Three apologies and a rule or “How I learned to stop worrying and love Mormon racism”

First of all, I’m sorry for writing this post at all. I’m sure you all are sick to death of the discussion of race and of Professor Bott’s reported views thereon. I know I am and I’ve only followed the situation peripherally.

Second of all, I’m sorry for oversharing, as I’ll undoubtedly do over the course of this post. There is a reason behind it, I think, but I’ve noticed that all of my posts tend to be heavy on confession and probably you all don’t care.

Third, and probably most importantly, I’m sorry because I’m going to accuse every single one of you of being racist or, at least, prejudiced.

I’m from the South. I mean this both geographically and culturally. I grew up in a white, middle-class Southern home. Although my mother was Mormon, I don’t believe that this made us more or less racist than the general culture in which we found ourselves. Racism was in the air we breathed, it was the light by which we saw the world, it was an integral part of our world view.

Most of this comes simply from being Southern. We have the curse (or the privilege) of being the standard bearer of racism in America. My town featured several schools named after southern Civil War heroes, including a high school in a predominantly black area named after one of the founders of the KKK. Our school district was the defendent in one of the longest running busing cases in America, possibly because our city was still so functionally segregated that most busing solutions were absurd. I grew up vaguely knowing about all this, but not seeing anything particularly wrong about it. It was just the way it was. I wasn’t personally going to beat up a black kid for being black, but they were obviously different than us, poorer, and more prone to crime.

My grandmother used to tell the story of getting up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse when she was a little girl in the country and, as she was coming back, seeing a black man, dark as the night around him, standing and watching her as she went back to the house. It was a kind of fundamental moment for her. She didn’t hate black folk, but they represented a thing to be feared. I wasn’t aware enough to notice how she adjusted after the 1978 revelation, but she later treated her fellow saints with respect and courtesy, no matter what their race. But I’m not sure she was ever comfortable.

Nor, if I’m being honest, am I. I grew up with too much racist baggage. I remember once calling a black friend of mine who was the same age, “boy,” and genuinely not understanding why he was offended. I think I thought I was just imitating Foghorn Leghorn, but I don’t know if it would have occurred to me to address a white friend that way. I also remember telling racist jokes in middle school (probably into high school), possibly with this same friend. I didn’t choose to be racist, and if you had asked me, I would have denied being racist (I had a black friend! (whom I never invited over to my house)), but I seem to have sucked it up unconsciously.

If nothing else, I know that as a white Southern male, it is expected of me to be racist. In the eyes of the rest of the country, we have a role to play: the hick, inbred cousin who doesn’t know better (possibly due to said in-breeding). Thank goodness the rest of the country is so enlightened (as evidenced by their winning the Civil War) as to not be victim to racism. Having lived primarily in the South and in Utah, I’ve noticed that this particular attitude is prevalent in Utah, so perhaps I shouldn’t overgeneralize to other places (places with a more visible minority presence, for instance) but I admit to being skeptical that this notion of being above racism is limited to the Mormon west. I’ll rely on you all to set me straight.

Nor will I deny the truth upon which this attitude is based. In many ways, the South is still deeply, institutionally racist. We continue daily to struggle with the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, plantation slavery, segregation, and many, many other horrible things. There is no sufficient apology, so I won’t attempt one. What happened in the Southern United States is a tragedy and an atrocity on the scale of 20th century genocides. That’s really all one can say on the subject. But there is a silver lining: the South doesn’t really get to pretend that it is above racism.

Since our racism is self-evident to everyone around us, it behooves us to actually attempt to deal with it. Any given attempt is more or less successful (and sincere), but since the going assumption is that we’d all rather stand around in the woods and have ourselves a good ol’ fashioned lynching, we have to take pains to note that this really isn’t our desire. And it really isn’t. At this point, in most of the South, racism has gone from a mark of distinction to something only low-class people do (See! You’re not alone, rest of America!). Today we talk about endemic cultural differences and how to overcome them so that black folk can achieve like white folk do. Not much better, I admit, but any step away from violence and toward cooperation is a step in the right direction, to my mind.

So, I admit to being a low-grade racist. I don’t believe in the superiority of the white race or plan on celebrating Hitler’s birthday, but I am socially awkward in mixed race settings. I’m working to get over this (as much as I can in mostly lily-white Germany), but I’m self-aware enough to know about it. To my mind, I think all of America (and, probably, all of the world) is low-grade racist. Pick your poison. In Utah, for instance, I’ve had people insist on the South’s greater racism while, two sentences later, insisting that it is appropriate for them to talk about Mexicans that way because Mexicans actually ARE dirty, lazy, and criminally-prone. Even in Germany, a country that has done about as much as it possibly can to move publicly from a racist past, there are elements. I watched a television show about cars the other day and they did a re-enactment of some sort of scam. The victim was light-haired and German-featured. The perps were dark-complected and vaguely Slavic or Southern European. I’m sure that the producer just asked the casting director for “criminal-types;” this is what he got.

We all grow up with prejudices. Some are racial, some are religious, some are socio-economic. We all have attitudes that we accept because that is just what everyone around us has told us, perhaps overtly or perhaps covertly, shared solemnly around a campfire or in the back of a van during a temple trip. Because of elements of culture, authority, and conformity, we tend to accept these, unquestioningly, as defining the way the world is. But these worldviews are human in origin (especially if we believe God is no respecter of persons); just because some way has been working for some group, we shouldn’t assume that it is right or God’s will. To this end, I’m going to suggest a rule (in the spirit of the TK Smoothie Rule or the Scientology Rule) that I believe would have helped Brother Bott (and possibly our church) to avoid this whole catastrophe. I’m calling it “The Useful Hypocrisy Rule.” It goes like this:

I should not discuss a sin, unless I am worried that doing so may make me a hypocrite.

Brother Bott’s motivation (and the motivations of thousands of folks before him) was one of two: 1. to justify a racist situation so that the racism persisted, benefiting him or suiting his worldview; or 2. to find a way in which a just, loving God would deliberately create such an unjust, hateful policy. I’m going to give Brother Bott the benefit of the doubt and assume that his motivation was the second. Brad has already explained the problematic nature of that approach, so I won’t belabor that point. Instead I’ll just point to the way in which my rule would have helped. The entirety of Brother Bott’s explanation was an attempt to lay to blame for a racist policy on someone else (God, Brigham Young, somebody). But if one suspects that one may be a little bit racist, then justifications for racist policy begin to sound hypocritical. And if we sound hypocritical to ourselves, we start to be hypercritical of our reaction to the policy and toward the policy itself. And this, I think, leads us away from justifying it and towards moving beyond it. “I don’t know why,” even though we don’t, sounds much more self-justifying, than God-justifying. And, while defending God is laudable, defending my own prejudices while pretending to be defending God is not. Suspecting that we may be hypocrites should introduce compassion and humility into our explanations of sin, which should, in turn, encourage more repentance. After all, it isn’t our sense of justice that repentance should satisfy, it is God’s.

So, I bear Brother Bott no ill will. His words revealed our racism, but, like Southern history, we can use them as a motivation to overcome that racism. We won’t be immediately successful, but, in my experience, people appreciate our flawed, human, inconstant, and inefficient efforts at self-improvement. And, even if people don’t (or can’t), God sure does. And that’s enough.


  1. “And of course I’ve got racism in my bones; I’m against it and I counteract it as best I can, but if I had on clean clothes and was standing on a curb waiting for somebody and a Cadillac passed and splashed mud on me, and it was all blacks in the Cadillac, I would say, “They never shouda let them up.” That’s in your bones and you can’t get rid of it, but you can counteract it, which I do.” – Shelby Foote

  2. I have experience of LDS racism. It turns out that the LDS are red-blooded humans, who easily succumb to tribal urges and start thinking that only those who look like them are people.

    E.g. I ran into more than one person on my mission, who told me bluntly they weren’t going to church any more, because you started having “blackies” behind the pulpit (the African heritage of a counselor in Bishopric was visible).

    But I think that as far as the “Bott-ulism” outbreak, Armand Mauss’s answer to that was the best I’ve seen, and I think we could now just try to see if we can’t get on with it, and start making friends with all kinds of people instead of just those who look like us.

  3. P.S. I hope my sarcasm radar is correct in detecting sarcasm here?

  4. I think your rule is an excellent one, and one I think I have followed for some time. Fortunately, I probably haven’t from time to time, so I can recommend the rule while following it too. It’s the polite way to give moral advice.

    Also, it’s true that most everybody has unconscious biases affecting attitudes about a variety of things, one of them being race, and the folks who deal with it best are the ones who will own up to it. Many can’t though, so kudos to you.

  5. So what’s the deal, does the last BCC perm to post on Bottgate have to buy pizza for the whole blog? And what’s this about Germany?

    It is certainly better to explore the claim “We are all racists” than to launch the charge “You are all racists, but not me.” I can’t help but think there is a claim hiding in that confession that while we are all racists, but some are better racists than others.

    [This is the regular Dave, who always links to DMI, not the Dave in comment 4. Not that there’s anything wrong with comment 4. It’s a very nice comment.]

  6. I can only speak to my own experience as the (white), Utah-born husband of an African-American Mormon. We’ve never felt much racism in the Church at all. Everyone’s always been kind and supportive, from family members to Mormon neighbors. We were both born after the lift of the ban. It seems more like a historical oddity to us than something with real modern implications. That’s why Bro. Bott’s comments seemed so strange and awkward… so archaic. Just my two cents.

  7. “I’m working to get over this (as much as I can in mostly lily-white Germany)”

    I don’t know what part of Germany you’re in, but I’m betting there are quite a few people on your ward list who are not white (assuming you’re in a German, and not an American, ward). As a missionary in Germany I worked with quite a few less actives who were African, etc. Good people, but many of them didn’t speak German and had a hard time feeling at home in a German ward.

    Ten years ago, as a missionary in Germany, I thought the Germans were more racist than people back home in the Mormon corridor. But then I got back and noticed all the anti-Latino stuff going on in the U.S. I just spent a few years in Cincinnati, where almost all of the neighborhoods are effectively segregated (and Cincinnati isn’t even technically in the South). We’ve got a long ways to go.

  8. Joshua A. says:

    People are tribal. We’re always trying to break ourselves into groups of “us” vs. “those other guys.” Physical features provide an easy marker to do that. Language and religion usually come next (words like “barbarian” and “infidel” or…”Gentile”). Even the breakdown of “racists” vs. “non-racists” is a manifestation of this fundamental attribute. We love drawing lines around ourselves and others. It may be one of the most basic characteristics of the natural man (who apparently is God’s enemy). I don’t know if it can be changed.

  9. Tim, I knew a couple of Tim’s in Cincinnati. Just wondering if we know each other.

    John, I have worked in many inner-cities throughout the Eastern US and have helped house and raise two young black men. I have lots of friends who are black. I have lived in the Deep South, and I was allowed once to see what tremendous growth the Church would experience there if the people (black and white, inside and outside the Church) could let go of their racism. I write regularly about issues of race – trying the best I can to educate people about them.

    and, yet . . .

    I really appreciate this post, since I also must admit that I am not free totally from the “little” manifestations of seeing people differently as a result of race. For example, my initial reaction really is a bit different when I see a group of young black men congregated on a street corner than it is when the group is white. I have learned to recognize that initial reaction and change it immediately, but it is something I have had to learn. I have had to recognize it for what it is and immediately address it head-on. I am finding that it happens now less than it used to happen, but it still rears its ugly head occasionally – and it really is a necessary thing to admit and own up to that sad reality. As you say, it’s the first step in my on-going repentance – since it wouldn’t be changing if I hadn’t recognized it in the first place.

  10. I grew up in the same town as John C. and even graduated from the high school named after the KKK leader. (Although at the time I graduated the student body population was pretty much 50-50, with small Hispanic and Asian populations.) My ward covered an area that was the same racial mix, yet we had no black members.

    I don’t consider myself racist, but I acknowledge that I still must fight against making assumptions based on racial stereotypes. But I’ve lived in So GA for the past 12 years and I’ve seen things change, albeit slowly. Our stake has had several black bishops (including one ward I lived in) and our high counsel is fairly diverse. We have a long way to go, though. I look forward to the day when our stake leadership -and even our area presidency- reflect our membership more accurately.

  11. Ray, we’ve made the Cinci connection before, but I never actually met you. Your last paragraph in #9 is spot on.

  12. Sharee Hughes says:

    I have black friends and I feel as comfortable with them as I do with my white friends. They are people, just like anyone. So are hispanics (who are technically caucasian, anyway). I have never, in my entire life (and I am pushing 70) undertood why people should be prejudiced against others because of the color of their skin. I lived in Hawaii for 8 years, a wonderful place where no one cares about the color of your skin or the shape of or eyes. While there I dated young men of various races–Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Polynesian, blends (there are a lot of those in Hawaii), as well as caucasian. I didn’t date any blacks because the only one I ever met there was one who lived in my apartment building and was married to a Jewish woman. I did have a friend who thought she was part black because the man she had grown up thnking was her father was black. When the man she had been dating broke up with her because he wanted a temple marriage (this was long before the 1978 revelation), her mother (an Asian) told her that her father had been a white soldier. So she and her bofriend got married.

    I have a friend who said she would never date a black man, and disapproves of my friendship with a black man, and the first (and last) time she went into Rancho Market in Salt Lake, she came right back out again because there were “all these Mexicans” in there. She claims not to be prejudiced, but actions speak louder than words. While I care about my friend, I’d like to see her lose her racist feelings.

    I commend the people in JDD’s ward who have accepted him and his wife wihout prejudice. It’s time we were all that way. My ward is also that way. We had a couple in our ward who had been unable to have childen and they adopted two black children, who were just as loved and accepted as any other children in our ward. People of other races are just as good as we are, they are just as intelligent and just as spiritual (sometimes moreso). I had a real argument yesterday with a woman in our stake Book of Mormon class because she thought Randy Bott’s explanation of not giving someone the car keys before they had learned to drive was an accurate analogy to blacks not being given the priesthood earlier. So Bott is not the only one that still has such racist notions. It’s time we all grew up and accepted ALL people as God’s children and all equal.

    I do not believe the priesthood ban was imposed by God. I believe it was instituted due to the prejudices of man (and let’s face it, way back then pretty much everyone thought that blacks were a lower form of mankind), and God allowed it to continue, not because blacks weren’t ready for the priesthood, but because whites weren’t ready to have the blacks hold such power. But I think God loves His black children no less and He wanted the church to allow them every blessng. Perhaps, since it was just a policy and not a doctrine, He hoped the leaders of His church would come to that conclusion themselves, but when they didn’t He broke down and gave them a revelation. It was time. It was really past time, and those who have left or who leave the church because of it don’t belong in the church.

  13. Aaron the Ogre says:

    When I married a non-caucasian, I did not think of the effects on my future children. I loved my wife and got married. Life goes on and I end up raising my kids in a growing-more-diverse-everyday Provo, UT. I did not expect racism to be such an issue. My kids faced racism everywhere they went in Provo, but at the same time they would meet wonderful people.
    I wish racism and prejudice did not exist or be a part of my religious past and present, but wishing doesn’t change things. There is no unique (or suitable) reason explaining racism in and about LDS institutions and communities: it exists. Simple. Factual. Accurate.
    The then trick is to work to eliminate as much racism as Latter-day Saints are willing as individuals to relinquish. We should not be about explaining (as always another apologist get the rest of us in trouble). We, as a people, should be about changing the world we are in through the tools we have always had: service, love, hope and charity.

  14. Steve L says:

    I’m not sure “low-grade” is a valid qualifier for racism when our most important institutions still reflect widespread prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, as they do in both the United States and Germany. A German man once told me he didn’t like Obama because he was a “Neger” and not an American, i.e. this man wasn’t a birther, but was insisting that Obama’s racial identity made him less “American.” (Don’t ask me why a man who’s lived in Sachsen-Anhalt his whole life is qualified to determine what’s American.) I’ve heard Germans and many other western Europeans express fear, alarm and distrust towards the growing Muslim minorities even as the wear of the hijab in many settings throughout the land is forbidden and they are openly hostile whenever a new mosque is announced. The gradual resurgence of the far-right, the growing acceptability of anti-immigrant sentiment in public discourse and Angela Merkel’s pronouncement that “multi-culturalism is dead” all point to a frightening truth: racism, “low-grade” or otherwise, is not dead in Europe, indeed, it has become an inescapable fact of daily life and playing to racist sentiment has become a vehicle for demagoguery in a way that would have been unthinkable a generation ago (at least in German-speaking countries). Whether Germans (or any Europeans) every changed their views of “the other” after the war is debatable.

    I think open expressions of racism and racist policies are a lesser problem in the US, but the wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy in recent years there is also very troubling. To argue that there is no racism behind the politics is naive.

  15. Sharee 12, I think the idea that God allowed the ban to continue because whites weren’t ready implies that God is favoring the needs of one group while neglecting the needs of another. I can’t help but think about polygamy. How many women weren’t “ready” for it? It happened anyway.

    It’s a tired argument. I was even told once in a focus group (for YW leaders) that we’d get new manuals “when the saints are ready.” What?

  16. KaralynZ says:

    I grew up Mormon in a very small 99% white town in the midwest, (so we’re Yankees, thank you very much.) While there were certainly racists in our town a lot of peoples attitudes were simply from never having known or spent any time around people of a different race.
    Moving to a large (just under 2 million people) but fairly liberal city has made a huge difference in my attitude just because I am now used to being around people of all different races. There are a lot of employees at my workplace from Kenya and Tanzania, for some reason, and we have a large Somali population in our neighborhood here at home. This has been significant for me because it means I (and my children) are more cognizant of the differences between Black (or African-American, if you like, though my coworkers and friends have told me they prefer Black) and African-yes-actually-from-Africa.

    I’ve got a lot more in common with a person of another race who has lived their whole life in this city than I have with a person from another country who might happen to have skin that’s the same color as mine. There’s a lot to be said for just having the chance to get over the fear of the unknown.

  17. We.Don’t.Know.Why. END of STORY.

    RAAAAAAACIST! bahhhh.

  18. Jettboy,
    I do appreciate your bringing your typical level of coherence and logic to the discussion.

  19. MikeInWeHo says:

  20. Your welcome. this discussion needed it.

  21. I find it difficult to understand how we Mormons, who revere record-keeping, have no record of of how the ban came about.

  22. S.W. Kimball, was an Apostle for 35 years before 1978. Where was his voice?
    G.B.Hinkley, was an Apostle for 17 years before 1978. Where was his voice?
    Thomas Monson, was an Apostle for 15 years before 1978. Where was his voice?
    The point is the Ban was not just “A sign of the Old Times” or old men from the past who were/are unknown to us.

  23. Mike, I was think of the song at this link throughout the process of writing this:

    Also, I’m in Germany for a job. Ya’ll come visit!

  24. Mike, that is my oldest son’s favorite song of all time. Thanks for the reminder.

  25. His words revealed our racism, but, like Southern history, we can use them as a motivation to overcome that racism.

    John C, Does it occur to you that the use of a term like “our racism” is making exactly the same mistake that racists make in the first place? Now you are implying that LDS are all, more or less, racist. What is the difference between that and suggesting that blacks (for example) are all, more or less, unmotivated?

    Talk about the existence of racism or instances of racist attitudes all you want, but I don’t think it is fair to attribute racism to the entire church. Why would anyone want to join an organization where members paint other members with such a ridiculously broad brush? Is bigotry okay if we only apply it to ourselves?

  26. It should go without saying, of course, that I completely disagree with the proposition that those belonging to any racial or ethnic classification are all more or less unmotivated. It is not just something that should not be said. It isn’t true.

  27. Mark D.,
    You misread me. I’m arguing that all humans are racist. The LDS Church, being a subset of the human race, is therefore made up of racist folk (to one degree or another). Beyond that, my generalization doesn’t carry much water, but I think that is sufficient for my point.

  28. Mark D. says:

    Thanks, John C. I agree that all have sinned, and have come short of the glory of God. The idea that all have committed specific sins, and worse, have not repented of them, however, that is much more questionable.

    My feeling is that people who try to justify priesthood denial in terms of racial inferiority at this late date are on the high road to apostasy. I don’t want anything to do with such ideas, and if I were in charge I would suggest that individuals expressing such attitudes under the imprimatur of the church be disfellowshipped after exactly one warning.

    In other words, I want to say that whenever someone expresses an attitude like that – there is not the church, but rather the sin of some man. It is metaphysically impossible for the church to sin. We believe that we will be punished for our own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. I don’t think it is fair to impute the sins of some to all others.

    That is why it is impossible to make an apology on behalf of the church. The church can repudiate, reject, regret, and disavow, but leaders of the church cannot make apologies on behalf of individuals who had nothing to do with the policy in the first place, whether they lived then or now. Individuals must repent of their own sins and errors, and apologize accordingly.

  29. Elouise says:

    John C (#28) –Just so. Does anyone remember the wonderful Star Trek episode in which Frank Gorshin plays an extra-terrestrial whose planet is torn apart by racial strife? That strife, like the one under discussion, is based on color. Some of the inhabitants are white on the RIGHT side of the body and black on the left, but others are white on the LEFT side and black on the right. Their racism, too, is deeply ingrained, ferocious, and firmly re-enforced. I will never forget how I felt watching this tale of “stupid” racism and having the light bulb flash on. Yes, I knew beforehand that racism was stupid, but the drama did what good drama does, which is to bring truth home to the heart. John is right, squirm though we might to accept it: We are all racist, and sexist, and . . . . May Heaven help us be cleansed of this tribal curse.

  30. Morgan Lee says:

    I’m only a lurker, and not a regular commenter, so I hope it doesn’t seem creepy that I remember John once saying that he grew up in Jacksonville, FL. I remember it only because that’s where I am from originally as well. Anyway, I am curious to know which high school it is that is named for the KKK founder. My older siblings all attended Wolfson. It isn’t Wolfson, is it?

  31. “That is why it is impossible to make an apology on behalf of the church.”

    I am the type of person that does not really place too much value in apologies. For me, the real value is in placing a just and effective corrective action that takes care of the root cause of the problem. Having said that, the above statement is not true. The Church has already issued apologies of different types on behalf of the Church. The most recent regarding the baptism of Holocaust victims.

  32. “Having said that, the above statement is not true. The Church has already issued apologies of different types on behalf of the Church. The most recent regarding the baptism of Holocaust victims.”

    And I think its shameful that they did. The Church has no responsibility to apologize to the world, but full responsibility to warn it of the wrath to come for far more serious sins. Racism, so far as I can tell, has never been declared a sin in the scriptures. oh and, “your a Raaaaaaacist,” lol.

  33. John C. I question y’all’s Southern bona fides. The term “Civil War” brands you as a Yankee sympathizer. Y’all gotta be more careful with your terminology.

    May I be allowed to correct the reader: It was The War for Southern Independence, or if you must have a watered-down term acceptable to the victors, The War Between the States. It was not the “Civil War,” tain’t nothin’ civil about it. :)

    Otherwise, your remarks resonate with me.

  34. Jettboy, i never thought you could look more stupid and wrong than you already did, but congratulations, you have reached a new level of being a moron.

  35. #31- No, it’s not Wolfson. It’s N.B. Forrest High School, over on the westside of town. Not too far from Robert E. Lee HS and Andrew Jackson HS, as well as J.E.B Stuart Middle School and Jefferson Davis Middle School!

  36. #34 – I get it now. Nobody can question the Church or its leaders in any way whatsoever – except, of course, you, if you don’t agree with something.

    Sorry it took so long to get it. I guess I’m just slow.

  37. Glad you finally understood that Ray. You are welcome.

  38. MCQ, I have not even begun to fight.

  39. Let’s all take a screenshot of the ever ignorant and always self-righteous Jettboy arguing that what a church president says from the pulpit during general conference isn’t scripture so that he can defend the claim that racism isn’t a serious sin. Jettboy, you are a roof-of-the-mouth canker on the body of Christ. If you don’t have anything not racist to say, then shut your stupid face.

  40. I’m not racist during my first 7 years I was raised in a mixed neighborhood and attended a mixed school and it seemed natural to me that kids came in many colors and looks. Of course it is natural. But I am prejudiced and it came from my upbringing; Mormons are better than non-Mormons, non-fat people are better than fat people. Perhaps we’re all prejudiced about something. My younger brother is racist and we grew up in the same family but had different experiences growing up he was bussed from a white school district to a black school and he hated it.

    Separating race from prejudice in general is problematic because in many ways it fails to get to the root of the problem while allowing non-racial prejudice to continue; Men are better than women, stay at home mothers are better than working mothers, married women are better than single women, straights are better than gays. The core of prejudice thinking is “like me/us” vs. “not like me/us” and not like me thinking prevents us from loving one another.

  41. “arguing that what a church president says from the pulpit during general conference isn’t scripture”

    Oh the irony.

  42. Mark Brown says:

    I’m agree with Jettboy. There is no racism in the church, and Gordon B. Hinckley was totally full of crap when he chastised us for it in general conference.

    Oh the irony.

  43. Mike with the deep Virginian roots... says:

    RE: #34 Mike
    Sir, with all do respect, I take issue with your “watered down” term, “The War Between the States”, was perfectly acceptable in 1972 to the good folks of southeastern Alabama, whose southern bona fides were then and still remain above reproach. When they wished to use a term that would be acceptable to the ‘victors’, they would refer to the “past period of unpleasantness”, which has to be, in my book, the zenith of southern understatement and diplomacy!

    While on my mission there I met a member who had a housekeeper of Jamaican ancestry. She was born and raised in Great Britain and college educated there. Once in conversation she mentioned that she felt very lonely there and I pointed out that there were many African Americans in the area. The lady looked me straight in the eye and said coolly, “Oh, I don’t associate with the “weebee’s”. “Weebees”, what are “weebees”? She responded that they are the local black people. She said, “I’ve nicknamed them, “weebees” because of their penchant for saying, ” We be goin’ here…” or “We be goin’ there…”. The lady concluded by saying that she has nothing in common with them because they are too ignorant, too uneducated, and their speech too vulgar. Her “Britishness” overrode any sense of ethnic loyalty to people with whom she shared common origins, ethnicity and culture.

    I believe this experience underscores the point that all humans look for commonalities in those with whom they associate. The discrimination or “racism” of many people starts with the absence of commonalities or a negative experience with a
    person of another race or ethnic background. With Affirmative Action a significant portion of the gap has been closed but
    there is still much more to be done. But that work is on all sides of the racial and ethnic barriers. Racism and discrimation is
    a two way street. Blacks still refer to whites as “crackers”, Chinese still call everyone else, but most especially whites, “lo fan” [barbarian] and blacks “huk gui” [dark evil spirit]. Russians call all non-Russians “nemschina” [mutes; because they cannot speak or understand Russian.] In some future day humanity may see the end of these epithets and the stereotypes that often accomany them. In the meantime, people with go on being people…

  44. On the one hand, Jettboy, I’d say that the irony is obvious. You clearly believe that prophetic admonition during conference is scripture. Yet you chose to set aside that lofty principle in order to argue that racism isn’t a big deal. On the other hand, I’d say that when you’re an idiot, a hypocrite, a scumbag, and an embarassment to the church (and here I don’t mean some generic, abstract “you” but _you, Jettboy_), irony is the least of your problems.

  45. Brian Duffin says:

    ” However, BCC is a place of charitable discussion for everyone” — About “By Common Consent”

    Thank you, Brad.

  46. MikeInWeHo, Thank You! for that video, #19. It’s much needed around here this weekend.

    Even criminals are convicted by degrees – infraction, misdemeanor A, felony 1, felony 2, etc. Sometimes Racist! needs to be shouted, but sometimes just whispered or lovingly hinted in private. Sometimes our own prejudice dawns on us (like the dew?) and we’re glad we could correct it individually without someone slapping a label on us. Let’s allow a spirit of discretion to temper our judgment of others and ourselves. Not to excuse anything, past or present, but to get on with life together.

  47. ErinAnn says:

    Interesting post, John C. I am aware of my own mild racism. I do have friends that don’t look like me, but because I am usually cloistered in my very white, upper-middle class, Mormon social circle I often find myself nervous about what may come out of my mouth in mixed company. (Of course, it isn’t just reserved for racial differences, but also socio-economic and religious ones as well. I’ve backed off of reading as much as I used to online because it seems to have only increased my white/Mormon/wealthy guilt.)

    Perhaps interesting to note, we’ve never discussed race with our children, that is, until this past MLK Day. My oldest is in 1st grade. Her teacher did a lesson about the Civil Rights Movement. When she was telling me about what she had learned that day, I suddenly realized that she wasn’t really “racially aware”. She said “They wouldn’t let the black people be in the white people places, but I don’t understand why they didn’t like people with black t-shirts!”

    Her whole life she has identified people by what they are wearing. It was kind of an embarrassing topic discuss with her — that people don’t like other people because of what their *bodies* look like. It sounded so ridiculous.

  48. When the church officially makes statements such as the 1949 statement on race by the First Presidency(!), that are an embarrassment and hurtful to a large swath of people, and that allow good members to continue to preach and teach such nonsense, the only real option is a public repudiation and apology for the statements. The repudiation can’t be made by anonymous PR people on a web site, but must be made over the pulpit in General Conference by those with authority. The statements should be presented for a sustaining vote by the members, either in conference itself or in ward meetings after. I don’t see any other way this “racist heaven that allows white people to say such things with impunity” (to paraphrase Gabe’s Keepapitchinin guest post) can be cleansed. The enemies of the church will use the statement and aftermath against the church. The church may be weakened. But the only way to clear up the infection is to purge it. Repeated statements that “we are not infected” don’t cure anything.

    I’ve read more of BCC in the last week than in the past year. This has been a great series. Thanks to all of you.

  49. For instance Jettboy is not like Brad, is he?

  50. I’d rather be condemned by bcc boilerplate for an over-zealous defense of racial equality than condemned by a prophet for a hypocritical defense of racism. Yeah, I can swallow that pill…

  51. Brian Duffin says:

    Brad, I believe it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. I would hope that all parties in the discussion could exercise more restraint and civility. It makes discussion much more pleasant and bearable for all involved.

  52. Brad, at this point it’s not so much what you’re saying, but the tone with which you say it.

  53. Latter-day Guy says:

    Oh, c’mon, Howard. Everyone knows that “Jettboy” is just a satirical façade for poking fun at some Mormons (we’ve all met the type on occasion) who are so right-wing they’re nearly fascist. It’s almost an act of charity, as when compared with even the craziest of the crazies we meet in our wards, “Jettboy” gives us healthy sense of perspective––we can laugh gratefully, secure in the knowledge that nobody in real life could ever be that unhinged!

  54. “…we can laugh gratefully, secure in the knowledge that nobody in real life could ever be that unhinged!”

    One can only hope…

  55. Mark Brown says:

    After I week like this, I don’t even have words to express how discouraging it is to have jettboy claim that our church is free of racism, then further claim that even if it exists it isn’t even really much of a sin, go on to belittle the feelings of the families of Holocaust victims, then have others claim that Brad’s *tone* is the most offensive part of the thread.

  56. Morgan Lee says:

    Nathan B. Forrest. I should have figured that out. Thanks for the info, Jennifer #36.

  57. ErinAnn says:

    Did anyone catch the latest “What Would You Do?” — set in Utah? They cover black/white marriage at the end. The old lady in that scene is exactly why I don’t believe an offical apology will be forthcoming.

  58. My tone is offensive. Deliberately so. And if you think it’s more offensive than the substance of Jettboy’s comments, your moral compass is broken.

  59. Brad Hawkins says:

    A few data points in my life:
    I came home one day from school and told my parents a Polack joke (please pardon the expression). My parents sat me down and started talking to me in the languages that they know that I didn’t. They showed how disadvantaged one might be if one came to a new country and did not speak the language. I was in tears and promised not to ever tell another.

    Later, we had a large sand bar of ~40 acres on our farm. Many people would come and take sand from our field for their garden. Except for one man who would pay my dad by the pick-up truck load. I was stunned that I had never before seen a black person in real life and he was much darker than I had ever seen depicted on television. My dad, responded “you’ll notice that he pays for the sand while others just take it”. That helped.

    I was staying with my grandparents while we were liquidating our farm later in high school. There was a civil war in Liberia and I asked my Grandmother what she thought of the whole thing since the U.S. had created that country in the first place. She said that they would never pull out because “they are an inferior race”. I tried to balance that comment with my grandparents’ otherwise liberal political stances, but it was a real data point.

    I went to college and studied classical music. I never met an African American until I went to graduate school where there was an awesome violinist who got a great job with the Detroit Symphony. That orchestra is now defunct.

    There was actually a cool girl that I dated a bit who was in the branch in Bloomington and black, had joined the church, and only later at a Sociology conference found out about the history of her newly adopted religion. In an attempt to engage her in her journey with this dark past, I’m sure I didn’t help at all and might have recited the many Bott like points. I’m not proud and she’s no longer active.

    I got out and taught college for a while and one of my students was a graduate student who was taking cello as an elective. She was black, an army brat, and extremely hot, so much so that my department head mentioned that I should date her! I’m kind of sorry that I didn’t.

    Later, I was fired by the replacement department head who was hired over our protests for not being qualified. He seemed to be resting as a violinist on the fact that he was black, could barely play, and would routinely mistake 16th notes for 8th notes. I sat in on a music history class and he spend most of a class period devoted to 19th century classical survey on the subject of Whitney Houston marrying Bobby Brown. One of my students caught him plagiarizing a text that was part of his writing sample packet. He still works there and I don’t.

    Lastly, an acquaintance left the church because he just couldn’t fit in and couldn’t reconcile the Mormon call for brotherhood with his background as a Swedish speaking Ugandan. My wife still keeps in touch but I haven’t found the time and he lives in another stake.

    Lengthen your stride indeed……………..

  60. Folks,
    As much as I would love to have a whole thread devoted to Jettboy’s inadequacies and online sins, let’s just remove him from the discussion, shall we? He’s expressed his opinions; we’ve responded in kind. It’s enough.

    I was going to mention that Forrest is also the guy behind the naming of Forrest Gump, but for some around here that is the bigger sin.

    You have to talk to Yankees in their own language. Otherwise, they won’t understand anything.

  61. Valerie says:

    I am glad that you are courageous to identify your own racism, but the North is full of racists too! We are just better at hiding it. The Ku Klux Klan eventually moved North, where it enjoyed amazing success. There were public lynchings all over the country as late at 1970, some were a part of an effort to drive blacks out of cities and states to create all-white ‘sundown towns’ where Blacks were not allowed after sundown. These towns typically became MORE racist after going sundown– perhaps the isolation tended to feed fears rather than alleviate them. Housing discrimination came in other ways too, President Roosevelt denied Blacks FHA loans, and as a result an entire demographic was not able to benefit from home ownership. Some attribute the current household income wealth gap to this policy. The current batch of ‘voter ID’ laws being passes nationwide are ALEC legislation aimed at suppressing the votes of poor minorities who tend to vote democratic. There is plenty of racism, and we all need to look at it and do all that we can to fight it because it is all wrong.

  62. If tone doesn’t matter, what say we teach all gospel subjects by hurling epithets at each other? How’s it working out so far?

  63. Clair, perhaps I should have called him a whited sepulchre filled with dead men’s bones?

  64. Don’t make me pull over this car. I’ll do it.

  65. I’ll be quiet.

  66. Who is “Jettboy” anyway? And why does he post under a pseudonym?

  67. sigh

  68. I have been a lurker and erratic poster for about two years now; I love this blog and thank every single one of you who help keep it going.
    As a black saint who has a white ex-wife and two gorgeous mixed daughters, I don’t know if racism can be the word that we are debating over. Its our culture that needs to change and I think that our youth are in a position to see blacks continue to grow in the gospel and dispel years of man made mistakes from the greatest generation on back.
    To me, the ban was man made. His children weren’t ready for it and some grandparents and great-grandparents still wont be comfortable with it.
    As much as I cant stand by ex-inlaws, I overheard them talking to my soon to be wife in the kitchen when I was reading in the next room:
    L (the woman I was to be sealed to): “Mom, you don’t mind that he’s black?”
    Mom: “Does he have a job?”
    L: “Yes, he’s an Army officer”
    Mom: “Does he attend his meetings?”
    L: “Of course mom, we met at the singles dance”
    Mom: “Does he have a degree?”
    L: “Yes”
    Mom: “That’s all I need to know for him to take you through the veil”

    It’s the culture, not the institution. WE can fix the culture and it starts in the four walls of our homes.

  69. Glass Ceiling says:

    All I have to say is that slavery and racism has been the curse of this nation. Our lofty Constitution rings hollow because of it. Until we deal with what was done to our African citizens… and help the dispossessed of that subgroup who were cursed with the long-term fruits of slavery, we will continue to pay for it. In perpetuity. Consider the last century.

    As far as the Church goes, although they were racist (in our terms), they were less racist than most of the rest of the country. For some of that time the Church itself was dispossessed and subject to discrimination, even extermination. No one seems to care about that little factoid.

    In any case, it was a chapter in our history. A big one. Can we ever outlive our racist reputation, deserved or not? I hope.

    I truly believe that anti-Mormon Evangelicals love to poke this in our eyes more than any other subgroup of any race. Them and anti-Romney liberals. Sigh….

  70. “As far as the Church goes, although they were racist (in our terms), they were less racist than most of the rest of the country.”

    Definitely, except theologically. I think the doctrines used to justify our racism are probably about the lowest and the least Christian one can find in American religion. We have more detailed and more damning doctrines to justify racism than any Evangelical group (known for their shallow doctrines), except perhaps dedicated white supremacist religious movements, and even then, I think our doctrines beat them.

    “I truly believe that anti-Mormon Evangelicals love to poke this in our eyes more than any other subgroup of any race. Them and anti-Romney liberals.”

    Yes. The problem is, prominent people in the LDS Church keep coming up with racist propaganda that was once generated or endorsed by the Church. Bott was a highly admired religion teacher at BYU who enjoyed “counseling youth.” He was also a Stake President, Mission President, and all the other lesser callings that usually serve as steps to get to those ones.

    If high profile LDS members are still teaching uninspired racist LDS propaganda through LDS venues (BYU) and paid with tithin money, and the LDS Church refuses to put an effective stop to it (in other words refuses to repudiate past racist practices, insisting only past racist explanations can be repudiated), I believe it is a very legitimate concern for voters to consider this in Mitt Romney’s profile.

    I am a minority, and under the current stance of the LDS Church of their racist past, I do not think caucasian LDS members are fit to be the President of a multi-cultural, multi-racial nation, especially from a political party that historically has unfairly benefited certain elite groups and has fought against equality and has fought to retain an unjust repression of minorities.

    As for Evangelicals, well, I frankly could not care less what they can possibly say about us. I guess it is a big concern for conservative Mormons who want to be part of a larger group whose historical role has been to hate and demean others (including Mormons).

  71. #71 – So Harry Reid is unfit to be POTUS simply because he’s Mormon? So, all Mormons are Republican and racists? So, if Margaret Young, for example, ran for POTUS, she would be unfit simply because she’s Mormon?

    I respect how deeply your past influnces your perspective, Manuel (really), but that type of hyperbole undermines the rest of a comment that has lots of validity.

  72. You are comparing Margaret Young to Mitt Romney? Is that real or just a tastless joke?

    But to answer your question. Yes. In the instance that they both stand with the Church and think past racist acts cannot be repudiated, only past racist explanations for past racist acts, yes. They would both be unfit to be POTUS, imo, and minority voters should be very concerned.

  73. Dave (#5), is Bottgate not worth discussing? Have the bloggers who posted about it been redundant in their coverage?

  74. Ray,

    I think I see your point. I wrote “caucasian LDS members.” I guess I did my part in proving the original post right.

    I should have written ANY LDS member who stands with the Church in refusing to repudiate past racist acts, insisting only past racist explanations for past racist acts can be repudiated, is in my electoral/political opinion unfit to be POTUS. ABSOLUTELY UNFIT.

    Who is to say a candidate doesn’t turn out to be another Professor Bott in ideology and has simply been able to keep a good composture as to not be stupid enough to publish their racist ideas? or, in other words, as long as the Church stance remais a racist one, how can we really trust Mormons?

  75. John C., I spent 7 years on the campus of Bob Jones University. Southern racism is an interesting discussion. Thanks for the post.

    Manuel: “As for Evangelicals, well, I frankly could not care less what they can possibly say about us. I guess it is a big concern for conservative Mormons who want to be part of a larger group whose historical role has been to hate and demean others (including Mormons).” Honestly, I think it will be interesting to interview the black, evangelical pastors in Idaho Falls and Ammon, Idaho and get their thoughts on the matter.

    Jettboy: “I have not even begun to fight.” Classic statement. This could come from anyone manning the bunkers in a S.E. Idaho alamo.

    And John F. and Dave B. – Bottgate is a very important topic to discuss. Outsiders are observing the religious Authorities of the land.

  76. I’ve bounced back and forth between the South and Utah for the better part of my life at this point. While, as discussed in the original post, racism is still deeply ingrained in Southern culture (I won’t go so far as to say it’s institutionalized), I have seen much more open, unapologetic racism in Utah than in any of the Southern states I’ve called home. Maybe this is because, as mentioned, Utahns are unwilling to acknowledge their racism and if it doesn’t exist, we don’t have to deal with it, right? Maybe it’s because Utah’s low minority populations give the majority little exposure to “the other”. Maybe it’s because the extremely conservative majority is still convinced that “those” immigrants are here to destroy us. Regardless of the excuse, it is unjustifiable, ridiculous, and hateful. There is no room in the gospel of Jesus Christ for such attitudes, and I’m constantly amazed that some individuals persist in thinking that there is.

  77. Yes, Duffy. I was raised in Utah, and my experience is that ~1990s Mormon adolescent males tended to be racist in a way that sort of trivialized the problem of racism. They knew deep down that racism was probably wrong, but were totally comfortable deploying deeply racist humor (including using racial epithets as punchlines). It’s an almost perfect microcosm the big problem. When you say racism is wrong but then excuse certain forms of racism, you trivialize just how wrong it is, turn it into a problem but a small problem. Minor taboos are the ones that young Mormons are most willing to violate in the service of social cohesion or cracking a joke. So Mormon boys who would never use the f-word in a punchline will use the n-word. I encountered this all the time. When you say “all racism, past and present, is wrong” and say at the same time “as for the ban, we’re not really sure what to make or say about it, but we certainly aren’t about to call it wrong or apologize for it” you are reflecting and reinforcing a culture that codes racism as only moderately problematic.

  78. Meldrum the Less says:


    Have you noticed that the LDS church in the South is better integrated than most other Protestant churches? I mean at the congregational level? I have bounced back and forth from Utah and the South. It seems that we have a couple of wards in our stake that are around 50% of each major racial group, a couple in the 10 – 30% range of black members and also a Spanish branch. Most of the rest of the religious communities are still much more highly segregated in my random observation. I was wondering if this has been your experience, or not?

    As per usual, Utah is more likely dragged by and does not necessarily lead the rest of the church in certain matters. Also, I think Utah is no longer lily white; it is approaching 30% latino, although it may take awhile for the snow to melt and everyone to come out of hibernation and notice.

  79. Meldrum the Less says:

    I read my above comment and realized that my curiosity may not be clear. A few integrated wards is not the end of racism, but it is a start.

    We need to ask how we are treating each other in those wards.

  80. This is going to be my new facebook status:

    When you say “all racism, past and present, is wrong” and say at the same time “as for the ban, we’re not really sure what to make or say about it, but we certainly aren’t about to call it wrong or apologize for it” you are reflecting and reinforcing a culture that codes racism as only moderately problematic.

  81. @Meldrum- I like it- that’s an interesting point- Many of the protestant churches I’ve lived near are moving towards better integration, but it seems that’s a slow move, and many denominational splits still fall along racial lines. The split has traditionally been between “black” and “white” churches, but we’re seeing more and more of the Spanish-speaking churches springing up- there’s seemingly little or no attempt to integrate with existing churches. I think there’s less room within our Church (no room?) for this kind of self-imposed segregation, and for that reason, we could probably say that we’re “better” integrated. I’m not sure that necessarily makes it easier for minority members to be a part of the ward- I think of a Spanish-speaking family in an old ward for whom the 45-minute trip to the Spanish branch was not feasible, and who instead braved the English ward with little English and no translation. I’m sure similar situations could be found anywhere. They’re present, but what efforts are made on the part of ward members to reach out and make families like this an integral part of the ward?

    The point? we’re doing alright, maybe even better than our peers, but there’s always room for improvement. I think as the demographics of the American population change, and especially as the demographics of the global church continue to change, we’ll see more and more clearly the gap between where we are and where we could be. I hope we’re up to bridging that gap :)

  82. And @Brad- that’s exactly it- it’s always been the kind of racism that bugged me the most in Utah- that which is framed as a “joke”.

    “When you say racism is wrong but then excuse certain forms of racism, you trivialize just how wrong it is, turn it into a problem but a small problem. ”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  83. “I think the doctrines used to justify our racism are probably about the lowest and the least Christian one can find in American religion” That’s nice condemnatory rhetoric, but some protestants in the 1800s taught that Cain married a monkey, thus creating the black African race. I found one post recently in which a non-LDS church-goer was told this….

  84. Clark Goble says:

    Meldum (80), while I agree with the sentiment the fact is that Utah is 13% hispanic (versus a little over 16% nationally) not approaching 30%. Unfortunately it’s only 1.1% black (versus 12.6% nationally).

    I think that while Utah is no where near as racist as it was even back when I was in college it would help the local population a great deal were there more diversity. I remember coming back off my mission (where basically everyone in my last area was black) to Provo and finding it hard to adjust in the grocery stores. I think that a lot of latent racism arises by simply not having friends and acquaintances of the particular races. Familiarity makes racism less prevalent. (Not completely gone of course – but if ones social circles are diverse there’s much less incentive to hold to stereotypes)

    As much as I love the diversity of races in most wards in the South I think it’d be fantastic if we had more black saints move to Utah to help the saints here. I eagerly await the day when we have an Apostle who is black.

  85. Capozaino says:

    Maybe overcoming our own racism could be easier than we initially thought:

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