Thursday, November 03, 2011

Diversity? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Diversity! We're in Utah!

Utah is a land of opposition. It seems the state cannot function without extremes. Of course, in reality, most Utah people (and certainly those at Weber State) are good, decent, open-minded, and accepting people. The problem is that we rarely hear from them. It seems that the only people we see and hear are the extremists. There is an undoubtedly "holier-than-thou" atmosphere in much of the state, but it has been my experience that it has nothing to do with religion. In California, I had several LDS friends, and they were never judgmental or condescending.

At the same time, I often see a great deal of Mormon-bashing and inappropriate behavior from people who wish to distance themselves from the Mormon culture. They often seem to have an overwhelming desire to make it as clear as possible that they are not of the LDS faith, and do so in very inappropriate, unnecessary, and offensive ways.

Another problem I have encountered outside of religious clashes is a sort of passive aggressive xenophobia. I do not know that I would call it racism, because I truly feel that most people here are past blatant racial discrimination. But I often sense a great deal of fear in this state. People do not feel very comfortable with foreign ideas, and by foreign I mean anything that isn't distinctly Utahn. There is also still a lot of work to do in terms of racial justice in this country, and particularly in this state. If we look, for example, at the ethnic breakdown of students at Weber State, and compare them to the ethnic make-up of the Ogden population, something is off. Twenty-eight percent of Ogden residents are Hispanic, yet only about seven percent of Weber students are Hispanic.

Returning to the larger question about diversity, I must say that to me, this is a very strange culture. I grew up in Delano, CA where the city is incredibly mixed (in race, ethnicity, religion, politics, etc.). People embraced their differences and the city was a peaceful and harmonious place. What made it so interesting and vibrant was the way people acknowledged differences and celebrated them. There were other issues there, namely economic inequality and a lack of opportunity for the poor (regardless of race or ethnicity), but in terms of race, we never had any problems.

I feel that many people in this state often want to pretend that we are all the same. That is a serious mistake. This whole idea of "color-blindness" is nonsense. We cannot afford to pretend that we are not different. Rather, we should learn to see our differences as what makes us strong and interesting. My dad used to tell me from an early age how God had created different people with different religions, skin colors, customs so that we would learn from one another. He was a staunch Catholic, but later I encountered that same message in the Qur'an. So if there is something in which we really are all the same, it is the human desire to have love, peace, and acceptance. Yet to achieve this, we have to work together and learn from our differences.


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