I remember the time as a teenager when our stake youth chorus sang at the funeral of my friend’s father. Even though my friend’s last name was Gonzales and he spoke with a Mexican accent, it surprised me when his family spoke only Spanish at the funeral. The fact that my friend was Mexican-American had not even registered with me because as friends we knew each other. My friend was first a person, and only incidentally was he part of a minority group.
Today we hear over and over again that there are problems with this minority and that minority—minorities of race and religion, of creed and color—an overwhelming variety of groups with individual traits and differences. Even the people of this world, after all, are themselves a minority, for there are many worlds. Is it too extreme a view to suggest that the term minority is not really acceptable in our society? As Latter-day Saints, aren’t we working toward building one all-embracing unity with Jesus Christ?
In today’s world what is a minority? What do people consider as qualifications for being part of a minority? We speak of people in minority groups as if each took his personality from the total group. We focus on race or physical characteristics and end up with “They all look alike to me.” Minorities can originate from religion, race, creed, and color, and yet there are many minorities that can cross all barriers of religion, color, and creed. The problem of poverty is not unique to any particular race or religion. Drug users, men in prison, the mentally ill, the aged, as well as poets, kings, and scholars come from every kind of racial minority and religious sect.
It seems obvious that every person, young or old, can find himself or herself in one minority or another, but the most important minority to which we each belong is our own personal minority of one.
Without question there are differences among us. We are products of our cultural and genetic inheritance. Culture includes manners, religion, law, and education—all those external influences that affect our development. Our parents, in most cases, provide not only our physical inheritance, but our cultural inheritance as well. Yet for all this, we still, in our individual ways, create a unique self that is quite unlike any other person. It is exciting to realize that we, as individuals, constitute our own individual minority.
When our individual behavior becomes part of an ethnic culture, and thus represents an entire group, the term minority is often applied to that group because of differences we do not understand. A Navajo man is taught that it is rude to look someone in the eye. When he respectfully looks away, he may appear to be shy or rude to someone who does not understand the individual ways and manners of the Navajo people.
Individual differences should motivate interest and fascination. Getting to know a new person should be as exciting as any new experience or exploration; yet we often react as if someone’s personality difference is something to be feared. Thus we become prejudiced, thwarting the wonderful possibilities of new friendships. If this kind of prejudice is carried too far, whole groups of people are unjustly persecuted just because they are different.
Prejudice is hardly new. Peter and Paul had a very sharp clash over the cultural differences between Jew and gentile in the days of the early church. There was even discussion among the apostles about whether or not they should sit and eat with the gentiles. Paul, in his rather blunt manner, asked, “… why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal. 2:14.)
Paul knew the Savior’s gospel brought men together in a new culture—all became one family united in the love that Jesus taught. But he also knew that until the surface features of habits and traits were accepted, prejudice would keep men apart.
Minorities, then, if we must use this vague term, are perhaps just people, including ourselves, whom we do not yet understand. And as we come to understand them, we almost forget the characteristics, habits, and peculiarities that would identify people as members of a minority group. After all, we are all peculiar in our own very individual ways.
Perhaps the key to eliminating prejudice is simply getting to know each person as an individual, like my friend Gonzales—I knew him!