OPINION — As the Utah Legislature gathers to discuss one of the most hot-button issues of this session — whether or not to retire the name “Dixie” from a state institution — I can’t help but think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
This broader debate is not about preference or comfort. Nor should it be reduced to political correctness or cancel culture. Certainly, the financial repercussions are already a large part of the discussion — in terms of future students or past alumni. But ultimately, the question we, and legislators, must ask ourselves is one of morality.
Although I wasn’t born there, the red rock splendor of Southern Utah holds a special place in my heart. I took my first public relations job in St. George two decades ago, moving into the condo that over time served as the primary residence for not just my parents, but all three of my sisters. Still, as an outsider, I know I internalize the name differently than someone with pioneer roots in the area, business owners who carry the name or alumni who have spent years investing in the institution.
But as I have listened, read, searched and studied, trying to understand all sides of this complex and multi-layered debate, there are two themes that (while they may seem contradictory) I believe can co-exist. Ultimately, “Dixie” can represent something positive and uplifting in the minds of locals and still warrant change because of the broader historical context of the word.
For the locals and alumni who embrace the name Dixie as a representation of Southern Utah’s esprit des corps, I see you. I hear your concerns. I know your history of hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, the pride you take in the beauty and bounty of your surroundings and your indefatigable commitment to individualism and personal freedoms. From this vantage point, it is understandable how suggestions that “Dixie” represents anything less than positive would be upsetting.
And yet, in a metropolitan area where less than 1% of the populace is African American, is it any surprise such a large measure of the local population does not find the name Dixie offensive?
Back in July, the associated press quoted Jeanetta Williams, president of NAACP’s tri-state conference area of Idaho-Utah-Nevada, saying it was past time for the name change.
“It would send a clear message that they are listening to the people,” Williams said, “not only here in Utah, but across the country when people are saying that names do matter.”
Many think pieces have been written and discussions had trying to nail down an answer to the question, “Is keeping the name Dixie racist?” The more appropriate question, to meet this moment in our state’s and nation’s racial reckoning, is to ask
Is keeping the name Dixie anti-racist?
Because if we’re listening to the voices of our black brothers and sisters on the front lines advocating for civil rights and racial justice, we understand it is not enough to simply not be racist. Our times do not call for ambivalence. It’s not enough for us simply to have no racial animus.
I’m reminded of another quote from King. This one, not widely shared by social media influencers, is just as relevant as when first penned in Birmingham Jail nearly sixty years ago:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Submitted by SABRENA SUITE-MANGUM, Holladay. Suite-Mangum was born in Salt Lake City but considers St. George her home away from home.
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