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Guest Opinion: Utahns must unite in stamping out racism

By Nelson Abbott - | May 27, 2021

A few years ago, I toured a plantation just outside New Orleans. The walk up to the plantation was spectacular. Massive oak trees overhung a magnificent walkway to an astonishing mansion.

Our tour started, not at the magnificent building but in the small wooden slave-quarters tucked behind the mansion, almost hidden as though the slave owners knew it was not something to be proud of.

It was heartbreaking to walk through the homes of former slaves. It impressed upon me the appalling canker that slavery is on our history and the ramifications it continues to have on our country.

After touring the slave-quarters, we toured the plantation itself. Our guide discussed the system of racism that persisted after the Civil War and how the white plantation owners justified it. The whites argued that the Blacks were not capable of being on their own and that by employing them to work on the plantation and paying them with vouchers, the whites were merely showing their love and concern for their Black friends. The whites would help them by giving them jobs on the plantation and would help them not make bad financial decisions by paying them with vouchers rather than cash.

The scientific justification was given by Jefferson Davis’ physician in 1851 when he said, “Like children, [Blacks] require government in everything … or they will run into excesses.”

As I toured the plantation, I recognized these arguments as immoral attempts to justify ongoing racism.

During an extraordinary recent session, the Utah Legislature encouraged the Utah State Board of Education to ensure that three things are not taught in Utah Public Schools: (1) that one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race; (2) that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race; or (3) that an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race. Unfortunately, House Democrats opposed the resolution by walking out of the House Chamber and refusing to vote. Senate Democrats did not walk out, but instead voted in block against this resolution.

During the general session, both parties united in support of HB73, which banned a certain type of drug testing that we found was unfair to some minority groups. Similarly, we united in support of HB126, which should reduce the cost of hair braiding techniques used frequently in minority communities. When we find Utah laws that may not be racist on their face but appear to be racist in application, we are prepared to change those laws.

HB1003 prohibits cities from imposing costly non-architectural building standards in some zones. Under the bill, cities cannot require expensive add-ons like crown-molding, high-end windows and doors, and other expensive items in some zones. These systems of regulation add to the cost of building a home. Not only do they discourage affordable housing, but they create rich and poor neighborhoods. Although they are not racist on their face, these regulations disproportionately affect some races more than others, which can create segregated neighborhoods. Unfortunately, Democrats and Republicans did not unite on this bill. If not for the overwhelming support from Republicans, this bill would not have passed.

Moving forward, I hope Utahns, regardless of party, will unite in condemning and stamping out racism.

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