Blacks find pluses, minuses

King holiday tests Utahns' commitment to diversity

Published: Monday, Jan. 21 2008 12:53 a.m. MST

The feeling of being a distinct minority is never far away in a valley where 1 in 200 people is black and in a state where none of the 104 members of the Legislature is African-

American, none of the police officers in Provo, which has 93, and Orem, with 88, is black, and of the 138 members of city and town councils in Utah Valley, one is African-American.

At a Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce meeting earlier this month, not a single black was among the 115 businesswomen and men who ate lunch together at the Provo Marriott and heard annual reports from the cities' mayors.

A door prize given out after the chamber luncheon took aim at the lack of diversity. The prize was former NBA star Charles Barkley's book, "Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man?" Bob Craghead of Intrinsic Motivators gave away the book to advertise a race and diversity workshop he is about to launch for business people.

"White people don't think about race here because they don't have to," Craghead said. "But when you deal with it daily, it beats you down and it's tough."

Craghead agreed with Brigham Young University professor Cardell Jacobson's statement that whites have to work on helping other whites stamp out racism or ignorance or insensitivity because when blacks complain, the messages sometimes are discounted by whites as coming from "an angry black man."

"I had a friend who came to me just furious," Craghead said. "He told me he'd just been pulled over by police for the sixth time that week. He said, 'Can you feel my pain?' I had to tell him no. We know racism means looking at people as inferior and we don't like to feel like we do that, but the problem is that as soon as you feel, 'I understand, I get it, I don't do that,' that's when you have to be careful. These are issues we'll deal with the rest of our lives, and we need to continue to question assumptions about race."

Craghead said when he started to look for instances of whites in Utah County treating people of color differently, he began to see frequently what many blacks and Latinos long have claimed is a problem. Store employees following them. The assumption that all young blacks are here to play sports at BYU, or to visit, or to attend school. Cart checkers at warehouse stores checking the receipts of minority shoppers in detail while brushing over those of whites.

"We have a tendency to stereotype people of color," Craghead said. "In his book, Barkley said the problem is that we don't associate with each other, have dinner together. Those people of color I've taken the time to get to know, not one has fit the stereotypes."

Smith, the Provo mom who was fired for standing up to racism at her Utah County workplace, called the incident ugly and hurtful. She said the business owner told her that if she tried to sue, which she never considered doing, she couldn't win with a Utah County jury.

"That left a really bitter taste in my mouth, but I don't believe it's true, either. I don't think they really know the people here. It's changing and people are more sensitive."

In fact, Smith said that despite continuing incidents where the most hurtful racial slurs have been hurled at her children, her family also enjoys privileges here because it is unusual.

"My kids have celebrity status at school," she said. One, Vanna, a starting guard on the Provo High girl's basketball team, is the student-body president. Her sister Vera is the vice president and another sister, Maykela, is the junior class president.

"That's unheard of," Smith said. "That's unrealistic. I keep telling them that in the real world, if they went to California, they'd just be another black kid in the school. So it's bittersweet."

Craghead hadn't heard of the Smiths when he described the phenomenon. "They're not celebrities," Craghead said, "but researchers call them 'the exotic others.'"

Love said whatever the reason, Utah Valley residents should be praised.

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