It is very likely that the story of Ham is similar to many fables which try to explain the origin of the different colours of mankind. When I was in Standard III [Grade 5], our teacher, a Mr. Ndlangamandla, told us a story which explains why we are black, with white palms for our hands and the white feet at the bottom.
He said: " It was announced all over the world that a pool had been discovered. If you washed in this pool you became white. All the people who wanted to wash themselves to be white started immediately to go to this pool. They dipped themselves and lo and behold, they found themselves white. All those who came while the pool was clean washed and became white. Later on the pool became dirty. The water was muddy. When these washed themselves in this muddy water, they did not become white, they became brown. The shade of colour which the person assumed was determined by the cleanliness of the water. Later all the water was used up. There was then enough water to reach the bottom of the feet and only the palms of the hands. Those who touched the water at this time , managed only to have white palms and bottom of the feet."
This was the story intended to explain the presence of the different colours among the nations of the world. It is clear that the origin of this story is a white story teller. The moral of the story is that black people are lazy and do not act promptly. They delayed until the last minute, thus lost the opportunity to become white, and it presupposes that being white is a most desirable trait.
Years later, when I was at the University of Massachusetts, we were visited by the Minister of Education from Indonesia. Indonesians are brown like President Mandela. He told us a similar story, which explains the reasons for the different colours of mankind.
He said that : "When God created man, he used clay. He created the first man. He put him into the oven to roast like you do to bricks or pots. His first attempt was to put this man into the oven and quickly took him out. He found that he was underdone, so it became a white man, because it had not been sufficiently roasted. His second attempt was to give himself more time. He kept man in the oven for a longer time. He checked. He found that it was charred and black. He realised that he had created the black man. After his experience, he knew now what time he should observe to get a perfect man. He kept man in the oven for just the right time, and created a most beautiful golden coloured person, the Indonesian."
These are funny stories but they are basically the source of human suffering all over the world. There is not one person who can claim to be free of racial or colour prejudice. The quickest test to find out whether you are free from racial prejudice is this. If you are a young girl, you are approached by a young man or man from another race and proposes to marry you. If your first thought, is :" How dare he come to me instead of his own people", then you are soaking wet in racial prejudice. If your son or daughter brings some one from another race and requests your permission to marry him or her, then, if your first thought is that he is or she is coming from a different race, then you are soaking in racial prejudice. It is very easy to rate yourself as free from prejudice, if the situation has not touched you within you or something to which you have a very deep emotional attachment.
There is an election in Kenya this week. The majority of the political parties are based on racial or tribal groupings. The war in Rwanda and Burundi is based on tribal problems. The South African democracy is hounded by the division on racial or tribal groupings. The turmoil in the middle between Arabs and Jews is mainly a racial issue. The United Kingdom faces racial problems which were highlighted by Enock Powell and even today the racial tensions are still very rife. The few black players in the U.K. soccer face a lot of problems even in sports. It is unthinkable that U.K. would have a black minister, let alone a black Prime Minister.
A survey carried out in Europe last month, showed that all countries of the European Union believe strongly in racial discrimination. They will not accept people of other races very easily. They do not want immigrants to come to Europe, especially those from Africa.
In the United States, race unity is far from being achieved. Henry Kissinger, as a Jew, would never hope to become President of the United States. It was a miracle that J.F. Kennedy, as a Catholic, managed to become a President. Jesse Jackson, as a black man, has almost nil chances of becoming President of the United States, because of his colour. People like Farakhan, decided that instead of fighting the system, it is better to organise the black people into black Moslems who will operate independently of the white Americans. Other black American activists decided to promote the idea of Black is beautiful to encourage the blacks to be proud of their heritage.
Christianity has not fared any better. It was the churches that have encouraged discrimination. The Ham theory applied especially in the Southern part of the United states. It was the civil rights movements of the 1960s that have contributed to the improvement of the position. There is still a long way to go. Christianity does not assist very much in eliminating racial prejudice. The justification for the apartheid in South Africa was based on the Bible. The establishment of slavery in the United States was justified by the use of the Bible. Christ clearly stated that he came to the lost of sheep of Israel. He called non-Jews dogs that are not entitled to the food of the children. When he explained what loving one's neighbour means, he used the parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan was white, so it failed to answer the question [of] how Christians ought to treat other people of different colours and nationalities.
It is easy to understand the problem of racial discrimination within Christianity since there is no explicit instructions from Christ how to deal with this situation. It is easy to understand the problem, because the racial issue is of recent origin when nations of the world have travelled and intermingled in all corners of the earth.
It is interesting to observe that even among the Baha'is the issue of racial unity is still the most challenging matter in their daily lives. This is in spite of the direct instruction from Baha'u'llah to establish the oneness and unity of the whole human race. Baha'u'llah's instruction is explicit : "O ye discerning ones, verily, the words which have descended from heaven of the Will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness." "We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations,...that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled." "God maketh no distinction between the white and the black. If the hearts are pure both are acceptable unto Him. God is no respecter of persons on account of either colour or race. All colours are acceptable unto Him, be they white, black or yellow. Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realise that all embody divine possibilities. In the estimation of God, all men are equal. There is no distinction or preference for any soul, in the realm of His justice and equity. God did not make these divisions, these divisions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of God they are false and imaginary."
You would expect that the Baha'i community which has been nourished for over 150 years with these teachings, would be entirely free from racial prejudice. Yet it is not so. Racial prejudice is a hard nut to crack. When I visited Los Angeles Baha'i community in 1984, I was most amazed to find intolerable division on racial lines in the Baha'i community. I was not surprised to learn a month later that the Los Angeles Baha'i Local Spiritual Assembly had been dissolved for its failure to adhere to the Baha'i law of racial unity. It is pleasing to realise that the United States Baha'i community is actively engaged in purifying itself of this endemic disease of racial discrimination and it needs to be emulated by all Baha'i communities around the planet.
I was pleased to pick from the internet a message from the Secretary General, Mr Henderson, of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States of America on December 17, 1997 sent to the American Baha'i community which in part stated:
"The followers of Baha'u'llah have a central role in the nation's struggle for racial justice and unity. Here the destiny of America and of the Baha'i Faith are tightly kintertwined. The nation needs a model of interracial love and unity, based on the principle of the oneness of humanity, to restore confidence that race unity is possible and to give rise to new approaches to the organization of community life."It is time for all living human beings to face the most challenging issue of racial discrimination which is eating into vitals of all human efforts to improve the lot of their fellow men.
"The President of the United States has appointed a Commission on Race. His aim is to start a national campaign of discussion of the means to establish racial justice and unity. The campaign has gotten off to a slow start, raising doubts that meaningful action will result. Public scepticism is fueled by America's long history of advance and retreat on racial matters. Over time failed initiatives have caused a steady erosion of public confidence that America will sustain her commitment to eliminate the ingrained racism that cripples the freedom of all its people and jeopardizes the internal order and national security of the nation as a whole."
"Equally troubling is the prospect that the Commission may reach oft repeated conclusions, diagnosing the problem of racism as a deficit of rights and privileges. While the legal and material requirements to eradicate racism are well known, its spiritual requirements have been persistently neglected. The Baha'i Teachings state that America should be the first nation to proclaim the oneness of the human family, but the principle of oneness is not yet the force driving the struggle of uniting the races. America has not done enough to demonstrate her commitment to the equality and unity of the races, to the dignity of all human beings whatever their color, and to the moral imperative of extending love and respect to the entire human family."
"The National Spiritual Assembly calls upon every Baha'i to rededicate himself or herself to the glorious task of eliminating the last traces of prejudice and alienation among the races within the Baha'i community and to spare no effort to bring the healing message of reconciliation and love to our fellow Americans of all races and religions. Our community, which is already interracial and diversified, should examine itself to see how far we have come and what we must now do. American Baha'is, "now but a tiny nucleus of the Baha'i Commonwealth of the future" must "so exemplify that spirit of universal love and fellowship as to evoke in the minds of their associates the vision of that future City of God which the almighty arm of Baha'u'llah can alone establish."
We appeal to every Local Spiritual Assembly, individual Baha'i, and community to assert leadership in the President's campaign for a national dialogue on race. We ask that every Spiritual Assembly that has a Baha'i center hold public gatherings for open discussion of the requirements for race unity. Baha'i communities without centers should make arrangements to use facilities where public meetings may be held. Moreover, isolated believers and groups should invite their neighbors to their homes to participate in this important discussion. Our hope is to initiate thousands of meetings, hosted by Baha'is, between now and Race Unity Day, June 14, 1998, and help America advance toward her God ordained destiny to be the first nation to proclaim the oneness of the human family.
Page last revised 091999