Racism in Utah

Hi, my name is Darlene. I live in Utah, I’m currently running for Congress in Utah’s 4th District, and I have a big announcement to make.

I’m black.

I know, shocking right?

So here’s the thing about being black in Utah: most of the time, it’s just fine. I order from the drive-through, I get stuck in traffic on I-15, I get sad when the Jazz lose, and I wish I went snowboarding more. In many ways, I’m your typical Utahn.

But sometimes, things aren’t so great. I’ve been called quite a few racial slurs via email and social media ever since I started running for office. My friend Tinesha Zandamela, running for City Council down in Provo, has as well.

I will never be okay with my fellow Utahns using my race against me like that. But I knew this would be coming. Just because many people aren’t openly racist doesn’t mean that they won’t say nasty things from the privacy of their keyboards.

I recently was shown a Facebook post made by an elected official currently running for reelection to the Sandy, Utah city council:

It was written in 2013, a year after Barack Obama won reelection against the formidable opponent, Mitt Romney. With that knowledge, the potential mindset of the individual making this post made more sense to me.

The election of the first African American president didn’t usher in a post-racial America as some people had thought and hoped. In fact, it did the opposite. It allowed racism to return to the mainstream and for comments like the ones made in this post to go unchecked.

The folks who would say racist things weren’t always this comfortable being racist in Utah, at least not in public. We had done a pretty good job making that clear.

Unfortunately, some of our leaders right now have undone that work. They are giving cover to others to say the racist things they’ve been thinking all these years. And it’s not just President Trump doing this, either.

This is what happens when people talk about people of color without actually talking to people of color.

As I read Mr. Smith’s post, I couldn’t help but wonder which black friend of Mr. Smith explained the “expectation” of black culture to him. The expectation in black culture is that you have absolutely no room for error. The first black president of the United States was a law professor with degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, two of the most prestigious Ivy League schools in the country. He is an articulate and masterful orator, athletic, married to the mother of his children, and yet his citizenship was questioned and he was repeatedly referred to as the “welfare president” and “lazy.”

In black culture there is an expectation of exceptionalism. No black candidate could do or say even a few of the things Donald Trump has and hope to win a spot on a city council, not to mention be elected president of the United States. My guess is that Mr. Smith hasn’t had any conversations with members of the black community about expectations within black culture. I can recommend a few African American leaders right here in Utah he could reach out to, if he would like to have that conversation. Unfortunately, here, Mr. Smith is simply repeating racist stereotypes with no personal experiences or understanding of any cultures other than his own.

When political leaders say racist things like this, people listen. People hear the message. If you needed any more proof of this, check out the violent and racist “Halloween” message written on the garage of a Roy man, and watch the video going around of Weber High School cheerleaders yelling racial epithets and vulgarities. These people have apparently heard the message our political leaders have been shouting from the social media rooftops.

This is trickle-down racism. This is what happens when people talk about people of color without actually talking to people of color. When our President and our City Councillors make it look okay, people get the message. Mr. Smith said that black America should follow the lead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I hope he remembers that Dr. King was not embraced by white America for his work for equality until well after his death. During his life, Dr. King was jailed, beaten, and then assassinated for daring to change the status quo.

I’m proud to be a black Utahn. I rather enjoy being black, and I rather enjoy Utah — I made a conscious decision to move here 15 years ago because I knew it would be a great place to raise my children.

And I was right.

Let’s keep it that way, though, shall we? Keep your eye out for the insidious creep of racism, whether it comes from your President, your City Council, or that one Facebook friend. You know who I’m talking about.

If we don’t stand up against racism, who will?

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