I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that most cases of overt racism are easy to identify. But what about covert racism? What about racism blanketed in beliefs? And does intent play a part in any of this conversation?
Last week a comment came across my feed that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It was on Facebook stating, “Impact is greater than intent.” This comment was in response to the fake Mormon church apology to racism. The person who stated this was saying it did not matter what the intent of the hoax was, they were adamantly against the hoax and stated that the bad impact was greater than intent. I disagree.
Intent plays a massive part. Intent does not remove the damage. Intent cannot heal the pain caused. Impact is indeed valid and pain does result in many cases. However, without understanding intent how can humanity continue to grow, improve, and heal? For example, two separate sets of missionaries have told me very racist comments this year. (Both conversations are on my archives page.) I could have simply focused on the impact on me. I could have publicized the conversation which I have a record of. I could have put their names out there publicly. That would have been focusing on the impact it had on me. If we can understand the intent of another person, we can understand to some degree what happened. The intent of these missionaries was not to focus on racism, but to preach their personal beliefs. They were 18 or 19 years old, and they had been raised with these racist beliefs as facts. I had been raised with the same information. Their intent was not to hurt me. In their minds they were bringing me truth. Though it was not truth – they saw it as that. Though the impact was pain – pain was not their intent. How different would things have been if I had publicized their names? How different if I was righteously angry? Perhaps some good would have come from it, but some bad too. I will live life on my terms, and only live a life I am proud of. So for me, intent is a big factor. What is my intent?
Understanding intent, at least personally, helps me understand how other people think. It does not make what they did suddenly “not racist”. This is a genuine form of racism, though perhaps it is subtle or covert. Perhaps the missionaries had no idea they were aiding in racism. It still genuinely needs to be addressed. However I also understand these were young people with non-malicious intent. I have had a number of people question me on my views as they tried to understand my acceptance and support of believers while I simultaneously run this website and speak out against the racism within the church. While I do not want to convert other people out of the church or anything like that, I do want to validate the impact. So yes, impact does still matter. I needed that validation when I was finally waking up to the pain I lived daily due to covert racism through my religion. I could not find “Lamanite” stories anywhere as I searched. The number one reason this website exists is to validate those who have experienced the effects of racism due to Book of Mormon teachings.
I think it is also important to distinguish those in power from those who have none. I support believers because I once was one of them. I had no power within the church, outside of my own personal convictions and beliefs. I did not think of myself as racist, sexist, or homophobic when I was a member of the church. I accepted all people and embraced teachings that reflected my views, specifically Christ’s teachings. I viewed myself as faithful. I tried not to dwell on teachings or history that was contrary to my personal views. I was trying to do my best and following what I was told was God’s plan for me personally. I viewed myself as wanting to share the good beliefs and I helped a number of friends convert and get baptized. My intent was kind and the best of who I was at that time. Intent of the average member is not something I am going to forget easily, so I will always give space to those who believe. There are many good, decent, and amazing people who are believers. Many with valid reasons for wanting to protect their faith.
When I consider those in power my reaction is very different. There is more than adequate proof that they have not only withheld information from their followers, but they have outright lied. This was one of the most painful aspects for me to come to terms with. Those I had put my trust in had been dishonest, all while teaching me to be honest. Those I followed and sustained as my leaders every general conference I had put my trust in, but they never trusted me with the truth.
Here is an older story, but one that represents the church I grew up in. This is the time my parents grew up in, this is how my grandparents thought. This represents the current leadership and how they were raised. This is a long history, and the missionaries I spoke with reflect the lack of change. General Conference 1950 -George Albert Smith shared a story about the Catawba Indians. Here are a few quotes from that story:
“When I bade them good-bye, I boarded the train and started home, and we passed a little Indian settlement at the side of the track. I saw evidence that there were quite a number of Indians there, so I reached over and touched the man who was sitting in the seat in front of me, and I said, “Do you know what Indians these are?”
He said, “They are the Catawbas.” That is the tribe that Chief Blue represents, who has just spoken to us.
I asked, “Do you know where they come from?”
He said, “Do you mean the Catawbas?”
I replied, “Any Indians.”
He said, “Nobody knows where the Indians came from.”
“Oh,” I said, “yes they do.” I was talking then to a man about forty-five or fifty years old, and I was twenty-one.
He questioned, “Well, where did they come from?”
I answered, “They came from Jerusalem six hundred years before the birth of Christ.”
“Where did you get that information?” he asked.
I told him, “From the history of the Indians.”
“Why,” he said, “I didn’t know there was any history of the Indians.”
I said, “Yes, there is a history of the Indians. It tells all about them.” Then he looked at me as much as to say: My, you are trying to put one over on me.
But he said, “Where is this history?”
“Would you like to see one?” I asked. And he said that he certainly would. I reached down under the seat in my little cabin grip and took out a Book of Mormon and handed it to him.
He exclaimed, “My goodness, what is this?”
I replied, “That is the history of the ancestry of the American Indian.”
(15 years later)
Then he related this story. He said, “You were on a train, and we passed the Catawba Indian Reservation.”
I interrupted, “I remember all about it now.” It all came back in an instant.
He said, “I want to tell you something. I read that book, and I was so impressed with it that I made up my mind I would like to take a trip down into Central America and South America, and I took that book with me in my bag when I went down there. As a result of reading it, I knew more about those people than they knew about themselves.”
“So you may be interested, brethren and sisters, in knowing that I am delighted in seeing Chief Blue here today, representing that tribe of fine Indians. I have seen some of them since. I have met one very fine young woman who is a school teacher, and others I have met of that race; in fact, I have some trinkets in my office that were sent to me by members of that tribe.
I am happy to have this good man here who represents one of the tribes that descended from Father Lehi as well as some of the others that are in our audience today. It is a great work that we are identified with. Not the least of our responsibilities is to see that this message is carried to the descendants of Lehi, wherever they are, and give them an opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Does the church owe an apology? I don’t care, and I don’t need one personally. Mainly because it wouldn’t be enough. I do not speak for everyone, perhaps some need an apology. So many people have experienced different types of pain. The hoax apology was dealing specifically with Black people’s experiences within Mormonism. Their experience, while similar in some ways, is vastly different in others. Do they need an apology? I would love to see one for them personally, but I do not know how active Black members feel. I would think it would be a range of reactions. I know not all Native Americans feel the way I do, especially active members in the church. We are all different. What I do want is a change in narrative. I care about the future. I want the church to be honest in all their dealings. I want the church to rise up and practice what it preaches. Be honest, be humble, and do what is right let the consequence follow. I suppose that would include an apology now that I am thinking about it. Not because I need to receive one though, but because the church teaches members to apologize as part of repentance. Does a business need to repent? Dunno? Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this. I have seen a number of businesses issue apologies and it is well received by the public when it happens. Just thinking out loud…
Regardless, I am not waiting to see it happen. I have zero expectations of that happening. They would need to remove the term “Native American” completely from the introduction in the Book of Mormon. They would need to address the fact that there is no DNA which represents “Lamanites” currently in existence, nor any anthropological truth to it. They would need to admit that Native Americans, South Americans, and Pacific Islanders all have a unique and rich history that has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, and that the Book of Mormon is not their history. And they would need to address or change the “skin darkening” in the Book of Mormon. More than anything they would need to completely revamp how we teach the youth. Seminary is a big part of the teen years, and many upon graduation go to the next step which is a mission. Again, please go to my archives page and read the conversations I had with two sets of very young missionaries – see what is being taught worldwide. Also, look at the current seminary manuals and youth manuals and see how the “skin darkening” as a sign of the curse is addressed (Lesson 27, towards the end). There is no other way the church interprets it in official manuals, skin color was darkened.
Racism exists, beliefs are not facts, impacts can be huge, and intent matters deeply in all of this. I am not waiting for the church to change it’s narrative, they would prefer to hide the truth. So what is it I am doing? I wish to bring awareness to these racial issues, because this narrative affects current living people. I want to help those who experienced racism to not feel alone or doubt their experience when they are fighting to free themselves of its effects. The loneliness I felt and doubt over my pain is something I don’t wish on anyone. I want to help people re-embrace their true heritage and celebrate that with them. I also want to show kindness, patience, and acceptance for those who still believe, I was once where they are. I value the kindness and patience I was shown, especially when I was unknowingly offensive. Intent is everything and I question mine constantly. So no, I will not wait for change, though I would celebrate it if it were to happen. What I will do however is choose what I stand for and how I treat those around me. We are all connected.
“Seek wisdom not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past. Wisdom is of the future.” Native American Proverb – Lumbee Tribe