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.
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.