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Davis Journal

Diversity is here to stay, even in Utah

 Take a look around.  It’s in your neighborhood. It’s happening throughout Utah.  It is diversity – and for some, it is unsettling.

When I first moved to a new Utah community following college graduation, I worked with an older woman who was nervous about change.  She had lived in the town her whole life. She could remember when she knew everyone and when every person was of the same ethnicity and attended the same church.  She confided, “Now there are a lot of people who think differently. We never used to lock up our homes at night, but now we do.”

I shudder to wonder what she would think today. As an example of Utah’s growing diversity, researchers asked Utahns to name the religion with which they most identify. The result compared favorably with membership records: If you eliminate the growth of the LDS Church in just one county (Utah), there are actually less Utah members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today than there were just a handful of years ago. 

As expected, there are also more Latinos, more Blacks, more Asians, more Muslims…and more retail stores selling groceries from Ethiopia, more restaurants offering Thai menus, more business owners advertising themselves as “black-owned businesses,” more men and women identifying as gay or transgendered.

As novelist Chaim Potok, author of the celebrated “The Chosen,” wrote, “Until the modern period most people on this planet grew up, lived and died, and never seriously contended with a new idea during their entire lives.  They never traveled more than 25 miles from their place of birth, never entering into a relationship with a stranger, never engaging in an alien idea…There was a time when most of us heard a single melody repeatedly played and quickly learned (as normal). Today, we register cacophonies.”

For many, this is an assault on “normal.” Parents raise their sons and daughters to think one way, and low and behold many veer off with an opposite belief encouraged by school chums, the media, or coworkers.

As a reaction, a sizable number of people attempt to move to neighborhoods in which they feel a racial, political, and religious kinship.  This has led to our current partisan political landscape; helped by gerrymandering, the vast majority of congressional districts have a large majority of like-minded people. A Democrat has little chance of victory in Cedar City or Morgan; a Republican faces certain defeat in most areas of Salt Lake City.

But diversity cannot be halted.  Law enforcement must more fully understand the “Black experience” instead of bristling or overreacting on random traffic stops.  Utahns might as well get used to hearing Spanish instead of accented English. We must learn that people questioning the value of religion are contributing citizens, not the Devil’s tool.

For the American experience to continue, we must recognize the people from different parts of the world. This composite can only strengthen us unless we waste our time opposing diversity and trying to separate the pieces of the puzzle into different baskets.