I was Taught to be Racist

This post was originally going to be a Face book post, but it became longer and longer and my husband suggested it should be a blog post.  It doesn't particularly fit the general theme of this website, but it is the best online place I have to host it, and it does tie in to my current attitudes about parenting, so here we go.

This post was going to be my commentary on this link,  "Closely Tied- BLM and NLM on the website "Lamanite Truth", but it turned out to be much more.

​I continue to be torn by both sides of current event issues. ​

There are dozens of people who have been killed by violent rioters now. It's awful, and yet the media seems to still be supporting them by failing to distinguish between the violent, thieving scum, and those who are genuinely peacefully protesting. Their message is NOT the same.

I'm alarmed that the "defund the police" movement is gaining so much traction in spite of knowing how much corruption there is within that very system. It is one thing to protect your own through civilian alliances, but there is legit work that our police do that can't be addressed by individuals. Detective work. Partnering with organizations like Underground Railroad to rescue and save children who are victims of child trafficking. I acknowledge at the same time that some cops are part of the problem. I am fully aware that police steal through confiscation from innocent individuals tremendous amounts of wealth, and I'm enraged by that too. But if we defund the police, who is going to replace them? Nature abhors a vacuum. Worse case scenario, the chaos will have people begging the military to restore peace and we become a police state. We need to reform and clean our police system, not eliminate it. I hear reports that Salt Lake City's mayor and council are considering defunding our local police, and I realize that I way underestimated the scope of these rioters, and that's very concerning.

So, as a person who leans conservative, I hear you, conservative friends.

Having said that, I am equally frustrated by the posts I'm seeing that deny that racism is a problem at all, because it is.

I know, because I personally was taught to be a racist.  By many people.  This is a controversial thing to say since I certainly wasn't taught to discriminate against people of color.  I was, however, taught certain prejudices that I see as racist today though, and I hope you'll hear me out to understand what I mean before jumping to any conclusions.

The racist prejudices I was taught were particularly by my religion. I grew up in a racial bubble of white people in a 95% Mormon community. There was one black girl in all my high school years, and she was 3 years younger than me so I didn't get to know her very well.  She was adopted by a white family.

I didn't know any other black people until I was 18 and moved to South Carolina and met a LOT of amazing black people. I was a student in an English class taught by a black teacher with about 30 students, and was one of only 5 white students in the class. Only 25% of the students at that college were black, but black students wanted the black teacher and I was fortunate enough to randomly land in her class. What I learned in that class as an observer was incredibly eye opening. Many of the examples led to discussions on current racial issues, and especially racial stereotypes. There are so many things I was completely unaware of because, well, you simply don't know what you don't know.

But I digress, back to my childhood. Was I taught to be a racist? Well, I wasn't taught to discriminate against people of color. But I was taught that the reason black people are black is because God cursed the descendants of Cain. Likewise, Native Americans have dark skin because God cursed them to have dark skin because of their wickedness. This was the answer I was given to my childhood curiosity as I poured through National Geographic magazines of indigenous African tribes, my first exposure to black people. Or maybe it was the movie "The Gods must be Crazy". I only saw race through media. The idea that God loves all of his children equally, but would curse some of his children with dark skin to separate them and all their kids, grandkids, etc, made me uncomfortable, but I dutifully accepted it.  I also accepted, with relief, that when they were resurrected, they would have white skin.  Because white skin is better, right?  I was told that what happened was a long time ago and people are good and bad in all races today. Yet whenever I rarely saw a black person, my childhood mental gymnastics consisted of reminding myself that they were black because their ancestors were evil, but they were probably a nice person anyway.  THAT'S AWFUL!

This teaching wasn't just my parents. It was my culture, and they were simply a part of it. It was something discussed in Sunday School. Taught in Primary. Taught in Young Womens. Taught in Seminary, where I remember my Seminary Teacher explaining that dark skin wasn't a curse, it was only a SIGN of the curse. Because, that's somehow better, right? After all, the Lamanites became righteous and the Nephites became wicked, and God let them be completely destroyed. I read the Book of Mormon dozens of times by the time I finished High School, and while there are some great stories and moral lessons in the book, it did and still continues to have incredibly racist undertones. And frankly, I'm not surprised that anyone who doesn't see this as a problem would think that racial discrimination isn't an issue today. Perhaps it makes you feel uncomfortable, but cognitive dissonance requires you to push those feelings to the background?  The Book of Mormon can't be racist because it's the most correct book on earth, right?

As long as the narrative that ancient Jews were God's chosen people, the implication will be that all other people were somehow inferior. It is in direct opposition to the idea that God loves all his children equally. It is why so many Christians hope to claim Jewish lineage. Great lengths were made to connect my ancestors to the biblical stories. We were of the tribe of Ephraim, and were assured that even if they weren't my direct ancestors, we were adopted into the family. Because Celestial Glory is tied to being part of the family of Abraham, it is VERY important to connect ones ancestry directly to him.

Native Americans were probably from the Manasseh tribe, so even though they had dark skin as a sign of the curse, they were still part of the family. Groovy. Black people though? They were descended from Ham, whose wife was black and descended from Cain. Black people couldn't have the Priesthood because of that curse until only recently.  1978 recently.  They can only be saved today by adopting themselves into a different, presumably white Abrahamic family.  Was Abraham white?  It has certainly been implied, although he probably wasn't.  Jesus of Nazareth probably wasn't white either, although we really don't know.  But that's a different story altogether.

It's all about BEING in the family, or being ADOPTED into the family.  Well, what if our birth ancestors didn't want to give us up? Why must we denounce our true, living heritage in favor of being adopted into a family from the middle east? These religious beliefs even estranged me, a white person, from my own heritage. I have a few siblings who have had DNA tests, and they all show our ancestors are from Northern Europe. Even farther north than we originally thought. Sweden more than Denmark showed up in the results. Nothing from the middle east. But how much did I learn about the beliefs of the Norse growing up? I'm proud of my heritage. I'm proud to be white, and I think people of all races are entitled to that same privilege.  I'm proud to claim the stories of my indigenous ancestors as my own, the good and the bad.  I don't have to give excuses about how they must have really migrated from other places.  I own my heritage. I think it's a shame that we discourage people of other races to do the same.

​I think the general consensus based on numerous Sunday School discussions might go something like this:

Black people, your heritage was Cain, but you can become part of our family in spite of your "less-than" origins.  God is merciful in spite of your heritage because you are his child.

Native Americans, let us tell you about your Lamanite heritage! Let us teach you the true story about your ancestors. You should let go of the heritage you were born with in place of the heritage our religion teaches us you have.  Everything must be put into the context of what the Book of Mormon teaches us about your heritage.

Pacific Islanders, your ancestors were descended from Lehi. Just look here in the Book of Mormon where it says people left America in boats and never came back, so that must have been your story.

Asians, well, some Asians are told they're from the tribe of Manassah in their Patriarchal blessings, so that must be how you tie in.

We have a story for everyone in the world. We know better than you who your ancestors were, and have a nice narrative for you that fits within our religious construct.  And our perspective of you and your story is all centered around this world view.

Because we like knowing and having the answers, even if it comes at the cost of listening to you tell your own story.  Or even letting history tell it's own story.

You see? I was taught to be a racist. And I reject those teachings. I didn't leave the church over racial issues, and I don't blame anyone for having beliefs that used to be my own. But it's certainly one of the reasons I will never go back. Recently President Nelson asked people to repent of racial beliefs. Well, Mr. President, the first step to repentance, so I've been told, is to admit you were wrong and to apologize. The Church has NEVER apologized for the incredibly racist teachings of the past. They have disavowed them (a vague response. Which ones?), but they have never apologized.

(I don't know who made the above meme, but it was made to be shared and if I find the source, I will add it.)

I get that the early teachings of the LDS church were a part of their times. After all, the whole Cain's curse thing (or in cases Ham's curse) was common in early America. It was used to justify slavery. The belief that indigenous peoples couldn't have made the impressive pyramids of the Maya spurred all kinds of speculation in early America. Descendants of the Hebrews?  That was a very popular theory that predates the Book of Mormon, but it wasn't the only one. Another that it was the lost city of Atlantis.  They were early Greeks.  Early Romans.  Early ancient Norse.  Nearly all speculation centered on how white people would have ended up in the Americas and made those spectacular buildings before falling into wickedness and often being destroyed. The belief that the ancestors of brown-skinned "barbarian" "savage" tribes of America's Indigenous peoples was by far the least popular theory, to the point of being controversial.  That's early America for you, and Manifest Destiny depended on it.

It was in this climate that the Book of Mormon came forth, whether it is true or not.  It was in this climate that Brigham Young taught that black people could never go to the Celestial Kingdom, except as servants to white people. That black people were sealed by Brigham Young to Joseph Smith, not as family, but to be their eternal servants. I understand that.  It was a different culture.  But if you really see these teachings as problematic, you need to do a lot more than disavow and dismiss.  You need to accept and acknowledge that they happened, and outright reject them.  It's hard to do.  Very hard.

​It goes further too.  That was the culture then, but what is our climate today, and how does it effect current beliefs TODAY?

Well, here's a recent example.  I heard a lot of people speculate that the Mayans were Nephites, and that recent discoveries of their impressive war ramparts were made are evidence that the Book of Mormon is true.  LiDAR technology is shedding so much on this ancient civilization that was once widely taught within the church to be the remains of ancient Nephite cities.  See?  They had big wars!  Just like in the Book of Mormon!   Yes, but so did a lot of ancient peoples.  What if we let the Mayans tell their own story?  After all, they had a written language, and there are scholars today who can read it.  The cities they are uncovering have names.  Their kings had names.  They had sophisticated calendars and they dated when their monuments were erected.  None of these names resemble the names in the Book of Mormon.  Their religious beliefs did not resemble anything in the Book of Mormon.  These people were separate from the stories in the Book of Mormon.  Which is fine!  It doesn't prove the Book of Mormon isn't true.  But it DOES prove that "these are not the droids you are looking for".  If you want physical evidence of the Book of Mormon's truthfullness, you need to look elsewhere.  It means BYU professors in the 70's were flat-out wrong about the connection.  And if they were wrong about the Mayans, they could be wrong about any of the indigenous tribes.  Do not assume!  Let go of the prejudices of the past, and listen to the Native Americans today.  Listen to their stories.  Let them tell their own stories instead of telling their stories for them, because frankly, you do not know them as well as you think you do.

​I admit that racism is often not as bad as the media is projecting it to be.  Police brutality, when it happens, happens to people of all races.  To be prejudiced is to be human.  Do you have any idea how many people have had prejudices against me because I was homeschooled?  How many people were surprised that I was homeschooled because I seemed so normal?  Thanks?  We have prejudices about anyone who is different from us, regardless of what those differences may be.  Race.  Religion.  Sex.  Politics.  Sexual Orientation. Economic class.  Even Nerds verses Geeks!  We can't have differences as a human species without avoiding some inherent bias towards the traits we call our own.  Nobody is immune from this.  Angry black rioters who are violently targeting white civilians are racist too.

Instead of insisting that racism isn't an issue today, we should instead be asking what we should be doing about it.  It's probably always going to exist.  Even after all I've said, I admit that I am STILL racist, to some degree.  I can't favor my own heritage and be proud of my ancestors, who were white, without having some degree of white pride.​  But that doesn't mean I see my own heritage as inherently better​ than other heritages, only different.  Maybe like a sports team?  Go Aggies!  It's my team, don't ask me to disown it! 

Through my journey post-Mormonism, I feel like I've been better at listening to the stories of the world from their own perspective.  I appreciate them far better.  More than I love my own heritage, I love HUMANS.  We are such an amazing species.  All over the world amazing inventions and innovations were made, independent of the amazing things other humans were doing elsewhere, and regardless of the race of the peoples doing it.​  Cool, right?  I love history!

​Racism exists, but we are getting better.  Be the change you want to see in the world.

About the Author Tamsyn Spackman

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