Tommy Johnson: Righting racist wrongs is not racism

There has never been a better time to be a Jazz fan. And it’s not just about basketball.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz majority owner and Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith and former Miami Heat guard and new Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade talk as the Utah Jazz host the Indiana Pacers, Friday, April 16, 2021, at Vivint Arena.

In January, new Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith announced that the organization would be giving “a full, four-year scholarship to an underrepresented student of color” for every Jazz victory earned during the 2020-2021 NBA season.

For the first four months of the season, the program has been celebrated by Jazz and social equity fans alike.

But last week, Ann Coulter, Jack Posobeic, Tucker Carlson and other right-wing pot-stirrers posing as pundits were outraged when Utah Gov. Spencer Cox refused to condemn the race-based initiative.

During a routine call with constituents, Cox said, “I don’t think [the Utah Jazz scholarship program is] racist. In fact, I think it’s in response to, unfortunately, some very difficult and racist injustices that have happened in our community for a long time. ... Looking for ways to lift communities that have been historically and disproportionately impacted isn’t racist at all. In fact, it’s a great way to overcome racism.”

Angry conservatives came out in droves online, some calling for Cox’s removal from office, while others resorted to just calling him names, including “bigoted segregationist,” “f---ing moron,” and “f---ing coward.”

In response to the criticism, most of which came from members of his own political party, the governor tweeted, “I hope you will take time to listen to what I actually said. But look folks, if you’re outraged by a private individual trying to help disadvantaged minority kids go to college, then I’m definitely not your guy.”

If you’re looking to cheer for a team that doesn’t care about the community, the Jazz is not the team for you. Blame Ryan Smith and new part-owner Dwyane Wade for this.

To those who believe the Jazz scholarship program is racist, here’s the simple truth: Just because something is race-based doesn’t mean it’s racist.

To believe anything that favors or excludes a certain group is automatically an “-ist” of some sort would mean that wrestling classifications are weight-ist, Latter-day Saint temple recommends are religion-ist, gender-specific sport leagues are sexist, the legal drinking age is ageist, “Employee Only” signs are access-ist, Oscar categories are movie-ist, amusement park attraction requirements are height-ist, and that law itself is freedom-ist.

Racism requires malintent; it has the explicit objective to harm, inconvenience or incapacitate another person or people based on the belief that races are inherently unequal.

The Utah Jazz scholarship program’s intent is clear — to “drive proper changes that, frankly, should have been done a long time ago.”

The program is attempting right wrongs, not do wrong. The scholarships aren’t hoping to create or widen a divide, but to shrink a systemic schism built by actual racism.

Some ask, “Why focus so much on race? Talking about race will only lead to more racism, not less.” For the United States to become the “one nation” we’ve been calling for since our inception, we have to focus on the greatest problems. If any garden wants to become its most beautiful, every weed must first be yanked out, and the roots of racism run deep in our American field.

So are these parameters unfair? Was it unfair when the shepherd left his 99 to focus on looking for the one?

The Utah Jazz’s efforts to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice should be applauded and followed, not attacked and frowned upon. There has never been a better time to be a Jazz fan than now — and it has nothing to do with basketball.

Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson, Cedar Hills, is a recent Utah Valley University graduate.

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