On Being a Latter-day Saint and a Black American
It Is What It Is
Being a Black person in a White society is stressful enough without throwing in another minority identity from a religious angle, but try throwing in the religious angle of "Mormonism!" Much is written on being Black and "Mormon." Spiritually, it is a breath of pure air! Culturally, it produces a spectrum of experiences from social fulfillment to cognitive dissonance for some members—White and Black.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received the nickname Mormons because of the foundational belief in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ and prefer to be referred to as Saints, members of the Church, or Latter-day Saints. There is a slight difference in the experience of being a member of the Church and Black in the United States than being Catholic and Black, Jewish and Black, or pick-a-religious-society and Black. The common denominator of being Black gives the experiences of many Black Americans a common theme that will play out repeatedly in each group; however, those other religions have made more of an effort in recent history to reach out to the Black communities in America than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Recently, the President and Prophet of the Church, Russel M. Nelson, made a joint statement with the NAACP for more civility towards all people, which is a good start. The leadership gets it. The rest of us members still need to work on it. The process of analyzing being both Black and a Latter-day Saint in America would fill volumes of books, and I've tried to condense the major points about this dual identity into this article. In order to understand being Black and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, an understanding of the cultural context of being an American, being Black in America, and being a Latter-day Saint in America needs a little exploration.
Historically, Americans are considered White people. The majority of people who live in America are White; therefore, assuming an American will be White is not far-fetched. Americans come in all ethnic forms; however, most of those ethnicities are of European origin—White.
With recent political changes in the nation, White people are more prone to speak their minds about perceived injustices, while minorities seem more distant and a little disillusioned. Because minorities have been accustomed to the White Americans being silent about many things in the recent past, this newfound First Amendment option indirectly inspired by President Trump causes some minorities to cry White privilege and foul.
A number of minorities believe that since most Americans are White and the cultural dynamics of America cater to White people, they should not feel free to speak on certain racial matters. Minorities, additionally—specifically some Blacks—feel that White Americans do not deserve the right to weigh in on certain racial matters due to the oppressive history of slavery and graduated levels of racism thereafter.
The United States of America is a country of freedom for all people, yes. However, it is a White nation. It is the result of Greek and Roman influence and philosophy packaged in the form of Christianity. In this worldview, most European-based nations exist. White people or people descended from European stock control the cultural complexities of language and culture. All of the Americas, Canada, Central America, Mexico, South America, and the United States are the result of European cultural dominance. It is not wrong or racist. It just is.
European culture dominates the world. It is a truth that cannot be denied. It might not be liked or welcomed. We speak one of the European languages. You are reading English now! It is the way history unfolded. Again, it just is.
What Is White Privilege?
Understanding that our heritage and culture is influenced by and supports European culture now helps all people in the US understand why there exists White privilege. What is White privilege?
Let's change the name from White privilege to European Cultural Preference. Doing so provides a context from which to view White privilege that may be less offensive. Things that support the supremacy of the majority European psycho-social cultural construct such as art, music, custom, racial similarities and such, racial Politickers refer to as White privilege.
Anything that supports preeminently the idea of accepted European heritage is a function of privilege. People who appear to be White, not just European—hair texture, skin color, cultural mannerisms, and speech—are a part of European Cultural Preference.
It is not wrong for this to exist depending on the application. European Cultural Preference is used to profile and diminish people, which is negative. It is a ruler—a standard used by Western societies and most societies on the planet.
An example of this preference is that White people tend to be Christian. Islam does not typically have an association with being White. Christianity supports European culture and identity. Islam does not. Which one is more acceptable in the world?
The president of the USA supports sanctions against Islamic nations that do not share cultural aspects of Western Culture, which, of course, are European heritage friendly. Most Americans do not identify with Muslims culturally making it easier to accept disparaging statements regarding traditional practitioners. It will always exist. The idea of privilege will ever live to be more specific.
Privilege is not a concept or practice limited to White people, but the practice of all dominant cultures in any region on the planet. What makes it so powerful when White people exhibit it is the truth that European culture dominates around the world and every color/ethnicity of people perpetuate it. Think about it. In cultures dominated by European influence, society, whether purposely or unaware, teaches its people European cultural preference.
Examples are people of Asian descent who change their names to be less like their ancestral heritage and more like the dominant European culture. Africans who adjust their hair texture to appear less like their natural texture and more like European styles to fit in stating, "I just like that look."
Why do these people prefer that name change or look? The answer is because the dominant European culture affirms the practice of mimicking by others. It is the highest form of flattery. Adjusting to fit the lauded American dream lifestyle yields the reward of social acceptance and career advancement. It is a practice of all societies to include those who are willing to acclimate. It is also a tradition of all cultures to ridicule those who cannot assimilate. White people are culturally, politically, and financially, as a group, the most influential people on the planet, which is why so many in the US speak against European Cultural Preference.
- On Being a Latter-day Saint and a Black American: Whites Only?
The leadership gets it. The rest of us Latter-day Saint still need to work on it. Being Black and Latter-day Saint in America is volumes of books waiting to be written condensed into articles. This is part four.
© 2018 Rodric Anthony