What the heck is wrong with our state?
Something. Something significant. Something that needs to be rooted out as soon as possible, if it is possible. Is it possible?
God help us.
Racism has plagued the United States of America since this country’s inception and it continues to do so, hundreds of years later. It doesn’t stop at Utah’s borders. Never has.
It’s here. There’s no sorry need for it to be imported. It lives, it’s planted and grows, in the hateful, suspicious hearts of a percentage — some percentage, big or small — of Utah residents. And the worst part about that is, it’s passed on from one generation to another, a gift of poison from parents to children, from the old to the young.
So it is that a charter school near Ogden recently made it known — and anyone with eyes to read knows about it now, as the story has been reported from coast to coast and beyond — that it would allow parents to remove their kids from attending class during Black History Month, parents who objected to their children being subjected to learning about Black history.
The subsequent blowback has been so strong that the school met with certain concerned parents and has now changed its position on the matter, a change that never should have been necessary because allowance for such excused opt-out absences never should have been extended.
How stupid was that? Would permission ever have been granted for students to miss class because parents didn’t want their kids subjected to learning about the Liberty Bell? About the rise of democracy? About the Industrial Revolution? About the movement for women’s suffrage? About the carnage brought about in the Second World War by the rise to power of Adolf Hitler? About the millions of Jews exterminated by a crazed and cruel Nazi regime?
It’s OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK.
But … Black history? No, no, no. Don’t want our innocents exposed to that curriculum.
Rudy Gobert took note of the unacceptable situation, tweeting in disgust about it.
Donovan Mitchell, who has been celebrated by the NBA for his substantial contributions to furthering education, tweeted out: “I don’t know where to start … racism is taught … and the fact that kids are being told by their own parents to not learn about black history and black excellence is sickening and sad! And this is just part of the problem … smh.”
Mitchell nailed it with more accuracy than his typical uncontested 15-foot jumper.
Racism is taught. The poison is passed.
In a Tribune column I wrote in June, I revisited a story I researched and wrote years earlier for the Los Angeles Times, a piece that centered on where and how and when the seeds of racism are planted. I interviewed 20 or so experts for that feature, from psychologists to educators to researchers to authors to doctors, looking for answers to the question, the problem.
Their conclusion was what a clear-headed adult would expect.
Children are born into this world without perversion, without bias, without an ounce of hate or suspicion in them. By the age of 3, many of them notice the physical differences between people of varying races — such as facial features, the color and texture of hair and the tones of skin — and they try to understand those differences and their place among them.
They notice the differences, but what they do not do is assign values to them. Not until they are influenced by those around them, especially parents who have a way of either lobbing soft transmissions to them or hurling hard messages at them, positive and negative.
“Young children ask questions about [racial] differences,” said one teacher who was a member of a multicultural committee. “They pick up on the responses of adults and they pick up the values of those adults, including biases. They also are influenced by other kids and what they see on TV and in movies.”
“Hopefully,” said another educator, “parents and teachers celebrate the differences. Hopefully, they’ll say, ‘Yes, we are all different, isn’t that wonderful?’”
Too often, that’s not the way it’s taught.
Another expert said: “Children are a product of their world. Racism begins at home.”
Which is to say, young white kids who receive negative notions about kids of color remember and sometimes latch onto those notions. Kids of color who sometimes are the targets of negative verbal expressions suffer from or ricochet off them, and their racial awareness, as a professor of medical psychology put it, “can be turbocharged by a negative incident.”
It’s important that parents intervene when they hear negative expressions.
And what if parents are the source of those negative expressions?
What if parents are the ones who don’t want their kids to go to school to learn about Black history?
As the expert said it, “Racism begins at home.”
Education is the answer, not the problem.
Awareness and open-mindedness are keys.
A ray of hope came from a child-development researcher who said: “At 5 or 6, [children] can sense what is fair and what isn’t fair. They can begin to be critical thinkers on cultural and racial issues.”
Even if their parents are not.
The path to that better end obviously is much smoother when they are, if they are willing to be.
The challenge is to make the path smooth, smoother.
A brilliant man once said: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
He also said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Oh, and this one: “Everybody can be great, because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. And a soul generated by love.”
That man’s name was Martin Luther King Jr.
But, then, what kind of irresponsible parents would ever want their kids to learn such wildly preposterous, dangerous things?
C’mon, Utah. We can do better. In every corner.
God help us.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.