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The City Journals

Community shows support for Black Lives Matter

Jul 27, 2020 11:32AM ● By Zak Sonntag

The speakers pose for a group photo. (Courtesy DMC Studios)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

Holladay residents gathered at City Hall in June for a “Family Friendly” Black Lives Matter protest to “listen and learn” from Black community leaders who spoke about the impacts of racism, from the ugly usage of epithets to ingrained stereotypes and “microaggressions.”

“We are firm and immovable that Black Lives Matter, and not only matter, but inspire—they uplift, they are beautiful, and they are needed,” said Kera Thompson, the MC, who many recognized as the “hype-girl” for the Utah Jazz. “We are going to come together and we are going to share stories. We are going to have open hearts, and have open dialogue, to listen to what’s going on and how we can be—all of us—a part of the change.” Thompson became connected to the community with her marriage to a Skyline Eagle alum.

The event drew a massive and masked crowd, who were overwhelmingly white. 

“I was really impressed with the Holladay support. I know it’s a predominantly white community and to see so many people show up was impressive. I think it is really important for us to hear [Black perspectives],” said Holladay resident Wendy Bueno, holding a protest sign.

The protest’s tone struck a balance between moments of high-spiritedness and solemnity, as speakers chose not to gloss over harsh experiences while still emphasizing the need to build trust and let love prevail. The speakers shed light on many aspects of Black experiences, but a handful of central themes anchored the night.

Microaggression

What many attendees took away from the event is that racism—like salt—is baked into the culture-cake in subtle ways. Subtle, at least, to certain white majorities. Not so subtle to others. Speakers helped explain how tiny cuts do damage, the forms of prejudice known as “microaggression,” which are small gestures and expressions of implicit bias. 

Meghan Castleton and Melissa Olsen are twin sisters who grew up in Holladay with the knowledge that their Black father and white mother were unable to be legally married in the city of Provo when they fell in love in the 1970s. Being raised in an interracial household gave the twins a keen antenna to attitudes around race.

The sisters explained how microaggressions are often, ironically, lurking in complimentary language. “We had our peers tell us, ‘You guys are beautiful, for being Black.’ Because they don’t see that Black people are beautiful. Or they’d say, ‘We don’t see you as Black because you don’t act like Black people,’” Olsen explained of her upbringing in Holladay. Olsen also talked about the use of disparaging stereotypes, like the “angry Black woman.”

“If Meagan expressed a temper, they’d say, ‘You must be the Black twin.’”

Another place microaggressions manifest is in professional settings, where Black professionals are often considered anomalies. Richard Ferguson, a doctor, spoke about patients in Salt Lake who’d say, “You’re pretty good for a Black doctor,” indicating low expectations of Black medical professionals. In other states, Ferguson has had patients refuse to be treated by him once learning of the color of his skin. 

Some microaggressions are unique to Black children raised in white communities. Kate Wunderli, a recent Olympus High School graduate raised by white parents, spoke about coping with the prevalence of the “N-word” amongst her peers. 

“I’ve heard many people say the N-word. I’m frequently asked for the ‘N-word pass,’” Wunderli said, referring to the practice in which Caucasians and non-Blacks are given a “pass” to use the historic epithet colloquially. “They would think it was OK. If I gave them permission, they wouldn’t feel guilty using it freely.” 

Wunderli initially gave in to those requests. But the more she reflected, the more it made her uncomfortable. Until finally she asked her peers to stop, explaining in a long social media post that the term was inappropriate “because that word was so offensive in the past. It shows that everyone acknowledges the outer appearance rather than the inside, that they’d rather define us by our race.”

Schools

The event was meant to be a chance to “listen and learn.” Yet community leaders argued that solutions require not just an evening of learning, but changes in our institutions of learning. One of the night’s most powerful speakers was Michelle Love-Day, former principal with the Granite School District, and now director of the District’s Educational Equity program. Love-Day, who grew up in the Midwest, came to realize the seriousness of the issue as an administrator when she “experienced the most racist hate [from students] just for doing my job.”

Most speakers said they wanted to see changes in the curriculum, particularly as it related to history, where African Americans are not afforded well-rounded portrayals. But a bigger concern was improving student culture to encourage more respectful attitudes, especially as it related to physical boundaries. Love-Day witnessed that Black children in schools are often subjected to uninvited physical contact, particularly with their hair. 

“I love my hair. But it is not an object. My daughter is going to come to school with different hair, and if you’ve adopted Black children, teach your children that it’s OK to not want to have their hair be touched. Respect our bodies,” she said. 

“It is your job if you’re raising Black children to give them that voice. It doesn’t always have to be in the form of a confrontation. But if they hear, smell, or see something that is not OK, give them the confidence to say, ‘That makes me uncomfortable, will you please stop.’”

This point resonated strongly with Libbi and Wayne Nelson, community members and adoptive parents of a Black son.

“It’s hard being Black in a white family,” Wayne said. “You’d think it’s the best of both worlds, but we’re learning that it’s tougher than that. Part of our son doesn’t realize he’s Black. Almost everywhere we are, people are staring at him, and he’s wondering, ‘Why I’m a different person, why are they staring at me?’ And it’s not a totally racist thing, it’s just an environmental thing.”

Yet when children lack confidence, parents are stepping in.

Meaghan Castleton has pushed administrators to address racist youth behavior more aggressively after learning that her son was the target of name-calling.

“I never would have thought I’d have to tell my son to not [physically] defend himself after being called the worst name over and over and over again. I didn’t think I would have to go to the administration and coaches and ask, ‘Hey, do you have my kid’s back?’ I didn’t think I would have to ask, ‘What is your racial bullying policy?’” said Castleton, Olsen’s twin and a Holladay resident.

Though the Wasatch Front has a small minority population, Love-Day believes that shouldn’t prevent policymakers from acting.

“You don’t need to have any Black people in your school to have an anti-bias curriculum. Email your principals. Get the conversation started,” she said.

Holladay Resident Dylan Chamberlain said he was inspired by Love-Day’s speech.

“What I really liked hearing is that we don’t need Black kids in school to advocate for policies that help everyone feel like they belong, that help protect our community [from bias] even if minorities are not represented in our community. That was a new idea that is something I think we can all latch onto,” Chamberlain said. 

March

The event concluded with a live performance of gospel music before the crowd took to the streets to march. Protesters pushed their children in strollers. They walked side by side holding signs of support as they made their way down Holladay Boulevard, up 4500 South to 2300 East and back down to City Hall. 

The march held special meaning for Joshua Chamberlain, an Olympus High graduate and speaker who shared his experience of being profiled here by police on his way home from school one evening. He said the moment was stressful and demoralizing. “This will be one of the things that I will remember always. To have all those people giving their support and walking with me on this same street is incredibly powerful, and all that support is moving,” Joshua said.

Before protesters departed, Love-Day emphasized that this movement is not about Black versus white. 

“You standing here wearing a BLM shirt and holding a BLM sign, does it diminish the fact that you’re white and that your life matters as well? No! But it’s a fact that we’re often treated differently because of the color of our skin. The Titanic was sunk because they didn’t see the rest of the 90% of that iceberg. You need to teach your children and your family members to get to know that 90% of people, because what you see is not what you get.”