A Scary to Write Perspective on Racism

please don’t crucify me because this might piss EVERYONE off.

First things first: White Supremacy, the KKK, violence, hatred and Donald Trump are indefensible. PERIOD. We cannot and should not allow this type of behavior to stand. We must stand up and fight for the freedom for ALL of us. Social shaming is a completely appropriate response to this type of behavior. It’s shocking as fuck. It’s giving me terrible anxiety to see it. Naive or not, I thought we’d moved past some of this. I am so disappointed and discouraged to see that this type of discrimination and hatred is so prevalent in our country, in our culture. It’s sickening. Sickening enough that I’ve crawled under my covers in the middle of the day for a nap several times this week because I feel so fucking, horribly powerless.

I’ve also been afraid to say something. I mean, what if I say the wrong thing. Like, “all lives matter,” because they do. Asian lives matter, African lives matter, Indian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, European lives matter, Arabic lives matter, LGBTQ lives matter and yes, even white folks’ lives matter. But, I don’t want to get into a pissing match with the Black Lives Matter movement because that’s no fun and I don’t want to be branded as racist. Because I’m really not. I don’t want to be labeled with “White Privilege” because I’m meditating on it and I’m both puzzled by it and trying to work it out within my being. Also inside myself I’m thinking, “What the fuck am I supposed to do about it? I was born white. Exactly what is the result they are looking for and how can I give it to them if I don’t really, completely understand?” But I do know this: being human fucking matters.

I Come from Highly Discriminatory People

and most of them believe they are justified and “right.”

So, here’s the thing that has me in a conundrum. I love hundreds of racist and sexist and theolog-ist people. Most of the people I love are actually Religious Republicans. Some voted for Trump with enthusiasm. Some threw their votes away on 3rd party candidates that, in reality, threw the election into this nightmare.

Here’s the bigger conundrum. I don’t just love them because I’m related to them. I know them because I’m related to them. But, I love them because they are some of the most big-hearted, loving and accepting people I know.

Weird, right?

Some backstory. My people are Mormons. My people are Southern.

Both of these cultures have a long complicated history in the issue of discrimination.

Mormons have a persecution complex. A big one. If you’re unaware, the American-grown religion started with a teenage kid in New York, Joseph Smith. He found a book of Golden Plates, which he translated, that tells the story of Jesus Christ coming to North America. Cool, right? This kid was told that he was a prophet of God and his job was to restore the “living gospel,” in the modern days. He started The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church, as Mormon’s refer to it, has about 10 million members all over the world, because they send their young men/and now young women out to proselytize.

Here’s where the persecution complex comes in. Protestants took none to kindly to this version of God or the Mormon’s revived practice of polygamy. They were chased, violently, out of New York, Illinois and Missouri. They were tarred and feathered. Their prophet was arrested and assassinated. These “pioneers” literally walked—WALKED—pulling handcarts and pushing covered wagons across the United States to settle in a barren, lifeless territory now known as Salt Lake City.

They still feel persecuted today. They feel discriminated against. They feel wrongly judged.

They love Freedom of Religion. They should love Separation of Church and State.

Which, if you’re a rational person, should mean that they hate discrimination and the persecution of others. Rationally, you would think that they are extremely inclusive. Ideologically, you would think that they would try their best to stay out of State and Politics to preserve the Separation of Church and State.

Except they don’t. They are an extremely discriminatory institution which vows—in their latest general conference—quite adamantly that they will never, ever, ever allow women to “hold the priesthood.” Which carries ALL decision making power in the institution. Which assumes all prophecy and authority comes from God through male leaders. They discriminate against women. All of them. And the women who claim this religion as the word of God go along with it. It doesn’t make any sense. But it’s real.

They also discriminate against gays and anyone who is sexually not a complete heterosexual. Worse, they encourage gay people to seek out heterosexual spouses and have family’s with them. Which begs the question … who wants to be a heterosexual married to a gay person? Does that not leave a huge part of marriage OUT of the equation? Last year they even went so far as to call gay people apostates and they forbid gay people’s children from participating in the Church, until they moved out of the house and declared their own parents apostates.

Super kind. I know. Super just. I know. Super inclusive. I know.

And Church and State? Give me a break. They vote as a block. A Conservative Right Block. They are abortion voters. They invest a great deal of money all over the country to prevent gay marriage from being legalized. They are blatantly and unashamedly highly invested in State and National Politics.

And Freedom of Speech? That might be fine for the gentiles and non-believers. But, the Church controls the message from its members. Like a noose. No newsletter goes out to any church group without approval from a male bishop (a layman pastor assigned to oversee the congregation). No church service is broadcast because you just never know what will get out there and what people will think if it strays off message. Funeral services are considered “church services” so that they can control the message of those as well. I gotta tell you I caught a whole lot of hell from authority-obsessed, legalistic family members when I FB Lived my grandmother’s funeral so that her relatives, like her sister, who couldn’t travel could participate in the service. Never, ever disobey the Mormon Handbook.

And still, their persecution complex persists. But, only aligned with their own form of “religious freedoms,” and not so much 2017 values of equality. It’s perplexing.

Now let’s add in my Southern history. My particular Mormon clan is Southern. Missionaries trolled the South converting people to their religion. Now, because of the persecution and because they did’t want to worship alone and have always felt safer among “their own” they settled a Mormon Colony in the woods of East Texas. This is where my grandparents and a huge plethora of Mormon kin lived, worked, went to church and school.

Obviously they brought their racist beliefs with them. But, hey, there were no black people in their town. My grandmother told me that she literally couldn’t remember ever even seeing a black person in their town. They didn’t own slaves. They were share croppers. The truth is, they had grown up with a mythology of the Angry Black Man and they were afraid of them. The whole lot of them. And why wouldn’t they be? They had no real experience with them in their sheltered-single-faith environment.

Black people were “the other.” The other is always where discrimination starts.

That colony didn’t last forever as Mormons sought work in nearby and not-so-nearby places. Or they relocated to Utah to be among more of their own. Sending their kids off to Brigham Young University, knowing they would never return.

But, those, like my grandparents who stayed in the South, kept to themselves and kept their children very, very close and sheltered lest they be introduced to other religions and modern-day culture that would afflict them with different perspectives. Their only contact with black people took place in public places such as stores and hospitals, and later public schools. Blacks had their own “Black Town,” and white people had their own well, the rest of the town. But, my people had their own very enclosed Mormon community, from which they didn’t stray far.

Now, my family is gonna hate that I’m sharing our history with race and discrimination. But I’m in such inner conflict that I must. Also, I hope that it has some insightful things for all of us to think about. It’s just too easy to say “Racists Suck.” If you’re white you suffer from “White Privilege”—as if it’s a crime that we have knowingly and intentionally committed. When in fact, I believe my people had just enough knowledge of the other to be afraid, not hateful. There is a difference, you know.

Of course I’ve heard racist arguments at the Sunday dinner. I’ve even heard the word nigger, though rarely. I recall a discussion where one uncle was worried that a white relative was adopting black kids and said they should stay with their own culture. Some cousins once said that a black person and a white person having children was like different species of animals mating. My grandmother recounted that when they introduced race integration in schools, where her children attended, “that black girl stunk the whole room up.” When a census report showed that a family member in our lineage was “mulatto” my grandmother was grief-stricken and ashamed. When some family members were stranded at the airport and couldn’t get a car and a nice black man gave them a ride, they found such a thing remarkable. One cousin remarked about the plight of black people and was appalled and his mother said, “what about how horrible it is to say black people should get 40 acres and a mule? They didn’t do anything for it!” It happened during the Civil War, long before she was born and yet, she found the notion extremely upsetting.

“It’s just how we grew up,” that’s what they all say.

And it really is. This was their normal. It was the normal of everyone around them. It’s hard to expect people to develop a consciousness that they were never exposed to.

While I’m embarrassed, and even ashamed, of this part of my family history, it leaves me in an emotional paradox. These were not overt acts of violence. To my knowledge none of my descendants were in the KKK or committed violence against anyone. I actually can’t recall a single story ever told in our family history about our involvement in the Civil War. The Confederate Flag was more like a Redneck fashion statement than a political one.

And Yet … I LOVE Them … and I see progress

so what do I do now?

What’s the moral thing to do?

Condemn them! Disavow them! Call them Racist Assholes! Group them with the psychos brandishing torches and running around blathering about their White Supreme-ness!

I can’t.

Because despite their discriminatory beliefs I’ve seen progression over time. Most of those racist conversations happened decades ago. Most, but not all.

What I’ve witnessed is that when thought of as an arbitrary group of people, whether blacks, gays or women some people have very discriminatory world views that they cling to.

Still, as soon as a person in one of these groups takes on flesh and blood, a name, a real person in their midst their love is big and huge and expansive. They are polite, they are kind, they are welcoming and loving.

Some examples:

My cousins adopted an African orphan. There’s a lovely photo of my grandmother snuggling him on her lap as she would any other grandchild. Her face lit up when she saw him, as it did every single time she saw any one of us. I’ve never heard a single bad word against my cousins or him. He’s family. Period.

Another cousin came out as gay and I haven’t seen one bit less love sent his way. They’re both invited to Thanksgiving. His Redneck brothers have embraced him and his relationship. A relative will say things like, “now I don’t believe in being gay, but Fred sure is good with Joe. They aren’t promiscuous.” Remember they’re Mormon and they’re literally not allowed to “believe in being gay.” It can’t happen. But, my family is loving and kind to my gay cousin and his life partner. Accepting even.

Then there’s Ray. Ray really did smell. Not from his blackness. It was the smell of hot sweating humid East Texas and not changing his clothes or bathing. When my grandfather died Ray started coming to my grandmother’s house. In the woods with no neighbors. First, she was terrified. But, every day he brought her mail up the long lane that led to the mailbox. Every week he dragged her trash cans down the lane on trash day, and then brought them back up. He picked up her newspaper and delivered it to the front door. This happened for twenty years. I’m not sure my grandmother ever invited him into her house. But, what she did do is talk to him through the screen door. They were friendly and she was grateful for his kindness. She started buying canned soda so that she could give him the cans he gathered for recycling to make money. She offered him bottles of water on a hot day. He always called her Mrs. Barksdale, never by her first name. She always called him Ray, probably because that’s how he introduced himself. This man, this dark black man who lived in a hovel and rarely bathed, was often the only real live person my grandmother saw in a day. She lived alone. Over the years, as family visited, we all came to know Ray. He came all the months she was in a nursing home to ask after her. When I told him she had passed on, his eyes filled with tears and he asked if he could come to her funeral. He was the only black person at her funeral and he beamed the biggest smile ever to have been invited.

While my grandmother was in a nursing home for the last months of her 93 years, the care taken by the black women—nurses, CNAs, hospice workers—was appreciatively noted by both my grandmother and her family.

So What’s the Thing We Need to Do?

it seems obvious, but it’s really not so much

It seems obvious that we should just get to know people as people. Because duh, when they become human we then humanize them.

Except for this: we self-segregate.

My Mormon heritage is self-segregating. They want to be around people who have the same beliefs and values. They don’t share their secrets with outsiders. If they live in Utah, up to 98% of their communities can be Mormon. When I grew up there were very, very few people of color. There are more now, as the proselytizing in other countries and cultures pays off and those Mormon missionaries marry people who they met on their missions. Still, it’s an awfully white community and the color which exists is basically adopting the Mormon culture.

Long after segregation black folks still live in Black Town in my grandmother’s East Texas town. It’s not that they’re not allowed to live elsewhere, but they just don’t.

I live in Colorado and there’s not much color here. I 100% do not believe that it’s racistly motivated. It’s because, for whatever reason, as pioneers moved West—black people did not. We’ve got a lot of hispanic people, but very few black people.

I don’t quite understand that. I mean, my people picked up their meager belongings and WALKED across the treacherous terrain of the Rocky Mountains and the whole damn country to get away from persecution.

I don’t believe it’s money. Or not all of it anyway. I’ve moved across the country, the world even, with a few hundred bucks and a beat up car more than once in my life. When my wasband’s backwoods Texas company was bought out by a company in Greeley, Colorado there were plenty of black people who were invited to move. For salary increases and moving expenses paid. But, they didn’t come. I would ask them why and they would say, “because there are no black people there.” I would say, “that’s because you haven’t moved there.”

I don’t get it. Except that perhaps we’re all most comfortable around people who share our world view.

When I was in Mexico a few years ago I was hanging out with a Mexican man, who was descended from the Spanish colonists. We talked a bit about race. Turns out that Spanish, or “white” people, have the upper hand in Mexico too. The mulattos make up most of the populations and they come in next, in terms of privilege. The native Mayans come in last. He asked me about my friends and my kids’ friends and whether or not we hang out with Mexicans or Latinos.

I thought about it. What I realized is that I have friends from all the colors. I have friends from all over the world. I don’t choose them as friends because they are or are not of a certain race or from a specific country. I don’t choose them because they adhere to a certain religion or a gender identity or a sexual identity.

What do they all have in common? They all obey the social code of the middle class. They value what I value. Education, career, God, love. They speak in middle-class-speak. Meaning their slang is middle class, their concerns are middle class. We find the same things funny. We find similar things interesting. We dress in a certain way. We shake hands and hug and greet each other in certain ways. We enforce essentially the same rules on our kids. I also realized that it’s not even about politics. While most of my friends share my liberal world view, my neighbors voted for Trump and gosh darn it if they aren’t the people I rely on the most as having my back as a parent. It’s certainly not about money. I mean, while I call myself middle class it recently came to my attention through a recent study that fiscally I’m pretty dang lower class. But, I have a college education and a profession, so in my mind it elevates me somehow. In fact, many of my friends are entrepreneurs and broke as fuck and wildly overtaxed. Yet, middle class they remain.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re having the wrong conversation. Or we’re mixing different issues under the all-encompassing banner of race or discrimination when that’s really not what’s happening.

I know that my kids were born with the understanding that any kind of -ism is abhorrent to humanity. They are so offended that some family members refused to attend the wedding of gay aunts who have been together for 42 years. They are offended that sexism is even a thing. They know that race doesn’t freaking matter. They have conviction about the rights of transgendered people, even scolding me for getting a piece of what that’s about wrong now and then. So, that’s a major win! Our kids aren’t as stupid as we were. They’re growing up with a very different normal. They have access to all cultures, even if they live in Colorado, because of the Internet. Unfortunately, there are many, many years ahead of us when biased voters will still be voting long after these kids grow up to change things.

I’m not going to disavow my neighbors or my family. Though I probably would if they were among those hideous human beings marching for white supremacy. I’m also not going to believe that their discriminatory beliefs and behavior is an equal balance to my own beliefs of equity, fairness and kindness. Because it’s not the same. It just isn’t. I will continue to hope that I’ll see more progress as all of us expand our own circles and come to understand that the “other” is just the “another” Jesus—and ALL the other spiritual Masters—talk about when they tell us to love one another and that we’re all the same. One Humanity. One Tribe.