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Lois M. Collins: Unfortunately, racism is still very much among us

Published: Tuesday, April 23 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in "42."

Warner Bros., Warner Bros.

There's something distinctly uncomfortable about watching someone use the "N" word — even if it's an actor being paid to shout it at another actor in a movie about racism. Seeing someone barred from using a public restroom or unable to stay in a hotel with teammates because of color, even when it's a scene in a movie, just ramps up that feeling of unreality and injustice.

As a family, we saw the movie "42" this weekend. The story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball was an exhilarating, miserable, squirmy, heartening couple of hours.

Like so many people who are white in America, racism never stung me as I was growing up. I figured that folks who talked about racial bigotry were either hypersensitive or were looking for an excuse to complain or feel picked on.

Not only wasn't racism directed at me, I didn't see any particular difference between races. My parents were both totally blind, so my family never used color or ethnicity — or, for that matter, a physical description of any kind — as a way of differentiating between people.

Only later would I realize what an extraordinary blessing that fact was.

Watching racism while you're sitting by someone you love, who happens to have experienced it firsthand many, many times, is enraging.

I married a Yaqui Indian who was adopted by a white family when he was young. When people make racist remarks — something that happens much more often than most who have never been its target would ever imagine — I always think it's kind of sad that he has to put up with the stupidity of bigotry based on nothing more substantial than skin tone without at least having some of the cultural pride that might come with growing up among others like him. Indians have a proud heritage and culture. He didn't get to experience that.

"Well, that brought back a lot of unpleasant memories," was all he said after the movie, referring to a lifetime peppered with racist encounters. After 17 years of marriage, I have an inkling of what's contained in that understatement.

I stood beside him in a grocery store once as an ignorant clerk announced she would not sell him mouthwash because it contained alcohol and "you would just drink it."

I was there when, in the early days of our marriage, he routinely walked home from work in the wee hours of the morning accompanied by a police officer who drove slowly beside him and beamed a searchlight on him, like a poacher stalking a deer. I presume the not-subtle message was "I'm watching you." We weren't subtle, either. We complained to the police department and it stopped.

We once stood in a model home, ready to start construction, and had trouble getting the salesman to acknowledge us because, as he explained when challenged, we didn't "fit the profile of buyers."

When my husband was diagnosed with potentially deadly liver disease, I stared down a medical resident who offered a lecture about alcohol instead of comfort or practical advice. If she had glanced at his chart, she's have known alcohol was not the issue. She compounded our pain.

Racism is not something hypersensitive people imagine. And contrary to Brad Paisley's song "Accidental Racist," racism is not passive or harmless or uncommon. Several public officials have recently made well-reported but limited apologies for using derogatory terms to describe others. I say "limited" because they apologized to anyone who was "offended by" the choice of words.

That should be all of us. A better apology is not to be sorry that people don't like being called names. The sorrow — and shame — should be that name-calling happens.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @loisco.,

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