Recognizing that all men and women of the world are brothers and sisters is the first step to overcoming racism, local religious leaders told high school student leaders during a Friday anti-racism symposium.
"If anyone tells you there is a superior race whose goal it is to dominate other races, they are absolutely wrong," said Elder J. Thomas Fyans, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Even the telling of seemingly harmless ethnic jokes is a subtle form pof racism, Elder Fyans said. He reminded the audience of 250 students gathered for the Citizens Against Racism education day that history has been a parade of dominant races and cultures like the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, all of which eventually fell from dominance.
The Rev. Bob Bussen said the Catholic Church has long opposed racism in its teachings, and he called racism "a sin that divides the human family." But racism is insidious, The Rev. Bussen said, and he believes nearly everyone has some racist feelings.
"Unless you confront that and come to grips with it, you become easy prey for recruitment by the `skinheads' or other white supremacists," The Rev. Bussen said.
In a separate session, law enforcement officials said that although avowed racist organizations have yet to gain a foothold in the state, Utahns still must combat organized racism through education.
White supremacists failed in an attempt to organize in Ogden and an Aryan Nations Church member discontinued a radio talk show in Salt Lake County because they realized their racist philosophies were not welcome in Utah, said Henry Beltran, a detective intelligence specialist for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
"Because Utah is a conservative state politically, these groups perceive us (as) a natural target to recruit members for their movements," Beltran said. "They think we're a field ready to harvest. But the concept has backfired."
The relatively high education level of Utah's populace has thwarted white supremacist recruiters, whose philosophies tend to appeal to the less well educated, Beltran said. But young people remain remain a recruiting target for organizations like the so-called skinheads, a group of violent young male racists known to attack Jews and blacks.
"Continue to do your own thinking. Don't let anyone think for you," was the advice Beltran had for the students.
Bruce Hare, assistant professor of sociology at State University of New York, said racism is learned behavior, and that conversely, people can arm themselves against racial stereotypes.
"The concept of whiteness and blackness is nothing more than an exercise in caste relations," Hare said.
The day-long symposium was organized by Salt Lake attorney Pat Shea, with help from local Young Democrats and Young Republicans organizations. The two political groups banded together to form Citizens Against Racism, and held Friday's symposium in conjunction with Utah's Civil Rights Day, to be celebrated Monday.