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In the summer of 2021, the coronavirus engulfed the world. It seemed it was the only conversation topic and news story. I was exposed to hundreds of facts, statistics, and stories about COVID-19 every day. However, I learned that taking precautions for the pandemic would not prepare me for a different type of virus.

After church one Sunday while visiting the US, a kind old couple approached my sister and me and asked us about living in Taiwan. My sister and I indulged all their questions about life outside the US. Then the husband asked, in a grandfatherly way, "do you want to hear a joke?" His wife simply rolled her eyes and smiled at her husband.

My sister and I geared up to hear a corny punchline or maybe a long ramble of a story. Instead, he asked, "How do the Chinese name their kids?" I looked at my sister in a bout of confusion. "They roll a can down the stairway! Chin! Chang! Clang!" The old couple chuckled, and their laughs echoed in my ringing ears.

I was in shock. The punchline felt like a punch to the gut. Did I really just hear that come out of his mouth? How could such a seemingly kind old couple be so oblivious to their comment's utter ignorance and racist implications? It was especially shocking to me that I heard this comment at church because I have been taught my whole life to "love one another" (John 13:34) and that "all are alike unto God" (2 Nephi 26:33).

My mind was racing, but I had no preparation to respond to this comment. As a result, I let this man's tainted joke enter my system with no effort to fight back against it. My sister and I gave an awkward goodbye and walked away to the safety of our car.

The sinking feeling of shame mixed with confusion and a kind of betrayal. Why didn't I say anything? This was a moment of injustice, a moment of prejudice and I had no reaction. I did not defend Asian culture, which I had been immersed in for the better part of my life. I let that ignorant "joke" roll off my back because it was easy to do so. No one else had heard it, so it wasn't a big deal. Just that easily, I was exposed to the virus of racism. Moreover, the man could continue telling that joke, continually infecting others.

The truth is, in our infected world, the coronavirus is only one of many viruses that influence people daily. Many other plagues, such as racism, sexism, and cultural ignorance, are just as detrimental and widespread. I help spread the virus when I don't say anything. The same worldwide efforts to stop the coronavirus should be mirrored in humanity's efforts to stop the hatred and ignorance that occur daily. This starts with our daily preparations and precautions to arm us against the virus.

© Ashley Breinholt. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.