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Parents gather to discuss racial bias and children

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A group of mostly white, mostly female Salt Lake area residents gathered for a poignant discussion of racial bias and children this week.

The discussion group is the first in a four part series presented by the Children's Museum of Utah, KTVX Channel 4 and Mervyn's California. Residents who spoke out were allowed to maintain anonymity as professor Fred Oswald, director of lifelong learning in the continuing education department at the University of Utah, led the discussion.

Oswald said that 99.9 percent of the people in our community have never taken the time to spend an hour and a half or two hours to talk about racism, and he stressed that communication was a good beginning toward steering children from prejudicial attitudes.

Many in the panel expressed distress that Utah culture maintains a passive-aggressive attitude that translates into prejudice.

"This community is living in a state of denial. We say, 'I've never met a black person, but I'm sure when I meet them I won't be racist toward them,' " one panel member said.

Others said they were concerned about their children learning prejudicial behaviors while at school.

"Our kids are being exposed to racist kids," a mother lamented.

Entertainment and news media were often criticized for a seemingly disproportionate emphasis on negative aspects of minority communities. Oswald, however, urged the group to examine what level of personal accountability individuals should have.

"It gets a little tiring to always teach the lesson. To always be the one that says, 'you have offended me,' " said Dee Dee Darby, the only black member of the group. "I know it's 200 years of embedded terrorism, but there are little fires you can put out every day."

Participants, most of whom have ever been targets of discrimination themselves, encouraged each other to acknowledge when they pre-judge others. Others vowed to take a stronger stand against discrimination when they witness it.

Oswald asked if there were any instances that could justify prejudice, citing economic troubles sometimes associated with ethnic minority communities and higher crime rates.

"You can explain it economically, but you can't justify it — that doesn't make it right," one man answered.

For more information about future discussion groups concerning children, racism and Utah society contact The Children's Museum of Utah at 1-801-328-3383.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com