In the United Kingdom, a number of major sporting bodies, such as the Premier league, the English Football League and others, recently organised a boycott of the leading “social” media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This is because they feel that these social media organisations are not putting enough effort into preventing racist attacks on sports personalities from random members of the public. At the same time, footballers themselves have been “taking the knee” to show their rejection of racism. The start of the Euro competition is only likely to highlight these issues.
Why is overt racist antagonism so manifest in football (soccer) in particular? Racist thinking – “we” are different from “them”; “they” do not belong “here” – is found in many places in the general population anyway. Perhaps the very fact of supporting one team against all other teams makes this “us” and “them” more apparent. Also, football, being a popular sport producing many celebrities, provides the trolls with names – instantly available famous names. It is also an arena which many people care about. Trolls on social media target all kinds of people – ruining other people’s lives in doing so. But only when they target, and name, a well-known person do others know who they mean, and it achieves notoriety. Do they think that this is not the real world, so it doesn’t matter – that they are not really hurting anyone?
Who are these individuals who post obnoxious opinions about people they have never met? They are probably people who are ignorant in the sense of lacking social graces or empathy. Maybe they lack self-esteem, feel under-valued, and feel that they have little to give. Perhaps people in this state of mind, themselves suffering in some way, hit out at others, to make them suffer, and hope to get some kind of emotional gratification from it. Maybe they are jealous of those who are popular and are looked up to. Whatever the motive, this sort of unkind behaviour is completely wrong, and also counter-productive. Happiness comes not from making others feel miserable or vulnerable, but quite the opposite. Making someone else happy is the most cheering and confirming thing we can do.
It is crucial that self-worth and positive relationships with others should become part of the education of every child. Everybody should be valued, and this is vital if we wish to create a world in which everybody is able to make a worthwhile contribution to society. Bahá’u’lláh tells us to: “Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face… Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men.” If people followed any part of this teaching it would prevent them from making hostile tweets.
In 1985, the Universal House of Justice (the Bahá’í world body) announced to the world in its message about peace: “Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. Its practice perpetrates too outrageous a violation of the dignity of human beings to be countenanced under any pretext. Racism retards the unfoldment of the boundless potentialities of its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition of the oneness of mankind, implemented by appropriate legal measures, must be universally upheld if this problem is to be overcome.”
Around the world, there are now several million Bahá’ís, taking Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings as a guide for both their social goals and their personal behaviour. In the Bahá’í writings it says: “In the sight of God colour makes no difference at all, He looks at the hearts of men.” Bahá’u’lláh also specifically spoke of the special role that black people will play in the spiritualisation of the world. Speaking in London, His son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that Bahá’u’lláh once compared black people to the pupil of the eye and said that through this black pupil the light of the Spirit shines forth.
All the while, the Bahá’ís world-wide are working to build up communities free from prejudice. These communities include people from many different racial, social and cultural backgrounds. The elected Bahá’í bodies are often composed of people from several different national and racial backgrounds, and include many people from minority groups. Bahá’ís see this as a pattern for the future.
Part of this community-building effort is the development of classes for children, and of socially active groups for youth, both of which are dedicated to instilling self-worth and fostering spiritual and social development in every child, regardless of background. In the Bahá’í view, mankind has a glorious future ahead of it, in which all these divisions between different groups of human beings will simply be left behind. Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed that we are all one human family. His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, gave lectures on this teaching when He toured the West: “All humanity are the children of God; they belong to the same family, to the same original race.” One of the most popular Bahá’í prayers begins: “O Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household.”
We need to see past differences of colour. We need to look to the wider picture of one humanity, and consider the feelings of every human being. As Bahá’u’lláh expressed it: “…strifes and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family… Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind…” Prejudice of all forms can breed in a divided world, but in a united world where people are brought up to respect everybody, and to reject prejudice, we can make it go away.
(picture courtesy of Getty Images)