Who is a bigot?

Calm (because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong), I bade her a good day and upon her instruction, took two escalators down to the Customer Service desk. Unfettered by a stroller or strict time constraints, I calmly placed the dress on the counter and explained the situation to the clerk.

“This doesn’t make any sense!” she spluttered, “We do returns like this all the time!”

I waved my hand in dismissal, “Well, she is a foreigner and–”

“There’s no need to be bigoted!” the clerk spat.

Stunned, I lamely finished my sentence– “I just thought we misunderstood each other because of the language barrier.”

We exchanged only a few necessary words as she completed the return, and minutes later I walked out of the store with a little more cash tucked neatly in my wallet. But her words clung like burrs from a sticker bush, “Why did she think I was a bigot? Do I look like a bigot? Do I sound like a bigot?”

My parents weren’t perfect, but they excelled at teaching a love for my fellow men. Their language and conversations were completely devoid of racial slurs, biases or stereotypes. One of my earliest memories is delivering food and clothing to Vietnamese refugees. As we drove away from their home my parents spoke of their new friends with respect and awe.

With few neighbors and very little TV time, I was ten before I saw racism up close: an acquaintance, Mr. Moss, breathlessly informed my dad that an African-American family was moving in next door. My dad grinned with delight and asked their names and the ages of their children. Deflated, the man admitted that it was a joke and he was simply trying to shock my dad. I recall feeling immense pride in my father and utter disdain for Mr. Moss.

Later, I learned that my parents had made a conscious effort to create a home free of prejudice. They encouraged older relatives– who had used racial slurs freely before the Civil Rights Movement– to restrain their speech and made an effort to acquaint us with people of all races. And my parents weren’t unique, growing up in Utah in the 70s and 80s, bigotry was rare. Roots and The Holocaust were must-see TV. In fact, your best bet at being popular or winning a spot in student government at my high school was to have yellow or brown skin and black hair.

I believe I was raised in the golden age of tolerance.

Things are different today. Despite the politically correct teachings of the last few decades, I see fear and distrust among races and cultures. The economics of illegal aliens has created a charged political climate and the crime rates among minorities are well-known. I heard one suggestion that we should teach our children a healthy bit of racism just so they can avoid drug dealers and muggers. I find that ridiculous! Felons come in every shape and color- I’ll simply teach my children to be safe and cautious in general.

It’s fairly well-known that the church doesn’t ask about citizenship in temple recommend interviews or when calling a new Bishop. In fact, I’ve found Welfare Square and the Humanitarian Center to be the best places to teach my children about God’s many and varied children.

Still, I know I need to try harder. Whenever I see a license plate reading “No one is born a bigot.” I think, “Yes, but it’s not enough just to avoid racism, I have to fight against it.” Am I truly teaching my children a love for their fellow man?

And the Russian salesclerk at the mall– was I frustrated with lack of language skills? Yes. Have I complained to my children when I’m switched to a computer technician who speaks with a thick accent? Yes. Do I have much to learn?

Oh yes.

How do you teach children against racism?

Do you find slivers of prejudice invading your thoughts?

Is it possible to create responsible social policies without bigotry?

About Michelle L.

(Blog Editor) never folds laundry and her car is a mess. She runs through the streets of Salt Lake City, UT, takes lots of photos, plays Uno with her five fabulous boys and buys way too many dresses for the little princess. Her husband is the most romantic man in the world because he does all the Costco shopping AND hauls it into the house (sorry to make you jealous girls). She writes at Scenes from the Wild.

37 thoughts on “Who is a bigot?

  1. I realised I hadn’t taught my children enough against racism when my almost 5 year old said to me at a visit to the antenatal clinic last year, “Look at that lady’s yucky brown skin.” I totally didn’t see it coming! Shock… as I felt myself sinking into the ground in embarrassment I said to him ‘No, her skin is beautiful, not yucky… Heavenly Father made us all different etc etc” He said, “Well I don’t like it” Ahhhhhhh! Needless to say we have had a few little talks about not saying anything that might hurt people’s feelings and also more about the different countries of the world, their customs/culture ( and skin!!)

    As for me, I have found myself hearing sad cases about terrible child abuse, severe alcoholism, drug and propellant abuse, and domestic violence among the indigenous people of my nation (Australia) and thinking ‘what is wrong with *these* people??’ I know these things go on in homes everywhere – it’s just not reported as much in the media maybe… and I know it’s a generalisation to say *everyone* in this culture is like that because I know many are not the dysfunctional cases we hear about… I just don’t know *how* to think on this matter!!! I don’t think I am racist? I love all people in general (except child abusers, wife beaters, drug dealers etc no matter what race!!!!!!)

  2. As usual a great post Michelle, and oh so timely. We’ve lived in several places with our little family, where we are now is definitely the most diverse. The other thing this area has is more crime. I worry at times that my children will equate the ethnic diversity with the crime and poverty.

    The flip side is that we attended a Spanish branch for 3 years where they learned the cheek kiss and how to use headphones in sacrament meeting for translation. They saw their parents work long hours helping church members and having dinner parties, with no regard for ethnicity. (At one point our little branch represented 17 countries!)

    The branch also had complex problems because of the illegal status of about half of the members. Those who aren’t legal often live in worse situations because dishonest predators in our society take advantage of them – apartment deposits never returned, paychecks never given, physical abuse never reported. These things happen because the predator knows the illegal person won’t report it to police because their illegal status will be found out. Another issue is language, not speaking the language does cause economic issues. Those who tread the long complicated and winding process to citizenship learn how the country operates, their place in it, and some English. English and a legal status is a huge leg up in the job market.

    While AZ may have the spotlight right now, there are several towns in our area that have passed similar ordinances in an effort to deal with a town that has grown to half illegal aliens in just a few years. That puts very real burdens upon the services that the government offers. There is need for a solution, but a more charitable and understanding one.

    A strange thing about my own childhood – My father is a construction worker and often brought home colorful and bigoted stories that he told at the dinner table. At the same time he taught diversity through being friendly to all and teaching us to serve. Somehow I understood that the jokes weren’t his real feelings about ethnicity. Even so, I don’t repeat his jokes to my children.

  3. When my son was young he used to refer to Oprah as, “that tan lady.” I thought it was funny that he just saw all people as different shades of beige and tan and brown on one big spectrum. But now I realize that I have to be more proactive about race. I asked one of my black friends what I should say in a conversation like that and she surprised me by saying that she didn’t want to just be seen as a darker white person. That denies her entire culture.

    Even so, I’m not going to get into cultural differences with my four-year-old. So I just tell my little ones that just like there are cats who look different, but they’re all still cats and one isn’t better than the other, that people are still people on the inside.

    Thankfully we live in a place where all of my kids have friends of other colors and religions so there is more exposure to differences. Plus we have several adopted cousins from different continents.

    I make sure that my older kids watch many of the good movies that feature the problem of racism. (“The Power of One” and “To KIll a Mockingbird” are a couple that come to mind.) Those movies are great springboards to bring up bigotry. Older kids and teens seem especially curious and sensitive to the topic.

    I read the blog of a woman with two white children and two adopted black children. She wrote the most fascinating post about racism in kids that really made me think about what I’m teaching my children (or NOT teaching my children). I hope it’s OK to link to it!
    http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2010/02/little-bigots-at-basketball.html

  4. I hate the brand of “tolerance” preached over the political pulpit. It feels to me like the label “bigot” is applied far too liberally: even making inferences about someone’s culture or linguistic heritage is considered taboo, particularly when you’re not a “minority” yourself. The races are taught to judge and mistrust each other. Much of the South is, sadly, still a segregated mess, with both sides teaching their children to resent and mistrust the other. Racial relations are tensing in the southwest, too.

    As much as I think cultural heritage is important, I sometimes wish that race just wasn’t an issue. We’re all the children of God. We’re all people, humans, sentient beings. How sad that something as insignificant as skin color or background should foster so much hate. And how sad that people who aren’t bigots are called bigots for an innocent comment or opinion.

  5. Re: Whenever I see a license plate reading “No one is born a bigot.” I think, “Yes, but it’s not enough just to avoid racism, I have to fight against it.”

    I agree. I’m not a big fan of the clever platitude that “no one is born a bigot” because I think it gives a misimpression of how difficult it really is to avoid racism. It sounds like “as long as I didn’t teach my kids to be racists, then I have nothing to worry about.” Really, it’s not that simple. I talked about this on my own blog recently, here.

  6. I was also lucky to be raised in a family that tried not to be racist. However, many people aren’t so lucky. Utah in the 80s doesn’t mean no racism!!!! Plenty of other homes had people who didn’t notice the implicit racism everyone and work against it.
    Also, read Nurtureshock. Good chapter about racism.
    Last, I have to say that you did make a mistake. Because you started with “she’s a foreigner.” It wasn’t the foreigner part that you should have jumped to. The key was that you thought she might have misunderstood what you wanted (you were grasping for reasons as to why she wouldn’t help you, I know). It is the same as racial profiling. The point is do all foreigners misunderstand you?
    Innocent and unintentional, but this woman doesn’t know you. You have to realize how things “sound.” Her mother may be a foreigner. Her husband may be a foreigner. It may have sounded personal to her.

  7. Wonderful as your experience growing up in Utah may have been, I am going to have to say that the Utah I knew in the 70s and 80s was hardly the golden age of tolerance. Good grief, at that time Church leaders were still preaching from the pulpit and in manuals counseling against interracial marriage. I am happy that you were raised in such an accepting and non-disciminatory environment, but I wholeheartedly believe that the Utah (and the world) of today has come a long, long way forward.

  8. I, too, was taught anti-racism as a child, but I have come to realize that I retain the capacity to offend because of race– not only because some people are hypersensitive and impossible to please (which seems to have been the case with your mall clerk) but also because the Natural Man has a tendency to racism.

    I believe that there is no such thing as “healthy” racism, any more than there is “healthy” lust or pride. Of course you have to protect yourself, but remember the Book of Mormon– which is FULL of warnings to the pale-skinned Nephites they were accountable before (and frequently in trouble with) God because they had been taught the truth; the Lamanites were in much better shape, because before they were taught the gospel they weren’t accountable, and after they were taught it, they LIVED it. To me, it isn’t just white-people-angst which drives me to try harder to love and learn as much from my darker-skinned brothers and sisters as the ones that look like me; I really think that the ever-amazing Book of Mormon teaches us that each culture and race has things to learn from each other– things which, in the end, might be vital to our eternal salvation.

    Jacob 2:3-8; Alma 9:8-25; Helaman 15

    Also, I found this very interesting– an article about a study which showed that when parents don’t talk to their kids about race, the kids still notice racial differences, and are left by themselves to come to their own, not- necessarily- great conclusions. To me, it supports the idea that racism is part and parcel of the Natural Man:

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/214989

    I think anti-racism is a difficult skill to learn, and a Gift of the Spirit, and if someone accuses me of lacking that gift then I hope I have the humility (as Michelle did) to ask myself whether or not I’m really as good as I think I am.

  9. Um, in trouble with God because they had been taught the truth AND hadn’t lived it. So sorry. Better proofreading next time.

  10. Someone who doesn’t speak English 100% fluently could still be an American citizen (and could even conceivably be a second-generation citizen) which means that technically he or she would not be a foreigner.

    Someone who speaks English fluently could technically be a guest worker with a legal visa or illegal alien.

    The question of the customer service rep’s citizenship doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether or not you were able to communicate with her. By using the term foreigner you invoke questions of citizenship.

    Also: are you sure she was a native Russian speaker and not Bulgarian or Ukranian, etc.?

    I don’t lay all this out to scold, but to show how complicated it can all get — and why politically correct ways of speaking (although not all politically correct terms) can be very useful in a multicultural society.

  11. jks and Wm Morris– you’re exactly right. ‘foreigner’ was the wrong thing to say. And that’s why I had to examine my smug “I’m not racist.” thinking. Because I still have a long way to go; I still have to fight against it.

  12. By the same token, “bigoted” was also the wrong word to use, xenophobic probably being more apt for the clerk’s need to label Michelle’s statement.

  13. Please try to put yourself in the salesclerk’s shoes. I feel so frustrated when I don’t get something right the first time in Germany and people either just give up or switch to English. Give us a chance! It sounds like you didn’t try to straighten the situation out, you just left. That’s where it’s a little sad. And that you mentioned it to the other employee too.

  14. Definitely not bigoted at all.

    Here in the UK we also have to be ultra-sensitive to the terms we use to label individuals although I think that unfortunately intent is often missed.

    For instance in a ward council an older HPGL asked if home teachers had been assigned to the recent “coloured” convert. Was he being xenophobic, bigoted, racist. Nope, he is just not up-to-date with latest trends in political correctness. His question and concern for the convert were driven by nothing more than charity and a desire to see him nourished by the good word of Christ.

    All submitted IMHO.

  15. We’re all racist–because of the society we live in. Lame but true.

    A child noticing different skin colors is not racist. You’d be blind not to notice. A child isn’t racist because they think someone is made of chocolate milk, or hasn’t bathed, or tan. I think sometimes parents, knowing what racism is, hear their children comment and jump to the defense. The child doesn’t have any preconceived notions about about what it means to be another color, just like they don’t have any preconceived notions about what it means to have blond hair versus brown hair. They aren’t making a commentary about the intellect or work ethic or anything else when they say these things. When we, as adults get defensive about it, we create the problem. It’s only then that they become aware that there is even potential for a problem, and then will start acting differently, even if it’s to act kindly–because they’ll be aware in a different way.
    When we find ourselves being acutely aware of our actions and thoughts and words around foreigners and other races, it’s just evidence that we have a problem–that we are racist.

  16. My guess is that the woman in customer service was triggered by the word “foreigner,” which is not PC these days. It might have been “safer” to say something like, “We were having a little trouble communicating because I’m not very good with accents.” People are very easily offended these days.

    By the way, I don’t think there’s a shred of bigotry or prejudice in being annoyed when you are hooked up on the phone with a customer service provider whose English is difficult to understand. A person who speaks English with a heavy accent should not be doing customer service for native English-speakers over the phone. Period. (Nor should I be doing French customer service over the phone with my American accent.) It’s just a matter of being able to understand!

    What I’m not liking about our culture is that too many things that aren’t racist are construed as being racist, probably due to the political climate your describe. I am not going to buy into that.

    I will, however, continue to accept each and every person I meet at face value, assessing them as people by their actions and not their ethnicity. I will also refuse to form opinions about anyone on the basis of race or anything else that has nothing to do with who they are as people. And I have taught my children to do the same.

    That’s petty much all we can do, when it comes right down to it.

  17. Racism: the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
    discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

    I haven’t found one definition of racism where if one acts differently around another race that constitutes as racism. I think human nature would have us act differently with people and cultures we are unfamiliar with. I feel the definition of racism is being spread thin and the word is losing it’s significance.

  18. Tina,
    I think there is a difference between being “a racist”, and racist. If I feel like I have to tip toe around people because they aren’t like me, it isn’t true charity. If I am being careful around people that are black because I don’t want to appear racist, then probably deep down I think, “black people think white people are racist,” and that’s pretty significant discrimination.

  19. Generally, “yellow” is not an acceptable way to describe anyone’s skin, except the Simpsons’.

    The belief that Utah in the 70s and 80s was the golden age of tolerance can only hold if one ignores structural, societal racism and focuses on superficial social interactions between individuals. So, yes, the fact that parents worked to expose their children to many different kinds of folks, and taught them to be kind and gracious to everyone is a good thing. But it ignores the fact that the Church had deeply racist policies until the bitter end of the 70s, and allowed hideously racist folklore to persist with a veneer of doctrinality for decades after that. We still have an Aaronic priesthood lesson manual that counsels against interracial marriage. In 2010!

    My sense is that the heightened tension you describe between races now is a result of awareness of those persistent structural inequities, and a recognition that being nice to each other, and yet continuing to participate in or tacitly accept a society where schools are segregated (de facto, if no longer de jure), minorities are persistently discriminated against in our legal and economic systems (which is, I think, a far better way of thinking about it than “crime rates among minorities are well-known”–one can equally say that “prosecution and conviction rates of minorities” are disproportionate), simply isn’t an adequate response.

    Our Mormon focus on individual agency can blind us to these forces that influence and sometimes constrain individuals’ choices. It’s a good thing, of course, to stress that people always have a choice, that the light of Christ can help us discern good and evil, etc. But that is not the entire solution–it won’t do to tell a child who has been poorly taught in disastrously poor urban schools that she should pull herself up by her bootstraps, because we didn’t give her any boots in the first place! An older strain of Mormon thought that focuses on community as the ultimate ground of righteousness (i.e. we are ALL saved by creating Zion, not just by shunning Babylon and going off to live virtuously in the wilderness) can help us to work to ameliorate the kinds of deep structural racism that many people still (correctly, I fear) perceive at work in contemporary society.

  20. Funny story about children’s observations: for a while, we had a family of refugees from Congo living with us. I went into their bathroom one day to hang a new shower curtain, and my 5-year-old daughter followed me in. They had put one of those blue disinfecting things into their toilet, and she happened to look into the bowl. Her eyes got really big and she said, “Mommy, do people with brown skin have BLUE pee-pee?”

  21. Marintha,
    I find myself tip-toeing around people who aren’t of my social class (my social class being pretty low at this moment) because I don’t want to be seen as a buffoon, does this make a socialist? (baaaaad joke). I find myself act differently around all sorts of different folks. My mothers family is Catholic, half of my fathers family is atheist, in some situations I feel comfortable with others of differing view points and in other situations I feel uncomfortable, but I try the best that I can. I would feel very badly if I was trying to fit in a social situation, no matter what it was and someone would have labeled my actions as racist because I wasn’t at the same comfort level as I would have around my friends or relatives. I can see your point and it comes down to what the motives and intentions were and we don’t know what anothers persons motives/intentions are unless they come right out and say it.
    (thanks for responding, after I published my first comment I thought it sounded cold and that wasn’t my intention).

  22. Tina,
    I understand wanting to be socially appropriate. You’re right, our motives are everything.

  23. I’m not sure I really understand what a bigot is. My boys and I have the bizarre ability/blindness of not processing skin as a descriptor. There’s been times when people have tried to work who we are describing, and colour just isn’t a factor. Which tends to make the process a little more complicated! It’s not even deliberate – it just isn’t something we think of. I didn’t teach them that either. Skin’s just something we’re wrapped in I guess.

    That being said, I’m prejudiced against beautiful people. Whoever I see as beautiful physically, it takes a huge amount of effort on my part to try to get to know them. Sad? Unfair? Yep and absolutely. And I acknowledge that and try to stop it before it takes hold.

  24. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to close comments temporarily. They will be back up in the morning.

  25. Allow me to explain a bit:

    I didn’t write this post to complain about her terrible customer service or to congratulate myself on my own perfection. Rather, it was a surprise to me (as a decidedly non-racist person) that I used an offensive term. And that I suspect I have some attitudes that need revising.

    Developing true charity within ourselves is like tending a garden– weeds are constantly sprouting from unexpected corners. If I truly want a Christlike heart, I need to be constantly weeding and watching myself.

    For the record: it’s prom dress season and I think the clerk was confused by the no return policy on prom dresses. Although my dress was cotton and informal it was from the same department. I am NOT one for confrontation and I’m not about to fight it out with someone on the sales floor. She referred me to customer service and I went. I fully admit that ‘foreigner’ was the wrong descriptor (‘new at her job’ would have been better), but I am weeding out my garden; trying to improve.

  26. My grandpa used to say, “Nobody’s better than you and you’re no better than anybody else.”

    I am so looking forward to the day when we can just accept others for who they are without our natural-man (woman) tendincies to judge. (It’s most frustrating when we do judge unintentionally.)

    You asked about responsible social policies created without bigotry. I think someday we’ll have that, but it’s going to take a lot of love, patience, and unselfishness with all involved. Zion can’t be built in a day.

  27. Michelle L.,
    I think it is important to constantly take a step back and look at ourselves – making sure our thoughts, actions, attitudes are living up to our ideals….or at least reflecting who we are or who we want to be. All of us make mistakes (sometimes innocently or thoughtlessly or naively). If everyone would do this, the world would be a better place.
    Prejudice is something we should all work towards eliminating, not just in others but also in ourselves. This post is a great illustration of this.

  28. Michelle, I love that you are trying to weed your garden and that you are willing to share that weeding process with the rest of us. I know I’m mixing metaphors here, but we should all take a page out of your book.

    I loved this post and the self-examination it caused me to do. Thank you! =)

  29. I grew up in a house where I learned that “black people” couldn’t do any better than “steal, do drugs and kill each other”. Needless to say, I disagree with my father on quite a few topics, and compartmentalizing by race is one of them.

    My husband is in the tech industry. Half of the names he mentions are from places like China, India, Pakistan, Germany, etc. Not familiar. Our neighborhood is mostly condos and apartments — packed with multi-generational families of various shades of skin color. We are usually the only caucasians at the park closest to our house, and when we’re not, the others are usually from Eastern Europe.

    Our kids are 5 and (almost)3, so the subject has only come up a little bit, mostly revolving around ancestral origin. One of my 5yo’s primary teachers is black, but light skinned and she has a part-Korean, a Chinese and a part-Hispanic child in her class. A Liberian/Congolese family with small children recently moved out of our ward. So, she’s familiar with a lot of different faces.

    One day a friend brought over some clothes for us to borrow for an African wedding. She’s from Kenya and very dark. My 5yo looked at me askance and asked, “Why is her skin so dark?”. I smiled and said “Gladys is from a country faaar away in Africa.” Gladys followed it up with something about how ‘this is how all of the people look in my country’. It felt a little awkward, but so do most unfamiliar situations. My friend seemed nonplussed at the discussion. I think that showing your respect and genuine interest in those around you will show your children that there is no need to differentiate. (I was happy that when we sat down in Stake Conference this morning that my 3yo immediately started “chatting” and showing her new dress to the brother from Liberia who was next to.)

  30. My favorite cross-cultural miscommunication came when a Kenyan friend asked me if she looked fat. Rather nonplussed, I said that on the contrary, she looked stunning, as usual. She laughed, told me that being fat was a compliment in her country, and let me in on the wonderful news that she was pregnant. For the next five months I made a point of mentioning how fat she looked, sorta. We both enjoyed the compliments and the irony.

  31. I took a sociologist class once, and learned something kinda interesting when it comes to race. According to social theory (or whatever they called it), people naturally segregate themselves into like groups, especially when it comes to race. It’s not because of social norms, it’s because of biological instincts—if somebody looks different than you, they can be identified as somebody who is not a biological member of the family or tribe, and could therefore be a threat to your family’s resources.

    I will fully submit that this could be pseudo-scientific gobbly gook, but it did sort of resonate with me and I thought, “Oh. That kind of makes sense.” I’m not saying by any means that this explanation is an excuse for racist or bigoted behavior, but I found it interesting that some of our instinctual reactions to people who are not like us can be explained in biological terms.

    I think it also speaks volumes about people who can (and do) recognize that differences are non-threatening. It means that we are rising above the natural man, as has been mentioned, and looking for the brother or sister within.

    But I also agree with the idea that it’s not entirely helpful to be “colorblind”. I once read an article about a black woman who dated a white man, and how she wanted to be able to tell him her frustrations with simple things, like the fact that the show “Friends” never resonated with her, that she didn’t want him to pretend that she was just a darker version of his previous white girlfriends, that she wanted the color of her skin acknowledged and celebrated so she could explain how being black affected her. Obviously she doesn’t speak for every black woman, but her story gave me pause about exactly how we treat racism in this country.

  32. Complaining about a language barrier is not at all bigoted. It’s just complaining about a difficult situation. Now, if you said a derogatory word about the person who did not speak English well, that would have been bigoted.

    We are getting too sensitive to bigotry in some ways.

    God knows our hearts and our actions speak louder than our words. It’s far more important to practice love and kindness for all people. I don’t think we need to micromanage every word we say to avoid offending someone. We will offend people occasionally even if we don’t mean to.

  33. I think race is often used to categorize people into cultures. Culture has a lot more to do with how people behave than race. Culture cuts across race and time. There is danger in using race to categorize people into a culture because, as Thomas Sowell pointed out in his book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”, there can be many cultures in any given race.

    Michelle,
    Based on my experience with Soviet culture you did exactly the right thing. In saying this I do not pass judgement on people who lived under Soviet control. I just know how things were done in that fading culture.

    It’s too bad the customer service person jumped to the wrong conclusion about you. If she had listened she could help the sales clerk learn to navigate better in Utah’s version of American culture.

  34. I was going to recommend the same book as the previous commenter JKS… Nutureshock. I took a completely different stance on how I deal with the subject of racism and race with my children after reading that book. The book basically says that it is not enough to try to ignore race because children will pick up on the racial differences anyway. You have to be more proactive in talking about it. I have noticed in my daughter’s very racially-mixed classroom that most of the close friendships are between same race children. I don’t think that is because most of the children are being raised in race-biased homes, I think it is just a natural urge to hang out with people like you. After reading Nutureshock, I’m making a more conscious effort to distinguish between races and talk more opening about it rather than thinking if I ignore race, my children will too.

  35. I am African-American and have lived in multiple countries and states, Utah included. I too grew up in a home where I was taught that racism was not ok.

    One of the most important things I was taught is that there is not a catchall way to deal with it. Each experience you have good and bad has a different way to approach it and has a different outcome. I think that’s why the great question you asked, “How do you teach children against racism?” can have so many different answers.

    Once I was called a Nigger and my Mother called the police. They came to our home and I had to give a statement, a police report was filed and the officers went to the home of the person who used the slur against me. Another time I was called the same word and my Mother took me to the home of the person who used the slur and we had a discussion. In every instance when I needed my parents help as a child, my parents considered each response carefully and did what they thought was best for me in that particular situation.

    I often thought about why my parent’s reactions may have differed so drastically. As an adult I realize that dealing with social differences is a continual learning process. Each time you are faced with an issue you are a different person. You may have more knowledge, more experience. You may have now gained a friend of a different background that has help to teach you new things. Maybe we have had a recent negative social experience. Maybe we have no experience at all with others different from ourselves.

    Also the fact that I had unrestrained communication with my parents helped me tremendously. I cringe at the words that my parents have heard come out of my mouth, but I am so thankful that I was always welcome to ask them. I would just come home and say, today at school I heard someone say %$#*, what does that mean? Or today when I referred to someone as &^@)*, they got mad at me, why? Sometimes my parents even said I don’t know let me find out.

    So I said all that to say this, I think teaching children against racism requires, open communication, admitting that we don’t always have the answers, and taking the time to respond to each situation/person/issue individually. *long-winded much ;-)*

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