Ward Diversity Specialist

January 26, 2011 | 73 comments
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300px-RenommeI’ve been thinking about Papa D’s recent post about responding to subtle racism in the church. How about creating a “ward diversity specialist” calling? Points in favor of a ward diversity specialist:

  • Every calling in the ward has a natural nemesis–except for the ward preparedness specialist. You know, like the natural enmity between elders quorum president and ward clerk, or between the Relief Society president and the high priests group leader. The diversity specialist would provide a natural foil to the ward preparedness specialist. Problem solved.
  • Two-thirds of the 3-fold mission have corresponding obnoxious specialist callings that no one listens to. This would complete the missing third!
  • It gets lonely waiting around to ring the class bell. A ward diversity specialist could provide friendship to the second counselor in the Sunday school presidency while he waits to perform the duties of his calling.
  • It’s a perfect fit for the ostracized ward liberal.

To be fair, I guess I should consider the cons:

  • This is a calling whose role is to prevent people from offending other people. Unfortunately, the calling’s very existence is liable to offend a sizable portion of the ward right from the start.
  • The ward preparedness specialist has the advantage of cool object lessons. In comparison to earthquake simulations, first-aid triage, and knot-tying techniques, the ward diversity specialist’s lectures on effective forms of interfaith participation will be lacking in dazzle.
  • Do we really need another “specialist” calling?

So there you have it. Is diversity specialist a calling you’d support creating? One you’d be interested in serving in?

73 Responses to Ward Diversity Specialist

  1. Christopher on January 26, 2011 at 8:23 am

    the natural enmity between elders quorum president and ward clerk

    Huh?

  2. Bro. Jones on January 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Are we to take this post as smirking cynicism about race relations in the Church instead of anything constructive?

  3. Jeremy on January 26, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Yeah, I already have that job in my ward. I just don’t get any credit for it.

    Christopher: this is unfamiliar to you? The EQ pres in your ward actually turns in his reports on time? Impossible.

    Bro. Jones: smirking cynicism can be quite productive. Or at the very least cathartic.

  4. bryanp on January 26, 2011 at 10:19 am

    This is hilarious. My wife serves along with another sister in the stake as the Stake Preparedness Specialists. Both her and I served as the Ward Preparedness Specialists prior to that. We developed a four week class on preparedness and it was a great success. Now, apply that to a Diversity Specialist calling. I think it would be a hoot. I would develop classes on how not to be offended.

    #2 Bro. Jones – About race…can you elaborate?

  5. Christopher on January 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Jeremy, not usually, no. But neither does the RS president, the HPGL, the primary president, or either of the youth leaders. Just sayin’.

  6. Dane on January 26, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Bro. Jones, take it for what it is. In serious, I think it would be a useful calling to add to the ward repertoire.

    bryanp, I’d love to attend your four-week diversity seminar (or your four-week preparedness seminar, whichever comes first).

    We’re moving to a new ward next week. That got me thinking about starting over again in a new calling. When we moved into our current ward, the bishopric asked my wife and me which callings we’d like to serve in, which isn’t something I’d ever been asked before. So I was trying to come up with an answer to that question in case the new bishopric asks. Ward diversity specialist is something I think would be both fun and relevant.

  7. Ray on January 26, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for the link, Dane.

    As is obvious from the post, diversity issues in the Church are important to me (not just racial diversity, but that’s another post in and of itself), so I appreciate any thoughtful attempt to address moving away from our past with regard to racist ideas, attitudes and actions. I believe the more blatant examples are disappearing much more quickly than the more subtle examples, but I also think we tend to congratulate ourselves too much about that and lose sight too easily of the fact that we stil have a long way to go collectively when it comes to living the Gospel more fully with regard to race.

    As to your question, I really like the idea – but, as you said, it would be hard to find the proper balance in each individual unit. What the calling would entail “ideally” would be different in each location, as the need would be different. It also would be wonderful or miserable depending on the local leadership. I could see it moving a ward toward Zion, but I also can see it pushing another one further from Zion, if a well-meaning but out-of-tune or heavy-handed leader pushed in the wrong way and used it as a hammer rather than as a light.

    In an ideal situation, such a calling would not be necessary, as each leader and member simply would address each instance individually (and from the pulpit, if necessary) in a true spirit of love. The first key, imo, is nothing more than being aware of the subtle messages we send regarding race – and whether that could be accomplished through a temporary calling or assignment . . .

    It’s an interesting thought, and I appreciate reading it.

  8. Adam Greenwood on January 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Is the idea here that since Mormon liberals think the Church is too corporate, we should go ahead and adopt the most useless and fail-worthy parts of corporate America? Diversity coordinator? Sure, and lets have six-sigma quality training while we’re at it, and make sure each sunday school lesson is vetted by ward general counsel. Also we need a union. Also, a better class of blog posts.

  9. Jacob M on January 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I’d be interested in it, if only I could do it Michael Scott style.

  10. H. Ross on January 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    When I read about the enmity between the ward clerk and the Elder’s Quorum President, I laughed. I’m a ward clerk and I feel like I’m always on the president’s case at the end of each quarter for numbers. Once, I wanted to put in zeroes to get Salt Lake on his case but bishop overruled me. Alas…

  11. Andrew S. on January 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I am already being reminded of all the times in classes I’ve been asked to provide “the minority perspective” to an issue.

    I’m not sure if those times are worse than when someone else has tried to provide “the minority perspective” to an issue instead.

    It seems like ward diversity specialist would fall prey to either the former or the latter.

  12. Dane Laverty on January 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Andrew, good point. The calling is going to be awkward no matter what. My hope is that it would be a “transitional awkwardness”, until the ward obtained enough of a cultural sensitivity that the calling wouldn’t be needed anymore. But you’re right, it’s 100% certain that some things would be said wrong (often because there’s no 100% right way), and that people would take it badly at times.

  13. Andrew S. on January 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Dane,

    I was about to say something like, “And then, if we had a ward diversity specialist, we would have to recognize other kinds of insensitivities in the ward…like those for gender, sexual orientation, and so on, potentially pushing against doctrinal or policy points *in addition* to cultural points.” That would REALLY be awkward (and not in a “transitional” sort of way.)

    …And then I realized who wrote this post. ;)

    Why don’t you come out and say that you want to make “Faithful Agitator” a calling…Like “Devil’s Advocate” (in the sense of promotor fidei/advocatus diabolis) for Mormons? I’d be totally on board there.

  14. Dane Laverty on January 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    That’s still a little too partisan for me. To steal a phrase from Adam’s recent post quoting Jim F. quoting Truman Madsen, what I’m looking for is “room to talk”.

  15. bbell on January 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I think any type of calling like this would most likely be a complete disaster. Its a joke in the corporate world and would be a total misfit for LDS wards. I can imagine the scenarios now. I actually think even announcing the calling would be really controversial. One thing that ward and stake leaders strive to avoid is unhelpful controversy.

  16. queuno on January 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    In our ward, the EQP and the ward clerk are home teaching companions.

    bbell’s right. No one in Corporate America bothers to read any email on diversity sent by the corporate diversity person; why would anyone at Church bother? In fact, I wish we’d stamp out the “Aloha!” crap in sacrament meeting…

  17. Ken on January 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    H. Ross (#10): “When I read about the enmity between the ward clerk and the Elder’s Quorum President, I laughed. I’m a ward clerk and I feel like I’m always on the president’s case at the end of each quarter for numbers. Once, I wanted to put in zeroes to get Salt Lake on his case but bishop overruled me. Alas…”

    I’m not “the” Ward clerk, but I am an assistant ward clerk (membership). This reminds me of a “Dilbert” cartoon (it’s posted in our clerks’ office). Wally is one of Dilbert’s coworkers whose mission in life is to seem as busy as possible while doing as little actual work as possible. The Boss comes in and tells Wally, “I need you to do an inventory of all of our warehouses.” Wally asks, “Hypothetically, would it make any difference if I just made up the numbers?” The Boss doesn’t want to admit this, but he’s backed into a rhetorical corner and cannot tell a lie, so he’s finally forced to admit, hesitantly, “Well … no,” whereupon Wally exults, “Dream job!” The moral of the story being, of course, that if all else fails, you can just make up the numbers …

  18. Ken on January 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Adam Greenwood: “… make sure each sunday school lesson is vetted by ward general counsel.”

    Ward General Counsel? Cool! I’d campaign for the job in my ward, but I haven’t actually passed the Bar. Does anybody know whether someone could be called as a paralegal in the office of Ward General Counsel?

  19. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I think the Diversity leader is the ward mission leader. The more new members we add from the actual neighborhoods our wards encompass, the more naturlaly diverse they will be in terms of income, education, race, national origin and ethnicity. I do know that here in the Tri-citie sin eastern Washington, the wards have been extremely Gerrymandered in order to ensure diversity in income levels in every congregation, I think so that there will be a balance between member needs and member resources. and heck, when a missionary goes from your ward to Ivory Coast or Mongolia, that ought to count diversity points too.

  20. Blain on January 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    My HPGL is married to the new RSP. I don’t know if they have dogs and cats living together too.

  21. Jenne on January 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    I have been hoping for an interfaith community relations specialist in the ward or community involvement specialist. I feel that those sorts of activities can be included in the calling of ward missionary but I’ve also never had the encouragement of the ward mission to do that. We did start a community FHE once a month for anyone in the ward boundaries to attend regardless of leadership but marketing and outreach is needed for that to be successful.

    But to answer your question, yes, I think ward sensitivity specialist (wink) could be a helpful calling. I would suggest that the specialist also works to build bridges between orthodox Mormons and those who are less traditional or rather between the Liahonas and the Iron Rods. I believe, in all seriousness, that such a calling is essential for bridge building with the GLBT community.

    Also, I can’t say it would be my first pick for a calling but given my educational and professional background, I would be qualified. I may be one of the few in any given ward who has been trained in cultural sensitivity.

  22. Mark N. on January 27, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I did a word search of the scriptures for “divers*” in GospeLink, and the results are not promising.

    Leviticus 19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

    Deuteronomy 22:9-11 Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.

    Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.

    Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.

    Deuteronomy 25:13 Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.

    Esther 3:8-11 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.

    If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.

    And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy.

    And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.

    Psalms 78:45 He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.

    Proverbs 20:10 Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.

    Daniel 7:7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.

    Mosiah 4:29 And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.

    On the other hand, we’re all familiar with the scriptures that promote unity and being of one heart and one mind and having all things common.

    So…

  23. Bro. Jones on January 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    #4 Sorry, didn’t mean to do a drive-by comment. I just meant the kinds of issues suggested in Papa D’s post. It’s exactly not a massive problem church-wide that is grinding missionary efforts to a halt, but I’ve been in one ward that was practically split down the middle on race/class lines. I’m not saying we needed a “ward diversity specialist,” but it would’ve been nice to have some more acknowledgement from leadership than shrugs and, “Welp, some members just need to work on fellowship more. We’ll call anyone who complains to the Activities Committee, if they’re so offended maybe they can come up with ways to get everyone to communicate.”

    I’ve been in other urban wards and diverse wards, and it’s really not that tough for a good community to form when leaders set good examples, there are a variety of people in a variety of callings, and the members themselves aren’t regularly acting like jerks.

  24. Ray on January 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Bro. Jones, when I lived in the Deep South and was in the Stake Mission Presidency I had an experience where it was made perfectly clear to me that the Church would grow exponentially ONLY when the people living there (LDS and non-LDS, black and white) let go of their racist perspectives and actions and embraced each other as equals. It was one of the most powerful impressions I’ve ever had, including some really neat impressions in the temple and some wonderful experiences during Priesthood blessings. The blatant stuff is not nearly as bad as it used to be, but the subtle stuff . . . still needs attention.

    Mark N, those references ALL are from the OT time period. Just saying.

  25. Alison Moore Smith on January 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I tried to post on Ray’s blog, but I hate the Blogger comment system, so I rebelled.

    I’m sure “subtle racism” exists in the church, but I’m not sure what it looks like because I haven’t seen it much. We had a couple of instances in Florida. Non-whites (in YW) speaking in languages that the white kids couldn’t understand. Girls segregated into race for a while (whites, hispanics, hatians) until the YW pres told them to knock it off. For a while, a bunch of ward members had a monthly “Brazil Night” that only the South Americans were invited to. But they later opened it up to everyone. Other than those instances, I can’t think of any time anyone cared about race at all.

    Sometimes we had culture clashes that we dealt with. One of my sweetest young women, who was Haitian, had some serious concerns because of voodoo and similar things. That just required a lot of talking and teaching. Their was a hispanic branch that caused a big uproar at youth conference due to a bunch of simulated sex on the dance floor (hidden by other youth) when their own leaders didn’t see anything wrong with it — we were told — because the sensuality is so much a part of the culture. (To be clear, it wasn’t sensual, it was dresses pulled up and…well… trust me.) But that was kind of resolved.

    But, sincerely, it seemed the issues were much more culture than race. Heck, I had culture shock when I lived in England.

    Ray gives a list, but most of it isn’t racism in the church, IMO. Not sure if he was trying to address racism specifically in church or just anywhere?

    1) When you are the only black face in a congregation of white faces…

    How are whites supposed to rectify this? When I toured in DC, I was pretty much the only white face in the restaurants I ate at. So? I’m pretty much always the only red head in a room. Except when I was in Scotland. It as totally bizarre.

    2) Being “color-blind” is an illusion…

    Again, how does this show racism?

    As an aside, I don’t even understand the color blind thing. I once asked a class if saying, “Oh, Alison is the one in the last cubicle with red hair.” was a problem. No one said it was. But when I asked if, “Oh, Sally is the one in the last cubicle with black skin.” People freaked. Why?

    Very sincerely, I don’t get it. Skin color is just a color. It’s as if either we make it mean more than it does or we have to pretend it doesn’t exist. Why?

    3) When you see a good young man cringe and reflexively look for an escape route every time he hears a police siren…

    Again?

    4) When you hear a school teacher say, the very first time he meets you, not to worry about your son in his classroom – because, “I know how to handle these kids” . . .

    Now here’s a good example. I would call them down. Wouldn’t you all? And I’d do it with my child right there.

    5) It is eye-opening when you realize how you would react if someone told you that being white is fine for this life, since righteous white people will be black in the hereafter.

    As for me and my house lacking melanin, we would rejoice.

    I realize that’s just personal, but I always ALWAYS hated my red hair and fair skin and freckles — and encountered more “hairism” than you would guess (and, yea, nobody takes that seriously). I DREAMED of having brown or olive skin. I have two Banack cousins and a Navajo best friend who I was so jealous of. And in college, I just wanted to be black. Or Tahitian. Now one of my daughter’s is the same.

    I vote yes on that doctrine. :)

    But if someone actually said this (in the reverse) I’d just point out that they are wrong. Of course, I’m not sure how we address sexism — oh, I mean “gender distinctions” — in the church, when the policies still hold. But that’s another post.

    Wow, that’s way more than I intended to post. Sorry. :0

  26. Ray on January 29, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Alison:

    1) There’s no mention of my post being only about racism in the Church. I gave examples from both in the Church and outside of it. Dane chose to focus on the examples inside the Church, so this post is about that.

    2) Re: having very few black faces in the pews and your question about what white people are supposed to do about it, maybe accepting them without prejudice (including at least one of the examples I used – no, actually, two of them) is a start. That happens in racially and ethnically diverse wards and branches (like the one in FL you described) quite well, as a general rule; it doesn’t happen as well in many less integrated units. Surely, you understand that.

    3) You said, “It’s as if either we make it mean more than it does or we have to pretend it doesn’t exist.” Yup – kind of what I said. We see skin color differences, but they shouldn’t matter.

    4) You really don’t see racism in the example of my son who was used to being targeted by the police simply because of his skin color and size? Surely, that’s not what you meant.

    5) The example of the teacher is a better example than the one of the cops? I guess we just disagree about that.

    6) You can change your hair color any time you want to do so. It’s no surprise you don’t think hair color is a big deal in the eternities. That is RADICALLY different, however, than being told your skin color will change in the next life **to match that of the person saying it** – as if we know that God is white and black skin is just a mortal abnormality. Again, seriously, you see no racism in that idea? (Also, I assume you didn’t mean that you vote “Yes” on the changing of black people’s skin to white – just that you won’t mind if your hair changes color. If I read you right, fine; if you meant you believe black people will become white in the resurrection because God is white, then I have to confront that as racist.)

    7) If someone said it in reverse – that white people will become black, you say it would be wrong. WHY would it be wrong? If your response is, “I believe it is wrong, because we don’t know what color(s) skin will be in the next life” – I agree; if you say, “That’s wrong, because God is white” – that’s racist, plain and simple.

  27. Christopher on January 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    As an aside, I don’t even understand the color blind thing. I once asked a class if saying, “Oh, Alison is the one in the last cubicle with red hair.” was a problem. No one said it was. But when I asked if, “Oh, Sally is the one in the last cubicle with black skin.” People freaked. Why?

    Very sincerely, I don’t get it. Skin color is just a color. It’s as if either we make it mean more than it does or we have to pretend it doesn’t exist. Why?

    Because people did not enslave, systematically lynch, persecute, and legally discriminate against folks in some form or another with read hair for the better part of 5 centuries, whereas white people did exactly that to people with darker skin. Surely you are not dense enough to not understand that past and present discrimination creates a context that should and does often make people more sensitive to perceived racism, are you? And surely even you are not beyond that sensitivity, right?

  28. Christopher on January 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    red* (not *read)

  29. Mark B. on January 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    You guys need to stop calling her Shirley.

  30. Ray on January 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    If you insist, Leslie.

  31. Ken on January 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I’ve had a long career as an academic at four different higher education institutions in the U.S. Beginning in the early 90s, university colleges, schools, and departments began appointing diversity committees, and diversity coordinator, a multicultural coordinator, etc. to help deal with the challenges that come with living in a pluralistic world. There is some good in this, but all too often I’ve seen it as an excuse for other faculty members and staff to feel like they don’t need to take any ownership for diversity issues, because someone else is officially appointed to do it. Same thing would happen in the church I’m afraid.

  32. Alison Moore Smith on February 1, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Christopher, what a civil response. I’m aware of the mistreatment of blacks (and others), yes. And that is precisely what I’ve never understood. How anyone could take something as irrelevant as the COLOR of skin and make it a reason to excuse horrific behavior is beyond the pale to me. (No pun intended.)

    And, no, I also do not understand why some people get upset if you refer to a black person as a black person. My black friends (and even more so, my kids’ black friends) don’t have any more problem with describing themselves that way than I do describing myself as a red head. It’s just a color.

    I think we need a serious dose of dictionary about now.

    Racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

    There’s no mention of my post being only about racism in the Church.

    Makes more sense now. The link text to your post described it as being about *racism in the church*, so I read the post with that in mind.

    Re: having very few black faces in the pews and your question about what white people are supposed to do about it, maybe accepting them without prejudice

    I agree that accepting people without prejudice is good. What I didn’t understand was how anyone could remedy the skin color in the pews issue — at least not without being racist themselves (“we don’t need more baptisms, we need more BLACK baptisms!”) You didn’t mention any particular PROBLEM in church on that item (for example, you didn’t say that people prejudged your son). You just said there were more whites than blacks. That’s not racism, subtle or otherwise. That’s just statistics.

    I didn’t understand the matchmaker sentence, or how that’s racist.

    You really don’t see racism in the example of my son who was used to being targeted by the police simply because of his skin color and size? Surely, that’s not what you meant.

    Yes, I see racism in someone being targeted based on their race. What I didn’t understand was how the CHURCH was supposed to keep him from feeling targeted by police.

    The example of the teacher was a “better” example because it was a situation where I would have had some influence (speaking up to the teacher, for example, as I said).

    That is RADICALLY different, however, than being told your skin color will change in the next life **to match that of the person saying it**

    What is radically different? I just said I’d welcome an actual doctrine that pronounced melanin as being the eternal standard.

    as if we know that God is white and black skin is just a mortal abnormality.

    Ray, I’m thinking that lots of our physical features are “mortal abnormalities” or, more accurately, mortal traits that might not carry over. Have you ever seen a red-haired God image in our church? Have you ever seen a freckled one? Have you ever seen a fat one?

    The thought that we’ll all be looking more homogenous in some ways might be false, but it’s not racist by itself.

    For the record I can’t really change my hair color. I can dye it, but it’s still red and still grows back in. You can put makeup on skin, too. And then it washes off. Of course the issues aren’t identical, but there are similarities.

    Also, I assume you didn’t mean that you vote “Yes” on the changing of black people’s skin to white

    Ray, you said the opposite in #25:

    It is eye-opening when you realize how you would react if someone told you that being white is fine for this life, since righteous white people will be black in the hereafter.

    I said I’d vote yes on that idea. Because I’d prefer black skin to pasty white freckled skin, which has been the bane of my existence since the U-Val days. If I got to choose, I would pick a slightly darker than mid-range, creamy brown for myself. Thank you very much.

    The fact that I would choose black skin isn’t racist. But neither is the fact that some would chose white skin. They are just preferences, not declarations of superiority.

    If I read you right, fine; if you meant you believe black people will become white in the resurrection because God is white, then I have to confront that as racist.

    That isn’t what I said, but it’s still not a *racist* idea. Let’s at least be clear about what racism means. When people get old their hair turns white. That’s not racist, it’s just fact. It doesn’t mean white hair is BETTER than other colors. It’s just what age does.

    I assume God, being flesh and bone, looks like SOMETHING. And if the visual presentations of angels, etc. are remotely accurate, it looks like we’ll all end up kind of similar to each other. If so, all of us will be changing. Does it really matter what we change to or who has to change most? So what if we’re all black? So what if we’re all white? The idea that immortal beings all look something like God and that God looks like something aren’t racist ideas.

    For the record, I’ve never seen God. :) But we do have accounts that have been given of god the Father and Christ They seem pretty universally to be whitish skinned and glowing. And white haired. And they don’t have freckles. And they aren’t unusually tall or short. And they aren’t fat. And they sure as heck aren’t women. (We have some vague doctrine about a woman, but we can’t talk about it.)

    Maybe the artistic renderings are wrong. Maybe God is black or brown or maybe he is freckled with translucent skin. I don’t really care much what God looks like because I don’t think it matters.

    It very well COULD be fact that we all turn whitish and glowey when we aren’t mortal. I certainly don’t know that, but it’s artistic precedence to some extent. The idea that something like that might happen has nothing to do with race and, in fact, is (shall we say) post-racial. If we ALL turn white (or any other color) then there is no race distinction at all.

    If someone said it in reverse – that white people will become black, you say it would be wrong. WHY would it be wrong?

    I didn’t say it would be wrong. I said that if someone said the REVERSE of what you said (which is that blacks will become white), I would say they are wrong because there isn’t doctrine to support making such a statement.

    That’s wrong, because God is white” – that’s racist, plain and simple.

    First of all, the typical Christian idea of God was a white man. It seems reasonable to assume that in the culture he lived in, Joseph Smith would have at least NOTED in his vision accounts if God and Christ were vasty different from that. Doesn’t it? If God was a woman, I think he would have noticed that, too. But he didn’t.

    I wouldn’t make such a declaration, because I’m not that sure (and don’t care enough to try to be sure). But it’s not a crazy (or racist) assumption for an LDS person to make (or to say or to draw or paint) based on the accounts we have.

    As I said, I haven’t seen God lately, but stating that he is white isn’t any more racist than saying he is male is sexist. If he is, he is.

    Second, whether or not he has white skin isn’t related at all to RACE. If immortal beings are light and glowing or whatever (“brightness and glory defy all description”), it’s not due to some genetic history. It doesn’t reflect on race issues at all, because there IS no race at hand.

    Hope that clarifies.

  33. Christopher on February 1, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I was apparently mistaken. You are, in fact, that dense. Holy. Crap.

  34. Ray on February 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I read your comment, Alison, but I’m choosing not to respond. I’m going to let this drop.

  35. Alison Moore Smith on February 2, 2011 at 3:48 am

    Christopher, ad hominem is not the same as a making a point.

  36. Christopher on February 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Yeah, but when you’ve made my point for me, ad hominem is just icing on the cake.

  37. Brad on February 2, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Look, guys. If Stephen Colbert doesn’t see race, why do you have such a hard time believing that Alison doesn’t?

  38. BHodges on February 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    #25, as a fellow redhead I feel obligated to pop in and say I believe your argument is nonsense. Also, I apologize on behalf of redheads everywhere.

  39. BHodges on February 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    (technically, I am a redbeard these days.)

  40. Alison Moore Smith on February 3, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Christopher, again, is your best argument to name call? Make a point if you like. As in actually use something I (actually) said, and show the problem with it. Explain why I’m wrong. Good discussion is good. Finger pointing and name calling, with no actual substance is just, shall we say, so great-and-spacious-building. I’m open to discussion, but this playground stuff is tiring.

    BHodges, as I said to Christopher, feel free to explain what you object to. You can start small if you want, but at least start. Sweeping generalizations don’t advance a discussion.

  41. Chris H. on February 3, 2011 at 12:31 am

    This must work well since T&S is little more than a great and spacious playground. Certain ideas do not deserve to be discussed but, instead, should be mocked.

  42. Brad on February 3, 2011 at 12:36 am

    “Finger pointing and name calling, with no actual substance is just, shall we say, so great-and-spacious-building.”

    The irony is like a snake swallowing its own tail…

    If I may, I believe the point here is that Christopher made this statement:

    “Surely you are not dense enough to not understand that past and present discrimination creates a context that should and does often make people more sensitive to perceived racism, are you?”

    Which you followed with a massive comment which literally could not have been scripted by the Daily Show writing staff to better illustrate just how correct he was.

  43. Steve Evans on February 3, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Alison, how many people’s “finger pointing and name calling” do you need to dismiss before you finally realize that you’re making an ass of yourself?

  44. Cynthia L. on February 3, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Alison, I’m not BHodges or Christopher, but if I may:

    What I object to is your argument that your desire for a different hair color, however fervent, is comparable to the global system of deadly violence and oppression that caused this and this and, less violently but more proximate to this conversation, this.

  45. Brad on February 3, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Oh, why are all you defeatist, blame-america-first libruls always blaming everything on race and stuff? Don’t you realize that if you don’t see race (like me) then racism magically ceases to be a problem?

  46. Cynthia L. on February 3, 2011 at 1:13 am

    I should be more clear, because I’m afraid I’ve been rather too inflammatory and not expressed at all where I was really intended to go with that. By pointing to Jane Manning James’ situation, I had in mind to remind us all that we aren’t starting with a level playing field. To take your example of this:

    “What I didn’t understand was how anyone could remedy the skin color in the pews issue — at least not without being racist themselves (”we don’t need more baptisms, we need more BLACK baptisms!”)”

    Jane’s case reminds us that, whatever the causes or what have you of the ban, part of the effect was that we had few black members prior to the lifting of the ban. So, if you look at all the others in the pews, how many of them had families (or themselves) in the church prior to 1978? Depends on the ward, but in many wards, the vast majority. Blacks don’t have that advantage in terms of their numbers in the church. So if we just continue status quo, “colorblind,” that isn’t in fact a neutral act. It is *actively* perpetuating the exisitng inequality. Only if we consciously counteract that can we be acting “neutrally.” This isn’t racism, as you claim, it is a more full, complete definition of neutrality.

  47. Mark Brown on February 3, 2011 at 1:43 am

    President Hinckley decried racism in the church in general conference. That fact that someone might be oblivious to it does not mean it isn’t there. It just means that we don’t get it.

  48. John C. on February 3, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Alison,
    One of the ways in which racism persists in society is the tendency to use ourselves as the norm and other races, tribes, sexes, etc. as the other. In all your comments, that is (intentionally or not) what you are doing. There is no particular reason to assume we know the color of God’s skin (films are metaphors, after all). Moroni, et al, were really, really shiny, so discerning skin tone may have been different.

    If the issue of race was as easy to resolve as the issue of deciding whether or not to dye hair, then you may have a point. But there is a lot of history arguing otherwise and, since we inherit that history, we have to grapple with what it means for us today as well. There is a reason holocaust survivors will say that their purpose is to make sure that folks never forget. I bring that up, not to compare you to a Nazi, because I don’t think you are a Nazi (or even particularly racist), but to note that some of your comments here indicate that, although you haven’t forgotten the history, you seem to have forgotten its meaning. We shouldn’t forget that regular folk signed up to be Nazis or that regular folk, good, hard-working people, lynched black men. Racists aren’t monsters; they are us.

  49. Alison Moore Smith on February 3, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Yes, it’s long.

    Let me explain the great and spacious building comment. I should have phrased that better. It’s not that I think I am righteous and those who disagree with me are evil. It’s that I’ve always been struck by that part of the iron rod story. The people in the building aren’t saying, “You know, I see what you’re trying to do, but I really don’t want to live that way.” or “Walking to the tree doesn’t make sense to me, because the good fruit is over at that bush.” or even, “But dude, having sex is so much more fun than chastity.”

    They aren’t having some measured discussion, weighing different ideas, considering other viewpoints. They just point and mock. And they seem to think that being in a big group of people who are pointing and mocking proves something about Lehi.

    That’s the behavior I see.

    “If I call you an idiot or a bigot or an ass or dense or ____________ or just mock you, then it proves you’re wrong and I’m right.”

    “If I tell you you’re SUCH an ass that you don’t deserve a response, then it proves all your statements are idiotic.”

    Perhaps I haven’t made my statements clearly, or it wasn’t clear which parts I was responding to, there are lots of issues being discussed. Or you may disagree. I’m happy to try to clarify any parts that seem problematic, if anyone is willing to stop long enough to make a civil argument. I would hope that you would at least step back and give me an opportunity to respond without the vitriol.

    Since I honestly think I have been misunderstood — which I’ll be happy to take responsibility for if someone will take the time to point out what I said that was objectionable — I’ll address anything posed. In the same way, I’d hope that if you find you misread, you’d address that as well.

    For example, Ray said that *I* said it’s wrong to say “that white people will become black.” He was utterly wrong. In fact, Ray read my response completely backwards. He asked what I’d say about white people becoming black and I said I’d *welcome* it. And I said that if someone stated that black people become white, I’d *challenge* the doctrinal support for the statement.

    I think he EXPECTED me to find the idea that whites become black a problem, but I don’t.

    *****

    Cynthia L, I sincerely appreciate your response. Thank you so much.

    First, I want to be clear. I’m aware of the history of racism. I did NOT make the argument that my desire for a different hair color was comparable to any of the things you linked to. I said that I grew up hating my hair and that I would LIKE the idea of having darker skin in the next life. Ray had *specifically* asked that question (see above) and I answered him. My hair/skin is the REASON I’ve envied darker skinned people since I was a little kid.

    *****

    Treating black baptism as preferential may, as you say, may be needed in order to make the numbers as if the ban had never existed. It’s a good point.

    Do we need a racial “level playing field”? I don’t know because I really don’t care about race. (Since that seems unbelievable to people, just pretend it’s true for the sake of argument.) I have heard that hispanics will be the majority in the church soon (or maybe they already are? can’t remember…) I don’t think that’s either good or bad. Interesting, maybe. But they are people and I would say that souls being saved is the issue. (Are there eternal race distinctions?) For the most part I’d think doing missionary work where it’s accepted is more important than targeting particular races. If hispanics are statistically ready, go where they are.

    But maybe there are retention or other issues (because we aren’t really colorblind yet) that make this a good idea?

    I relate this a bit to women/priesthood issues. If women get the priesthood, we’ll start out way “behind” in numbers, etc. So does the church start focusing on getting women ordained or having practice in participating and let the guys wait? Not presuming an answer. Just asking. It’s not a really good analogy, but has some similarities. (There’s that word again.)

    *****

    Brad, my “massive response” wasn’t to Christopher. It was to Ray. I may not have spoken clearly to Christopher’s statement, but I can’t figure out what the objection is to what I (actually) said. (And, yes, I already know I’m a dense ass, so repeating that won’t help me out of my fog of idiocy. Feel free to email me derogatory comments to that if it makes you feel better.)

    I do not understand racism. I didn’t say that I don’t know the history of it. It simply makes no sense to me. I can’t figure out how people JUSTIFY racist attitudes in their own minds and it seems they must do so somehow. It’s easy to say that all racists are just stupid, but they aren’t universally so. Maybe they all know they are wrong, but use it as a power play. But I’m not sure that’s true.

    Since this statement seems to have caused such an uproar, maybe someone can explain to me how racism *makes sense* to them?

    I had heard a bit about civil rights issues as a kid, but it wasn’t something I witnessed due to my age and location. The first time I saw a documentary about the freedom riders and what was happening during the civili rights movement, I just sat on the couch and bawled. I had thought it was past, not present, and it was horrific. I asked my mom over and over how people could do that. I still don’t know how they can do it.

    I had the same reaction to learning specifics about the holocaust. I do not understand how people could have participated and thought it was justified.

    *****

    Maybe this will explain it better:

    My dad wrote most of his math texts with a man named Adil Yaqub. He had kind of olive-ish skin and jet black hair and a *really* thick accent. He was my dad’s dear friend and colleague and I’ve known him since I was born. I think he’s Arabic, but his race just never came up except when I asked my parents why he “talked funny” when I was little. I just remember they told me he was from another country. Ethnicity didn’t matter.

    When I was three I came home from a neighbor house and asked my mom what a “n***** toe” was. She sat me down and said, “We don’t ever use that word in our house. That is a bad word that some people call black men and women. It’s really called a Brazil nut.” And she taught us that when we say “eeny meeny miny moe” we said “tiger” not the “n” word. That was the scope of my “diversity sensitivity training” as far as I can remember. But race was never an issue to my parents and I guess I just accepted that.

    My best friend in second grade was a hispanic girl name Pamela. She was very nice and fun to be around. I thought she was beautiful and I tried to push my nose a certain way because I thought it would grow like hers. I didn’t even realize she was of a different ethnicity until years later. It just didn’t come up, even in my mostly white school. (I’m not claiming there was no racism ever in my schools. I just didn’t witness it.)

    My best friend in grades 5-6 was a Navajo girl named Elle Mae Spencer. (If any of you remember the church’s old “Indian Placement Program.”) We wrote to each other for years before losing touch (and I just found her “foster” dad, (Bonner Ritchie if any of you know him) and have been trying to relocate her — shout out). It didn’t occur to me to think less of her because of skin color. She was friendly and fun and we liked each other. What else was there for grade school friends?

    In college I dated guys of different ethnicities. Once in a while someone asked me why I did it. The question didn’t even make sense to me. They were cute, nice guys. Isn’t that enough? Why should skin color matter? Why would I NOT date a nice, cute guy?

    We have a shrine to Samoa in our family room. Polynesian anything is awesome.

    My oldest daughter’s first best friend was a black girl named Raffinae. They didn’t think anything about the color difference at all. They just liked to play together and their moms were friends. What was the problem?

    My husband’s first business partner was a professor who was Indian. He was smart and honest and dependable. He had all the things a good business partner would need. His wife also became a good friend. Why would race matter?

    One of my husband’s former graduate students is still a dear friend. He’s Chinese and named his son after my husband. In addition, we have a shelf full of gifts from various countries that were given to use by colleagues and students from all over the world. Race didn’t seem to be a problem.

    Our close group of friends from Florida include those who are white, black, hispanic, asian, and mixes of those. Their kids were our kids’ friends. Race rarely came up, but when it did, it was pretty low key. Like one of my black friends explaining how to braid “nappy” hair.

    In Florida my YW were black, hispanic, and white. I loved them. They loved me back. One girl told me I was her favorite “black leader.” (It’s a long story, has to do with them teaching me Haitian dancing.) Race didn’t matter between us.

    Since then my kids have had friends and dates of various races. It’s never been something that’s been an issue in the way I always hear described.

    One of my 17-year-old’s dearest friends is a black girl. I ran into her some time ago in Target. We talked for a bit and then she said, “If you see my sister, tell her I’m looking for her. Oh, she’s the OTHER black girl in Target.”

    Another of her friends is hispanic…or something. He ran for student council last year and — because of his skin color — played on the UPS motto. All his posters said, “What can BROWN do for you?” It was hilarious. And he won.

    *****

    THAT is how race comes up with our friends. Casually and easily. Not with hatred or inferiority/superiority. Not with angst and fear. Not with much of anything. Just as a physical trait that means no more than any other.

    I realize that’s not the way it always is and I think that’s sad, but it CAN be.

    I realize I have been fortunate to live around people who just don’t care that much about race and that get along. I get that. But when I say that I don’t really know what racism in church looks like, that wasn’t code for “I don’t believe it.” The first thing I said was that I was *sure* it existed. But because I haven’t seen much of it, I really don’t know what he’s referring to.

    Many of Ray’s examples — while perhaps problematic — did not seem like actual examples of racism or not examples that the people in CHURCH could control. So, if we have problems that need to be addressed, then clarity about what those race problems are is helpful.

    Thanks for reading and considering. I know it’s wordy and I appreciate your time.

  50. Alison Moore Smith on February 3, 2011 at 6:37 am

    Crap, another too-long post. Sorry in advance.

    John C. thanks to you as well. I appreciate your response. Although I’ve certainly said enough tonight (this morning) I’d like to respond to you. We cross-posted.

    In all your comments, that is (intentionally or not) what you are doing.

    Could you tell me what I said that assumes I am the norm? Or whites are the norm? I didn’t intend to say that at all — and tried, apparently not clearly, to say otherwise.

    I said that God looks like SOMETHING. (We agree on that?) And that IF the artistic representations are accurate, they have SIMILARITIES. (Would you agree with that?) IF the idea that they are similar is true (which I believe I qualified every time I said it) then we’ll all change toward that spiritual norm, whatever it is. (Right?)

    I posed the idea that the norm (if it exists) could be black or white, just that it’s possible there is a norm we’d all move toward.

    I don’t find the idea that spirits might have similar features either offensive or racist. It might not happen at all, but I don’t think it’s racist.

    There is no particular reason to assume we know the color of God’s skin (films are metaphors, after all). Moroni, et al, were really, really shiny, so discerning skin tone may have been different.

    I hesitate to respond to this because such discussions seem to be met with emotion rather than reason. I hope people will take the time to read what I actually write. If you disagree, just tell me why. Happy to discuss. Also, not making a definitive statement, just giving some ideas.

    I actually think there is one reason we might assume he’s white or white-ish or something along those lines. As I said, I’m not making a declaration, but I think it’s a logical train of thought.

    I think those of Joseph Smith’s time assumed, right or wrong, that God was white. And I believe if he was not white or looked non-white, JS would have noticed it. Just as I think he would have said something if he turned out to be a woman — when everyone of his time assumed him to be a man.

    Of course, it’s possible that God was a black man or black woman or had some other race distinction. But I think Joseph Smith would have said so — unless he was told not to say so or something. Don’t you?

    It also seems that “brightness” tends more toward light or metallic or shiny or something. Black colors aren’t usually described as bright. That doesn’t mean black is inferior, it just doesn’t sound like the usual description we’d use. Maybe there is a black kind of tone that we don’t understand. JS did say it “defies all description.”

    That thinking has nothing to do with the fact the *I* am white. (I don’t think God the Father is a woman or has freckles or red hair.) It just makes sense in the context of that time period that JS would have noted things that were DIFFERENT from what everyone already assume — like God and Christ being TWO beings.

    If the issue of race was as easy to resolve as the issue of deciding whether or not to dye hair, then you may have a point.

    I’m not sure what point you think I was making by noting that I can’t change the real color of my hair. I can’t. It’s a fact. Ray said I could change it any day. I told him I couldn’t really change it, I could just cover it up.

    But when you say “the issue of race was as easy to resolve” I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t say it was easy to resolve and I didn’t say that changing skin or hair color would solve racism.

    I said that it’s possible that lots of mortal traits won’t “carry over.

    Ray was offended by the suggestion that blacks might become white. I don’t find the idea that any of us (whites included) will change skin color or hair color or eye color or whatever to be offensive. As I said, MAYBE there is some new spiritual norm. If we’re all shiny does that mean matte people should be offended? Why would we CARE what color or sheen we end up?

    …some of your comments here indicate that, although you haven’t forgotten the history, you seem to have forgotten its meaning

    It’s hard to reread what I wrote and figure out how others are reading it — since *I* already know what I was trying to say. Maybe my last epic post explained it. Maybe not.

    The only thing I can think is that when I said “I don’t understand racism,” people read that to mean “I don’t understand why you’re making a big deal about racism” or something like that. Or that when I said, “I don’t know what you mean by subtle racism because I haven’t seen it much” I’m really saying, “I haven’t seen it so it must not exist.”

    Is that right?

    I think racism is horribly wrong. I don’t understand why people engage in it. I don’t understand how skin color could mean anything with regards to someone’s worth or intelligence or character.

    Yes, I know it happens. I have two friends who have adopted many children of many races. They have both told me stories about prejudice they have witnessed. (One said that when her black boys got the priesthood in 1978, there we people in her congregation who refused to take the sacrament from them.) Yes, as I said, I’m sure it exists. But I don’t know how anyone can elevate skin color to the importance they must do in order to say and do the things they do.

  51. Cynthia L. on February 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    “I don’t understand why people engage in [racism]. I don’t understand how skin color could mean anything with regards to someone’s worth or intelligence or character.”

    Alison, it might be worth trying to figure it out. Only if we can recognize the barely perceptible mental and verbal patterns that culminate in more blatant racism can we hope to avoid those patterns ourselves.

  52. Dane on February 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I know that I’m late coming into this discussion, but, please, let’s keep the discussion respectful. To take a sensitive topic and then add name-calling to it isn’t especially helpful. So play nice!

  53. Dane on February 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Yeah, drawing attention to your name calling right after my request to stop the name calling is not so hot.

  54. Ray on February 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    #49 – “Ray said that *I* said it’s wrong to say “that white people will become black.’”

    No, I didn’t. If that’s the message you got, you read me wrong. I went back and read my comment, and that’s not what I said.

    and I chose not to respond, simply because I didn’t want what has happened to happen, fwiw. I wanted you to know I’d read your comment, but I didn’t want (and still don’t want) to respond. It simply would take too long.

  55. John C. on February 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Alison,
    I will respond to your comment and I appreciate that you are willing to consider where you might have misspoken or misrepresented yourself. I don’t have time now and won’t until tonight. Certainly anything we write online is really open to misinterpretation. I’ll try to write something up tonight and get it to you.

  56. Ray on February 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    #50 – “Ray was offended by the suggestion that blacks might become white.”

    NO. I. WASN’T.

    End of discussion. Again, this is why I didn’t want to respond.

  57. Thomas Parkin on February 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I’m personally not white.
    I’m kinda somewhat yellow with some reddish and pink undertones. So, I suppose I will have to be transformed, as well – as attached as I am to this pigment which has given me so much head up down here.

    The only humans that really do get closer to white, besides albinos, are Scandinavians. And we know that they are socialists and so they will need some transforming too before they can appreciate the invisible hand thats at work on high. I’m not saying that God is invisible. He’s so visible its impossible to be in the same room with Him unless we are transmorgified.

    On the subject of albinos … While we owned the restaurant I hired a young African American albino man named Marcus. He was a very nice kid, a good worker, and very dependable. Not white, exactly … but certainly whiter than me. No honky, you’ll understand. He always was reverent with me, saying ‘yes massah Tom’ and ‘no massah Tom’, in the manner that I prefer. Anyway, I was happy to have him. After he had worked for me for a few months, I got a call from the sheriff. “Is Marcus working this evening?” No, I said, he had left for the night but would be back the following evening. “Well, don’t say anything to him, we are coming in to pick him up tomorrow evening.” Sure enough, the next night the sheriff came and picked him up and took him away in handcuffs. He was himself quite embarrassed. Turns out he was wanted for armed robbery, and was eventually sentenced to some few years in jail. This gave me someone to visit in prison, a fact that I was so grateful for. I’m not saying I ever did visit him in prison, because that would be letting my left hand know what my right hand was doing. I was just grateful to have the chance. Where God snatched from me the blessing of having a dedicated employee, he granted me the blessing of knowing someone in prison.

    Now I’m not trying to offend anybody. I would hire an albino again, should I again find myself in a position to do so. I have no prejudice against albinos, even if they are raised in Orem, which some of them are. I’m not trying to say I’m better than albinos, although I’m better than this particular albino at least in so far as my disposition towards committing armed robbery is concerned. I think all right thinking people will agree that while armed robbery isn’t an unforgivable sin, it’s not an easy one. If the person you robbed dies before you get out of jail you might not be able to make restitution, and that puts a kink in your 5 Rs process. It is a worse sin than say, reading your children’s diaries when they forget to lock them up. I’m not saying I’ve ever done that.

  58. Jacob M on February 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Thomas Parkin, you are my hero! Just like Ferris Bueller! :)

  59. Scott B. on February 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Thomas Parkin,
    You can be my wing man any time.

  60. Brad on February 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    When a BYU Rel Ed professor taught us that non-whites would resurrect white, for _some_ reason the black dude sitting next to me didn’t like it. Didn’t like it so much that he never came to class again. Sad, because I was that close to getting me a black friend.

  61. John C. on February 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Actually, Alison, I’m not going to get to it tonight because I am sick and tired. Sorry about that. If the current pattern (waking up in the middle of the night and dealing with insomnia for a few hours) holds, then I’ll definitely answer it early tomorrow morning. Otherwise, I probably will. But I will get to it, because I want to.

    In the meantime, here are two videos for you to watch and consider if you like. The first is a video from the late 80s/early 90s called Funny Vibe, by the band Living Colour. It features some offensive language (the N-word, for instance), but in the context I think it is fine (none of the bad words are vocalized but I wouldn’t put it on with the kids around). I think it does a good job of explaining a black person’s viewpoint on racism, FWIW (or, at least, some black people’s viewpoint).

    The second is an oscar-nominated short film from Senegal called Binta and the Big Idea. It is a very good movie, kid-appropriate and a lot of fun. It lasts about 30 minutes, so you know. The question to ask is, why is the twist at the end a twist?

  62. Cynthia L. on February 3, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Brad, maybe your parents, or one of your kids, has a non-white friend you could use to pad your list?

  63. John C. on February 4, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Okay folks, let’s do this.

    Actually, Alison, you should also watch the videos over on Marc’s post. They are helpful for this discussion, too.

    First, going back to your comment #25, as a white, upper-middle-class member of the church, it is hard for you to see the subtle racism that Ray (or Dane) is discussing. That’s because you’ve been trained your entire life to think of what you do and how you behave as normal. Your standards regarding what is appropriate in dance or social behavior and your notions of what is religiously real and false all come from years and years of training in being white and upper-middle-class (even if you grew up poor, you know how the upper-middle-class are supposed to behave because TV focuses a lot of attention on them (if you grew up so poor that you didn’t have a TV, then you must be winging it now (if that’s so, you are doing a great job))). A good place to go to consider this is the Stuff White People Like website (in fact, I think there is a Stuff Mormons Like website, too). Seriously So Blessed also engages in this sort of social criticism. So, the first step is to wonder about why you have the beliefs that you do.

    Actually, I’m going to give one more example before we go deeper into this. When I taught ethics, we would sometimes discuss BET. Usually, one of my students would bring it up because they thought of it as racially discriminatory. You can have Black Entertainment Television, but you can’t have White Entertainment Television because that would be perceived as racist. It was upsetting because it made it seem like it was okay for black folk to be racist, but not white folk (see also the Living Colour video). So I would ask them what White Entertainment Television would look like. They’d say that it would have mostly white characters on the shows and it would primarily cater to the interests of white folk in topics, humor, and advertising. I would then point out that this describes pretty much all of network television. We already have White Entertainment Television, we just call it Television. The creation of a space where some ethnic minority can be by themselves isn’t about being racist, it’s about escaping a world where they are always perceived as being slightly off the norm. I agree with you that we are getting better as a culture and as a society at not projecting the message that “acting like an upper-middle-class white person is the way to get ahead in life” but we’ve still got a long way to go.

    So, while we may perceive the dancing and the Brazilian gathering as racist or threatening to our values, the reality is that they are a reaction to those values. We generally don’t think twice about the exclusivity of our own engagements or how they are suited to our own interests or how they are almost exclusively conducted in our own language, but for ethnic minorities it is a constant reminder that what they grew up with and perceive as normal is aberrant within our culture.

    Which isn’t to say that it’s all without moral value or that everything should be tolerated. I’m no big fan of freak dancing. But our great grandparents’ generation was distressed by rock and roll. Who knows what further surprises society has for us?

    So, did you notice that all your examples of racial behavior in comment #25 where examples of minorities excluding white folk? It’s possible that you remember these because it affected you (you aren’t used to being treated that way). I’m willing to bet that there was a lot of subtle racism on the part of white folk, too, but that it wasn’t as evident to you because it didn’t directly affect you and because you would have thought of it as the way things are. Racism, like all forms of culturally-based discrimination, is like the air we breathe. It surrounds us, but it is rare for us to notice it.

    “How are whites supposed to rectify [when there is one black face in a crowd of white ones]?”
    You can’t. The best you can do is to talk to the person and give them the support that they are willing to accept. It is tough and frightening for black folk to be surrounding by white folk. There is a grand American history of that not ending well for the black folk. They often feel a great pull to fit in, so as to not anger us. The opposite reaction is also common which, is to become belligerent (not physically, but to perceive behaviors as racially-motivated or signs of ignorance). You have to work to make black folk feel comfortable in church in ways you don’t have make white folk comfortable, because church, for the most part, caters to white upper-middle-class notions of propriety. White folk have been trained in it their whole lives; black folk may not have a map. Note: this applies to all ethnic minorities, not just black folk, but I’m using them as a stand in here. Remember your culture shock in England? That’s what ethnic minorities go through every week at church initially. If we treat them as just another congregant each week, the chance of them leaving is high because, in spite of the Spirit, they will just never feel comfortable. You’ve got to be there for them in a way you wouldn’t have to for white folk.

    “I once asked a class if saying, “Oh, Alison is the one in the last cubicle with red hair.” was a problem. No one said it was. But when I asked if, “Oh, Sally is the one in the last cubicle with black skin.” People freaked. Why?”

    The reason why these two statements are different has to do with the history of racial strife in America. The other reason why White Entertainment Television is a no-go is because White as a descriptor is commonly used to denote White Supremacist (especially because you don’t need the descriptor for people to assume you meant catering to white folk). This may strike you as unfair, but it is reality. Attempts to fight it, at present, only result in everyone else assuming that you are a racist. You would have been fine describing Sally as a black woman, but saying she has black skin (aside from possibly being inaccurate) indicates that you may think her skin as her defining feature. Racism, in remembered history, is much more interested in skin than hair.

    “3) When you see a good young man cringe and reflexively look for an escape route every time he hears a police siren…
    Again?”

    Presumably the good young man is cringing because he thinks the cops might round him up. It is, I am told, common for cops to pull over black folk or grab black folk off the street when they are looking for suspects in crimes. So this is a racial profiling thing.

    Wishing for black skin, in and of itself, is probably just fine. But people will look at you funny because it implies that you also want to deal with the daily racism and funny vibe-ness of being black. The thing about race is that it is socially constructed. Culture decides want characteristics are important and then, if it wants, discriminates accordingly. This is why many light-skinned black folk sought to pass themselves off as white (and many still do). Even hair carries implications. The quick temper of gingers, for instance, is commonly assumed. Other good examples were the Irish and the Italians, both of whom were described as belonging to another race in 19th century literature, but who are both generally considered “white” today. Race and what it means changes. So, saying you want black skin seems like you are saying that you either want to experience the systemic discrimination that black people continue to suffer (which seems unlikely) or that you don’t believe it exists. Most black people will assume the second (because they experience the systemic discrimination and won’t think anyone wants to experience that). So your attempt to express your lack of racism will come off as very, very racist.

    I’ll get to other comments later, if you like. If you don’t respond, I’ll assume we are cool.

  64. Brother Matsby on February 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Very well put, John.

  65. Dane Laverty on February 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    One other comment on this point:

    “I once asked a class if saying, “Oh, Alison is the one in the last cubicle with red hair.” was a problem. No one said it was. But when I asked if, “Oh, Sally is the one in the last cubicle with black skin.” People freaked. Why?”

    You’re right that both statements are objectively true. What helped me put it on context is that there are plenty of other physical descriptors that we wouldn’t be comfortable being referred to by, for whatever reason. I doubt that identifying a person by weight or breast size or nose shape (even flatteringly) would be well received either, not because of any sort of “-ism”, but just because we’re sensitive to how we are visually perceived.

  66. Cynthia L. on February 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Outstanding, John. You’re a great teacher.

  67. Julie M. Smith on February 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    John C., very nice. Thank you.

  68. Mark B. on February 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    You’re a [patienter] man than I am, Gunga Din.

  69. Ardis E. Parshall on February 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks, John. It’s one thing to recognize that something is “off” and quite another thing to analyze why, and still another thing to explain rationally and courteously. You’ve done all that can be done by one party to a discussion.

  70. Adam Greenwood on February 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Allison C.,
    thanks for not going over the cliff with the rest of us.

  71. Ardis E. Parshall on February 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Who’s Allison C.?

  72. Ray on February 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Alison Moore Smith’s and John C’s daughter.

    Come on, Ardis. Ya gotta keep up here if you’re gonna keepapitchin in.

  73. dblock on February 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Re: Not enough blacks in the church

    I guess that would depend on what area of the country you live in. I know where I live 95% of the ward is Africans. Each having a separate culture and sometimes that causes friction. It gets played out in ward functions because depending on where one is from in Africa certain factions won’t talk to others. The Bishopric however is white. My ward was 95% Asian, 5% African American and the rest was white. We also had a Hispanic Branch. The Branch President was Asian and because of that there were difficulties because of certain cultural issues.