Tag Archives: Brotherhood

The Cure for Bigotry

Bigotry, unchecked, leads ultimately to atrocities like Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.

Growing up in the South, I was introduced to bigotry early. I heard what we now politely call “the N word” frequently. In South Texas, I often heard the word Mexican used not as a description of someone’s heritage, but as an epithet. When I was a little boy, World War II was less than 10 years in the past, and I rarely heard Japanese people referred to as anything but “Japs,” particularly by those who had fought them in the Pacific.

I don’t believe bigotry is born into little children. It was not so for me. I cannot remember shrinking from playing with another child whose skin was darker than mine. When I was learning to read, my mother would sit me on her lap and help me with the words. One of my favorite children’s books had been given to her when she was learning to read—probably around 1928. It was about little black children, and it would no doubt be considered highly offensive today. But the lesson I took from the book was not that those children were lesser people because their skin was darker, but that they were little children like me—enjoying the same things, getting in trouble for the same things, growing in the same ways, loved by parents and grandparents the same way mine loved me.

There’s a song in an old movie musical, South Pacific, that holds an important lesson: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” We are taught bigotry and prejudice, beginning very young, by the attitudes of those around us. As I grew older, I learned that some families didn’t live in our part of town because there were people who didn’t want to live by them. I learned that some people assigned negative characteristics to everyone of a particular ethnic heritage—whether they knew any individuals from that group or not.

The Texas border town where I lived during my high school years was divided by the railroad tracks next to U.S. Highway 83. Generally, neighborhoods south of the tracks were full of white Anglo-Saxons and neighborhoods north of the tracks were occupied by Mexican-American families. Some of my Anglo classmates seemed to feel they were more deserving of respect or deference because of their family’s ethnic background, position in the community, or prosperity. Some of those Anglos looked suspiciously at me because I enjoyed friendships with Latino classmates. Sixty years on, ethnic background, prosperity, and social status do not seem to have made much difference in the achievements of my classmates. Many, both Latino and Anglo, became great contributors in their communities, noted for their service, but it was not the ethnic or social backgrounds they came from that dictated whether they were successful. Individual effort and commitment seem to have been more influential. What they became was not determined by what someone called them or thought of them when they were younger.

I have lived long enough to learn that bigotry and prejudice are universal; they are present in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I have heard African-Americans use the N word against other African-Americans just as viciously as any white person.  I have heard plenty of bigotry toward other races or ethnic groups from my white Anglo-Saxon peers. But I have also heard bigotry toward Latinos and Asians from African-Americans, bigotry toward blacks or Latinos from Asians, bigotry toward Native Americans from those of European ancestry, bigotry against Jews from people of almost all races. 

I have toured Auschwitz-Birkenau, walked through an old slave exporting castle on the coast in Ghana, followed the outlines of a now carefully erased World War II Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert. I know where unchecked bigotry based on race or ethnicity can lead.

Site of the World War II Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert.

There is no excuse or justification for prejudicial practices toward others. From small, daily microaggressions to large-scale genocide, actions of prejudice are usually committed by people who don’t understand the relationship of their fellow men and women to God, or even their own relationship to God. Every great religious faith that I know, in its original, pure form, teaches that we are all children of a loving God. For example, Malachi 2:10: “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?” (See also Ephesians 4:6.) Anyone who persecutes another person is turning against family.

The Old Testament teaches that He is “the God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5). The New Testament teaches that “God is no respecter of persons:

God loves each of us, His children, no matter the color of our skin or where on earth we are planted.

“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35).

The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, reaffirms those Biblical teachings: “[H]e manifesteth himself unto all those that believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders among the children of men according to their faith. 

“. . . and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:13, 33).

When we speak with disdain, with prejudice, with hatred toward other people on this earth, we are speaking against people God loved so much that He allowed His only Begotten Son to sacrifice His life in order to redeem them—to redeem you, and me. (See John 3:16.)

The cure for bigotry is for us to treat each other like the children of God that we are. We must learn to live by the Golden Rule taught by Jesus Christ: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). This teaching is found in some form in every major religion and has been taught throughout human history by inspired teachers God sent to bless His children. This cure is simple, yet profound. We stumble over it not because it is hard to do but because we are hard of heart.

People concerned about the effects of bigotry and prejudice in our society have often sought to end it through new laws, amendments, decrees, or government programs. Those may help to some limited extent. But bigotry and prejudice will not end in human societies until we learn to appreciate others as brothers and sisters, as members of our family whose hopes and dreams and eternal development are just as important as our own.

The road to this blessed state of human relationships starts in just one heart at a time—yours, and mine.

“My Kind of People”

This expression of gratitude for blessings of freedom–no matter how flawed and in need of change our country may be–is impressive.

If you want to know what it’s like to feel conspicuous, try being the only white person in a small room in an old slave prison in Ghana watching a movie about the history and evils of slavery. When the movie ended and the lights came up, I could feel eyes staring at me, wondering what I was doing there.

I wanted to say out loud, “It was ugly, it was evil, it should never have happened.” It was horrifying and saddening to see in that place what people were willing to do to other human beings. Even some Africans had contributed to the slave trade, helping trap and transport people of other tribes.

My visit in Ghana, more than a quarter of a century ago now, was delightful, really. I was visiting among people who shared my faith, people who hoped and dreamed of the same kind of peace and unity among men and women on this earth that I hope for. I truly forgot there was any difference between us until I reached out to shake someone’s hand and noticed the contrast in our skin tones. I believe there was no such contrast in our hearts.

A large part of the discord in our society today seems to come because we have forgotten how to deal with people as they are in their hearts. We insist on categorizing everyone, usually based on some particular interest or ethnic group: Mexican American, African-American, Asian-American, and other hyphenates; liberal or conservative; LGBTQ or straight (as though everyone who is not LGBTQ can be classified in just one category); young or senior citizen; “able” or “differently abled.” In some people’s minds, my very obvious birth defect would put me in that last category.

I hate being categorized.

I was born different in body, but I am not “handicapped” and I do not have a disability. I am religiously and socially conservative, but I can gladly work with and respect people whose experiences and background have led them to see social problems differently. I am not LGBTQ, but I do not hate or fear those who are, as the pejorative, convenient labels homophobic and transphobic suggest. I wish LBGTQ people peace, happiness, and all the achievement they seek in this life. I am not their enemy.

And this suggests the damage that categorizing people according to groups does in our society; it casts people who are not part of our own category as opponents, or enemies.

Site of the Topaz camp.

On a road trip a few years ago, my wife and I visited the site of the World War II Topaz internment camp for Japanese Americans, in the desert of Utah. Almost all traces of the old camp have been removed, but it is still a shameful blot on the history of this country. Japanese Americans were herded into camps because they looked different; German Americans and Italian-Americans were not bothered. Call it racism, call it hysteria, call it what you will, but at base it was a bigoted failure to see or consider what others are in their hearts. Loyal Americans were harmed by people who could not see beyond categories.

The group of people shown in the above photo, taken at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington a few years ago, are my kind of people. I have never seen them before, I don’t know who they are or where they live, but it seems we have this much in common: we love our country and the freedom it affords. People who are grateful for the freedom we enjoy are my kind of people.

Maintaining our freedom, however, will require us to be more concerned about the welfare of others than about whether those people are in our category. Any other attitude breeds divisiveness. We must aspire to be as our Savior, and other inspired teachers sent by God through the centuries, have taught: “. . . be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:2-3).

We will not have peace in our society until we are able to broaden our definition of “my kind of people.” We will not end contention over social and political issues until we recognize that we all fit into the same overarching category: children of God.