the evolution of that took place. It's not even so much the slave trade. It's how people were viewed to be saved or not saved so to speak. Or if you were a Jew in Europe you were still considered a dog. Wrong construct. You know, why is it there?

Do you feel that there's any aspect of black culture you have to relinquish to be a Bahá’í?

I don't believe that but again, we're talking about a fairly young thing. And I don't necessarily think that it won't there are things that won't change or won't be different in terms of how we worship. Certainly the black church is a vibrant, vibrant place, and growing up certainly with my grandparents you know, for the most part my parents in the Baptist church the Gospel choir is a large part of that. Music is a large part of the culture. And I think we each come with gifts that will be added to whatever that pool is, and how that evolution will take place within the Faith I have no idea, it's almost too early to talk about. I think we're still in our separate constructs right now. And I think we certainly in my mind I don't necessarily want to dismiss jazz in this point in time because you know I see it as a very important story certainly gospel music, I see it as a very important story. The transitions that people literally went through in order to get where they are now, meaning, it took somebody to sing wade in the water to get somebody up north, right? So I'm not ready to lose that yet I'm ready to say okay, that was a cool part of what I grew up with and what I understood, you know, between the Harriet Tubmans and how they moved people north. I see that dance which again is just being studied and the understanding about how the African Diaspora, you know, kind of moved through the world when it was totally dismissed, you know, by the larger culture by saying it didn't exist, or there's no African music, there's no African dance, there's nothing about jazz that redeems it, you know I'm not willing to put that to rest yet, because I don't think we've actually explored it, looked at it and said, yes that's important, that's an important part of our culture. So I think that we as a culture are ready to claim everything in it – I mean, I'll claim Judaism in a heartbeat – I just have to know all about it. Right? Because I think as part of that continuum, you know, as we move through life, as part of that continuum, Judaism should be just as important to me as Bahá’u’lláh or Bahá’ís, right? Or Islam should be just as important because of it's relationship, historically, there is the continuum that it has contributed to the Bahá'í Faith, right? That Christianity contributed to something else, that Judaism contributed to Christianity. All those things, you know there's that link. So I think what we're too easily ready to do a lot of times is dismiss you know a whole culture because somehow it's deemed insignificant or not important. And I think we're in a process of claiming it, you know, I don't think I think I can remember 25 years ago people said jazz wasn't important, that's only 25 years ago. within the educational system, there's some people here that say that in this educational system. They know more about Beethoven Bach, than they know about Charlie Parker, So I feel there is this whole issue in my mind that we have to as a faith even make a claim for, make a push for, that kind of inclusiveness.

Would you say that becoming a Bahá’í adds on to your culture?

Absolutely, I believe that too. I don't think I would've associated ht Persians if I didn't know about the Bahá’ís . It would've been much more difficult for me to walk up to someone of Persian background or Islamic background and try to understand them before I was a Bahá’í.

Do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís of different cultural backgrounds?

Yes, only because I think we bring something different.

Same as or different?

I think there are some similarities and differences. I think the similarities we have, certainly the faith itself. I think that is certainly our similarity, in belief system and so in that respect I see myself as the same, you know, I don't see that there would be any way or any reason to interpret anything any differently because you know, we've been given the same message so to speak. Where I do see us as different is that yes, at this time we have certainly cultural differences that have to be overcome and ones that we have to understand. Some are not to be overcome some are just to be understood. So I see it both ways.

Do any members in the Bahá’í community maintain superiority or inferiority or submission as a group?

No, I don’t see that.

Do some members expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

They may not be aware of their expectations, but some members do expect others to adapt, yeah. I think that's human nature and I think that's something that needs to be addressed. Because again I think we're a growing community, and having come from all different places, all different backgrounds you know, I think that there's a sense that we bring with it or to it some of the baggage that we have from other situations. So that's a real sensitive call and something that makes it very hard sometimes to maintain a sense of unity. But again I think that that's something that hopefully we can address even more honestly.

Anything else that you want to add?

I think what I can say is, maybe in my own way is the things that become so important or things that are a part of how we change each day and certainly how we grow each day, I think the meditative side of life and certainly the prayer side of life is so important in order to be able to get through a kind of daily situation and I think it's a very protective sense you know that that is generated you know when you're able to have that conversation continuous, and certainly evolving. And so I think the importance of that aspect of life has been pointed out through the Bahá'í Faith. I think that's an important part of what we need to develop even more and it'll help to develop in some ways overcome a number of problems in terms of relationships when we're talking about how do we relate to each other you know it's I think you approach each individual as if they were than divine spark you know and recognizing again how Abdu'l-Bahá approached the individual and how he treated the individual. I think those are things that those examples that are there, somehow need to be instilled and to be continually be reflected upon in order for us to kind of take the right action. So I certainly think that aspect of study is important. That's really about it. There's so much more to say beyond that, I don't know if I say it well, I just feel like I'm feeling through this like everyone else, trying to make sure that I practice what I preach.


What is unity?

I think of unity as being able to do something in a group where everybody's working together toward a common goal so I would experience just the sensation of unity as a child going to Bahá'í meetings of different racial backgrounds and different ages and different cultures, Persians. I experienced unity just as the sensation of love with a group of Bahá’ís, just seeing the people together of different racial and cultural backgrounds, black and white, Persians and Americans, just a feeling of being loved, and as I got older, just the experience of doing things together as a group, we had a common goal. When I was a youth, I was 19 during the summer when I went to college, I went to Nicaragua for 6 weeks with 3 other American Bahá’í youth. We worked with people from Panama, there was a fellow living there and a woman from the Philippines living there. And we worked with Nicaraguans in near Managua and down near Bluefields area and we would just travel around the country together and in the meetings we'd visit Bahá’ís, and we had public meetings also and just singing, doing activities together. So that was kind of fun and it was an adventure, exciting. For me it was a good experience of unity.

You're describing being with other people, doing a common task, feeling love, as a description of unity?

As I got older and older – I'm 52 now and I was about 3 years old when my parents became Bahá’ís – I've kind of noticed other types of unity, like unity of thought and personalities that comes into practice with the idea of consultation where you're in a group having a discussion. People have different opinions but you're willing to share them and discuss, and then certain acceptance, you know, of other peoples’ ideas so you have divergence of personalities and ideas in the community, you know, people are accepted or at least tolerated. And in consultation you know they're trying to find the truth, you know, so they take all these different kind of ideas and put em together and try to find out what is the truth of the matter.

Does that transcend differences in culture and race?

I think so, but it's also something that requires a lot of practice. Because everybody, you know – some people have strongly held opinions. And they might be insistent upon them. The older I get it seems sometimes the less I know, the less strongly held opinions I seem to have about anything, you know. Actually the more you know about something you realize how complicated it is. So if your purpose is actually to find the truth, at least my understanding Bahá'í consultation, you're bringing your knowledge and opinions to the table and once they're expressed they’re no longer yours personally so that now they belong to the group, so that after everybody's participated, now you have a body of knowledge and opinions, preferences, and the group tries to decide what's the best way to go. They might make a mistake but at least they're unified. The benefit of being unified even if you're making a mistake is that you can learn from your mistakes. A lot of times people when they work together in groups, they don't allow themselves to fail. When we're like, looking at children, you know, you have the love toward the children and you allow them to fail and they learn through their trial and error, whether it's riding a bicycle or playing the piano. And groups, especially groups of adults, should be allowed to work together and learn through their mistakes. Otherwise as soon as they make a mistake they'll split up into two groups and their unity will immediately dissolved if they don't have a coherence or some type of bonding, like a religion provides the glue that holds it together and unified. And that way they can learn from their mistakes and go on.

How do you see finding the truth connected with unity?

Some types of unity have absolutely nothing to do with truth they're just based on a similarity. The similarity might be accidental in nature, in the sense that its' a unity based on something you were not responsible for, like what country were you born in, what color skin you have, what religion you were born into, so you're unified with those people or some types of unities are based on your personal personality and achievements so it might be a unity of common interests, professional unity the arts or something where there are people that you like and they like you and you have a common interest But all those unities are not necessarily tied into the truth. Bahá’ís I think that the truth is important because the religions trying to, I guess the foundation of the religion is the belief that Bahá’u’lláh is a manifestation of God who has revealed the word of God which is the truth, and that becomes the standard and then the laws of Bahá’u’lláh become the basis for Bahá'í behavior and their vision of the future and the establishment of a world civilization. The Bahá’ís when they get together informally they might be working on a particular problem that they want to find results, you want to find the truth and they get together formally in the Bahá'í administration like a local spiritual assembly then there have a responsibility to the community, somewhat like a parent – they're responsible for the material, spiritual welfare of the community, so likewise they want to find the truth. I guess its because – my understanding, the whole thing's tied into – in the Christian context of establishing the kingdom of God on earth.

Do you live in a community that's united?

Currently I'm living in ____________ County – this is all relative you know, unity compared to what? I think there's a lot of unity here. It's more, Bahá’ís here tend to like one another, they love the Faith, they work together so there's sort of a relaxed informal feeling among the Bahá’ís. They're friends. Sometimes in a Bahá'í community it's too formal – you're not necessarily friends with the Bahá’ís, you just belong to the same religion and you might meet in a Bahá'í function, but outside the Bahá'í functions you might never socialize. Of course, you're all Bahá’ís but there's not necessarily a friendship there. That doesn't mean you don’t love one another. There's kind of different levels of love cause you could have a just general detached love for humanity but as far as emotional feeling, that's something that needs to be cultivated, worked on and developed. Also when I was a child, I grew up in ________________ we used to collaborate with the neighboring town of _____________ we had a Bahá'í Sunday school there – that was a wonderful experience. Just unity between the communities. Then again it was a functional – everyone wants to educate their children, help them to develop so the Sunday school there became a kind of a focus between the communities. They had something to do, which was to raise and educate their children.

You've mentioned [these places] where everyone's friends. I'm wondering how much diversity there is?

In ______________ County there's not that much, but then again it's all relative. _____________ County is 98 percent white and so some of the Bahá’ís here are native _____________ and others are people who've moved here from other places. In our community right now I think we're getting more diversity although we still don't have any black American Bahá’ís, but we have four to five Persians we have a family from Guam and their children, now we have a couple who've adopted two children from Micronesia . Compared to the average ___________ Countian – if you took a random sampling of Carroll county and you took 20 people or 25 people which is about the size of the Bahá'í community, I'd say compared to our immediate surroundings we're diverse. A lot of times you have to define what' you're talking about, because most Americans when they think of racial unity immediately think black-white. We don't have any black Bahá’ís living in ______________ County . In ___________, however, which is a small city, there were black Bahá’ís. At that time I think Stanford was about 20 percent black and I think in the Bahá'í community it was similar 20 or 30 % black. So growing up I had a lot of black Bahá'í friends, children who were Bahá’ís. Also going to Green Acre, which is the Bahá’í school in Eliot, Maine, I would meet black American Bahá’ís. We would be friends up there.

How do you perceive your own ethnicity?

I just think of myself as white, white male. My ancestry on my father's side is Italian. His parents got off the boat in 1910 or 12 and settled in _____________, so I guess I'm second generation American. My father was born in America, his parents were born in Italy. On my mother's side they're Irish Americans. They've probably been here since the potato famine in the 1840s. They're both Catholic and they both believed in God, but they must, for some reason they drifted away from the Church. I know they were very interested in racial unity and in the early ’50s they started attended Quaker meetings outside Philadelphia in Westchester. And at the Quaker meetings, cause the Quakers have always been involved in Civil rights and racial unity, they met Bahá’ís. The Bahá'ís I guess were going to the Quaker meetings to help support the Quakers but also to look for people who might want to become Bahá’ís.

You said your culture was Italian. Did you have to give up anything of your culture?

I don't think so – I didn't experience that at all. To me it was so diluted. My father's parents spoke Italian in the household and they had three sons so they probably – my father had two brothers – so they probably knew a few words – but I never heard my father speak Italian. So culturally, I didn't get anything particularly Italian from him, except his personality, and I don't even know if his personality is Italian or just him. He tends to be very conservative. Perhaps – it's hard to know – my mother became a Bahá'í first so, if my mother hadn't become a Bahá'í, perhaps my father never would've become a Bahá'í but he did, and he's kind of a scholarly, he was in his Ph.D. program when he dropped out and didn't finish it, but he had a masters in biochemistry. It's interesting because his two brothers also, they completed their PhDs. One was an ophthalmologist in Pittsburgh and one was a microbiologists, so, that family you know, when I went out to Pittsburgh recently to watch my daughter swim there I walked down to the street where they had their shop. They had a tailor shop on the first floor. They lived upstairs. Across the street was the Carnegie Mellon University and up the hill was the university of Pittsburgh. They lived in the shop, all three boys went to the school there and they all got their professional degrees. On my mother's side, I never got any sense of Irishness or you know by that time, it's so diluted, it's just American. ______________ was kind of an unusual situation because it's what's called in Bahá'í terms an organized group – the two of us, my wife and I, and another couple – so the four adults formed a Bahá'í group and we could function as such, we were living in ______________, but to socialize with other Bahá’ís, we would have to travel so basically everything south of __________________ which is across the river from ______________. We would think nothing of driving an hour to get together with other Bahá’ís top have Bahá'í activities or children's school. In that sense, all of ____________ became our Bahá’í community. And there, I felt unity too, although there were a few personality – there were some people who were harder to get along with than others, and that was more personality that I found it harder to get along with. My wife, she's much more easy going so she would get along with people a lot easier than I would. Fortunately when we moved to ___________ we didn't bump into anybody that quite was like some of – not all but a few of the Bahá’ís we knew in ___________. But it was interesting then – even though, you know, I'd be with people who normally I wouldn't associate with, just cause they irked me so much, Abdu'l-Bahá had given advice to Bahá’ís to always look for the good in other people. Even like if somebody had nine bad qualities, look for the one good one. The benefit of that is twofold – first of all it allows you to get along with other people and maintain some unity and secondly it encourages people that when you look for the positive in them, that can be encouraging to them. People can change. What's interesting that I find in the Bahá’í Faith is the concept of individual and community development. There's an organic approach that people and the community in which they live are not static and the whole purpose of religion is personal transformation. That people you know, we kind of tend to accept it in children, that they're going to grow and develop but we kind of ten to categorize adults as fixed and permanent. When in reality they're not. Adults can change to, so if you can be loving towards somebody, they can change and grow and develop and you're basically , by being loving towards them, you're giving them an opportunity to grow and develop, and that applies collectively to the community also. You have to look a lot of times at the Bahá’í community as an infant – you love your children, and you allow them, to, you know, they have to crawl before they can walk and you know that's the normal development. When you look at the Bahá’í community if you can't have that vision of the future and what they're going to become, you just look at them as they are right now and you scratch your head and say, these people are a mess, you know. They're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, you know, or but if you can just have a vision of them growing and developing like a plant or an animal or any living thing then they, as they grown and develop they can take on more mature functions as they mature.

How do you know what they're supposed to be doing?

Well, based on the Writings of our religion which would be Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi – especially Shoghi Effendi because he wrote a lot about the development of the administrative order, but Abdu'l-Bahá also gave a lot of good examples of what the community could be, so that becomes the standard by which you compare reality so, whether as an individual behavior or collective community behavior, both the Writings of Abdu'l Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and now we get further advice from the Universal House of Justice cause they're, you know, based on the Will and Testament of Bahá’u’lláh an Abdu'l Bahá, they have the right to legislate things that have not been addressed previously. We get guidance that provides us with a standard of what we're supposed to be doing. The great advantage for the Bahá’ís is to have a vision of what they should be doing, and also their commitment to the religion and its laws, which is generally called the term Covenant by Bahá’ís, allows them to maintain their unity.

You mentioned about being loving toward people that may irk you – is unity something one person can promote?

You all by yourself you can try to be loving and inclusive and you might be successful because the other person might try to collaborate with you. But let's imagine they don’t. Either they refuse to or whatever, then you might fail, you know, you won't have unity. Assemblies dissolve and they assemblies that are unsuccessful and end up dissolving is usually because some or all of the members refuse to give a little, you know, they might strongly hold to their opinions, they might be fault-finding and back-biting about the other people. But of course it’s much easier if the other person is trying to work for unity too. But sometimes you deal with people who aren't as interested in unity as you are. But yea h the factors that contribute to unity – Abdu'l Bahá told us what to do and what not to do. One of the things not to do is to be fault-finding and backbiting and criticizing – that could destroy unity and that's good advice anywhere. Not just to the Bahá’ís, whether you're dealing with your family or your work or your friends, you should try to avoid backbiting, criticism, faultfinding.

Do you think third parties within the Faith, is there anybody within the Faith who is promoting unity among Bahá’ís?

Well, Bahá’u’lláh had abolished the clergy. He said now we're entering the maturity of mankind and that everyone was now responsible for learning about the religion and administering it but the functions of the clergy had to continue, and he divided the functions into leadership and I guess you could call it guidance. Under leadership he refereed to them as the institution of the rulers, and those are people who are elected to Assemblies – the correct term is Houses of Justice – and their function then is to administer the religious community. The other function of the clergy which is more inspirational he referred to as the institution of the learned and these are people who are appointed, based on their charisma, their love and knowledge and their function is to help protect and propagate the Faith but they have to direct authority – they can't tell you what to do. So they just serve by loving good example. So they have an appointed position in the Faith to develop unity in the communities and to help protect the Faith from attack both external and internal, and to help propagate the faith teach it. But those responsibilities actually lie with all Bahá’ís all Bahá’ís whether or not they're appointed to an institution also have those same responsibilities. Basically the institution of the rulers, which would be the Local Spiritual Assembly, the National Spiritual Assembly and above them the Universal House of Justice—I think it's actually the Universal House of Justice that appoints members of the institution of the learned for set periods of time, I think it's normally you could be appointed for a period of five years to be a member of the Continental Board of Counselors. And they in turn appoint Auxiliary Boards who help, and the auxiliary boards in turn, so now you have an international, national and local level – and the local level, the auxiliary board members appoint assistants and my wife, it's interesting, she wears two hats – she serves both as an assistant to the auxiliary board in the area of protection but she also serves as secretary of the local spiritual assembly so on the local level now you get a lot of Bahá’ís that are wearing two hats, both the institution of the rulers and on the national level you usually have to be one or the other you can't be both.

Are they perceived as promoting unity?

I think gradually – perception is, you know the Bahá’í community is not a fixed organic I should say it's not a fixed community, it's a constantly changing community. You could take some religions that grow basically biologically, that do not actively seek converts Let's take Judaism for example. You can have amore of a static concept of “the” community cause the growth is basically biological. The Bahá’ís of course have children too and grow biologically, they also are actively seeking converts so we constantly have new people coming in and you have older people leaving okay so not everybody who becomes a Bahá'í remains a Bahá'í so as far as your level of understanding based on the individual level, you're always got new people that you're dealing with, but if wanted a statistically, you know sociologist type “the” community, then you can also kind of see a trend towards more and more maturity and understanding, so I would say collectively the Bahá'í community has come to appreciate the functions of both the local spiritual assembly and the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants more and more over time ’cause initially I think some of the community think well here's people coming in telling me what to do, but actually I think that feeling has gradually, people realize that the auxiliary board members and their assistants don't have any authority – the authority lies with the Assembly so that these Auxiliary Board members and their assistants are more like loving assistants.

You said the Faith is actively seeking members, but I've also heard that it doesn't proselytize.

Perhaps it's a definition of terms. Bahá’u’lláh told everyone they have a responsibility to proclaim the word of God, but not proclaim it to people who are not interested in hearing it. So you have to teach with wisdom. Because if as Bahá’ís believe Bahá’u’lláh is the promised one of all religions, then everyone has a right to know about this and then the responsibility to investigate and to decide for themselves whether it's the truth, so you as a Bahá’í then have the responsibility to tell other people about it, they have the right to know about it, but then they the right and responsibility to decide for themselves. So you have to be kind of tactful and listen to people. A lot of teaching actually involves listening, in fact the old joke, you have two ears and one mouth. You actually should be listening twice as much as you're speaking. And try to be sensitive to, how much do they really want to know about what you're talking about. Now, among the Bahá'í experiences I've had, I think the closest Bahá’ís would get to proselytizing which I probably would define as telling people when they don't want to hear about it is going door to door and knocking on doors which I've done in Honduras and Nicaragua, I've done it in the United States also. There you have to be real careful. Some people are annoyed that you come to their door, so you just say, “Hi I'm a Bahá'í, I was wondering if you'd like to hear about the Faith,” and they say no and then you leave, although you could ask them if they'd like some literature. What's interesting because some people will say yeah, give me a pamphlet, and you can give them a pamphlet and leave. But other times, you never know. Sometimes people are real interested and they want to talk about religion then they probably want to tell you about theirs too. But a lot of it is with the Bahá’ís what we call proclamation cause teaching actually has two parts. Proclamation is just proclaiming the Faith. The actual second part which I think is referred to as consolidation is more of a personal, having time with somebody to sit down and address their needs.

How does a person have to live to achieve unity?

Bahá’u’lláh said you should pray and read his Writings daily, so starting with yourself being obedient to Bahá’í law, every day you should pray – there's obligatory, you should say one of the obligatory prayers, you're supposed to say Alláh’u’abhá 95 times, you're supposed to read from the Bahá’í Writings in the morning and in the evening. The purpose of all that is to develop a sense of spirituality and intellectual development in yourself ’cause your religion's based on your emotional feelings of love and attraction to Bahá’u’lláh to humanity, but also your intellectual understanding of the religion, and then dealing with other people – I guess it comes into the idea of empathy and consultation, listening to other people and trying to address their needs and see things from their perspective whether it's your family life, your social or business life, and then of course in the Bahá'í community in the same way.

So what you're describing as unity, if I can clarify, is personal relationship?

I don't see it as anything attached to – at that level it's not related to what I call the acts of nature. It's not related to your sex. But it relates to anybody. On top of that you could have a conscious effort to relate to people of a different race, culture, nationality, sex.

Is that distinct from what you were talking about?

Yeah, that would be something different because it's kind of layered, you know, like a cake. What I was talking about before was the first layer or level is yourself. The second is addressing the people around you, irregardless of who they are. The third level would be being aware of people who are in some way different from yourself and being aware of their particular circumstances and experiences. It might be just male-female, or adult-child, or black and white.

I'm not sure why you're putting those in a different category?

I didn't say it was different, I said at that level it was irrelevant. The first level is yourself. The second level is the people who are around you irregardless of who they are – you have to love them you have to listen to them, you have to try and see things through their perspective. Then kind of a third layer is that you do try to take into account those cultural personal differences. So let's say you're a white Bahá’í living in a black community. At the what I was calling the second level, of course you're trying to love everybody, listen to them, consult with them but then at the third level you're trying to be aware of the fact that since they're black and you're white they might have a different perspective on the same reality. It's like you both could be looking at the same thing and seeing something different and the reason they see it differently from you is based on their different experiences and perceptions of reality. So the difficult thing – that's why in the Bahá’í Writings if you want to take race as an example, it's referred to as America's most challenging and vital issue. The challenging aspect is that it's so difficult and it's so important. It's difficult because of the history of slavery and persecution and people seeing things differently and having different perspectives but it's so important because the unity of the American Bahá’ís could set a good example for the Bahá’ís and the world. And America in the Bahá’í Writings has actually has a role to play, a role to play in the unity of the world so that by setting a good example, we can help the world achieve unity. If we fail to have unity, then basically from the Bahá’í perspective, the world would be doomed. Because in the Bahá’í context, the salvation of humanity is achieved through the Bahá’í Faith. The concept of salvation in the Bahá’í Faith is both individual and collective. As I understand salvation is based on, for the individual is based on acceptance and recognition of Bahá’u’lláh and obedience to his commandments. But then collectively, the solution to the world’s problems can only be achieved through the Bahá’í Faith, although that also requires different stages and it'll take a long period of time, the Bahá’ís divide it up into what they call the lesser peace, which will be a political peace, and the most great peace, which is kind of a long-term spiritualization of humanity.

You're talking about the salvation of mankind. Do you see unity connected with that?

The basic fundamental teaching of the Bahá'í Faith is the oneness of humanity, but that's kind of a core pivot of the teachings, so that humanity biologically is seen as one species, and spiritually as the creatures of God that have the capacity to know and love God. That knowing and loving capacity is essentially what makes you human. Now humanity has left its adolescent phase and is entering its mature phase. In religious terminology, the idea that we've left a cycle of prophecy and are now entering a cycle of fulfillment. Humanity’s purpose now can be collectively have an ever-advancing civilization that draws closer and closer to God in order for that to be achieved, humanity has to be unified. And that the technologies and sciences that have appeared during this and the previous century have been the tools that have been provided so that unity can be achieved, but that what's been lacking so far is the spiritual perception or vision that unity is a goodly good thing, that God essentially wants humanity to be unified, so that humanity can fulfill its purpose which is to collectively draw closer to God.

So is unity and oneness the same thing?

I think so but I'm not, I guess if you get to the semantics of it I'm not quite sure what the difference is. Oneness is used in the Bahá’í terminology usually to refer to the three onenesses – the oneness of God, that would be monotheism, the oneness of humanity, that humanity is one race or species, and the oneness of religion all the religions are from the same God so that basically they're different revelations of God’s word, the revelation has been given progressively and Bahá’u’lláh is the most recent revealer of God’s word. Unity as I understand it in the Bahá’í context is usually used in the concept in the unity of different people, as the unity of the nations, the unity of the races, the unity of the classes and people. So I guess in the Bahá’í Faith, unity is usually used in referring to people who have separate identities, and these identities, whether they're linguistic or cultural or educational, or national or whatever, now you're taking people who identify themselves separately and you're bringing them together and you're creating unity in a family, unity between a man and a woman. You’re bringing two people that were distinct and you're unifying them, so in a family you have a physical union and a spiritual union, and you can have an intellectual union all within a family. So I guess unity implies that there's two distinct groupings or more – they're distinct, and they have their own identity and they come together to achieve a common functional purpose. Like marriage for example, the basic functional level is procreation. The Bahá’í Faith refers to marriage as like a fortress for well being and within the institutional fortress, both the man and woman and the children can develop spiritually, the children of course to be nurtured, but the nurturing also applies to the adults, the man and the woman.

You're saying unity doesn’t entail obliterating the identity, that identity is still distinct?

Right. One of the themes of the Faith is the idea of unity in diversity. Some groups try to achieve unity by blending out all differences, so their unity is achieved through homogeneity, so they all become the same. That might be a cultural sameness, a religious sameness. The Bahá’ís as I understand the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá, emphasize unity in diversity. Some of the examples Abdu'l-Bahá used were like a flower garden – the garden has some thematic unity to it. The gardener had to do something and arrange things. But the beauty of the garden comes from its diversity. The diversity is both healthy, especially in nature and agriculture for example – it's unhealthy to have a monoculture, just one type of plant growing. It's healthy to have many different types. So diversity which is both pleasing and makes life more interesting and healthy, and you also have organization. Other examples Abdu'l-Bahá gave were like music. If there's no organization, your music basically becomes noise. So there has to be some type of structure. But it would also be kind of boring if you just hit one note repeatedly. Now you want to make it interesting and attractive you want diversity within a structured environment and now you have music. And you could apply it to food also. A pleasing and healthy meal or diet is an example of unity in diversity, so the Bahá’ís. And I think actually it'd be interesting, the lesser peace refers to a democratically world federal government as I understand it. It'll actually allow for the floweration and development of minorities because under the existing political system you have about 180 sovereign nations each one, the majority tends to repress the minority, whether it's a democracy or a dictatorship, because they're fearful of losing power, but in a united world, I think the rights there would be a universal standard of human rights and there would be less fear. The majority would have less fear of the minorities on the national level and I think minorities would be in a position actually to have much more freedom to develop their cultural diversity. And the majority from a spiritual perspective, if they can see it in the context of this is not threatening to them but actually is beneficial because it's healthy and it makes life more interesting because you have differences in music and arts and thought, differences in perceiving reality can all be brought to the table and through consultation can contribute to the solutions of problems. A lot of times problems can be solved by bringing in different people with different experiences. Just bringing women, for example, to a situation that has been predominantly male can help to resolve problems cause they might add a different perspective to how you might see the reality from a different viewpoint and they have different knowledge and experiences.

Do you see, within the Bahá’í community, that there's a majority that maintains authority and dominance?

Somewhat. It's not a legalistic majority, because actually in the Bahá'í Faith, according to Bahá'í law, the minority is to be cultivated and developed and in those cases where there's a tie, or two people are to be appointed to a position who are equally qualified, the position is supposed to go to the minority in order to encourage and develop the minority. So from a legalistic perspective I would say no, that minorities are actually cultivated in the Bahá’í Faith. But from a practical – I think the term would be de facto?—presentation you tend to have a majority who traditionally the majority – and I think up until the present – the majority of American Bahá’ís, people of white Anglo Saxon Protestant background the majority of whom are converts themselves to the Faith, so they tend to be the majority and tend to just do things the way they're accustomed to doing them. It's not an intentional suppression of minority, but it's something that if you're aware of you can try to overcome. You may be unaware of it so you're oblivious to what you're doing. If you're aware of it and you so desire, you can try to do something different than what you normally do. Now since the Iranian revolution in ’79 when Khomeini took power and started more actively persecuting the Iranian Bahá’ís there's been a vast increase in the United States of Iranian Bahá'ís who came to this country to escape religious persecution, so in many communities Iranians have become the majority, and then, which would be interesting for the Bahá’ís of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant background. They would then become the minority in that particular community, and then they could then experience some of the feelings that perhaps black or Hispanic people normally would feel, in the sense that if you're a white person minority in a predominantly Persian community. Persians aren't intentionally ostracizing you or ignoring you but just because of their linguistic for example and cultural similarities, they might be speaking Persian in front of you and you don't understand what they're saying. They're not intentionally leaving you out but the de facto reality is that you are excluded because you don't understand Persian. Or they might be socializing and they might not invite you. And then, in a sense if you're so inclined, you'd have to make them aware of your feelings of ostracism, and then they would have to be inclined to change their behavior to make you inclusive into theirs. So it kind of is a two-way street, going back to the black white situation, it takes –one of the reasons it's so difficult and challenging is it takes effort on both sides. In general both have to be loving. I think Shoghi Effendi said the white Bahá’ís, in addition to be loving, they have to be more inclusive, to try and socially draw black people into their circle, to invite them to their parties and socialize with them, and to actively, to the extent possible, to encourage interracial marriage. Cause Abdu'l Bahá said that in the sight of God interracial marriages are good because they bring different people together and create unity. And on the black side, in addition to being loving, the black Bahá'ís would have to consciously try to overcome their feelings of alienation and feelings of distrust, for the love of God they would have to try to forgive the white people for the previous discrimination. It's interesting – forgiving is not necessarily the same as forgetting. Actually it's better for everybody to be more knowledgeable. But to be willing to forgive any injuries that might have been done to you – the motivation for forgiveness would be the fact, your love of God. I think the strong point of religion is it provides a motive for becoming uncomfortable, because normally everyone seeks pleasure over pain. So you normally tend to associate with people who maximize your pleasure and minimize your pain. And those are normally people who are similar to yourself. If however you belong to a religion which as in encouraging you or commanding you as a law of God to associate with all people, then for the love of God you'll have the courage and the motive to do things you normally wouldn’t do, which might initially be painful. You might associate with people you're not comfortable with, and you normally would not want to associate with. But of course there's benefits to that, but the benefits sometimes require pain. But it's interesting that that applies to other areas that people just naturally accept it – if you're an athlete, you know that training involves a lot of pain and you accept that. Whether you're an academic student, you know you have to study to pass your test. If you're an artist you know you have to practice to develop your art. So it's really no different in the spiritual world . It's not a magic pill, you have to be willing to work and fail and keep trying and go through pain. It's interesting, one of the Tablets Bahá’u’lláh addressed was called the Tablet of the True Seeker and he refers to the steps that a seeker after truth goes through, one of them being you have to detach yourself form love and hate cause love could blind you to the truth, or hate could blind you to the truth also. You have to really sever yourself from the world independently go out and investigate truth.

Do you think that some members in the community – majority and minority – are there some members in that community who expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

Sure. The first part of the question, are there Bahá’ís who expect others to do things their way? Yeah, of course, I think basically everybody expects everybody else to do things their way. That's normal. As far as being aware that there's different ways of doing things, I would say that some of the Bahá’ís are aware and some aren't. so the ones who are, you know, try to listen to other people and the ones who aren't, you know, might be insistent on their way. So but the Bahá'í like I was saying, they're constantly changing. Some people learn and change their behavior. Some people never learn and don't change their behavior and they usually just keep annoying other people as they don't change their ways. Or they might become somewhat isolated or inactive because they get annoyed with everybody cause everybody else doesn't do things the way they want them to do things. Or they might leave the Faith. So let's pretend you want everybody to do things your way and you don't. You either leave the Faith or you become less involved in the faith because you're annoyed with all the Bahá’ís who don't do things your way, or you just bowl ahead and keep annoying everybody else. You have all types, it's like the birds of diverse feathers flock together you have all types of people Even among the people who are consciously making an effort I mean, just cause you're aware doesn't mean you're successful. You might be trying , you might be successful and you might not be.

How to you know when you've achieved unity?

I guess this unity thing is all relative. How do I know that I'm experiencing unity? It's when there's a sense of cooperation and love and enthusiasm and happiness and joy in the community, and people are doing things and everybody's participating and not necessarily everybody's doing the same thing cause it's kind of, to use a sports analogy, like a team, you know, some people, everybody has different talents and abilities. The idea is to get the job done so at the workplace you have a division of labor. In the Bahá’í community, the idea is to try and cultivate people's talents and their individual talents and abilities and allow them to go out and do what they're good at. Of course occasionally just out of necessity, you might be called upon to do something that you're not really that good at, then you just muddle along and you hope to improve. Interestingly enough, a lot of times just by doing it you become better at it and after a while you become an expert and you don't even remember that at one time you didn't like doing this particular thing and you weren't any good at it. You just acquire skills because you're forced into a position, it might be like public speaking or being a treasurer or secretary the need is there – necessity is the mother of invention. The Bahá’í community is so small the needs are so vast and you just might have to do something that you didn't normally think you could do, but if you keep doing it, eventually you'll get good at it. Not everybody does. Some people never get good at something. The idea is you just keep trying. And of course some people have a natural talent there's things, musicians artists, writers like _____________, she writes books not everybody's going to do that.

What have you done to promote unity?

Sometimes I just keep quiet and don't bother people. My wife's always telling me to keep quiet try not to annoy people, not to be insistent on my opinion, not to be ashamed to express – I'll express my opinion, but once it's on the table it's not yours anymore, it belongs to the group. Then, and this is kind of a trick, interesting thing about consultation you just let go, once it's expressed it's not yours any more it's the group's and it can be either accepted or rejected as such without your personal nametag attached to it. Which is one of the weaknesses of politics. Normally the person's name’s still attached to the idea. But the difference, in politics, the actual main motive is to achieve and to hold power. Truth is a secondary objective. I mean, all politicians would like to be statesmen, but the first, fundamental thing is to get elected to keep power. Then secondary is to try to solve problems and to find truth. But in the Bahá’í consultation the primary thing is to find truth and to solve problems. Individually there's really no power at all. The power's collective it lies with the institution not with the members of it. So I think in the Bahá'í community unity’s, the Bahá’ís collectively know they have unity when they're working together and trying, in solving a problem, and if everybody would participate – there's a great emphasis in the Faith on universal participation trying to get everybody involved.

You talked earlier about the different layers of unity, on the personal level and with – do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís of different cultural backgrounds?

No, I don't see myself as different from other Bahá’ís because we all have a common allegiance to Bahá’u’lláh. We have a common basis of law and understanding that we can refer to so that if I disagree with somebody it might be that the only thing we can agree on is that we both refer to the Bahá'í Writings and try and find out what the Bahá'í writings say about something and then based on that try to come to our individual understanding. But the yes part is yes, obviously I'm different, well on one extreme level I'm different from everybody in the whole world. There's 6 or 7 billion people on the plant – nobody's identical to me . In one way I'm unique. I'm completely different from everybody in the world. There's nobody in the whole world exactly like me. So in a sense on that extreme level, everybody's different. Now, it's like throwing a stone into a pond. As you go out, you start to multiply your differences. You can use the identifiable differences that you see between yourself and somebody else and you can start listing them, you know, like between you and me there'd be sex, you're female and I’m male. You could have a grocery list of the ways people differentiate themselves form everybody else. In Africa it could be a tribal difference, you belong to one tribe and I belong to another. There's dozens of ways in which people divide themselves.


What is the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

Well, of course that is one of the primary goals of the Faith is to establish unity at all levels – between the sexes, between religions, between races, between nations – everything for example for example the center of the faith it seems to be the primary, it is the primary goal at this time in the world religion of god, it's the primary need at this time.

To me united is to establish um an environment in which people love each other in which there's honesty and sensitivity toward each other, there's more than tolerance, it's more like encouragement and support and love, ultimately I think is what it is, I think that's what establishes unity. What makes it real, because otherwise it's just a you know, it's just a manmade law, or what's the word, exhibition, creation.

Can you recount an example?

I think, when I've been at conferences at the World Congress in new York there were over 30,000 Bahá’ís together from all over the world, very diverse ethnically, racially, in terms of age, in every way, and there was tremendous love there, a tremendous feeling of acceptance and love which transcended all the, what seems to me is to be immature levels of unity which is what we have now, just tolerance, you know, legislative unity this was more in the realm of love, mutual sharing and support.

Have you had that experience in any community.

Every community. I think you know, people of course you know there's different levels of maturity and people are different. I find amongst the Bahá'ís, I don't think particularly at this time in history that there's any reason to be a Bahá'í, because you know there's no money there's not prestige there's nothing like that, so the people who become Bahá'ís and are active Bahá'ís for any length of time are people who really want to serve God and I think surely people realize you cannot serve God and be bigoted or dishonest, insensitive, those kinds of things those are not Godly things, those are not Godly attributes in any religion, really.

Did you have those goals impulses before you were a Bahá'í?

Absolutely, always, all my life.

Does your concept include non-Bahá'ís?


Is there a responsibility among Bahá'ís to create unity among non-Bahá’ís?

Absolutely, because we're after all a small community of people now, a growing community but a small community. And um we have to reach out and share this truth which is a truth for all mankind not just for selected people.

Does the community that you live in, or the ones you've described, does the one you're in have diversity?

It's a small community, but there are blacks, people of all ages, very old to down into their 20s, both sexes of course, Persians, blacks, whites, it's a small community but it's fairly diverse.

How do you have to live to achieve unity?

I think that as we grow, become more enlightened, and I find this in myself, every day I try to – I think you have to be more sensitive, you have to be I think you have to transcend the material because after all I think unity is really spiritual, and basically, at its base unity is really spiritual because after all we're all spirits regardless of sex or age or religion or race, what ethnic group we belong to, we're all spirits. Well, I think if you're living your life to be a successful spirit, you're not going to be you're not going to have much of a reason to lie to anybody, you're not going to have a reason to lie or manipulate them or to hide something um because you're goal, your long range goal is to be more spiritual. And people are sensitive, they pick up on dishonesty and they're not going to share spiritually with you, so there's going to be a wall between you, meaning there's going to be disunity between you.

But you're saying that dishonesty is the only, you have to be dishonest only for material reasons?

Yes, I would think so.

Is unity something one person can promote?

Well, ultimately both people have to be receptive to sincerity, honesty, love, but ah somebody has to initiate the effort. People in our society are wary of each other and but I think that if a person is consistently honest, sensitive, appreciate of the other person eventually they're going to open up and you know begin to share that unity, so over time, ah, I think it always takes place unless one party is mentally ill or on drugs or something.

How can institutions produce unity among the believers? Can they?

By promoting more interchange, I mean in my own life, since I was a teenager in the '60s there was tremendous change, and a lot of that change was because people had seen black people in sports and on TV, they become more aware that black people, for instance, just as one group are just other people, and so just by this experiencing other people, other walks of life they see that we're more similar than dissimilar, and I think that creates it takes away some of the barriers of distrust, at least, it makes communication easier, and I've seen the elimination of so much distrust and dishonesty amongst the races, I've seen women really come into their own, where they used to be repressed you know, it was very much accepted I've seen women really come into their own in the last 20-30 years. It happened first because it kind of became law, and then it became politically correct to behave in a more open minded way.

What about Bahá’í institutions in promoting unity?

Well, I think that Bahá'í institutions, in my own life I saw the Bahá'í faith really have more effect have a great effect amongst non-Bahá'ís because we were a small but very, very active group openly promoting unity amongst the races and I think my experience was, in fact people told me, that the larger the non-Bahá'í groups were intimidated by the Bahá'ís, and felt a bit embarrassed that a few hundred people could have a greater effect than thousands of non-Bahá'ís so they started to be more accepting of other people of other races, treated women with greater equality, and that was just by our own teaching efforts which really didn't bring in a lot of people but I think it had the effect of really helping to change society with that kind of activity. But in order to create greater unity in the Faith I think we need to share prayer together after all the Bahá'í Faith is after all a spiritual organization, and be, and try to be very inclusive of everybody. Of course we have electoral laws which say that if there's any you know, that we try you know to bring, to make our assemblies more diverse, to reflect the larger community more accurately, and we try to to reach out to diverse groups, you know, to show them we really care about them, and we really want to help them be more inclusive in the whole society. We did a lot of mass teaching in _____________, we went house to house all over _____________ which is very – large parts of ______________ are very sparse, very small towns, or even no towns, just houses, farm houses, all over _______________, knocking on doors telling people about the faith. _______________ in the early '70s even had, you know, some Klan activity which interrupted some of our activities. There was an activity in _______________, I think it was. There was a Bahá'í group that was staying down there and the Klan came down there and tried to throw the group out. And the local people there got together and threw the Klan out. Well you know, that kind of thing, word gets around I think. And I saw _________________ change a lot since the early '70s. I think it was because they thought, why the hell aren't we doing anything? I mean, how many people belong to the Klan? A few thousand or something you know, and they're bold enough to show how they feel so why shouldn't we? And I think in our own generation, I think that's where things really started to change, was really, not because of all the protests and everything, but because individuals in our generation, my generation, were really protesting their folks, you know this is wrong, and I think it was because the whole society was changing. You saw black people on the media, on TV, you saw them in the schools, and a lot more kids went to school so they got together with diverse groups of people and they started to say, hey, we're all human beings we all deserve the same opportunities and I think they started to change within.

What is the visibility of black people on _____________ other than television. Were there many black people living in _______________?

Well there aren't many of anything in ________________. A lot of the areas there are very sparsely populated, but um, you know ________________ was where the school was and there was a lot of activity there amongst the Bahá'ís and other groups trying to reach out and the Bahá'ís were always very openly, shoot, for the last 100 years Bahá'ís have been very openly promoting racial equality, sexual equality. And I know where I grew up, in _______________, that people felt you know, we were demonstrating this equality and um here we were a small group of people but we were very active, very bold, and people thought, shoot, why can't we do that? Why should we do that?

Were you an interracial group?

Have you done anything to promote unity among others? What have you done?

Well, I always was interested in doing newsletters. I thought that newsletters were one way of getting people to share. In ______________ in fact probably in all of _______________, communities were very independent, they stand alone, they do the same things almost like individual churches, they have their own life together, they don't share their activities in their community, and so I shared newsletters I worked on the District Teaching Committee, I did a lot of what they call mass teaching, you know, go out and talk to people about the Faith. I talked to lots of people on a personal basis about the religion, um at work you know, my private life.

How does that promote unity?

Well, because one of the primary interests of the Faith is equality, all kinds of equality. Racial, religions, gender, age, and these are some of the primary teachings of the faith. And so I think people will try to rise to meet that kind of competitive example.

Your definition of unity was love, the feeling of world congress was an example of unity. Have you tried to create an atmosphere like that anywhere?

Everywhere, you know, in every community I've been in.

Can you give one story?

Well, of course, one reason I moved to ______________, was because I knew it was a very diverse community. In fact a black friend of mine that I hired in ____________ hired me into _____________. And I wanted to come there because I knew it was primarily a black [business] and I felt like I could come there an contribute to it excelling, which I have. And I think that I've become friends with people of all different kinds of backgrounds, and I think I've been a catalyst towards sharing among different groups, without necessarily mentioning the Faith, I mean they all know I'm Bahá'í, but I enjoy talking to people of different background, be they Muslim, Jewish or Christian there, and we all talk together about these things about our own spiritual and life concerns and um so I think that's another way of promoting unity.

You're saying that as a white man you went to a black hospital as a first step to promoting unity. What you're describing is that you as a white man went to a black situation and part of your intent was to promote interracial unity or understanding or relationship?

Well, in the workplace I've learned that you never can excel unless you're on a good team. And the man who hired me was an outstanding performer himself, and I always worked well with him. And even though I had hired him – I was his boss in ___________, he became my boss in _____________, was the best thing we've done? But we worked well together and we helped build that facility up, and um we hired a lot of other good people, and eventually we were a very highly respected site in the department of veterans affairs.

You're picking that as a promotion of unity because you're an interracial group working together?

Yeah, I think I was thinking that of working with him and ah there are not that many black people that have excelled at ______________ or even have had the opportunity to excel even there right in _____________ right under the nose of all the [top brass] and we really did make it happen with him.

How do you perceive your ethnicity, your ethnic background within the context of the Faith?

Well, I never really thought about that. I think there really is only one religion and I always thought, religion really is a spiritual enterprise, practically interested in the world to create an environment which really would help people grow spiritually and of course the more unity and equality and fairness there are in the world, people are going to be able to grow intellectually materially and spiritually and but my own you know I found my ethnic background is extremely diverse, it's Swedish, Mexican, Spanish, Irish, so I didn't really feel any emphasis in any part of my background as primary. I really felt more like a world citizen type of thing so in a way the Bahá'í Faith orientation gelled my belief.

Did you give up anything culturally to be a Bahá'í?

No I think the Bahá'í Faith – there are no rituals, there's no, it's very much open and does not emphasize personalities, let alone different – it doesn't have orientation towards Persians or Americans or English or whomever, it's very much a world religion – it's very conscious of being – I think one of the first things I loved about the Faith – I was a very devout Christian – was that you had the feeling that this was like going from junior high to high school or high school to college, it was really like being in the same religion. I haven't given up Christianity, in fact I felt when I became a Bahá'í, the more I knew about the Bahá'í faith, the more I understood what Jesus was talking about, and so, I didn't give up anything, I think I really understood a lot more and appreciated a lot more about religion and I think maybe diversity, racial diversity as well, which I really hadn't before .

You mentioned that it's not American or Persian, do any members in communities you've been in retain a position of superiority and authority?


Are there members who expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

Sometimes, yes.

Are they aware of their expectations?

Usually if that situation exists it's because they've managed to engineer that situation, but it eventually falls apart, it just doesn't last um I think that in this time in history – or course, I was on a district teaching committee which was made up of very strong personalities, and we had terrific arguments about what to do, and one day we all realized that we were not there to serve each other's personalities or our own personality, we were really there to serve God, so we really had to work at it to emphasize consultation the Bahá'í consultative method which was to throw out an idea and try to you know work with our shared intelligence and experience instead of you know try to utilize our traditional American, competitive egotistical point of view.

Was there a common understanding of serving God?

I think first of all to serve God meant not to be self-centered and I think that we discovered, somewhat to our surprise, how self centered we were. We'd all been Bahá'í for a long time and we were all strong personalities. I think that at this time in history you have to be a strong personality because you have family and friends and different people who probably think you're a member of a small cult or something and they think you must be a little goofy or something to give up what they think is the mainline religious thought, or maybe you're trying to save the world or something and that maybe you don't have both feet on the ground, and so then all these strong people come together and you find out maybe that being strong is not about being self-centered.

So you think Bahá'ís are stronger personality than non-Bahá'ís?

I think that a lot of Bahá'ís are, who remain Bahá'ís. A lot of people come into the Faith and withdraw because they couldn't deal with the peer pressures

Is that personality or something else?

I think that it's a lot of things. I've asked people what their actual religious beliefs are and their beliefs pretty much are Bahá'í they accept the equality of the races, the equality of the sexes and even the quality of religions and yet they still don't want to enter the Bahá'í Faith because they don't think there could be somebody who could come along that would in they think in terms of usurping Jesus as if Jesus could be replaced you know, whether that’s to bring a refresh vision, a fresh message from God.

Do you see yourself the same as or different from Bahá’ís of other background?

I think we're all different in terms of our background wherever we've from, but spiritually I think people are all the same I mean a dishonest man from Persia is no different from a dishonest man from Illinois or Baltimore, or a good-hearted, sensitive person from Turkey is not different from a goodhearted person from anywhere else, but of course there are cultural differences. Large numbers of Persian people are here and I don't think there's a culture that's more different than American culture, you know, that's kind of hard for them to deal with some of our things culturally just as you know sometimes we find some of their ways are different from ours.

Does your feeling of unity with Bahá'ís preclude the notion that you can feel united with others?

I think that, what I see is that most Bahá'ís is that these are people who love the truth, because after all Bahá’u’lláh is either a charlatan or he really was the person he said he was. And the same would be true of Jesus, or Moses, or Muhammad or any other person who says they are a prophet of God. It's either an outlandish false claim or it's the truth. So, I mean, who am I? I mean I'm not a perfect person, I try to find the truth in things, but I know other people who are also lovers of truth who are not Bahá'ís and don't have any interest in the faith, whatever reason they may have but I seek out their opinions, they may be doctors or you know people in my field or whatever, but I feel a comradeship a friendship with them, and then there are lots of Bahá'ís our personalities don't gel, they don't have the same opinions about things, they don't we're not close I mean, I'm closer to non-Bahá'ís than Bahá'ís I mean, my closest and dearest friends are all Bahá’ís since 25-30 years ago and I think that may be because one of my primary interests is the Faith and we like to get together and talk about this and we have done for years.

What do you mean by truth?

Well, when a person makes a claim stating that he is a prophet of God which has to be to me the ultimate claim, you can claim to be a genius, you can claim to be a great musician, but how are you going to prove it? Well, by performing well, by creating something you know, same as you would an artist, Well Bahá'u'lláh did, and I think so did Jesus, by their words that they spoke and wrote, and these words have um been treasured by people. I mean if you look at the recorded saying of Jesus, they're very small, but by God they are pearls and people treasure those pearls. So I think that those words are the same kinds of proofs of artists of any kind you know, give the proof that he is a great musician, a great painter, whatever.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Well, I totally believe that you know we kind of covered a lot of areas, but I've seen unity come about, a lot of unity which has brought about possibilities, potentials, for a lot of people to take advantage of – women as well to aspire to and um at the same time, this has been legislated, but I think the real change in our society has been because people have come together and shared and they really come to like each other and to love each other, and that really to me is what brings about unity is love.


How do you see unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

My impression has generally been good. The first Bahá'í communities that I had contact with in __________ and_____________ when I was becoming a Bahá'í, 'cause I was interacting with Bahá’ís a couple years before I enrolled, was very positive. In fact the communities that I had contact with I saw were visibly integrated racially and you didn't – one of the things I look at when you look at a community is even is there a Bahá'í hierarchy that is are the nonwhites subordinated somehow. And I didn't get that impression and to be honest with you from my perspective that's an impression you can pick up on pretty quickly – if it seems like there's a hierarchy like that and I didn't see that in the [crowd?] I was interacting with.

Do you know of African Americans who leave the Faith?

I knew one who became a Bahá'í when I did, we were in the same school at Drexel University, and it is partly cultural. But I would say it would depend a lot on the background of what the specific black person is. If it's somebody that came in from the black church – and not all of us did. I didn't. The Bahá'í community has been going through certain growth stages and where the Bahá'í community say was 30 years ago or 20 years ago, or even within the past 10 years, it wasn't necessarily socially, it wasn't where a lot of the black churches were. Plus a lot of the black churches were very activist and the Bahá'í community hadn't until really fairly recently been as activist in getting involved in external matters as … I mean the black churches were involved in the civil rights movement. The Bahá'í community in a direct way was not, though its philosophies are consistent with the goals of that movement and in fact that 's a particular area I'm aware that a couple older Bahá’ís one of whom is deceased now was among those who participated in the march on Washington in the ’60s and at that time the national assembly here did not choose to officially represent itself in that. But currently, you know, we do involve ourselves in King day observances and so on. But that's an area for some from the black community was the question of why weren't we always doing these things if we say that's what we believe in. So that's some people. Actually a year ago, I guess in the convention report from the national convention there was a lady who was talking about a friend of hers who left or at least became less active in the community because again a church she was in there used to be a lot of singing and things like that and the Bahá'í community she was in didn't do that so she was going back to her church because that was something she enjoyed. And I think she was an older lady.

More of a cultural problem than a race issue?

Sometimes those two are almost indistinguishable. In fact I think a lot of people call race is really culture. For instance, I'm a Puerto Rican. Is Puerto Rican a race or a culture? I think it's a culture. Puerto Ricans are a number of races. So I think yeah, that's as much of a culture thing, but just because of the history, at least in the us, the reason why or how most of the black Americans got here and how and why most white Americans got here, the culture and race differences are virtually the same thing because for instance people aren't surprised when you talk about a poor black that's almost synonymous in a lot of people's minds – being poor and being black, but in some parts of the world it's not necessarily the case especially if it's a society where racially people

seem to be about the same thing. In fact that reminds me of one of the comments that one of the former Japanese pioneers made was being a homogeneous society but he caught some fire for it but he was talking along racial lines, a one race culture. Even that's no totally true because that's how with one race we can have such unity he says it's a progressive society or he says he defines progressive. Women are not as advanced in Japan as they are in the United States.

The people that you referred to that left the Faith that somehow it wasn't like the church or it wasn't activist, is the Bahá'í is about unity and everyone's consulting on what they want to do, is it something where their voices weren't heard somehow?

That's a possibility. In fact, in some of the cases I think that's probably basically the situation. I know in one case the fellow I was thinking about at my old school I guess he felt, well I know there were some adjustments that he himself had to go through, cause I remember on one occasion that the ______________ center and we somebody was talking about some music they had at some upcoming meeting and then he says, no I don't like that kind of music – basically he only liked to listen to rhythm and blues and so was kind of objecting to the music somebody was suggesting because it wasn't rhythm and blues so in that respect that was him being inflexible and I don't doubt that for some people it's just that – they have to – the Bahá'í Faith does call on people to change. One of the big things about being a Bahá'í is about being on a pathway to transformation and even though some one belonging to black culture in American is a lot of very nice things about at the same time though as the greater society progresses, it has to change. The argument could be made that any of the cultures as they are now won't be in the future if things happen as they should.

You mention you were in _________ – did you notice any class distinctions in ____________ where the poor blacks were in the city and middle class blacks in the suburbs?

I can't say I noticed that as far as the blacks were concerned. All income classes lived in the city. In fact as far as the surrounding suburban areas in Philadelphia, you were less likely to see blacks living there. And I didn't pass a lot of time in suburban areas but I had friends in school there who did live outside the city that I would visit with. And when you go there, you see who was there and who's not there.

Within the Faith do you know if there are any class discrepancies?

I've seen things that look like that. But I think it has a lot to do with what people bring in with them, if that's the way they were raised thinking about people who were not necessarily raised as Bahá’ís. There is an issue of – this is us talking, you may not use it – something I've run into is how people interpret some of the guidance from Bahá’u’lláh about how people should strive to do their best in whatever the occasion, professions or so on. Some people take that to mean that everybody should go to college and get graduate degrees and become doctors and lawyers and that sort of thing, and obviously if everybody did that you wouldn't have people doing other things, like fixing cars , houses, and farming and all the necessary things in society. But some people take the striving thing as meaning that – interpreting it really in a very narrow way that it means it attaining the highest possible level of material education and running with that. There's a place for that, but that's not like the goal necessarily. There are some individuals who think that – I'm talking about some Bahá’ís – that people that aren't doing that aren't doing what they should be doing, and maybe class isn't the word there, but then again maybe it is. But it a way that some of them are separating themselves, saying that if I did this and they didn't that I was at my level, that kind of thing. But I guess I would want to say that I don't think that's a dominant philosophy among Bahá’ís, though I have run into people who think that way. But the way I look at is that since this is something you grow into, not something that you walk in and you're perfect all of a sudden I would say, well, I don't agree with them, I don't think that's consistent with Bahá'í ideals, but there's someone I have to work with and interact with and maybe they'll get beyond that some day.

Has it been easy for you remaining Bahá'í? Anything having to do with disunity that you want to mentin?

I can mention to you that when I was at __________, our Bahá'í club – our club was racially mixed which was nice, ’course _____________'s graduate program has a lot of non-black students anyway, but there was an incident that happened at one of the club meetings where one of the white members was also in _______________ University. I guess one of the black members who was also older was the feeling that this person was being kind of pushy, but of course they were because they're white (laughs). They didn't say this to the person directly, they were kind of saying it to some others of us outside of the meeting. Whites in general as far as some people are concerned but even in a conversation with another Bahá'í who's white who'd spent some time pioneering in Africa, was saying that trying to think what are the strong points of racial groups, and he was saying that white people are good at getting things done. And this is someone I like a lot but that was thinking about recent history, the past 400 years or so. And in that context one could argue that that's absolutely correct and that's why the empires that came to being in that time period were of European origin that eventually dominated the world. But then thinking in that context, if you go – it depends on how far back in history you want to go.

You're saying that Europeans are task-oriented rather than people or pleasure or spiritually oriented which might be more important?

There's a place for it – if you need to build a bridge, there's a place for it. There's one general observation though, I think that even with some things I've seen among the Bahá'í community where race is concerned that's not real positive, one of the differences you see in the Bahá'í community as opposed to outside the Bahá'í community is that most of the most in the Bahá'í community, even the ones who can't admit that they're still struggling with something of a race issue are conscious of that and are making some effort to do something about it, whereas a lot of people who haven't accepted soothing like Bahá'í will say well this is where I am and that's where I've been and I'm always going to be this way and that's the way things are. And they don't necessarily have any hope of change, or see any need to go beyond where they are. And I think that's one of the big differences here, a lot of Bahá'ís for the most part are working on it even if they've got some baggage that's not real positive.

You don't run across people who say, we're Bahá’ís, we don't have a race problem?

There are some conversations at some conventions where people say that. There was a conference last summer I guess it was the first unity of the south conference it was down in _____________ University I heard ____________ talk about race and stuff and there were some people saying, “A race problem in the Bahá'í community? But as people started talking and people started raising issues clear that there were issue. In fact, conference of Nur one year, I guess it was _______________ was one of the keynote speakers and they were talking about race, and just the fact that some of the people were saying that there was no problem in the Bahá'í community with race, the fact that they were getting so angry about it to me said, well there is a problem, and if they've got to get that angry saying, “No, there isn't a problem” -- there is a problem and they have some issue of race they need to work on. In denial, let's say. ‘Cause it’s better to admit there's some problem to work on than to pretend. I guess that's the one concern. I know that some people who come into the community and have had some reservations about what people are they felt that maybe some people are pretending – that is to say, well, because your guidelines say you don't. Everybody's kind of trying to go through the motions to make it seem that way that's not real.

How big of a problem is that? What is it about?

One of the ones that happened at _________ which is kind of interesting and though it's not purely racial but cultural again – one of the Bahá’í families in ________, their son who's black, a black family, who's living in one of these communities and apparently most of that community is Persian – and he had a complaint that at Feast they're almost always speaking Persian, and he doesn’t speak Persian so that he doesn't really know what's going on all the time. And the other part of the story is I'm aware that this fellow also, for a number of years has been kind of so-so about how he felt about the Bahá'í community in general anyway, but he felt excluded. And he wasn’t at this meeting but his mother was there and his father was there, and they didn't necessarily have a common viewpoint on the issue, the mother felt very strongly that the Persians in the community should be reaching out and at least try to be more accommodating. And supposedly according to what the Guardian said, you're supposed to use one of the languages of the land is what should be used at something like Feast so in that sense, they weren't following the guidance of the Guardian. So, that was one issue. One of the things that they tried to do at this conference, they had three people from this race unity committee for the ____________ region – one was Persian, one black , one white American, in fact he used to live here in _____________ and one of the things they alluded to was something ____________ group did at ___________ a couple years ago about this thing of healing um, again acknowledging the problems in people then dealing with it as opposed to pretending there's not a problem or signing a declaration card and becoming a Bahá'í does not all of a sudden get rid of any latent racism you might have, or any other kind of bias you might have doesn't magically disappear. And acknowledging that and working on that. Cause just the whole thing of like we were talking about Native Americans. One of the things that, people had experienced with native Americans living on reservations is that they want to get the feeling that you're real, whatever you are. Don't come and pretend and play. They want sincerity. and ah it's like even now out here, the NAACP allows people who are – you don't have to be black to be a member of the NAACP, in fact that never has been true. But there are some people in the black community who are suspicious of non-blacks who join the organization, like what is your angle? Are you just sitting here to see what we're doing, or try to take over, or? There's a lady that called in on one of [a radio program] saying, well, when that organization was having some financial trouble before they changed presidents, it was “Jewish money” that paid off the debt. Of course she had an angle of manipulation of black organizations by Jewish people. Point of fact, though, there were Jewish people involved in creating that organization, though, NAACP, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Wanting people to be real, isn't that global?

Yeah, I would say it’s kind of survival based, cause you want to be sure if you're the perceived underdog that these other folks aren't just looking to see how they can make you useful to them . Do they really care about you as a person or as a people, or do they need something done or they need whatever and you're a tool or a pathway to help them get something they need.

Have you felt that at all in the Bahá'í community?

No, I haven't.

Have you heard of anyone who does?

No. When you talk about the idea of having a token. Certainly I've been in the situation where someone's wanted to have a fireside and they said why don't you come because we want to try and diversify it more. But I've never had a negative feeling about that sort of thing cause to me that's really for a positive reason, because you want people to see that the faith isn't all people that look like whoever is hosting this thing.

Isn't that pretending though?

Not necessarily, with respect to that specific family or community, it might almost seem, well, if this was somebody in __________ and they asked me to drive out there because there are no black Bahá’ís in the state of _________, that could be perceived as being kind of artificial, but if it's a neighboring community I don't think so. I just used that as an example. ____________ – I haven't heard him directly, I've heard things he said – was that the reunion – he would ask black men especially why they stayed in the Faith. I can tell you, I've run into people in the Faith, there was somebody I rode with a few years ago in ______________ who was saying, well the honeymoon's over and I said, well which one is that, [talking about enrollment in the Faith] cause they ran into things they found with some of the other community members which they found disappointing cause they didn't seem like it was behavior consistent with the teachings and I told them, well, I'll tell you, I was very fortunate because when I was enrolled in the Bahá'í community, a person who had taken me to fireside meetings told me, hey look, if you come into this community you're not necessarily going to be impressed with everybody you meet and there are people who are really struggling with some heavy duty stuff, and it's really the issue of, do you believe that the founder of this religion is who he claimed to be, a messenger of God. And people aren’t perfect when they enroll in this religion and I think it should be that upfront. And if you're going to base whether you stay or not on what you think who are some of the other people, you're kind of missing the point really because that's not the point. The point is for you to develop yourself and hopefully you can help other people develop. But some people are going to do it, and some people aren't , some are going to move faster, some are going to move slower and that's not the point anyway for you as an individual. So do you believe that this guy was who he said he was, and if you do, then you gotta run with it.

You referred to the Writings and actually that's pretty consistent with people I talked to they go back to the Writings. If there is any complaint it is that other Bahá’ís need to deepen, basically. Do you think if Bahá’ís really knew what the Writings said that the problems would not exist?

Yeah, I do think that, but again it's not just an intellectual thing. That's probably the other challenge, especially for some of us in the west – not that it's not a problem for somebody from the East, but really cause sometimes I think people who are having the most trouble letting go of certain things it's because of intellectually what they think about certain things. Or, it's still very easy for a lot of people to believe that people of non-European origin are intellectually inferior. But it has a lot to do with what they put in an analysis. I mean, if you use something – you could use a simple minded analogy like well gee, if you look at all the developments in the sciences and technology for the past couple centuries who did most of that, then isn't that a proof of the innate superiority of the people who do it? Superficially that would seem to make sense, but it is a superficial analysis and it also doesn't do some things, like look at history. And it's interesting because according to Bahá'í Writings, Bahá’u’lláh talked about how the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh that basically everything we see now has been before. Now it's not clear whether he's talking about this world or not but not that that's really relevant – but he talked about this fellow who made a device that projected sound for 40 miles, or whatever and ah, and we're finding evidence archeologically that a lot of ancient cultures apparently knew things that we wouldn't have thought they would, like the Babylonians had batteries that they assume they used for electricity, and these very advanced calendars and things that we're finding like, be it in Central America and other areas. Oh incidentally, in Africa the country of Zimbabwe is actually named after an ancient city called Great Zimbabwe, a city that was built of stone, and as the story goes the Europeans who were first there said, "ah in no way could Africans have built this city" and the Africans would say, well of course Africans have built this city. You know, this thing about not wanting to acknowledge that they would've had the technology at that time. Um, cause what this religion taught, one of the things that Bahá’u’lláh taught was about developing one of his main reasons for coming was to spiritualize mankind and spiritualizing is not the same as intellectualizing. And it's one of the things that was very attractive to me about it cause it's one of the things I was looking for and it was consistent with the feeling I was already developing about other religions. One thing I thank my parents for was not raising me in a church. Because I think I was more open minded because, my parents were Christian but we never regularly attended church cause my father felt that why should I, the guy standing there in the pulpit is giving his opinion and why is his opinion any better than mine about what it says in the Bible? Course my father had the experience that when he was in WWII when he was in the navy in WWII in the pacific, one of the things he read was he read the Bible. He says cover to cover, more than once. So his attitude was, there's little or nothing I can get from the minister really, and he would listen to some of the guys on TV like Robert Shuler, not somebody like this guy in WV, Jerry Falwell, but somebody like Schuler out in California who was pretty reasonable, um, and we had conversations about stuff from the Bible at home, which was just as good or better than going to any Bible class anyway. So by the time I was in my early teens, I was starting to investigate other religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, and it was striking to me that the central teachings weren't that different. If you just read the gospels and then read things the Buddha said, to me it seemed to be no difference. So I used to wonder about that and say why is it a lot of Christian people think something like that's a false religion. It's older than Christianity, and speaks of the same basic truths. So I didn't really have an answer for that at the time, or for that matter native American religion what I knew of it, it all seemed very spiritual some ways just as spiritual as the gospel. So I wondered what gives, what's going on? So when I ran into the Bahá'í teachings I just kind of pulled all that together and said, Oh, well, okay. [My dad] worried. In fact, he just saw me walking down the hall just kind of looking kind of serious, he'd just say, you're thinking too much. Ya gotta loosen up. fact when I first enrolled he was kind of concerned about that because I got a picture of Abdu'l-Bahá and this was close to the time when Khomeini's stuff was beginning and so he looks at my picture of Abdu'l-Bahá, and then the pictures he sees of Khomeini on TV and here’s a picture of a man with a turban and a beard. At one point he was thinking that this was a picture of Khomeini. At one point my mother kind of straightened him out because 60 minutes had done a story on the Bahá'í Faith in the ’70s and she said, well I understood it, it made sense to me. I'll have to talk to Dad. Plus I guess there were, not bad incidents, but a few times when a Persian had called the house, um, he wanted to say he thought one of the guys was belligerent which I think was just the way the person talked. (it was one of those belligerent extremists. Um, but yeah spiritual development. And one of the things that all these faiths talk about is the detachment, selflessness. It's more obvious, maybe, Buddha was always talking about subordinating oneself and uniting with the greater self. And actually that's in all the religious writings. It doesn't sound like it is to the people, or the way we've been, the way our religious leaders have guided us, it doesn't sound that way but if you read the gospel, or the central writings of a lot of the religions, they're really saying the same stuff about personal development. The prescription for how to do it may be a little different um and I think yes, it probably, if you do all these things you will get somewhere. But it's like I said to another Bahá'í friend, I know a lot of people that join this religion are looking, I feel anyway, looking for something they can call bona fide spiritual experience, so that they can feel confirmed. And so if they don't feel confirmed, if they don't get this bona fide spiritual experience as they're defining it

How would they know?

Exactly. But I tell you something I would suggest. As you get more tuned in, as it were, to spiritual reality, when you have it, you'll know it, irrespective of how you define it for yourself. And I feel I've had it more than once and but you have to take the advice of the founder of the religion, and if you do, you'll have some – in fact you'll have many. But you have to take it all very seriously.

You see the striving and the progress in the community?

I think there's progress toward unity, and I think there's progress toward people developing themselves. The institutions in the Bahá'í faith, I think, have been pushing more for people to develop themselves or formalizing some of it more, by creating these institutes, training institutes and such, but even with the institutions formalizing, developing yourself has always been an important part of the guidance of the teachings of the religion.

Do you notice if there's any more or less tension with Persian and Black than with them and whites?

An observation I can make is, I think in reality, Persians in the Faith and black Americans are really culturally much more similar than either group is to white Americans. There are cultural characteristics – let me put it this way, there are some things I have seen that, um I can understand why a white American would have trouble with a Persian, and its for a similar reason why they would, they might from a cultural standpoint have problems with a black. Some nature of a sense of humor, and the way that they will play is really very similar to what African Americans do. A lot of Persian humor and this is Persian culture, not necessarily Bahá'í origin, is there's a lot of insult humor and put-down stuff. There's a lot of that in the African American community.

Isn't there a lot of that in white American community?

There is, but I don't think it's as entrenched in the same way. But the thing is, though, about African American and Persians they do that with people that they like because you know that you wouldn't necessarily do it with those that you don't already like. And so it becomes a game of how good can you do it to this person, it's a game but it's acceptable between the parties that are doing it. Also and something I've talked to my wife about is how about the way people dress from certain places. Well that one's become a more difficult one to pick on. But I know from growing up, before the hippie movement took a lot of us over, an African American, if they were going to go out, they were, you would be dressed, you would be sharp, you would wear Italian shoes. Not that white folks wouldn't dress but it was different. And actually any occasion is considered kind of important, that's when someone would get kind of formally dressed. And Persians do that. Persians tend to come to feast that way. The men are wearing ties. Also I know form Persian standards they're showing respect, is supposedly the idea. And then again if you think about the fact that for a large part the experience of African Americans in America has been being poor or maybe middle class or lower middle class. This was the one opportunity for a reason to dress up and look nice when you go to church and face all your peers and sit before the minister. And so on. And for a number of them you're showing respect to the house of the lord. If you just work in the field, you're not going to come in out of the field with your muddy pants and sit in the house of the lord.

Other similarities with Persians? Family unity?

Actually that's a problem that exists more with some of the poor families that have been torn apart as a result of a combination of things, for example the way the welfare system works has actually destroyed families. I mean, this whole thing about the man's gotta be out of the house before the woman and kids can get it, that was real dumb. But most, if you were dealing with a lot of African American families that are middle class there's definitely strong values, and actually they're very conservative on a lot of issues. And one of the ideas perpetrated in the media about –basically a lot of people get the idea because there've been complaints from the black community about police brutality, somebody's been beat up pretty bad by the police or whatever. The idea that blacks in general don't like policing, don't like laws enforced and all that, nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the biggest complaints about not having adequate policing in _______________ is coming from the black community. Cause after all, who's the majority of the population now in _____________? And so a lot of members of the black community are calling for zero tolerance. With laws. So there's some misinformation on that one in the community. I think it's very intentional. It still kind of bothers me that just walking across the campus at the university where I work that several incidents that I know that this white woman thought I was a potential mugger. And a lot of em you could say they're just being safe. But I also am aware that had I not been black, she wouldn't have had the same reaction. Some of it’s kind of subtle. One of it’s in evening hours. If I'm walking along one side of one of the streets, I've seen women consciously go over to the other side so they didn't have to pass close to me. Now one might be able to argue that they're just being safe, they don't know. But I've noticed if I'm watching it's some other black man walking, if it's a white man walking or an Asian man walking, they don't do it. I always walk to my car one evening and a lady who I'm pretty sure was a faculty member from psychology somewhere, she was carrying a whole bunch of bags so I thought, well I offered to help her, she needs help. And she said, “No, I'm fine." And she was obviously struggling so I said okay. She said, my car is right over there and I don't have far to go. So okay, fine so I went over to my car and I noticed that she didn't go where she said her car was. So obviously she was trying to get rid of me cause she thought I might try to cause her harm. So I said isn't that interesting said, well I guess she has a right to be concerned or whatever but I thought, now what if I'd been somebody white about the same age would she have had the same kind of reaction, as to assume that this man is probably a mugger. The fact, you know there was this doctor or dentist or something who was molesting girls on campus, he lived in ____________.

You’re not somebody who gets angry about that?

It annoys me, I've never gotten bang my fist angry about it, I've only thought this is such nonsense. I just kind of shake my head and I get annoyed, but I know why it's happening. But I also know that if these ladies ever had any course or a talk from some policemen or something some of those kind of tactics are some of the things they advise them to do, if they feel they have reason to fear or be concerned, or they told like things like don't make eye contact cause making eye contact is showing that maybe you're receptive to interacting with this person and, cause I've even heard that on campus these are some of the things that they tell the girls so on that basis I can say well maybe they're following advice from somebody who's telling ’em how to be safe. If this was somebody who was really out to get em, none of that stuff would make a hill of beans of difference, but this is the advice they're given, so I just go okay. But I've heard stories too from black men, professionals, lawyers or something who you know walk to their car in the parking garage in the city, you know, they're dressed they’ve got their briefcase and people are acting like, oh this guy might be a murderer, you know

Do you have any final thoughts?

The picture I would paint I think is generally positive for what's happening in race relations in the Faith and yeah, I mean there are some challenges here and there, but it people are really trying to be true to what this thing is about, those things will work out. It certainly wouldn't be helpful to pretend that there aren't problems in some areas that people have to work on, but I think a lot of people really are conscious of trying. People I've known in the 25 years I've been in I can see that some of them have grown, and I say that even people who had already been Bahá’ís for a decade before I came in had grown beyond where they were, um, in a more total way. My feeling is that I think a lot of the members of the Bahá'í community I think are internalizing the guidance of the Bahá'í teachings more. I honestly don't think that in the mid-70s when I came into the Faith that a lot of the Bahá’ís were really that fully internalizing the guidance. For a lot of the American ones anyway it was an intellectual experience and not really a truly spiritual one but I think it's becoming more of a truly spiritual one and it amazes me because of some of the things these people have seen happening around the world I mean I was pretty convinced for instance that the Soviet Union would fall before the year 2000. My understanding of some of what Abdu'l Bahá was saying about the lights of unity, so I was convinced that that would happen before the year 2000 and I was even telling people that. That was going to happen but of course they were telling me that I was a dreamer. I don't know what they think now. These are people that weren't Bahá'í um and that to me anyway that's part of that internalization. And also there's things happening on this other level. There are other groups that aren't Bahá'í, other religious groups who like there's the sun ray society, there's some of the Hindus that have these days where they just pray for peace and um it's not for us to say that their prayers have no impact. People that really believe that these things are realizable or the things they're doing should have an influence, and as Bahá’ís we believe that these things are realizable. We believe that things in our own writings are realizable. We can make them real. It's really in our hands but it's not an intellectual thing. And that's why I stay in, that's why even though when I've seen some problems -- I know a number of people who've gone the other way. In fact the fellow I talked about who was taking firesides down here in Maryland is one of the people that left the faith – he's not black. But in knowing these other individuals there are particular things that they've had a beef with. And or something they just couldn't get passed. We're told again, the guidance says everybody's tested, but you're not tested beyond your capacity to deal with the test.

The fellow down here that left isn't the one that taught me. One person really had a lot to do with that. Actually the first person I heard about the Faith from was my older sister.


What does it mean to be united?

I think for me to be united are you talking about in a group sense? I think united is basically not necessarily people sharing common backgrounds or necessarily have to have anything in common, but when I think of a group of people being united, I think they find something that they agree on, and I think that point where they meet is sort of like a uniting point I guess you’d call it. I think it definitely takes effort to be united I don’t think we just have to throw people in a room and we can automatically assume they’ll be united because obviously they’re going to clash at some point, there’ll be differences. But it’s an action, yeah, I do believe. I can give an example, there are Bahá’í conferences and you’re sitting in a room filled with Bahá’ís around you and you feel a sense of unity like we’re all striving for the same goal and we’re all working together for one goal, and so I definitely feel a sense of unity in that sense. Like long term goals, not just something that you’re going to work with and bam it’s over, just something that you’re constantly striving for.

Do you or have you lived in a community where you’ve experienced unity?

Yes, I would consider living in my house as an environment where we’re united because you know we take care of each other, and we share a common bond which is love and I mean I think I live in that environment I experience unity every day cause you have to kind of learn to work with people around you.

Without the working with them and if you had love, would that be enough to be united?

No, because I think it’s an action. Someone I mean if you can’t feel, if you have love with someone but they don’t feel it or you don’t express it then it really doesn’t exist if it’s not expressed I don’t think.

Does your concept of unity extend to non-Bahá’ís?

Yes. I mean [I can recall] instances where I’ve experienced unity but of course with, that’s a sense as far as religion goes, but unity as far as non-Bahá’ís in the workplace, I guess, there’s obviously disunity in the workplace, you have people that are clashing with you constantly. When you’re with your peers or in schooling the classroom environment you’re working on a project or something like that. There’s always a rift that always causes disunity so if you have like what I said before, people working toward the same goal, I think everywhere you can experience unity.

What are other obstacles?

Differences of opinion on a certain issue, and I think just also when people don’t express their views, there are certain prejudices that come along with that because if they don’t know exactly where this person understands on a certain issue they assume that this is their view, which can sort of, you know, it’s a silent sort of disruption, they can not necessarily have a clash but um they don’t feel like they’re connected with that person, they’re going to feel like they’re on opposite sides. By not communicating.

You said that having different opinions is an obstacle?

Well, opinion or view I guess I mean because um politics wise you have democrats and republicans who don’t share the same opinion on a lot of things but at some point they have to unite if they want to get something done. So in certain instances I do think opinion matters but I think at some point I think they have to give in if they want to unite because like people with different opinions they don’t necessarily have to unite, you know, they can just continue on them going their own separate way and others going the other way.

Does your community have diversity?

Yes. High school, for example. To an extent, if we’re talking culturally we’re united but there is sort of as far as age and gender and personality there’s diversity in my family.

Do you think the Bahá’í community you’re in has unity and diversity?

Definitely there’s diversity in my Bahá’í community. We have people of, you just look around the room there’s people of all different backgrounds, ages, races, so, and we’re all united, because I mean, we seem like we’re basically we have love for Bahá’u’lláh, we for example we come to Feast, we join at Feast, we unite at Feast you know because that’s what we want to do, say prayers deepen ourselves, we do unite and also the group is very diverse.

You mentioned Bahá’u’lláh. What is the significance in the Bahá’í Faith?

Well I mean, a lot of the. In the Bahá’í Faith we believe in one God, the oneness of mankind, one family, the world being one family, not two or separate groups, so I think the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith is basically bringing the world together, because you basically can achieve something when you have groups splitting off, cause if we want to bring everyone together basically which is one common goal which is unity which is basically um a major goal of the Bahá’í Faith so in that they want to bring people together and focus on that whole things of believing in just one God and making the world one family.

How do you know?

There’s a certain, I think there’s sort of a, what do you call it, you can see it. I mean, if you’re watching a group no one’s arguing, you know, no one feels like they’ve been hurt it’s basically like a democracy I guess you could say because I think it brings a sense of happiness and a sense of satisfaction they don’t feel like they’re being pressured or like they haven’t been heard. I think happiness, yeah, or a sense of satisfaction not giddy or anything, but just they’re not displeased.

How do you have to live to be united?

You have to be open minded, willing to accept other people’s views and other people’s backgrounds, you have to accept where they’re coming from cause if you’re just focused on one path and you don’t you know let others come in or you don’t extend yourself, I think that, unity is not achieved by just a single person I think it’s a group effort. You have to be open minded willing to accept others and willing to compromise and willing to put forth effort.

Having different opinions?

It’s more of a compromise. If you have an opinion there’s no reason why if someone doesn’t agree with you, you should throw it out just for the sake of having unity. I think there’s a certain compromise I think each person has to work with which is, you know, the whole act of achieving unity, is you have to work with that other person or that group to work out your differences to achieve unity.

You said it’s a group effort, do you think one person can promote unity?

One person can promote unity, because that one person makes up a group and if that person doesn’t promote unity, how is that person going to fit into the group. You need all those individuals promoting unity to develop that group.

Everybody has to?

I think one person can promote unity, but in the way of achieving unity individually, I think overall it has an effect on the group.

How about third parties?

I think by sort of creating an environment where people can come together, setting you know, putting together Bahá’í conferences is a way to achieve unity or just showing outside support that unity is, should be, everyone’s goal, but definitely they play an important part in creating that environment.

Have you done anything to increase unity?

Well, I’ve been in situations where there’s been you know different views, when you’re trying to you know, make a decision or something in a groups it’s difficult because you have people who want to do one thing and you have a person who wants to do something different so you don’t get anywhere, so sort of acted like a mediator and sort of settling those difference to come up with something that everyone’s happy with, that’s one way. Well, in the Faith I think accepting or having love for all like we say, races, creeds, colors, not necessarily judging one person, cause your action reflects on – which is one way to promote unity. Your action. If I’m going to talk to Mr. X here but not the person standing across the room because he’s a different skin color that’s not really showing people around me that I’m promoting unity. So that’s the way I

How do you perceive your ethnicity, or your nationality?

I see myself, I don’t feel alone or I feel a sense of unity within my ethnicity, people of Iranian background, but I also feel a sense of unity within the group from other people so when I’m, I feel united with a all Iranians, but of course when I’m around Iranian Bahá’ís there’s a sense of love, or a special bond other than just our you know where we’re from or what skin color.

Is this stronger with Iranian Bahá’ís than with white or black?

I’ve never really experienced that, I’ve never really experienced being in a room with like you know other Iranians or African Americans Of course you know there’s differences. You know there’s things you have in common, the more things you have in common, that person may be such as language or customs or whatever, but I don’t necessarily feel like I would prefer to stand more this way than the other way. I think the Bahá’í faith creates – I can’t explain what it is, but you just know that there’s not really a preference or like a group that you prefer or you feel more that you have in common with.

You've always been a Bahá’í?


Do you think that any members of the Faith exhibit a position of superiority?

Not really, I mean I can think of some instances where you have some of the more traditional, but I think what this is, the more traditional I want to say older generation Bahá’ís which may be coming from certain backgrounds, they may have been used to doing things a certain way, but when they come to a different country, like the united states it seems sort of different to them that think that they’re doing it wrong or the way they do it is right, only but I think they confuse it more with the context of their own culture and not more like a religious

You’re talking about Iranians?

Right, cause that’s the only time I’ve ever experienced it. Because I know like for instance like with the fast, my grandma would say, you’re supposed to finish, or you’re supposed to eat or whatever you can’t eat after the sun comes up which I go by what the newspaper says. She tells me to go by when I actually see when it’s daybreak. You know? She’s like oh that’s not the right way to do it, cause when we were growing up we would do it right when we saw the sun come up, we would stop eating when we know the sun comes up but I still have 20 more minutes, you know? So um I think that’s more part of her sort of culture cause she’s more traditional like that, they obviously didn’t have the weather channel saying sunrise and sunset at so and so time.

Do you think some members expect others to adapt?

I think sometimes only because they don’t know any better, you know, they’re used to doing you know something for, they’re used to doing things a certain way, they may have been doing it for so long all of a sudden it’s like, whoa we know what’s going on you know, my way is right, it may be even a matter of pride, that you know you have a hard time adapting um because these things may seem foreign to them cause they’re used to being superior so when they come to a different environment they may feel inferior but they don’t want to show it.

Do you see yourself as the same as or different from Bahá’ís of different cultural backgrounds?

I see a bond, I definitely feel like we share a bond which is, you know, love for Bahá’u’lláh and that we’re Bahá’ís and every aspect of our lives may not be similar we may be in are own you know background, we may practice different things, you know, like someone may not you know like the food that I like or you know speak the same language. But I don’t feel like you know we’re from, like I’m like an alien to them. There’s still always that bond that’s sort of universal I think

Can you think of any stories or situations that would be typical or illustrate unity?

Well I can see the World Congress being like such a you could just see it, a stage full of people from all points of the glove standing on one stage holding hands singing boo-boo they just have so much love for each other, they may not know each other, even though they’re wearing completely different you know costumes as the next person and their skin color would be different yet they’re so happy to be there, they’re so happy to be at this great event. It’s like commemorating 100 year anniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s death, just like you know, I don’t know where else you can see something like that. [in the Olympics] you still have people competing with each other, there’s still a level of competition or….but this is like I think is as pure as it gets, that sense of unity.


What is the significance of unity in the Faith?

I am beginning to understand that the significance of unity is not the superficial unity that we think it is . It’s really the spiritual unity and our expression of it is the diversity. That we actually are one. I mean, it’s in the writings, but it takes awhile being a western person to get that spiritual unity is a reality, a being, a spiritual being in the world. Meaning the Bahá’í Writings say that we are leaves of one tree, that kind of thing and somehow it has taken me awhile to really get that that means that we’re organically connected.

Personally I’m starting to feel more centered when I feel unified, it’s a perspective thing. When I’m out of whack I’m not feeling unified – I’m feeling alienated. It’s more like I can tell when I’m not feeling unity. I can tell when I’m feeling out of whack because I’m feeling alienated and I’m feeling lonely. When I’m not feeling alienated and lonely I’m not, I’m centered, even when I’m by myself, and things go more smoothly when I’m with people. So if I’m off track I’m not unified and it’s a perspective thing?

It’s a sense of mirroring, kind of that there’s a connection, it’s flowing, things are lighter. It sounds like I’m describing an emotional thing

Do you live in a Bahá’í community that’s unified?

I lived in a community in ______________ – currently I live in a pretty good Bahá’í community but I’m beginning to recognize that my perspective of my experiences is a lot of my internal dialogue. But when you ask me that question, it reminds me of a item when I was living with my grandmother and I was a relatively new Bahá’í and I was teaching, going to things, and my brother became a Bahá’í and my best girlfriend became a Bahá’í and they got married and so there was a lot of family integration, we had teaching activities in her parents’ home – it was in the old historic place in ___________? So we had a lot of people come up from _________ and maybe part of it was that we were focused on teaching, so we were unified in that we had goals and there were older Bahá’ís in the community who were good role models who were upbeat, it was a fun time. We were making the radical transition from the frog culture to a non-drug culture, so there was that aspect of it, getting our act together. Incorporating the eastern mysticism that’s in the Bahá’í Faith that was in the external community, into our own lives.

What does it mean that you were working together?

Instead of focusing inward we were focused outward, we were um we had goals of spreading the message, that we would have music, we would have proclamations, we would have people that we knew come, we would have recognized speakers and musicians come and it was in a home that was conducive to doing that. Because it was new to us, we had the energy, we were excited, and we were sharing with people, we were close to Green Acre, we had a lot of fibers in the tapestry that we were crossing over.

Was there diversity?

No, I wouldn’t say that, because we were all Anglo. I would say that our speakers were diverse. We had an African American professor from ______________ come up and he was a speaker and he was also a musician, and we had a Hispanic woman who worked in the daycare center where we were working and she became Bahá’í, so maybe that was not accurate. Maybe we did have some diversity.

What about in your community now?

It’s really amazingly diverse for such a small town. We have black, we have Persian. We don’t have Hispanic or oriental people in our circle at this time, but for such a small community to have the three major ethnicities I think is pretty good. WE have from age 8 to about age 70 so they’re diverse in age groups. I think we’re all pretty much working middle class folks with education so it’s not very diverse in that way.

What are obstacles to unity?

Motivation. I think the obvious obstacles are language barriers and distance and jobs where you have difficult schedules, things like that but you can overcome it if you really want to.

What would make someone not motivated?

Feeling alienated, maybe, not knowing that that’s their purpose. Not being deepened enough to know that that’s what being a Bahá’í is all about.

Does your concept of unity include people who aren’t Bahá’í?

It does, it’s my focus, but it’s a universal concept . I guess I’m addressing my Bahá’í community, but yeah, oh yeah.

So among people who are not Bahá’í, what’s an obstacle to unity?

I think fear, based on non-familiarity is a big one. It’s a lot easier to think that you are unified with people who are like you and I was working in Baltimore, there were a lot of African American professionals and non professionals working in the hospital where I was. And some of them – I don’t know if it’s true – but they acted like they didn’t know white people very well and that would be an obstacle to unity if their immediate assumption was that that was different and therefore not worth exploring.

Do you think there’s a responsibility to create unity among others who are not Bahá’í?

I felt like it was more important for me to make contact and be friendly with them and if they found out I was Bahá’í and it was a positive correlation then that was a good thing. It was important for me as a white person, a very white person , in that milieu to make sure that my contacts were positive or at least neutral.


Well, a couple of reasons, even outside of the fact that being a Bahá’í and unity is real important. The racism that’s perpetrated on blacks in this country , they ain’t never got that 40 acres and a mule and they ain’t never got that apology that was said people want and it’s the least I can do .

What do you have to do or how to live to achieve unity?

Well, going back to my original statement that I’m beginning to realize that unity is more about my process, if I don’t make time tonight, if I don’t make time to say my prayers, if I don’t make time to do my own creative process then I don’t feel unified with myself, I don’t feel centered, so then I can’t go out and function in the world and feel unified. For me I think my current understanding is that it is perspective – it exists anyway whether we understand it or not, so the better we understand it, the better we can function in that way. So I’m beginning to think, I’m beginning to feel, I’m beginning to process that the more we understand who we really are the better we can actually achieve our goals of unity. If we’re out here monkeying around, doing stuff and we’re doing it off center we’re going to fall over, because we’re not going to be coming from a deep place.

Is unity something that one person can promote?

Makes me have to go deeper within my own resources. So it’s kind of like a sandwich or a tree. The tree analogy really works best. If you’re well rooted then you’re unified with your spirit self, your core self, and then I guess your leaves and flowers are the product of that, and so let me get away form the analogy – yeah, I can personally be unified I can be centered with my reality, with my spirit self but on a superficial level, if you aren’t responding to me, it makes it harder to be unified, so I have to love you from a distance – which is better than fighting with people, so. I had an interesting conversation with a woman who is doing um psychic art work on a black piece of paper she would do a white overlay and then for each chakra she was meditating on – now I didn’t get the whole process I want to go back and ask her. She would go to her throat chakra and she would go to her heart chakra, and using those colors she would pull out an image form her psyche and she was telling me there was this one that she did form the heart chakra so it was green – not the heart chakra one was a frog so it was green. The throat chakra was the one where she found, that looked like an angry animal, you remember the Maurice Sendak wild beasts, where the wild things are with the big teeth and it was blue and it was looking like it was pouncing out of the paper. She said it was a really deep activity she learned it at the Omega institute. And she was doing this and she just got really calm. So she finishes this throat chakra painting that looks like an angry beast – she had stuff to get out . So she got clear. She did her work on herself. Now the day I met her, I was walking in and her husband was walking out with the kids – they were divorced. He had never apologized to her – I don’t know the reason he would have had to apologize but there’s always something when there’s a divorce. The next day after she finished this painting he called and he apologized. So somewhere there’s a unity of spirit that when she got, when her energy got clear, he was able to heal.

Have you always believed in unity, before you were Bahá’í?

I don’t know if it’s true, but it felt like to me that when I found the Bahá’í Faith it was like a recognition of what was true and honestly I think my understanding of unity I was a peacenik and I was a Christian and I was I’m not sure that I can even yet verbalizing it well but I think unity sure I think if I was pressed to say if unity was important to me I would say yeah, because the ’60s were all about peace and love and harmony and it resonated it felt right. I don’t know. I always had a drive to do something spiritual because even when my family wasn’t going to church, I was hitching a ride or walking up to the church down the street – I mean can I get a ride to Sunday school.

How can third parties promote unity within the Faith?

There was a problem in a community that I was in which will go unnamed and a certain assistant auxiliary board member was petitioned for help – she was a third party who was perceived to be wise – certainly neutral, because she wasn’t involved, and what she was really interesting because she never addressed the issue. She called a meeting of the general community where the problem was and she talked about loving each other and how that would look. And she indirectly mentioned that the behavior that was causing a problem was inappropriate. She was always loving, always gentle always above the conflict and it seemed to help. I mean, you know, It didn’t resolve the fact that one of the people has a personality disorder and that maybe that was what the root of the problem was, but it raised the consciousness of ht players above the conflict. So Yeah, I think third parties can do stuff.

What have you done to increase unity?

Today I don’t know. Today I would have to say, I've got some work to do. In my community, the current community, we’re starting to have ladies who lunch about once a month or so, we get together, and it hasn’t been done before and it seems to be fund and it certainly won’t create disunity, you know, I’m participating in things that are already going on. There’s an interfaith dinner once a month that we go to.

How do you perceive your ethnicity in the context of the Faith?

I’ve heard rumors that in the future it’s not going to be an Anglo faith, and I can’t wait to see how that’s going to look. Right now ethnicity is part of the diversity and I’m so out of touch with my ethnicity – nobody spoke Dutch in my house, nobody spoke French in my house so the American Heinz 57 ethnicity is kind of.

Your whiteness?

I don’t think it’s very important. I think it’s okay to be white in the Faith

My personal family culture, you know, the Humphrey Bogart Lauren Bacall it’s so cool to smoke cigarettes and drink kind of martini culture, because you know that’s the sort of thing I think my parents went through, that their youth, that image was what was cool, then in the ’60s with the hippies that whole approach, I had to give up that. As far as, I don’t really consider the quality of entertainment on TV really my culture, that’s just sort of what’s degenerating out of what whs. I’m not having to give that up. I think if I was really brutally honest, I ‘d have to say that we are different because of those kinds of things because we don’t drink and we try not to backbite and we’re perceived as different, so you know, we’re not mainstream, we’re not New Age, so in some ways we are different.

The obverse is that, does becoming a Bahá’í add to your culture

Oh yeah, to me, you know that in the Once and future King where Merlin turns the two players into birds and he says do you see any boundaries, and he says, no, it’s just trees and mountains. And it’s like that for me, it’s like being up above and saying those are artificial. I get to be – when I was working on a natural foods ranch that had a restaurant and a deli down by the main highway, and I remember one day thinking as I was walking back on their property and this whole process of going oh man, I just felt so envious of these lucky people they’ve got this great ranch. And another part of me said, you are here, now, enjoying this great ranch. So enjoy the great ranch. You don’t have to do anything, except be, you know, the be here now. It’s sort of like that too. You know , I don’t have to be Chinese to enjoy being Chinese. You know I can be part of myself. It just helped me to de-emphasize boundaries.

In your community, do members retain a position of superiority or authority, or of inferiority and submission?

Hmmm…well, there’s I can think of individuals who um are still clinging to thinking that maybe Persians are more spiritual or have a finer sensitivity or are better Bahá’ís or something like that. And I guess that sometimes comes up and um there are some Anglos who are very patronizing and condescending to people who don’t speak English well and so that leads to you know how weird two groups would be patronizing to each other, but you know what I’m talking about – those things are current in problems people have to deal with.

Do you see your self as the same as or different form Bahá’ís of different cultural background?

Well, we’re all different but we’re all connected, so I’m not sure that’s addressing what you’re asking. We’re all different – we’re all like different facets of a crystal. We all see things from a slightly different angle, which is probably intentional, but we’re all part of the same thing. So I think that we all have different things to bring to the table, and it’s the same table.

I think when I was younger you know and trying to be hip now I’m trying less hard to be hip as I am just trying to be centered, you know, I would find myself with black friends and using dialect, you know. Now I look at that and I think oooh. That’s pretty patronizing because I don’t speak dialect normally, when I’m relaxed and being myself this is how I talk. So I ain’t going jive you man, that sort of stuff and that’s s what I would do. It wasn’t meant to be mean, it was just stupid. Ignorant… We are different, and that’s okay, you know. That’s taken awhile for me to get with too, is that its’ okay if we’re different. It exists. I mean, for us to have a better perspective would be good you know, for all of to have – I mean that’s the whole genius of the Bahá’í faith, is that it addresses what’s at core of all of our beliefs, that all of our core – those of us who are religious – our core belief is validated, that we don’t have to give up being Christian, we don’t have to give up being Buddhist, we don’t have to give up being Hindu you know. The Indian curries are just as appropriate for the families who are Bahá’í in India as is the American steak and potatoes could for the Bahá’í who becomes a Bahá’í in Nevada, you know. It’s okay, it’s okay to be different.

Do some members expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

I would assume so because I guess I did. I assumed that we needed to adapt and become homogenized. But that was a misunderstanding. I was just a young person trying to, you know, we’ll all be one, we’ll all be one thing. Ew. No. I don’t think I was aware of it. I’m sure that 10 years down the line I’ll think that where I am is pretty kindergarten, I hope, compared to where spiritually to where I hope I’ll grow into a different place. You know, I can look back and say, well okay, that was my beginning of understanding then, this is my beginning of understanding now.

Does your feeling of unity with Bahá’ís preclude feeling united with those who aren’t Bahá’í?

I think it’s easier to expect unity with Bahá’ís and more disappointing when it doesn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean that unity with other people doesn’t exist or doesn’t happen in the natural course of things.

Do you want to add anything else?

I think that, maybe it’s our culture, I don’t know. I remember speaking with somebody about it and they got really frustrated, that all the answers are in the Bahá’í writings, but there’s a parable that’s a really popular parable, the Celestine Prophesy, and it talked about the way people were in a group and anyway, his point in dealing with the group was the synergy, the spiritual energy that people could listen attentively, absorb what somebody’s saying, use their god energy to give it back – effective listening – but um but he was using it on a spiritual level, that it would unite people if they felt heard. If they basically felt heard, that energy would be used from that person and given back to the group, and then when somebody else had something to say, that person would get total attention, and their energy would lift them up to a higher level so whatever they gave back would be more illumined, more divinely inspired – doesn’t it sound like what a local spiritual assembly could be?

Can you describe a time where you experienced unity?

I described a time when we were in a group, when my brother and his wife, and I was newly with my ex-husband, and everybody was having a good time That was a time of unity, a time of the sloughing off of the old ways and the taking up of the pure path and the enthusiasm for that and the old. You know I mean we had Wayne However who was an old Baptist minister who was a powerful figure. We could go to green Acre in a half an hour and that gave us access to a lot of energy. My brother and his wife got married at __________. My grandmother was still living, my mother was still living, there was a unity of generations, a unity of excitement. It was the time when seals and crofts were very active. It seemed like the Bahá’ís – it was in the early 70s when the Bahá’í energy was really popping 71, through 76, and we’d go during fast and go to see Seals and Crofts and the sun would go down and you’d hear people rattling and everybody would be eating during the concert you know, it was just fun. It was fun, it felt like something new and exciting was going on.


How do you perceive race relations in the Bahá’í Faith?

My perception is some people, they tend to… they only speak to you when they need to, and that’s it. I’ve found that we have class prejudice also, among certain groups. At first I thought it was race prejudice and then I found some of ’em were strictly based on class. If they knew you had a certain background. Engineering is something that a lot of Persians, as a black person sometimes they don’t speak to you at all? But then they find out, “Oh you’re doing engineering?” They love you. I thought why is this? I found out that’s one of the highest paid jobs in Iran. And some people who would never say Alláh’u’abhá back but when someone else says, “well, you know, her husband is an engineer and she’s doing engineer work,” then they want to be your friend. The same people you’ve know for four or five years, you’ve said hello to and they’ve never responded or anything. One thing I did spot in the very beginning when I became Bahá’í, I found that even some people who, where I came from, the auxiliary board member, she was totally indifferent. We had five new Bahá’ís, two of ‘em were white and three of ‘em were black. and at the district convention, she didn’t have the time of day to say hello to us until one of the other Bahá’ís drug her around, and said, I want you to meet our new Bahá’í and she was like “Oookay,” and it was a different thing but you know we all introduced ourselves as the Bahá’ís because we were told to by the friends who had brought us to the convention and everything, and we spoke to her but she didn’t have the time of day. But she spoke to the white friends who were with us. And she kept speaking to them and everything. It’s like, we’re all new Bahá’ís and so five of us were at the table and one of them got up to leave, and one of them you know pretty well. We were all sitting at the same table and the Auxiliary Board member didn’t have the time of day to speak to me or the other lady. I didn’t know who she was, but we all declared at _________ in ’81. I was probably the last one in ’81 because I was October ’81. It seemed she was sort of distant to us. But she didn’t know __________ more than she knew the rest of us. And the other girl who was a really close friend of mine and we still keep in touch. She was a white girl. She would never speak to the other three of us. I didn’t really know their names. they were, one was a graduate student and one was the underclass, and we just made it to convention we were knew Bahá’ís.

Wasn’t that a turn-off?

Well, no because what happened, I didn’t become Bahá’í based on friends. I didn’t know any Bahá’ís when I became Bahá’í. So you read the Writings, and I read with my mom. When I first became Bahá’í and then also the community in ______________ was really bad. and some of the Persians picked up the prejudices from the people around them. And I didn’t know much about it. One of the Bahá’ís from the central part of ____________ says, “Oh, they gave me a bunch of names of these people, and said, oh they’re nice Bahá’ís.” I never saw them at Feast. Some of ’em had gone pioneering and others said no, we don’t want to come to Feast, we feel so uncomfortable coming to feast. and it was like, they never said anything else about it. I went to Feast and I mean, the whole family, everybody got up and moved to the other side of the room. I was amazed. And I didn’t realize this until the host, she was not a Bahá’í. She was the mother of a Bahá’í. The daughter, was a Bahá’í. She was the host. She chewed out everybody that kept running into the family room. and she said, and you expect me to be a Bahá’í? It was embarrassing. And they came back out. I do remember working on [the highway] when I came here in 1984. This was like summer, 84, I was working in ______________ on [the highway]. And I saw this car fly past me. and I recognized it was Albert James and I waved to him and I called out, and I pulled him over on the side and he told me he was going to ___________. and I said, “What for?” And he says, “Well.” Because before he had asked me a couple days what happened in ___________. He didn’t make anything he’s like, “How was your experience in ____________, what happened in _____________?” And I didn’t tell him much of anything. And on the highway he told me he was going to __________ because of an Auxiliary Board Member asked him to help out with the racial problem in ___________, and I said, “Well, there’s a big problem there because she’s part of it.” It’s like, he was sort of shocked when I said it. Because he was going to help cause she asked for help with the racial problems, but then I thought maybe after a few years maybe it wasn’t just the racial thing but also the class thing. _____________ is an Auxiliary Board Member and she has to accept him and respect him as much, you know, too. so he went to help. I did tell him what happened a couple Feasts when everybody got up and switched sides you know. when I sat down. Cause just when I sat down, then everybody on the side where I was at jumped up and they all went up to the other side. We had people sitting on the arms of the couch. It looked ridiculous. Okay, I had this whole wall to myself. They had brought in the, you know the outdoor swing set? well they had one of these and they had a couple chairs sitting on each side of it. I’m looking and the whole side is there to myself. everybody’s

And you were the only black person?

Oh yeah. In front so you have a room, a square, you come in this door right here and there’s the other door. The swing set was sitting here, a chair over there, chairs over there, and over here you have a couple chairs and a window sill so nothing was in front of the window sill. A couch with everybody and his mother hanging off of it. And people sitting on the floor, people sitting over here crammed up, and I’m sitting here by myself

Did that happen to you in other places in your life before?

In ______________ it’s very racist. You know, the kids spit on you coming down the stairwells, in the hallway and stuff and you just ignore em, cause there’s too many of them. They would have like once in awhile they’d decide to go and jump on one person. 20-30 kids they’d jump on one black kid for no reason. Just we had a lot of people from ______ and ______ who came to our school cause their schools were really bad, and they wanted a better education so they’d come there. But these people fought like animals all the time, so it’s like what is this, go back to your own town.

So the behavior at Feast was sort of like the behavior in the community?

Oh, yeah. Where we were raised from junior high to high school, we were the only blacks on the block and there were native Indian four doors down from us and the people that didn’t even own their homes were the ones that always tore up everything. It’s just, it’s ridiculous, you know, what you see and what went on. and everything There reflected very much in the Bahá’í community there. There was a person who [my husband] thought was the most wonderful person in the world and I laughed because this person was one of the worst. It was her mother in her house that said, you people are so prejudiced. and the mother was not a Bahá’í. It was like, when he was telling me how nice this person was, I was like, I don’t believe it. and then the only time we had Feast in her house a couple of times. One thing was good, there was a family that was from _______ that moved in. They had been excommunicated because they were Catholic and started asking about the Faith and they became Bahá’ís but were excommunicated. So their daughters, I became good friends with them because they didn’t care. They were like from a different world and they saw what was going on too I went to Feast with them. everybody comes in and we go to sit down and they get up and move. And it’s not like they’re going to sit with someone to chit chat their best friends or anything -- you have cliques and things like that going on and things like that, they just got up. It was avoidance.

Do you know if they’re still like that in _____________?

Probably, some of ’em. Not a lot because the last time we were in ____________, the community has changed a lot. We have black as and Persians all going there, you know. And they have their own center. I didn’t see any of the ones that were there when I was there in the ’80s. but the people who moved in they bought the center, and then they moved out of the center because they just wanted to have a center. They still keep it. They do the upkeep on the center and everything, but they wanted to have a center so they bought this huge house. and they made the center out of that and they moved out a d got another place They weren’t originally from there. that’s when I met a lot of the other newer people.

So there’s been some progress there?

Big progress. It was no different from what the other people were doing. No different whatsoever. At least if you went into like a church they didn’t get up and run from you. Because as a single black person going into a white church, they didn’t treat you like dirt. you know. They may do it afterwards, but not in church, you know, so you think of a white person going to a black church everybody wants to know who you are, who’s your mother you know, they don’t treat you like dirt in the church.

So you were disappointed in the Bahá’ís at the time. how about now in your community?

You see it and you see some people who because of their background and their raising, they try to be friendly because they know the Writings say that you’re supposed to act a certain way. But then when they’re with certain groups they don’t even acknowledge you. You know, you walk in, you say Alláh’u’abhá to ’em. they don’t even speak. You know, it’s not going to hurt you even to smile. Even acknowledge is it really important whatever it is you’re saying? Most of the time it’s not. It doesn’t hurt to say Alláh’u’abhá back to somebody. But I know certain whites in this community you say Alláh’u’abhá to em and they’re speaking to somebody else, they act like they don’t even know you, don’t acknowledge you. Its never hurts anybody to just smile when somebody says Alláh’u’abhá to you. I don’t care how in-depth your conversation is. If you’re not talking about the writings and everything else, it’s not that important, so.

Do you see that as a race issue?

For some people I see it as a race issue. My personal opinion I think it’s a race issue. [my husband] says no it wasn’t but I said I don’t know because when I speak they never say Alláh’u’abhá. When he comes and speaks they say Alláh’u’abhá.

Are you talking about Persians?

No. American whites. I go in to children’s class go up to kids and stuff and say Alláh’u’abhá. sometimes they say Alláh’u’abhá back you know, if they’re by themselves and only if they’re by themselves. If they’re not by themselves you know, if they’re talking to someone else especially if the other person is white -- most of the time I never seen em talking to anybody. Because one Bahá’í, __________ and I are pretty close. [She] feels really bad when the other Bahá’ís don’t speak back when I say Alláh’u’abhá. she just sort of, you see her shrivel up and try to get away

That’s such strange behavior.

You see, she’s not used to that. It sort a stresses her out.

She only sees that when she’s with you?

I don’t know. I notice she feels very uncomfortable when they refuse to acknowledge. I’m getting irritable. wait a minute. [She] is from the South. She has a different attitude. I can see it irritates her when people act ignorant and don’t speak back.

You s aid before that the behavior in the Bahá’í community reflects _____________. Would you say that’s true in ______________? Not saying hello, is that something they do in _______________?

I don’t think so. Cause you can say hello to a lot of whites around here and they say hello. they don’t have to know you, you know. you have a few people you know, they walk in the street, they’re so proud they think their houses are expensive, they live down the street and I just laugh at them because it’s like, their houses are actually cheaper down there but their nose is in the air and it’s like excuse me get out of the street. There are two cars and one of em’s coming in opposite directions and they’re going to show that they’re something or whatever. They’re a different breed of people. But most of the white people around here they will speak to you.

So you only see it in the Bahá’í community?

I used to see it at work. I made this guy speak to me now he speaks to me every day.

How did you make him speak to you?

I wouldn’t let him walk past me because he use to walk this way to keep from looking at me. I said, does it really offend you that much when I walk in the hallway? and he ignored me. the next day I stood there. I had a box, so I put the box on one side of me, and you couldn’t get through the hallway. It’s not but about this big so I said, you know, I haven’t done anything to you. If you have a problem with me, that’s your problem, not mine. it’s not going to kill you to say hello. If you don’t say hello that’s still your problem. you know it’s irritable, cause here he is a grown man. He’s got minorities around him left and right. He’s too ignorant to speak to anybody. They say “he never speaks to anybody.” He’ll speak to certain whites and everybody but if he thinks if they’re too below him, he won’t speak to them.

When you say speaks, you mean beyond, besides say9ing hello and acknowledging. You mean sitting down and talking with?

No he’ll talk to me once in awhile. There’s a scanner next to his desk. He’ll ask what am I doing, if I need help. Because he knows I don’t use it on a daily basis. I use it once in awhile. and you know just that little acknowledgment, do you need help? can I help you? no I got it this time

Did he do that before you made him speak to you?

Nope. Now that’s been two years two and a half years.

Have you done that with the Bahá’ís in the community? Have you confronted them with, why don’t you speak to me when I say Alláh’u’abhá?

No, but I asked one, cat got your tongue and he looked at me and he got a little ticked off. and the other one, I just laughed at him because it’s like, your supposed to be an educator, you’re a joke. you know. counseling is really different from teaching and I don’t really care. cause you know you try to teach the kids here in the children’s classes and it didn’t work. cause counseling is different form teaching and most people will acknowledge that, but this person didn’t acknowledge that and they also some issues themselves, and you can tell and so you just ignore them they have their problems they have to get over and there are other people out there you have other things to do yourself. I have other things to do, I was doing other things I don’t want to waste my time with somebody who claims to be a Bahá’í and claims they read the Writings. If you read the writings you should know what are you doing. you know, you feel it, you see it right then and there. Okay, let me not do this or I know I do this and you know, but if you’re not reading and you just reading through whatever you want to see and whatever you don’t want to see or don’t see. For Bahá’ís I don’t think they have an excuse, especially people who claim they’ve been Bahá’ís for a long time, I don’t think they have excuses.

Have you been in any of the study circles?

Not around here. I used to read my Writings, read them upstairs a lot. Study circles we used to have our deepening classes down at the barn. It seemed that certain people would want to self interpret the writings it was like that’s one thing that, no, don’t tell me about what you did over here. what do the Writings say. so other people would say, let’s ask the expert. That’s no expert. and they say, he was born in Iran, and you say. a lot of Iranians don’t have the Writings that we have because they are in English, and if they read em in Arabic they don’t really understand what was actually written there. That was the one thing that almost every Bahá’í I knew at school and [my husband] told me, they didn’t really understand like the long Obligatory Prayer the Tablet of Ahmád, they could read it and write it and everything else, memorize it back and forth, but they didn’t truly know what it meant until they read it in English and with the real strong ones were things that he wrote in Arabic, a lot of friends had said the same thing that not until they learned to read it in English did they really understood what it was. Some people don’t say something in Farsí or in Arabic, then they translate, but did they understand what they translation meant. And not until you actually read it translating something word for word means something different from when you read from what the experts have translated

Would you say that Bahá'ís, if they read the Writings don’t have an excuse. What about people who memorized something and don’t understand it, do they have an excuse for being obnoxious?

(laughs) That’s not an excuse, because memorizing is Memorizing, but learning and comprehending are two different things. but to read it yourself and know it, that’s something different. memorizing prayers and not know what they mean

I’ve memorized Arabic

What would you want to say to white members of the community about the meaning?

You can’t group all white people. We used to have three different groups. Hillbillies are the friendliest people ever. and you really love to be around hillbillies. Then you have rednecks depending on they’re broken down into two groups. Some rednecks, really nasty they’re on opposite sides, then you have some rednecks that are just as nice as hillbillies.

This is in _________________?

Yeah, then you have some plain white people, they didn’t care about anything as long as you don’t bother them, they do their own thing, they help you out if you need help and that was it, but the friendliest were the hillbillies, and then the rednecks that were like the hillbillies. The rednecks in a sense don’t a thing, you could look at them and you see all this was always red cause they were like laborers, farmers and laborers and stuff like that. they’re always red and people go, oh look at the redneck look at the redneck but you knew you could trust them better than many of the other ones. It makes a big difference, you know, you kind of group everybody.

So here in the Bahá’í community in ______________ County you can’t group all the whites?

No. Take ____________, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever find around here. [a white man] is really nice. And then you have some who are just there and they don’t care, they’re not going to get in anybody’s way, they’re not going to bother any body and they don’t want you to turn and do things the way they want it done. you know, it’s like do it yourself the way you feel comfortable doing it, and it’s not they don’t take the step that I’m right, and because I’m right, you need to learn to do it from me. you have also those who, you may have a different way of doing something, just do it right and just get it done. But you have some that because of the color of your skin you don’t know anything. therefore I have to not only explain it to you, and if you’re going to try to do it wrong, they’ll have an attitude problem with it. You do it their way, and it’s wrong and it’s wrong and it takes forever to do one simple thing – folding a paper in threes. you want it in three and you want it long ways – how difficult is that? but because of this perception that I’m greater than thou and you’re not you have to do it my way because I’m going to have an attitude problem and I’m going to sit here and frown the whole time . You’ve had to work with people like that?

Oh yeah, if it’s not my way, then I’m not going to do anything and nobody in my family'’ going to come. Adios. You don’t have to come, It makes it easier on me and makes it easier on the whole community. But you know, Maybe that’s just me. Adios, I don’t need your attitude.

Do you say anything?

Yeah, sometimes, a lot of times I just keep quiet cause I know if I say something and [my husband] is there [my husband] is going to have a hissy fit. It’s like, [my husband], I don’t need to hear it both ends. you go to feast and you just get turned off because of some people’s comments, that makes no sense. They can just stay home. I don’t need to hear it and I don’t need to fool with the ones that never speak to you unless they want something. They want you to work on this committee and do this or do that, then they speak to you, so they’re not you’re friends, they’re associates. They’re Bahá’í associates only so you have those who are just associates, who use you to get something accomplished. they have a goal that needs to be accomplished and the only way to get it accomplished is to get you to come and do it for em. you just do -- if I have the time to do it, I’ll do it, but if I don’t I don’t go out of my way any more to help certain people out when they ask for help.

What do you see is the root of that problem though?

Their upbringing. It has nothing to do than simply with their upbringing.

If they’re brought up to see that they’re superior because they’re white, is that what you see?

That’s part of it, and another part is, even if you’ve never been around minorities in your life you can still adjust to it. because we were in college they had a guy, a really nice kid. We didn’t know he was as rich as he was until his father had a fit. He was in the dormitory with two blacks in his room and he kept telling everybody. Well there were two guys, one can from ___________, and the other from __________ or somewhere else. But _______’s father was a lawyer. He was born when his dad was 50. he never knew his dad. his nanny was the only person he every knew. and when he came to school he met friends that he called family and his father found out, you’re in a dormitory with? No, you’re not going to do this. So he got him an apartment. the next semester so he was very upset. This kid was highly upset that his father took him out of the dorm and put him in an apartment so that he wouldn’t be around blacks. and two in a suite of 16 guys – 16 guys and two of ’em, and he really had a fit. __________ was upset but he still came by to visit everybody, you know? And he says, you know, I’ve never had this many friends that were true friends. He’d been in boarding school all his life. He was a nice kid. really nice. The other one, he didn’t know anything about racism until his we went home for thanksgiving and he kept telling everybody, he’d tell his mom, he had the best friend, he had the best friend, you know and everything. He lived in ______________ both of ’em were in. _______ , the black half is _____________ and the other one is ____________. Well on his way home he stopped by to meet the family. Mother and father had no problems, none whatsoever. On Thanksgiving, the other friend in ______________ was supposed to come down. and they made them go up to his house afterwards for the long weekend. His mom said you can’t bring him to Thanksgiving. Nope, if you bring him to Thanksgiving there’re going to be some problems. His mother explained to him about racism, that his family was very prejudiced. and that’s why the mother and father tended to stay away from the rest of the family. He never knew this. ’Cause where he grew up too he’d never seen a black person or Chicano in the ________________ area or anything. he’d never seen anybody other than the whites that he was raised with, you know. went to the same school for 12 years and everything else. he was shocked to find out from his parents that his family would act this way. and he didn’t believe it until he took a Polaroid and he took a Polaroid shot and took it to Thanksgiving and showed it to everybody, oh boy did they chew him out badly. This boy felt so little when he came back. So you know, he was a nice guy, but he said he never wanted to go back again to his family reunion. So it depends you know, if your parents don’t even want to be bothered with it, and don’t want it to be an issue, they’ll stay away, like his parents did. His parents knew how his family was, and you know, even though they were raised in that environment, they didn't want a part of it. though they made sure their ids didn’t become a part of it. I found out something about another friend about why they always stayed so distant, but I won’t repeat that. But the husband he told me a story about his wife’s mother. His wife’s mother and her grandmother and that was shocking you know so I know why his wife is so distant, but it’s her upbringing, the way she was raised.

__________ didn’t have that problem because he’d lived all of his life in boarding schools. but his father had the problem and he didn’t know that until his father showed up and took him out you know. and here he is a lawyer. How can you get a job that had to do with dealing with the public? you come across ’em once in awhile.

From what you’re saying, it has to be more than upbringing that will give somebody a superior attitude?

The upbringing and reinforcement. If it’s enforced as well.

How do you think people can overcome it, especially in the Bahá’í community? Do you think reading, deepening?

I don’t think reading and deepening are good, because even, like some deepening classes that I would go to, some people would dominate it, so you’d get off the topic, and if you never get on the topic, never get through it, it’s never going to help. They can make all the books they want to. Some people will never pick em up. it’s like, they have every book in the world, but if you look through, like the little booklets we gave out on race unity and stuff, they don’t even own that one. It’s like they tell you to buy this one, buy that one, buy this person. the books that I buy first, spend a little money on, it’ll be by Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Báb. They’re the first ones I pay money for. I don’t pay for a certain person, I shouldn’t say but, they used to tell me you gotta buy this you gotta buy that. No, I don’t have to. Yes he writes good for that, but first let’s see what the writings say, find out from that. and if I have extra money, have time to read them, I’ll get them. And so I do buy other books by other people, but I make sure I get the basics first. So I have them, and other people look at me like, where’d you get this book from? this is one of the basic books of the Bahá’í Faith, something you should have. and It’s funny cause I’ve gone to some people’s houses and they don’t even own it. you know. but yet they’re saying buy this one, buy that one, it used to be always ____________. ______________. And I went with _________you know, [he]'s a nice guy, when they moved down here to ________________, and I told him, you know what? I’m not buying your father’s book. So don’t even think about it. And he stared laughing. And that’s all I ever heard. That and you know, buy this one by Ruhiyyih Khanum, buy that one. you know, she’s a part of the family but first, read what Bahá’u’lláh said first before you do anything else. And that’s one of my main things. I like Shoghi Effendi very much. I can read his books sometimes and sometimes I can’t. It depends on how he decides to write as to whether or not I can actually read this – it takes me forever to read it. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't.

What are some positive race situations, relationships within the Bahá'í community in _________________ County

It could only be the ____________. ____________ is good, and the ___________s.

So really, it's whoever your friends are? I mean, these are your friends.

Yeah, they're, I can joke with them and we can have no problem. But _______, I can go poke him in the gut and he knows what it means, he has no problem with that. Some people you can't even joke with em. It's like, forget it.

It's such a huge community I'd think there'd be more opportunities for friendships.

There are lots of opportunities cause there are always a lot of stuff going on. But then it's just certain people that you just avoid them cause they avoid you, so okay fine, keep it that way, you know. The ___________s, they're a nice couple. They’re very nice. He became a Bahá'í maybe about 4 or 5 years ago, then ________________ came behind just awhile ago and they wound up getting married, so [laughs]. They set that up for them cause she didn't have a car, her car broke down and they kept asking him to go get her for everything, they finally wound up getting married. Yeah, there are a few, that are good, but it's unfortunate cause even though you have the ones that you like if they don't show up for feast and if certain other ones show up for Feast, it just makes it miserable. Not miserable, but you don't have that same atmosphere. I don't think it's just me, but I think it's a lot of other people there, that if the light is not there, that certain group – if the _____________ aren't there they can even take away the blah from certain other people cause I do notice that sometimes ___________ will veer away from certain groups but it's a little too stinky over here, so she veers away, you know. There are some people that are good, some things that are good.

Is that a race thing or personality?

Some of it is personality. The personality puts the race into it, with some of em. Their personality will put it into it, tie it together.

Outside the Bahá’í community?

I don't have many black friends outside the community.

Not many, outside the Bahá’í community? almost none. Because of where we live, and at work

In consultations on committee or Assembly, do you come up across that “do it my way” often?

Not any more so much, but we used to. That was the big issue with me. And like if we were in Assembly, if certain people dominated, they'd always dominate. Then they have people in this community, if they open their mouth and say something, then people follow em. Especially new believers because they think this is the only person that knows anything. Well, if you're going to open your mouth, make sure you're the backbone. If you're not the backbone, don't open your mouth. Especially when it comes to manpower, cause they'll say, “Oh, we're going to do this, we're going to do this,’ and they insist, and even though maybe 75 percent of the group doesn't want to do that, then have something else in mind in a certain way, it falls through. And then they'll say, whatever the majority decides, just go ahead and follow it and if it's a mistake, it shows. That happens so many times just because of one person dominating. It is simply like when you see, that idiot, Jesse Jackson – I don't like him very much. They want to say that he represents blacks. And he doesn't, he represents his mouth and a few idiots that follow him. That's it. And they're starting to drop off, if you notice the followings. They have to wait to take pictures of him when there's a big group of people who come for something else probably, you know. While they say that you know, there the thing, and let's go and you have all his entourage and they make the people who don't really pay attention to politics or him, and then they happen to have a school and there's an Assembly and so everybody's at the Assembly and then he's going to be the speaker there so that it looks like a lot of people. But so many people, especially so many blacks that are at schools…I mean the first time I heard about him I was in the fourth grade and in his mouth running off at his mouth, doesn't he have anything good to say about blacks? About what our accomplishments are? We knew more about [history?] but you know, so I looked at that and thought, he doesn't represent blacks cause he put us down like dirt. And then when I was in school we had to go sing, I was in a high school community choir, and we had to go sing at the program that was going on and he was the speaker. He offended so many people and they walked out and I thought, listen you idiot, you should be proud that we're even going to school it's a state school, but guess what, who cares and he 's like, we should all be going to black universities and this and that. Well it's only 235 dollars for a semester, this is where I'm going to go. I can't afford to pay out of state tuition or any body else, you know, I'm working full time. It makes no sense he doesn't think, that's why I don't really like him. Plus a lot of other stuff. Like I heard he goes to the temple a lot and this one girl , she's a guide up there, she says I hate him and I'm laughing, and I said, why, and she's like, “he stole so many of the Writings.” And I was cracking up. But then hi s mother, she said his mother makes him take her to the temple cause she likes to come to the temple whenever he's there.

What was your religion before you were Bahá’í?

I used to just say Christian because I got baptized and I didn't want to get baptize, it was just to shut my uncle and my grandmother up, cause my mom, she always went around to different churches. She went to the synagogue, we went to the synagogue with her Friday night, she went to a Moslem mosque and she said she loved Islam the most. She was very, she studied the writings with me. I told her the card said, when I asked if I could become Bahá'í she said, well you studied enough, if you want you can, but I'm not becoming Bahá'í because it says you still have to continue to study. But she still, you know, When people say things, she straightens them out. My uncles and everybody because they're deacons – there's a lot of deacons in my family, priests and , well not priests, cause that's Catholics, and in the Midwest blacks aren't allowed to be Catholic that's why I considered it a joke, cause when blacks were saying that they were Catholic, I'm like, yeah, sure, I didn't believe em. In ___________ in the south, that's why that one catholic church broke off and became the A and M Baptist church. Because they found out, the same way I found out. If we were considered Brazilian when we went to one friend's church – if we were considered Brazilian they would accept us. Now, we're born and raised in America, they like to had a fit. And then they kept telling, my one friend brought, Michael, they kept telling him, no you have to be from Brazil, no I was born in Lansing Michigan. And then they did not accept us at all. It was like, it was hilarious we just laughed. They said, see we have a church in Brazil, we have one in Africa, we have one in what was it, not Haiti, Puerto Rico, so the ethnic groups that they had were on the wall, the pictures. They’re so diverse, they're so diverse, but they could not stand an American black. Whoo Go. It's the same thing, I was laughing we went to it was an organization called FACE – families of adopted children everywhere cause we wanted to get a little girl, that way we'd be sure to have one. And the first thing they did was they told people, if you don't associate with minorities now, guess what? You're going to have em. If you don't like it, you can leave now, and half the class got up and left. It was like, I mean she says, if you're looking only to adopt a whittle child, you can leave not especially if you're looking only for a white female cause they're the hardest to get and we adopt kids from all around the world, and about 75 percent of the class dropped out . It was amazing. And then they kept telling us, remember, you're going to have kids that are minorities whether we get em from Mexico, Columbia, it doesn't matter if they come from China or come from Korea, you're going to have kids that are going to be attracted to minorities and minorities are going to come to your house and guess what? American Blacks. And this one lady, the one who was giving the speech and everything. She had 19 kids she had only one by birth and that was like her fourth kid. She adopted three and then she actually had one after years of trying, and then when they got older they wound up, two of the kids were going to go to their prom, one was Indian and one was Chinese . She said their prom dates came to pick em up at the door and she slammed the door in their faces both of em were black. She said, I thought that I had no problems, I had all these kids from around the world she even had African, she had adopted an African boy she was not prejudiced. Her African child was her African child, And that's what I had seen with other people, some whites, they can accept Africans who are much darker, but they can't accept American blacks. And I just laughed. This is what this lady – she realized I did have a prejudice cause all these kids I have, not a one was American Black. Everybody was from wherever, she even had African kids – she had two African kids and she said when I slammed the door in the faces of these guys on prom night and they turned around and my daughters chewed me out, they said you are prejudiced, we don't have a black American friend who come and da-da-da-da-da that come to the house, but the lady realized, she went out and adopted another child. Number 19 was a black American child [laughs}. [My husband] got a little scared cause, his side of the family, his aunt was saying, oh kids who are adopted, they generally kill their parents. And then other people were saying this, a lot of Persians were telling me this stuff and then what happened was some kids actually did kill their parents on TV, and they were adopted. I know there are a lot of Iranians that are adopted by Americans who live in Cockeysville, cause I know their parents used to work for Westinghouse and firms that were in Iran and we met them and they have a reunion every year, and it's all American who have adopted these Iranian kids, so it does happen even though the Bahá’ís don't know about it. You only know what's going on in your little corner of the world. And that's about it. We have a lot of friends who are Moslem, and their closest friends are Moslem, and the same with [my husband]. His closest friend is not a Bahá'í.

In terms of your vision of the Bahá'í Faith and the reality of Bahá’ís in your experience, is there a big dichotomy?

It's there and it’s, it would’ve been better if it was not there. Until we get better, ’til we grow more, I think, you know, we actually have to get up and get out of our own little corners of the world and go visit other places I think that would help people to grow too. They always say, I can't go because of my job, I can't go because of this and that well, I was killing myself to finish school so that I can go. We had a plan, usually we make goals it's like three to six months or a year and that was a six month goal – if we didn't sell the house in 6 months, then we were going to stick around here. We didn't get the house sold cause there were a lot of jobs out there, a lot of companies and businesses for sale. Lots of businesses for sale and the price of the housing was no less than what we paid for this, which was good. We probably won't even go there. [my son] will be old enough and out of the way so we don't have to worry about the health problems. It's great for your asthma. The weather always stays the same so you don't have to worry about he cold. This thing is if the temperature drops during the daytime, and it may be if the AC is off that too.

Do you see progress?

Yes, because there are so many more people moving in, so they're weeding em out. People moving from different states, and refugees moving from Iran. Two of em aren't even from _________________.

So the problem’s diluting?

Some of the Persian Bahá’ís used to crack me up cause they didn't know I spoke Farsí. Boy did they, because one of the things with Persians is they prefer the Persians not marry anybody that's not Persian . And then the worse thing is for a Persian to marry somebody black, that was the biggest put-down. And because [my husband] never went anywhere, I always went and I'd take the kids and stuff, he didn't hear it, though a couple times he heard it and he went back and he said some things from some people, though they didn't know the thing is that Persians talk too much. I'm sorry, but they do. They want to know everybody's business and then they go and they spread it, and they don't even know the person. And I'm standing there right beside these people and they're talking about me and, since I had moved from where I was standing originally and since the rumor had spread around the room, nobody knew what I looked like and I'm standing right there beside em. Well this [my husband], he married an American and she's black da-da-da-da-da- he should have married a Persian and I'm laughing and I said to one lady, is she very, very beautiful? Oh man, they were like looked at me, they quieted up, and they dispersed. Cause you don't say something in Farsí to them when you look like you shouldn't be speaking it. There's another Bahá'í, ______________, she's a black lady from silver Spring. She speaks it fluently. She lived in Iran for 8 years and they were shocked. At one convention they had before they broke up ___________ and everybody, _____________ County, they were shocked. She was ___________ county, not _____________. And like, my mother-in-law was going off, oh she has a three year old. I said, Granny, did you actually talk to this lady? No we just talk Farsí, I was like, talk to Carol she'll tell you, she lived in Iran for 8 years. She was shocked. She didn't tell the rest of the Persians. She's learned over the years that Americans don't talk as much, and I told her, don't tell anybody's business. If somebody wants to know where a certain person works or where they live, that's not for you to answer, let them go talk to that person, because you know, sometimes they knew my background and everything and not once had they spoken to me. They go and they talked to this one, and then…it's like well, how to you know what I do? I never spoke to you so why are you telling my business out in the street? So I told her, that's a no-no, cause if they really want to know about this person, let them go and talk to this person find out form the horse's mouth, and then they'll have more right to say, yeah, I know ___________ and I know ____________ has a son named __________ not “___________ has a son named ____________, she does blah, blah, blah, and she works for Volvo down the street and whatever else, and she's got this and that and her parents are divorcing, it's like, if I didn't get it from the horse's mouth, I shouldn't go spreading it. [my husband] was telling them before he left Iran that he was marrying a black person. He thought he was marrying an African but then he came to the States and he wound up marrying a black person in the States. It was funny when I found out because he and his friend, his friend was very short – typical Iranian size? They used to sit and they would give people, numbers based on their necks. My neck was not long enough it should have been a 10. My neck was a 6, it wasn't long enough. They were strange, both of ’em. And the both decided both were going to marry somebody who was black. ____________ does have a long neck. [laughs] I laughed, I said, well, ___________ she was worried about visiting _________ – [my husband]’s friend? They were real close friends when they were in Iran, and he went to school in India and she went to school in India, and then they got married in India and he said, you didn't tell me you met my sister, what is this? So they laughed about it.

I've heard _____________ talk about Iranian’s attitudes about blacks,

I know she had some problems. We spoke very, very early on about ’85, ’86 something like that, but it was very short and brief. But some of the other Americans that are married to Iranian, they said the same thing and one guy went to his grave, and they just [ ] miserable and everything else because he said, you're not going to marry a black if it's da-da-da promise me even if I die, and this person she hasn't gotten married, []wouldn't have been married either [laughs] but there's a thing, the Iranians a lot of them who've come here they've learned the prejudice that cause they didn't get it from the Writings, cause the Writings talk much highly of blacks and here they are, they come here, [my husband] was told, if you marry a black it's going to bring you down and society will look down upon you. Same thing with [my husband], [my husband] heard that afterwards and [my husband]'s like, you bring yourself down if you want to you know, you cant' make excuses for anything, you know, about the kids, you know, how they make fun of the kids. But in Iran there are a lot of blacks that come from African that have married Iranians, and the darker ones you can always tell, [my husband] would tell me, he saw a picture of him, a guy looked just like him, and he said, my best friend, he was black, but he didn't look at it as being, cause he was Iranian real dark, he was darker than I was by a long shot. I look at some of the Iranians who are really, really dark coming from the south, and then, like some of em are mixed, like Azerbaijan, they're Turkish they're mixed with black too, you see how dark they are and everything.

You think thy learn it when they come here? What do you think it is about American Blacks?

I think it's prejudice form the slavery, that's the only thing that is, they put em down, even though they never met a black person in their life, they still have that prejudice that has leaped from just being around other people because there's not reason, you know, for somebody that never had to deal with slavery or anything , keep up the nonsense you know, You hear that when you go to ________________ still. “We had this and we had that before the blacks and the slaves.” I'm like, you didn't have any of that, you're just lazy. Get off your butt and do something. It was freedom. But you still had to have the underground railroad because they could take you back. Harriet Beecher Stowe is her house is on Beecher Avenue, and it's right across the street from where we used to live. It's a nice museum now. But that's part of the underground railroad. You still have the attitude of the people and their mentality. The Indians they’re, some of them live in the area where they have the little reservation and everything, and they use it as tourist area, but they let themselves go way down. I used to attribute it to the native Indians, cause Like I see, sometimes they're not trying. If you want to keep your culture, then keep your culture, but also survive, you know. And don't look for handouts every winter and don’t say you need money to buy kerosene and to buy heaters and things like that the roof the earth and what? The heavens. It usually goes on the 21st.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

Well some people are trying to work on it and I see like they get on the race unity committee, I don't know if they're appointed on it, but they're working on it, and they're working for the community so that helps them, they get exposed. But then they still won't let go, cause once that's over with they still have the same mentality and that needs to drop, if they could be in that race unity mode all the time, that’d be fine [laughs]

What would cause a change?

Maybe not having a goal or something to work towards. It's like, my mother in law had nothing to do . She stayed in trouble and when she started babysitting, nothing else mattered. She had something she looked forward to doing. I think that's what keeps a lot of people out of trouble. Even like the teenagers when they have nothing to do they get into trouble, when they have responsibility or work after school, whatever, there in a band or sports, they stay out of trouble. I think that's maybe they need something more to do to keep going, you know, besides the 1 through 58 hour day schedule.

When we get these plans they should be giving all of use

Just getting teachers to teach the classes is difficult. At summer school, I was like yeah, I'll do it, then when started to take the summer classes. I can't do it, but still, you know… I don't think everybody is out there taking summer classes and everything working…cause if I was holding down a fort with children's classes and summer school and doing schoolwork to get my degree and working full time.


What is the significance of unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

Unity is the founding principle. If there’s one word it’d be unity, in the Bahá’í Faith that would be the key word, and so it is extremely significant and it, I guess most things are thought of in terms of unity, any issues that come up.

How do you know when you have unity?

There’s a warm fuzzy feeling when everyone’s included.

Can you describe when you’ve experienced it?

I guess we’ve had unity in small groups a bunch of folks working together on one thing and trying to resolve something and the answer becomes evident and everybody is happy and there’s a unity.

What are some obstacles to achieving unity?

Ego is an obstacle to unity. Bad history is an obstacle to unity. If someone did something that was. There’s a fellow in a community and we hit it off on the wrong foot initially. I asked the wrong question, I asked hi what he did for a living , very intelligent secret service sort of thing, and he was just irritated at not being able to answer, anyway, that put me off and so …I haven’t had any in terms of black white, I haven’t had any trouble myself in getting along or feeling in unity with black folks in our community.

Do you see yourself as the same as or different form Bahá’ís different ethnic and cultural backgrounds?

Yes. I’m the same as them we’re all in enjoying this human experience, Bahá’í experience, I’m different from them cause I have my own personal history.

Did being a Bahá’í add to your culture of origin?

Yes, there’s a whole new set of holidays and such like. My culture is definitely different than my kids’ culture. Because they’re growing up in the Bahá’í Faith. And we since we are in a Christian community, and because unity is such an important thing, we have unity within our families by going down and seeing grandma at Christmas and celebrating with her. And we have Ayyam-í-há and the fast and Naw Ruz the fast and Ridván and all those fun things that we all celebrate as Bahá’ís. [My son] is enjoying Fast this year.

Did you have to give up any aspects of your culture to become a Bahá’í

Yeah, I like to drink beer.

Can you feel unity with other Bahá’ís and also feel unity with people who aren’t Bahá’í?

Being Bahá’í enables unity with other people One of my key experiences when I first because Bahá’í was this overwhelming sense of unity with everybody. And before it was weird because I was raised catholic and I felt this very separate you know, especially with Jewish people I was like way out there and muslins and other different types of Christians, but once I became Bahá’í there was this one God, one religion, one mankind the whole unity thing is global so I felt an overwhelming sense of unity with the world.

Did you have to do anything in order to feel that?

Couple years of searching, reading and studying.

How do you have to live to achieve unity?

I think unity is a reality that needs to be discovered. Because unity is the essential reality and then you have different things that people add on to their selves, whether it’s a cultural thing or history can get in the way, and then when you focus on those differences and conflicts then you have disunity, underlying it is essential unity.

What about diversity?

There’s the cultural diversities are there and everyone has their own different capacities and strengths. When we’re talking about unity, then the unity of the human spirit. One of my key little experiences um with unity in diversity was there was a young black man in the community, this was at a conference and he was dressed in a way really alien to me and acting very, he wasn’t, I was perceiving him as very threatening and there was fear. And but then I met his mom and we talked and shared stories about reading this young man Dr. Seuss stores, as she did with all the kids. Unity, the essential human part, I was able to see through this, and was able to talk to the guy in a way that wouldn’t put him off and we hit it off and everything was wonderful.

So his difference initially struck fear in you? Within your community, do people maintain a position or superiority and authority or inferiority and submission?

As individuals, yeah, there’s leaders and followers, and worker bees and people who like to watch.

Do members expect others to adapt to their way of doing things?

I don’t see that, I see when we’re doing whatever we’re doing, if we’re having a, as a community getting together at someone’s house for a social event if you’re, occasionally there’s still folks that are really strong in their opinion and with that music thing, we’re going into a band now, and one of the person was another female vocalist who’s very knowledgeable about music but she’s very traditional about how she wants to do things. And the purpose of this band is to put a little kick into it something different, so when the drummer was putting an African rhythm into a song that normally had a calypso rhythm, she had difficulty dealing with that. And how the group handled that was we did it her way for then, we’ll do it our way when she’s not around.

I don’t think she works as a professional musician, but she has significant training and an incredible ear and is extremely knowledgeable, sight reader, can sign out notes and write them simultaneously. I don’t think her training was in the way of this – I mean her training gave her knowledge of doing it, I think what was in the way was that she wanted to do it in a traditional format. Her training gave her the skills. How she used the skills is something else and I’m not a psychologist.

Is unity something one person can promote?

Sure. Promoting something is speaking of its good qualities. So if you have a situation where there’s some disunity, you can have one person initiate and promote the path for unity.

Do you need effort?

How can third parties like institutions help produce unity among believers?

Their role is real essential cause they’re the main organizers of almost everything, there’s local things, service things, and so they’re the ones that give direction and appoint folks to do the tasks, and in it picking those points they have to consider promoting unity in such as that is to go in there, so they are really key.

Do you experience unity in this community?

From my perspective, yes. I know that we’ve been gradually, and we’re not perfect by any means, but compared to most organizations I’ve been familiar with we’re extremely in unity, and then I don’t know if we’re completely united, more things would be happening faster. We’d have a big center and lots more growth.

Do you have diversity?

Yes, the percentages . you know we have, if you look at our gatherings it’s extremely diverse. We don’t have as many black folks in terms of reflecting the outside community, but we have folks from all sorts of countries. We have Chinese, Persian, we don’t have Hispanic, um and African American, Chinese, Persian, a couple different other eastern folks French something or other in there – the Bahá’í Faith can be so mixed. A lot of it is so mixed I can’t even say.

How do you perceive your ethnicity?

I’m a large white male. I’m in most things I’m in the minority, ’cause women, at least the groups.

Does your concept of unity include people who are not Bahá’í? Is there a responsibility to establish, or promote, or create unity with non-Bahá’ís?

Sure I mean in your everyday dealings, at work .

I had an epiphany when the light goes on? About two weeks ago. And it occurred to me, cause the possibility exists, that I’m doing all this to make up for the other stuff, that the other folks in the family have done.

Some of ’em are alive. Anyway, in terms of doing things outside, cause I didn’t see that little research model fitting into my life, in terms of I am what I was born into Yeah I’m a large white man in American, that’s not going to change, but I came from this pretty bigoted background and I’m not that at all, and I know it’s in me, we have this mess in our culture, but I’m working actively, I’m doing things to promote unity

What do the Bahá’ís do to get beyond white and black, rich and poor?

We have the Writings.

Don’t Christians and Moslems have that?

We have Writings that say, you know, to promote the minority, you know Christian writings don’t say that. There are essential things that are all the same in al the writings, a lot of it is, but I think this is more specific. And that’s really what the community has, besides from that, I can’t explain it but you just have to – like at our Ayyam-í-há party, it was a blast, there’s always a group of people and everybody had fun, form the 10 year old to the teens to us old guys.

What do you have to do or how do you have to live to achieve unity?

I think it’s a state of mind, realizing that unity is – before, the only difference that happened to me and how did I do this? I was there. I remember being afraid of Jewish people you know, as a little kid, and I mean there are still threatening situations and such, it’s not you know, you go into an area where there’s a bunch of drug dealers…

What do you do to increase unity?

Well, we’re playing music. In my work, whenever those issues come up I try to promote the other persons perspective. I’ve been actually, with my (bigoted boss) him, since we had that clash when I first started working for him, the clash was, he was making some really bad comments and I told him this was not acceptable and then he tried to ignore me and I got loud and vocal about it. So that, the racial, those issues come up, one of his big things is he believes that 95 percent of the world are complete idiots.

And so he’ll rave about something or other, and when we have dealing with suppliers or whatever, basically I try to put forth the facts of the situation so it’s not somebody being an idiot, but it’s something else, systematic that happened. Right now, I’m focusing on youth. Taking the other person’s point of view, even in silly things. There was a lunch time discussion about Iran Iraq, the Gulf War, and I found myself giving what I thought would be the perspective of an Iraqi soldier which I thought was kind of strange. Anyway it gave pause to the conversation, everyone thought a moment.

We’ve been here about five years and there’s. Let’s see I went… for my own background. I was raised by a fairly bigoted family with a definite pecking order according to race and nationality. One of my favorite quotes is that as an example of the influence of my grandmother was that an Italian is only a nigger turned inside out. So au that was over my eyes After I found the Bahá’í Faith I had a whole lot of these feelings, but then you have these ideas that are foreign that are buried within.

So I did work on that, and I went to -- I flew to _____to their study circle, so it’s been something that I’ve been working on and aware of. Here in __________ County.

Why did you go to ______?

______________ talked at the University of _______ and He sort of opened my eyes to the prejudice preprogramming that’s burned in. and so then the study circles, this is where it was happening. ______ was the community that was doing it. It was a rather big workshop people from all over the country. So then I came back and we did some study circles for awhile.. the difficulty we had with these was in getting people of color. at the ones that we were having this was actually. At the ones that we were having…this is actually when I was in ________ County. So at any rate, so this in an area that I’ve been working on.

How did ______ open your eyes?

Just the story he tells about driving somewhere, and how slow the person who was in front of him and finally – and he’s in a hurry -- and finally he gets the opportunity to pass him and he sees that they’re a black person, and he thinks a racist thought. And he says to himself, where did this come from? Because he’s not, he tries not to be racist and such, but anyway this thought came. And so you have, there’s some pre-programming going on and we’re all subject. The whole idea is that racism is a disease, and um, that opened up my eyes and I was thinking of just the casual thoughts that happen throughout the day, and you don’t say anything about it, and you really don’t own the thoughts but it’s something that comes out. I guess it’s like a reflex. you hit your knee your leg moves. Somebody of a different color does some thing that is something you’ve heard your grandparents or somebody say. So it takes a lot of work to get rid of that mess.

So once you recognize that thought, what have you done with it in your racial relations?

Listen. I really try to pay attention to people of color. and I seek out their company. And then in conversations. It’s a learning process. You learn from your -- I’ve learned from my grandparents, and the people in the black community have learned form their grandparents. And their great, great grandparents were slaves. One thing that I’m just being struck with is just how recently all this is. It’s amazing how far we’ve come but at the same time, this is a huge amount of baggage to be carrying around.

What motivates you to seek out company of black people?

It’s very wonderful. The people here I just absolutely enjoy being around. The ___________s, the _____________s. They’re just wonderful people.

Did you have contact with black kids growing up.

I grew up in ____________, and no, when black people moved into our neighborhood, we moved. When a black man walked down the street, we ran and hid.

It was just what we did.

Was school segregated?

As a young child it was and then I guess in late elementary school it was desegregated. I remember the pools being segregated. I remember leaving swimming pools cause some black kids came.

When you became a Bahá’í were the teachings apparent in the beginning?

That happened…When I was leaving the pools and such I didn’t own this behavior, I was going with my big brother. That was a reflex. Once I became actually a teen, and in high school, I’ve always been attracted to people of color. I don’t know why I didn’t sort of buy the messages I was programmed with. I rejected it as something wrong in high school and college years, and then I just, between the first year of college and my second year of college I had an eight year hiatus in which I joined the coast guard and did some serious global traveling and saw people from all over the world and all different religions and that period really shaped my, it was a period of spiritual seeking for me. Actually it was very apparent before I even heard of the Faith that I recognized the Bahá’í principles as true and then having a discussion with someone, they said, oh you should check out the Bahá’í Faith.

Was racial unity a life goal?

I recognized it as a spiritual truth.

Do you still recognize these thoughts that you mentioned before coming out?

I’ve found that once you really know someone that trash goes away, which has really been good, so now it’s just limited to, it’s really limited to strangers, is where those race things kick in. Well they still kick in. And I think it’s sort of, yeah, an alcoholic is for life. I think it’s something that I don’t know if it’s anything you can ever really get away from. Fifteen years or so of serious effort on it. And it’s very rare, but still, it’s still something that is a shadow or something.

Are you on any committees in the Bahá’í community that are interracial?

I did do study circles and I was on the race unity committee.

I’m wondering, say, in a consultation, if there is a disagreement, is there any point that some sort of idea comes out, and it’s your way of thinking vs.…In a consultation in an interracial group, and there’s when people disagree, do those thoughts that your way of thinking might be correct, is that part of the programming. Because I’m white, this is the standard, this is how we do things?

The only times I’ve ever had serious disagreements, it’s been with other large white men. [in the Bahá’í community.] One was in _____________. We were having a conversation, and I finished this guy’s thought for him, and he really got annoyed by it, seriously. And um what was the bad thing. was, see I agreed with him before he finished his thought. And he said, "All right, what was I going to say?" And I told him and I was right. And he just anyway. And then, a prior one when I just think someone is out of touch. He claims that he has no prejudice, he just doesn’t understand it, and he’s either alien to this world or he’s lying to himself. He’s just like, you know, everything is beautiful, talking about this utopian thing that is completely different, if this guy really is like this, he is. He’s blind. I mean, racism is so out there, and to sort of deny it is nonsense.

I don’t have a lot of interracial relationships out in the working community. It’s a very white world where I work. There’s, I have good relationships with the secretaries that are black. And I have, actually I have a supervisor who is very blatantly racist and I had to sort of stand up to this guy and point out some unacceptable behavior.

Do you find yourself doing that often?

Not frequently in terms of years. They’re fairly few and far between. With my family I’ve had to do a lot. It’s just been years of persistence and they’re finally getting the message. I have nephews that are ready for race wars. But it’s years between instances, but there have been a couple times that both of those people I work with, it’s such an issue that people don’t ignore it once you get out there more.

What’s your family’s take on you and your race interest?

It ranges. Some people don’t consider it an issue. It’s Tony’s thing and he’s always been weird. And then there’s my brother who always would -- he’d always make fun of me for my beliefs whenever he could, and not in painful ways. And then he went back to school, and he was doing an English paper and he wrote a thing called the American Dream, and he wrote about me and he just said how much he respected me for my beliefs. He showed me the paper. so that was a I don’t understand these things.

In your community here in Howard county, how do you perceive the interracial relations within the community?

The strengths are I guess what.. I know there is unhappiness with how things happen. I ‘m thinking of ___________. A good person to talk to. And the fact that they still participate and come in and all, I’ve heard that a lot of blacks will leave the community because of issues. And I think some of the issues are, well one thing is that there’s no singing or little singing a lot of times at feast and stuff.

Why isn’t there singing.

Whenever we hold feast we always make it a main part of it. I guess people aren’t comfortable with it. It’s something the choir did.

Different people host it at the center and some will have music and others don’t? When blacks host it, do they have singing?


And they’re unhappy when others don’t have singing?

Why I think that’s one of things that yeah, it’s not often enough. It’s a cultural issue. In general terms, most of the blacks come from a historically Baptist background. Actually it doesn’t matter what it is. All the black churches have singing as a main part of their service.

Don’t white churches also have singing?

Different thing. Not …it’s just very different.

Do you have a lot of Persians in your community? They probably don’t have unison singing in their background.

So that would be another step away from…

Other than singing, what are some things the Bahá’ís are unhappy about?

This is bad. This is me saying what someone else is thinking. Better to ask them. But I would guess that they are going to sense these unspoken racist feelings that people haven’t. It’s such a growth thing, with people coming from different places. And you, and I think that’s what it is. People don’t always see where they are until they’ve left it.

Do you as a white man think there are unspoken racist feelings in the black community?

Racist conditioning. It’s more lack of trust. looking for how “they’re going to nail me.” Oh and the other thing that I’ve heard people say. _________ – she’s gotten past this and she’s back to doing her wonderful stuff, says, “I’m so tired of having to tell white people how it is.” Just it’s very, because study circles, it takes black people and white people working together and explaining that everybody’s people and that these racist things hurt and cut deep and these are different example of that. And doing that takes tons amount of patience and it’s painful to do. and in the society getting better this is something that black folks have to deal with all the time. and they get tired of it.

Do you think the study circles are helpful?

Yes they are because you learn things. But people that participate generally, it’s a lot of preaching to the choir. But then there have been times, there have been some serious growth that people weren’t prepared for. It’s hard to get people into it. Nan Yuma’s still working with them. I had a schedule change and couldn’t do it for awhile. They’re being organized by the county. Bahá’ís the seed started in the county, and Bahá’ís have worked to keep it going. Jane did a lot with that and ______________. the organization would get resources or not.

The Institute for the Healing of Racism was first and then they made them study circles and so different communities were doing that.

How does the discussion translate to behavior within a community?

[The major growth I saw] was an Hispanic woman who had to let this white woman know what was going on and this white woman had anyway, there was some confrontation and such, but that was outside the Bahá’í community. Within the Bahá'í community there really hasn’t been too many sparks. The sparks I have seen happen was a discussion of race issues, which is very, very rare. And this was a consultation at a feast about study circles or the institute. And a Persian said they didn’t see the problem. they didn’t see the racism. And ____________ got rather excited. And her point, she brought out examples. One time she got excited on this issue. There was a white woman in _____ was martyred and it was in the news for weeks and she said a relative, cousin of hers got shot in the face and it doesn’t make the paper, as a demonstration of racism that is institutionalized it’s out there. That’s been about it for sparks. Most of the time it’s a very quiet thing.

Are there whites who are frustrated by the whole race idea?

Why, when you’re on top?

How about in elections? Do you think you have proportionate participation?

We have a black woman, a black man, a Persian man, a white woman, then it is heavy in terms of white men cause then we have a couple three white men.

Is the chairman a white man?

The secretary is a white woman, the chair is a black woman.

Among youth, is it more integrated?

A lot of the youth are biracial anyway.

So there are many interracial marriages in your community?

The ________s, the ___________s, they come to mind. [My wife] and I have white kids. I don’t understand it?! In the high school class, and then, cause I teach the high school class and [our son] is the only white boy that regularly participates, but there’s another guy.

I imagine that among the youth the singing isn’t an issue?

Right. Singing is a big part of the Sunday classes. Talking to the ___________s and ___________ and talking to the black folks in the community is going to be real good for you. I’m interested in reading this.

Are you encouraged about unity in the Bahá’í Faith?

Oh yeah. I feel that once you get past, once the color becomes invisible and they’re just people, it basically becomes a non-issue for me, except for the stuff from your pre-programming. [The cultural issues] needs to be worked on, and we try to do our part by doing the music thing the best we can, those are different cultural styles. We do what we can do. When [my wife] and I wanted to get married I wanted to be married outside, in an azalea garden on a lake in _____________. I was Catholic at the time and the catholic priest wouldn’t marry us outside. that’s when I stopped being Catholic. Because it wasn’t in a church. So we went to a Baptist minister because she was raised Baptist. Cliché fat old guy with a cigar, you know, give me your twenty five bucks and I’ll marry you. He didn’t have the spiritual nature we had in mind. So we went to this Pentecostal holiness person. and it was really wonderful because he really – he only marries people once and he wanted to talk to us and make sure that we were serious about this, so he took interviews of about a couple hours with each person, together and individually. and so we thought we hit it on spiritually but we didn’t, we haven’t been to his worships service. That was a whole new definition fort me because they really rant and holler and bless you Jesus and this is where the term holy roller, because they’re rolling in aisles and they have rooms for people to go and bang around in when they get all excited. So they’re different styles. I do know that when we do our singing, the songs that we do, that [an African American woman] enjoys it. We’ve just sat in the corner by ourselves. Both the _________s and [my wife] and I just do songs together.


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