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To Change Utah’s Dixie

Therapists are gifted with a unique understanding to ‘get’ both sides of an argument. This comes in handy in couples therapy when it’s important to detect the underlying message both partners are trying to convey but clearly can’t verbalize. This is no different for political factors and this is probably why many therapists are considered progressive, because we ‘get’ your stance and we value emotions and feelings. However, we also are taught to understand if decisions being made aren’t necessarily healthy and can have more negative consequences than positive. 

I have to admit, I’m not a native of St. George, although my dad has lived there since I was 9 years old and I can still recall the excitement of visiting during the summers, going to the Pizza Factory or having the opportunity to attend some of the coolest and loudest 4th of July shows. It has a lot of unique, rich history attached to it, coupled with what is a robust, growing economy that cannot be contained with people coming from all over to call it home or to hike the red mountains of Snow Canyon. 

There’s been a lot of talk, speculative and otherwise in Washington County regarding the name “Dixie” changing due to its initial ties with confederate history. Some even believe that the term “Dixie” literally means confederacy. “Dixie” refers to the southern states pre-civil war, which included slavery and cotton plantations. It literally encompasses the South. It also refers to a Louisiana $10 bill currency known as Dix. The plural form being referred to as “Dixies.” There was also a song called “Dixie Land,” written by  Daniel Decatur Emmett, sang by confederate soldiers. 

It’s not a secret that the term “Dixie” has its knees deep within the Southern roots of the confederacy and Dixie here was named after those same beliefs that stemmed from cotton plantations from the South. There have been many symbols and re-enactments within the city over the years that showcase slavery as a nonchalant ordeal from flying a confederate flag at Dixie State University, to painting their faces to appropriate slave trades. I can understand why, with the education/awareness about racism in today’s society that more than just eyebrows are being raised regarding the history of our town. 

A knee-jerk reaction is to dismantle everything that is “Dixie,” from the University, to the Sugar Loaf. Racism is everything we are trying to get away from, so why would we ever keep these symbols in our city? However, from a student therapist’s point of view, this isn’t the most productive way to mitigate racism from our community and I’ll explain why. 

This situation can take us to the Disney movie “Coco.” The boy, Miguel has a strong desire to sing and play music just like his  great grandfather. However, the belief remains that throughout the generations that his great grandfather chose music over his family and abandoned them. Due to such a belief, music is banned in their family as well as any mention or talk of his great grandfather, along with banning his picture from the Ofrenda, ensuring his memories are never recounted nor shared within the oncoming generations. A symbol of this is held within the only picture Miguel has ever seen where his great grandfather is ripped out of it, leaving his guitar, great grandmother and Coco, his daughter. 

This movie shows that the pain his great grandmother felt is not shared by Miguel. Even though his great grandfather was found to be killed in cold blood and didn’t actually decide to abandon his family permanently, the great grandmother was hurt by the fact that she felt he chose music over her, which contributed to her pain in deciding to ban music and his memory from their family. Although this isn’t said in the movie, we see that Miguel not only doesn’t share the same pain as his grandmother, but music to him carries an entirely different meaning. The movie also extends the message that holding onto anger can have consequences for oncoming generations and that “canceling” something due to that pain doesn’t make the pain lessen nor the situation go away. 

The term Dixie symbolizes what we as a nation wish we could undo. However and thankfully, there were enough citizens in the United States who fought to end the slavery and won. They believed in the abolishment so heavily that they were willing to end their lives for a better future. 

With all of the generations that Dixie has been engrained within Southern Utah, it no longer carries the same beliefs attached, just as Miguel symbolizes healing in Coco to music and to his great grandfather’s memory. Miguel is detached as a human from his great grandmother and her feelings. Music also means an entirely different thing to him than to her because he is not an extension of her experience. 

Another example is the symbol of the letter “A” in the novel “The Scarlett Letter” that was initially used for Hester Prynne, the woman found guilty of adultery. The draconian punishment and shameful symbol “A” which she has to wear was used to inform everyone, publicly, of her transgression. However, as time evolved the letter A changed as Hester changed. Eventually the letter “A” meant “Able” and “Advisor” due to her works directly influencing the community which consisted of using her seamstress talents and offering advice to young children. Even though we understand that public shaming for this cause is inhumane and unwarranted, Hester Prynne didn’t allow the letter “A” to define her person. 

The name “Dixie” has evolved from its previous roots, especially here in Southern Utah. It has taken on many different forms, now to symbolize education due to the university, the red mountains, the Rodeo and the heritage overall. It’s a beautiful heritage that means so much more than the past that traveled with it here. Imagine if Miguel hadn’t been inspired due to his love of music to seek out his great grandfather, the family as a whole could never have found healing, namely his great grandmother. Her anger was living on past her death and impacting the generations after her. Her healing was sweeter than the pain she was previously enduring and in the end, her entire family reunited. 

Taking down Dixie from any landmark or company would only perpetuate anger/pain that wouldn’t cease and would only further cause anger if spoken about it (much like the family whenever Miguel spoke about his great grandfather). The healing that needs to happen isn’t found within taking down landmarks from history but found within education of all sides of our history. If we make a permanent decision based off of only one meaning that wasn’t generated here in Utah, we are continuing the cycle of anger. Our aim should be within healing these divides so we can come together instead of against one another. This problem won’t cease with canceling, but with uniting on our common beliefs. 

This isn’t taking away from the pain experienced by the slaves from the past. However it’s stopping the cycle of pain so that  generations do not have to continue to endure that pain anymore, either. I know there are many African Americans who’ve contributed to communities that we have yet to learn about and it’s time we do. It’s appropriate and necessary to erect statues that educate and venerate these important symbols in our communities that helped build the heritage that we currently have today. 

Dixie today is a far cry from racism of the past. It is my hope to perpetuate healing within our community instead of division. I would be doing an injustice as a therapist to contribute to the pain without asking for healing. Healing is not merely canceling the thing which triggers the pain, but healing so the things that trigger us don’t have the same power over us anymore. Healing is the freedom of pain, justice is only temporary satisfaction.

Written by Jen Putnam, Family TherapistJen Putnam, Family Therapist

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