It’s really hard for me to talk about race because it’s really hard for me to care about race.
Part of my indifference is due to the fact that I really don’t know how to be anything other than white. It’s not my fault. I was born white in a small town in Utah where almost everyone was white. Growing up, I never had to deal much with race.
My best friend growing up was Dan Lopez and I guess he could check the “Hispanic” box on the census form, but I never gave Dan’s race a thought. He was just a great guy who put up with me.
And Black people? Before I was 12, I’d personally met two Black people – a teacher and her daughter who came to live in Vernal for just a short time. And since girls had cooties and boys didn’t play with them, I really didn’t get to know her.
Most of my experience with people of color was associating with Native Americans. Vernal was right next to the Ute Indian Reservation and a few Native American kids went to my school. Our family served a mission on the reservation and I had a foster brother from Arizona who came to live with us during the school year.
Another part of my indifference comes from my father. Except for what I saw on TV, everything I learned about race I learned from him. He was different from everyone else in my world. He was raised in Ohio, he’d served in the CCs; he’d boxed in the ring; he’d worked on the railroad and in all of these experiences he’d lived around, worked with and competed against Black people. And while he bought into some silly stereotypes about people of color, the number one teaching I took away from Dad’s tutelage was this: Judge a man by what he does, not by the color of his skin. He taught me that through word and deed, long before I knew it was Dr. King’s dream. So, I grew up caring about what people did, not what they looked like.
But the biggest reason I don’t care about race it that I think race is the biggest farce ever perpetrated on mankind. It is not real!
All inherent differences between the blackest man in the world and the whitest man in the world (could be me) are physical appearance, the result of far less than 1 percent of our DNA. Neither race is smarter, more motivated or more moral. Neither race is more athletic, virile or better tap dancers. Period! Do not give me your antidotal evidence, limited observations or skewed science. There is only one race – human. And every day it is becoming even more so.
There are differences (good and bad) in culture and ethnicity, but those are learned behaviors or matters of choice. I love cultural and ethnic difference and while I might not enjoy specific nuances (I’ve never gotten hip hop or rap), I love that people see and experience the world in diverse ways. I love experiencing that with them.
I served a mission for my Church, assigned to labor for two years on the Indian reservations of South Dakota and Nebraska. There I was, probably the whitest guy you can imagine, serving with Polynesian companions; learning to love the quiet dignity of the Native American culture, eating frybread and going to give-aways at funerals.
I was once listening to a tape of Pow Wow music with an Indian family, waiting for a good 49, when some joker on the tape (probably way up in the stands) starts bugling the cavalry charge. Insulting? All you could see around the room were sardonic smiles. They enjoyed the joke and it was fun because so did I. At that moment I was part of their culture.
Problems come when our culture teaches us to dislike, distrust or look down upon other people because of their race. Since race is not real, any such teaching is false from the outset.
As a youth growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was taught a racial falsehood. Trying to justify the Church’s ban on Blacks receiving the priesthood, someone came up with the story that in the War in Heaven, certain spirits did not take sides to fight for Jehovah or Satan – they were fence sitters. Because of this, they were born into the Black race and had limited rights in the Kingdom of God. Although this theory had no basis in scripture (and was debunked by the President of the Church) it became widely accepted and taught throughout the Church.
Even as a young man, this story (and other such pseudo-doctrines wrested from the scriptures) did not ring true to me. I just couldn’t quit looking at people as just people and judging them by their behavior and my personal experiences with them.
On my mission I met a wonderful person named Mary Sturlaugson. Mary was an investigator that the sister missionaries were teaching. I rejoiced when Mary overcame a long, painful struggle and joined the Church based on the promptings of the Holy Ghost and over her objections to the Church’s racial policies. You see, Mary’s skin was black.
It was not until a few years later, when I read Mary’s biography, that I learned what a miracle her conversion had been. Raised in Tennessee, Mary learned firsthand how cruel and ugly racism could be. She grew up learning to hate white people in general and Mormons, specifically, for the official policies and unofficial teachings mentioned above.
The fact that she let the missionaries – even if it was initially to mock and abuse them – into her home was a miracle. The fact that they continued to return and try teaching her was even more miraculous. It could only be the power of the Spirit that could convince her to overcome her pain and accept the gospel.
My point in telling you this story is this. Granted, I came onto the scene after the other missionaries had shown her a lot of love and the Spirit had been working on her for a while, but I never felt any anger or hatred from her. And I never once saw her as anything other than a fellow child of God.
Does this mean I’m color blind? No! I can look at a person and tell what color their skin is right away. It’s just a gift.
Does this mean that I don’t understand that there are deep cultural and ethnic differences that can either be celebrated or hated? No! As a matter of fact when most people talk about race, I think it is ethnicity and culture that they are really talking about.
Does this mean that I don’t sometimes say or do stupid things that could easily be interpreted as micro-aggressions evidencing racism? No! I say stupid and insensitive things all the time, almost always in jest.
What this does mean is that I really try to judge each person I meet by his actions and try to understand and share in his culture, but the color of his skin means nothing.
This is what I mean when I say, I don’t care about race.