Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Black And Mormon: A Review - by Kaylana Mars

I first learned of this book (by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith) while listening to the podcasts of Mormon Stories by John Dehlin. He featured Darron T. Smith as one of his guests to talk about Blacks and the Mormon Church. Darron was just coming off being dismissed from BYU because of his work on this book (or at least a significant reason).

This whole podcast intrigued me and when he mentioned Black and Mormon I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. This intrigued me because one I am a white Mormon American woman and also from Utah, the main hub of the Church. I grew up in Utah County where we could count on one hand all the people of color in our schools, one Black, two Asian, and two Hispanic. Not a lot of diversity. So I go back to the question of why this should affect me, why should I be interested? Because I never was able to gain a view of that side of the world while growing up. My dad did a pretty good job on teaching us tolerance by his actions, which is so important. So I feel blessed by that. But by the time I came back off my mission, studying Spanish and Applied Linguistics in college I really wanted to gain various perspectives, struggles, cultural ideas and traditions into my own worldview. I had gotten so much of that on my mission and attending college outside of Utah.

I was fed the same folklore of Blacks being descended from Cain and thus the reason they were denied the priesthood and temple covenants for so long, it never sounded right to me, but I never questioned it either. I glossed over the details in the Book of Mormon on Nephites being good and thus white and the Lamanites being bad and thus the curse of darkness came upon them. So with this “white is better” culture and dogma I really began to wonder what other people felt about this. What is a person’s reaction when they find the joy and spirit of the gospel and then find out if they had joined a few decades earlier they would have been denied the most sacred promises of God?

The other reason I find it interesting, intriguing and important is because I feel marginalized as a woman in a male-centered Church. I feel these questions are important to look at and ask. And so I picked up Black and Mormon.

There are eight articles and each focus on various aspects of Blacks in the Mormon Church. I want to focus on the ones that really stood out for me.

“How Do Thing Look on the Ground?” The LDS African American Community in Atlanta, Georgia by Ken Driggs

I found this article so refreshing on how diversity in the United States and in a Mormon ward/branch can find what they are looking for in their worship. I feel too often that worshiping becomes a tradition, the way things have been, and therefore should always be. So to learn that this ward in Georgia can have a spiritual and meaningful sacrament meeting is so amazing! I really want to head down there to Georgia to live at least for one Sunday the wonder that is their ward! I feel that this is important since our Church is our Church meaning that it should incorporate traditions and cultures and backgrounds of those in the congregation.

Another topic it explores is how the racist policies of the Church’s past affect black members of the Church. It’s hard to fathom that the racist folklore is still being passed around in Church, that many missionaries will still use those false ideas to explain it all away when it only brings more hurt.

I have also found the stories in this article to be inspiring, because despite the racist policies and doctrines of the Church many still stay and find their own peace and answers from God.

Unpacking Whiteness in Zion: Some Personal Reflections and General Observations by Darron T. Smith

I really loved this article by Darron. He puts it all out there on the table for us white people and I find that refreshing and once I think about it, so true.

Darron explains:
"Whiteness is a cultural and social construction, a system of structural privileges that advantages whites in way the people of color do not experience. Whiteness is not only limited to bodies and skin color but also to ideas, knowledge production, values, and beliefs that are held as the norm…People of color are rarely seen in movies except as villains or as sidekicks to the white protagonists. Books, greeting cards, children’s toys, billboards, and popular magazines are overwhelmingly situated in whiteness…Whiteness as a protected and often guarded entitlement goes unnoticed and, because unnoticed, also unchallenged. As a result, white people are either unable or unwilling to recognize how their elite position enables them in numerous and significant ways." (p. 151)
I’ll never understand what it’s like to be looked at differently, treated differently because of my skin color, my traditions, and my background. So let’s talk about it, get it out there in the open.

Never in church do I recall anyone asking the questions about why blacks were denied the priesthood or any whys really. I was just recently talking to my dad about this and he finally admitted that ‘yes, mistakes were made.’ But even being a history major he fully believes that the Church has never been racist, that during the Civil War the North was not racist and the South was; two very big dichotomies that allow us to see things as either or, black or white, and nothing in between. Could Brigham Young still be considered an inspired prophet while holding racist theories and ideas? Well, yes. The Lord can only work with what He’s got so if that means he’s got lots of bigoted white folks I guess that’s what he’ll have to use. So old traditions are going to get in the way, thus we’ll continue to get older, white, and usually American, but now spreading to Western Europe general authorities.

I feel it’s extremely important to talk about race issues, women’s issues, culture, traditions, and well, all issues within the Church. Where is a better place to discuss it than in Church with our fellow worshipers?

To me this book brought to light the good, the bad, and the ugly within the Church. It’s important to recognize what needs to be talked about before we can actually talk about it. I’ve been so enlightened by reading this book, so much more aware how my actions or lack thereof can leave a permanent mark. Granted, I’m living in Utah County once again and find diversity lacking, but now when it does come up I have more enlightenment and knowledge to share with others. It’s my responsibility to destroy the awful folklore that I hear and see as well as be open to new ideas as diversity continues to grow and hopefully, in turn help others on this path as well.

No comments: