practicing "Fair Trade" introspection

For me, the catastrophe started innocently enough, but the Native American woman involved in the incident didn’t see it that way. 
She viewed it as a deliberate act of racism, one that was all too familiar to her and one that was fully expected from a trading post operator.
It began around mid-morning when I was standing at the computer located behind the cash register. 
I was working on the month-end reports, and my back was turned to her as she and her son entered through the Kokopelli doors. 
I quickly typed the last number into my spreadsheet and hit save before turning to face them. 
By that time, the woman and her 20-something son were looking through the books with their backs to me, so I didn’t greet them as I normally would any customer who stops by the trading post.
Minutes later, a European couple strolled in, and I said, “Hello, what a beautiful morning.” 
In their broken English, they acknowledged my comment and went about their inspection. 
It was then that I heard the Native American woman say in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “These border towns are all the same, always treating us like we don’t exist. They just want our money.” 
She and her son turned and quickly headed out the door to their car.
Because we at Twin Rocks work hard to ensure everyone is treated fairly, comments like those are guaranteed to light me up. 
As a result, I foolishly followed her out the door and said, “What does that mean?” 
“We didn’t get a ‘hello,’” she said.
“Oh . . . hello,” I stammered a little too gruffly. 
“Too late!” she said, slamming the car door and driving away. 
Because I expected a very different response, her comment had caught me off guard, and I was wholly unprepared to sensibly address the situation.
Issues like collective guilt do not resonate with me. 
While I am fully prepared to take responsibility for the intentional things I do and the mistakes I make, I reject the notion I should be held accountable for the actions of other people. 
I demand to be evaluated on my own merits, or demerits, so I get irritable when people accuse me of generalized racism or wholesale unkindness.
Despite my strong stance on not wanting others to draw unwarranted conclusions about me, I am apparently not immune from making my own assumptions. 
After the incident with the Native American woman, I was driving Momma Rose to Arizona when we passed a trading post that had long ago been closed and was now basically a rubble pile. 
As we drove past the remnant, I asked my mother whether she knew the operator who had died decades ago. 
Before she could answer, however, I said, “He made a lot of money, probably by taking advantage of his Navajo customers.” 
“Hmm,” my mother said, recognizing the hypocrisy of my statement.
Now, I know a lot of trading post operators who, like us, are diligent when it comes to taking care of their artists, suppliers and customers, Native or non-Native. 
So, one might rightly ask why I, of all people, would make such a statement. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for the question. 
I had no basis for drawing that conclusion; I didn’t know anything about him or his principles or business policies. 
Maybe I am a victim of the same sentiment the Native women and her son felt for me. Maybe, as human beings, we are conditioned to believe a dominant culture will inherently mistreat the less privileged. 
Maybe I was just lazy and didn’t take time to find the facts. Maybe my biases run deeper than I care to admit. 
Whatever the case, this incident revealed that I am not as conscientious or earnest as I have always assumed I am, and that I obviously demand more of others than I require of myself. That turned out to be an uncomfortable revelation.
Some time ago, to add color to the trading post and cement our reputation for quality art, we commissioned a mural from well-known Mancos, Colorado, muralist Brad Goodell. 
The painting was intended to honor Native American culture and was recently installed on the east wall of the trading post. It is to remind us we have an obligation to engage in responsible practices and treat all people fairly.
The mural has been christened “Fair Trade.” The hope is it will cause us to be more conscientious about building strong relationships and prevent us from making unfounded assumptions about those with whom we interact. 
That’s a lot to ask of one mural, but, as we have learned over the years, art can do amazing things.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday