Saturday, July 24, 2010


I have been realizing lately what a strange place Utah is and I don't mean in the eats-the-most-jell-o sort of way.  Utah is much stranger than that.

When I moved to NY, I needed a haircut, had no car, and the only place near my apartment was called "Peach Fuzz"  and it was a hair salon with an exclusively black clientele.  I got the worst haircut I have ever had (besides the one I gave myself in a fit of rage that once) there though they did their best.  Before then, I had never known that there were separate hair cutting establishments for different ethnicities.  It makes sense that there are given the differences in hair texture and styling preferences, but I had never thought of that.  I grew up in Utah, which is a pretty white place.

Now with all that whiteness around, people might think that there is a lot of racism and to be truthful, there are some Mexican jokes that get told.  The jokes are entirely inappropriate, but they stem more from  socioeconomics than skin color.  (That doesn't make them any better.) Those jokes were told about the migrant workers who were poor and sometimes stole things from the houses near the fields where they worked.  But I didn't hear any jokes told about the Mexican kids we went to school with.  My best friend from K-3rd grade was a Mexican boy.  I didn't even realize he was Mexican until we were in high school.  He was a nice kid.  His parents were cool.

Utah is strange, because even though there are tons of white people there, almost every language on earth is spoken fluently, and fairly authentic cuisine from every region of the earth can be eaten between Salt Lake and Provo.  It's because of all the missionaries that go everywhere.  And then they come back to Utah, thinking that whatever remote corner of the planet they served in is the best place ever.  They tell stories about the places and the people that they loved and they keep eating the food and speaking the languages and they teach their children the languages.

I remember getting my grandparents to speak Swahili and Lingala for me.  They weren't fluent in those languages, but they knew enough to survive in the parts of the Congo where the people spoke no French.  I thought (and still do sometimes) that going to the Congo would be about the coolest thing on earth. Maybe that's why when I met all of the Sudanese refugee boys who had finally been given a home in the US, I thought they were the coolest people I had ever met.  Maybe that's why I was willing to date the Kenyan man I was friends with in Atlanta.

We never actually dated though.  He was far too shy and there was a lot of social pressure in Atlanta against black and white relationships.  So we stayed friends and he was very nice. That was more than I was able to do with the Black security guard I was friends with.  He was from Seattle and going through bad culture shock in the South.  He loved that I was from the West and we would talk about the things we liked in the West and he would give me a hug each morning when I walked past the booth he sat in outside the parking garage.  And that was all fine until an elderly black guard saw him hugging me and put a stop to it.  There was nothing wrong with his hugs.  They weren't tight with him all squirming against me because he wasn't getting enough action.  They were just light like acquaintances at a party.  And he didn't get in trouble because he was a security guard and that was overly familiar behavior.  Believe me.  There were black girls who went through the metal detectors in halter tops and daisy dukes with navel piercings and the guards felt them all up and down and I never saw a wand come out when those girls set the metal detectors off.  Hands were sufficient.  No, the hugging wasn't the issue.  It was that he was black and I was white and after that day when we got "caught" he called me "miss" and nodded curtly. Now I am not saying that nothing like that would happen in Utah, but what I am saying is I never saw that sort of thing happen in Utah.

When Hurricane Katrina hit and drove the people of New Orleans all over the country, a lot of black people ended up in Utah.  They were fed well (though they complained that the "jambalaya" was not jambalaya and I believe them) and they were clothed and helped and when all was said and done, a lot of them decided to stay in Utah and thought that maybe that the storm had been a blessing.  And I think the blessing went both ways.   I bet it is possible to get some real jambalaya in Utah now.

1 comment:

Lindy said...

I totally agree 100%. I didn't even understand the king riots as a child. There was a mixed family in my jr high, and I never even thought about it. I really don't think they were teased. I thought black people were cool. When I went to Australia, my best friend ended up being a black guy from the south. We had a "DTR" and decided to just be friends, but looking back on that conversation, I realized that we were seeing things through totally different eyes. I was thinking "i'm a teenager, I don't want to be romantic" and he was thinking "you're white and I'm black." Serving my mission in the south totally opened up my eyes to everything. But I must say...a black hair salon makes TOTAL sense! Have you ever seen a black person try and do their hair? Hallelujah for straight hair!!!

By the way, Maxwell's best friend is a little black girl (with a white mom) and Maxwell has mentioned how fun it would be to marry her and tell everyone "This is Zinnia, my brown wife" ha ha