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Standard Deviations: Columnist ruminates on the theme of diversity

By Mark Saal standard-Examiner - | Apr 14, 2019

Think about the most unexpected plot twists of the last half-century.

The world run by monkey overlords in “Planet of the Apes” turned out to be our future Earth. Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s daddy. The Bruce Willis character in “The Sixth Sense” was dead all along. And the nightmare that the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 endured for six season on “Lost” was just one big … well, we still don’t know what all that was about.

Now double the shock factor of all those surprises combined, and you’ll have some sense of the unexpected-truth bomb we’re about to drop on y’all.

Ready for the big reveal?

Turns out, Provo, Utah, is the least-diverse city in the entire country.

We’ll pause a moment to let that land …

I know, right? I, too, couldn’t believe it when I heard the news. Indeed, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.

Last week, WalletHub — which, let’s face it, never met a clickbait list it didn’t like — came out with its report on 2019’s Most Diverse Cities in America. The personal-finance website compared the demographics of 501 of the largest cities across the country, using five areas of diversity in its formula: socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, economic diversity, household diversity, and — the final nail in the coffin — religious diversity.

When the dust settled, Houston, Texas, was rated No. 1 in diversity, followed by Jersey City, N.J., and New York City.

Ogden clocked in almost exactly in the middle of the pack, at 252nd-most diverse. Layton recorded a disappointing 473rd finish. Other Utah cities included West Valley City (111), Salt Lake City (165), Taylorsville (258), West Jordan (346), Sandy (413), and St. George (458).

But all the way down in last place, at No. 501? Little old Provo.

What’s more, if not for the homogeneity of a place like Bangor, Maine, Provo’s sister city Orem would have been runner-up in the ixnay-on-the-iversityday competition.

Bottom line? That great melting pot known as Utah County boasts two of the three least-diverse spots in the country, making it fair to say that this neck of Utah’s woods is unsurpassed in its homogeneous makeup.

As if we needed a survey to tell us this.

After all, we are talking about a place that, less than four years ago, briefly contemplated giving us “Caucasian Heritage Night” at the ballpark.

Remember THAT controversial promotion? In the summer of 2015 — among the bobblehead nights and the miniature-bat nights and the fireworks-after-the-game nights, the Orem Owlz minor league baseball team announced that Aug. 10 would be “Caucasian Heritage Night.”

To which Dave Baggott, team president and general manager of the rival Ogden Raptors, responded with perhaps the best quote that’s ever appeared in this or any other newspaper: “I would think every night playing baseball in Orem is Caucasian Heritage Night.”

(Of course, Baggott was no stranger to controversial promotions himself, as less than two years later his team would announce a bikini-wearing Hourglass Appreciation Night at the ballpark, which Sports Illustrated promptly called “shockingly sexist.”)

Both Caucasian Heritage Night and Hourglass Appreciation Night were hastily canceled, following massive public outcry.

In announcing the cancellation of their promotion, the Orem Owlz Facebook page posted: “Our night was to include Wonder Bread on burgers with mayonnaise, clips from shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and trying to solve the vertical leaping challenge.”

In other words, attempting to have a little fun with their community’s now-official overwhelming whiteness. But apparently, in other more-diverse communities, the promotion was immediately labeled “racist.”

Now, while I think the “white night” was a pretty stupid idea, I’m not really sure how the Owlz ended up getting tagged with that term for trying to poke fun at their own community’s lack of color when things like the “Stuff White People Like” blog largely gets a pass. (However, I’m quite certain now that I’ve broached the subject, some woke warrior will angrily explain it to me.)

(I’m pretty dense; you may need to draw pictures.)

Truth be told, I genuinely feel bad for Provo and Orem. Evan McKenzie, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explains that less-diverse communities don’t always make the best decisions, and that might be what happened with the ill-fated Caucasian Heritage Night.

“Research shows that diverse groups make better decisions than homogeneous groups, because they are exposed to a wider range of perspectives,” McKenzie is quoted at the WalletHub website. “Living in a diverse city is like that. It requires you to see how other people live, behave, and think, which broadens your mind. It also develops people’s social skills, and that is especially true of young people who are educated in diverse schools.”

So then, the question becomes, “How do we fix it?” How do we make a Provo or an Orem — or a just-28-spots-from-the-bottom Layton — more diverse?

I’ve got to believe it starts with wanting it. And let’s face it, most of us in this country — myself included — haven’t been all that great at going outside our cultural comfort zones.

Still, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the only way forward on the path toward unity and harmony in America is by embracing one another and our diversity.

Which is weird, right? I mean, who knew? Unity through diversity.

Talk about your unexpected plot twists …


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