Chase and Karlie have that ability to walk into a room and instantly lift spirits. Their genuine smiles and easy-going personalities could put anyone at ease. As I sat across from them in my tiny brick apartment on a snowy Sunday evening, my heart pounded in anticipation of hearing their unique story. With a pen in hand and a voice recorder rolling, I listened—carefully.
Karlie and Chase are not exactly your typical newlywed Utahn couple. Chase recently competed in the ASATT (Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago) International Swimming Championship representing his home country of Guyana, and is now training in hopes of representing them in the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan.
Karlie is a travel enthusiast with a heart the size of an elephant. She annually volunteers as a site leader for international service trips through the Humanitarian Experience for Youth (HEFY) program. Recently, she contributed to the construction of two schools in Peru and is currently preparing for her next trip in Argentina this summer.
Beyond their athletic pursuits and humanitarian efforts, the couple is also passionate about a very different topic—racism in 21st century Utah. As an interracial couple, the Thompsons have become familiar with many instances of racism through first-hand experience.
The Thompsons met at a local Church of Jesus Christ Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City, Utah. Right from the start, Chase recalled being “smitten” by his then bride-to-be. He knew after meeting her for the first time he wanted to take her on more dates. More and more dates led to an engagement and their marriage where they were sealed on August 9th, 2019 in the Salt Lake City Temple.
Despite the strong love they share, several people seemed uncomfortable with the idea of an interracial marriage.
Karlie grew up in South Jordan Utah, a predominantly white community currently made up of 89.1% white-only demographics, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “There really wasn’t a ton of diversity,” she concluded.
At a young age it became very apparent to her that “interracial couples were the exception, not the norm” in her community. She recalled only one interracial couple in her religous congregation growing up. Karlie has always been grateful for a wise mother who taught her skin color didn’t matter. Instead, her mother taught her the importance of good character.
Chase, on the other hand, originated from Atascocita, a small suburb outside of Houston, Texas. He referred to his town as a “huge melting pot” in terms of race and ethnicity and remembered his high school as very diverse place. Currently, 24.5% of his high school is African American, and almost 60% of the school’s demographics are students of color, including African American, Hispanic, Asain, American Indian and Pacific Islander populations.
Upon Karlie’s return to Utah after serving a religious mission in Texas, Karlie was met with unanticipated resistance to dating an African American man. Unlike her previous dating experiences which included partners of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, Karlie noticed a significant change in people’s behavior toward her now that she was dating a black man.
“All of a sudden,” Karlie remembered, “people started [making] these little comments.”
Small, offhand remarks littered the couple’s courtship, often leaving them asking the question, “Why did that person just say that?” A family friend reassured her, “I know some people might think [your relationship is] kinda weird, but I think it’s great.” Another aquaintance referred to Karlie and Chase’s relationship as the same “thing” another interracial couple had done, in reference to their decision to be married.
Karlie also noted that several concerned aquaintances asked her if she knew how hard it was going to be, marrying Chase. Although skin color was never directly mentioned in these conversations it seemed to be implied by each person who expressed concern. Regardless of the statement, there always seemed to be an underlying message: “But you know he’s black, right?”
Karlie observes that while society has made great strides in reducing blatant racism, there is room for improvement when it comes to incorrect beliefs about race that are expressed within small mannerisms, word choice and tones that suggest an existing hierarchy based on skin color.
Chase paused after his wife told me these stories and then, with a peaceful yet determined demeanor, went on to share something unexpected. Rather than choosing hate or frustration to aid him in interpretting these knowledge gaps, Chase explained the following:“When you hear these stories, there’s two ways you can always take it. You can either get upset or do something about it.”
When questions of race and religion came up as a teenager, Chase relied on his father for insight and understanding. His father explained that he saw the benefits of the Church of Jesus Christ, with its central focus being on families, and knew it was right regardless of past church history.
Despite challenges the Thompsons have faced because of their differing skin colors, they are hopeful that these stigmas are changing. Chase acknowledged habits are often learned from parents and that our job is to teach and if needed, reteach our children. We need to teach our children to have confidence in who they are. We need to teach them that seeing difference is okay. We need to teach them that intent is more important that imperfect words. We need to teach them how to apologize when they have hurt someone else. We need to teach them how to be self-aware.
As the evening came to a close, I scribbled my last notes, my throat scratchy and my heart full. I couldn’t help but glance at a couple that was so deeply in love, so unapologetically passionate about equality and filled with the hope of a better future.
All photographs courtesy of Karlie Thompson.