I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but after living in southern Georgia briefly and spending five years in Las Vegas, I eventually landed in Utah. Coming from ethnically diverse cities, I had my own presumptions about Utah and I wasn't alone.
Brian Perrin, a 54-year-old Utah-raised member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints described the outside "perception" of Utah best when he said: "The bulk of national [Church] news involves Amish-looking fundamentalists, and that seems to be a pervasive image of what 'Utah' means, and particularly what 'very white Utah' means for blacks."
Mr. Perrin is an aspiring author who is working on a different kind of diversity book for members of the Church and their friends. He contends that by appreciating and addressing the controversy hiding in plain sight, relations can be radically improved without anyone having to change or compromise their own convictions.
Mr. Perrin believes diversity in Utah correlates with how the "Utah religion" is perceived and how its members perceive others. His favorite classic example is a story from his friend Cameron Williams, who I happened to interview for this article.
THE REALITY OF DIVERSITY IN UTAH
Cameron Williams, a black man from Chicago, is the director of diversity and principal sales architect at Domo. When I asked if he had initial hesitations about moving to Utah, he said: "I was unfamiliar with Utah, so my family and I Googled it. From what we read, some [members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] believed that black people were cursed because of their darker skin color. So, my initial thought was that Utah was all white, and black people were not truly welcome there." His original plan was to come to Utah for 18 months and then move to Dallas--that was seven years ago.
"Have you seen the movie Get Out?" he asked me. Get Out is an Oscar-winning horror film about a black man visiting his girlfriend in an all white neighborhood. The movie's tagline is "just because you're invited, doesn't mean you're welcome." "Outside of the fantastical things that happen in the movie, that [film] is a common perception of Utah: that black people are a rare sighting."
Mr. Williams recently hosted a Domo-sponsored dinner, celebrating the National Association of Black Accountants' first national meeting in Utah. There he asked the attendees who had seen the movie Get Out. Almost everyone raised their hands, and to relieve the room he said, "That is not Utah. Everyone laughed, because that's what they were all thinking. That is the black perspective of Utah outside of the state," he says.
Mr. Williams, who hopes to one day get married and start a family in the state, says there's a lot more that needs to happen before he's comfortable doing so. "I want things to change because I love Utah. This is where I want to be. But right now, I fear that my future children...