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?
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?