‘The Full Picture of Mormon Race Relations’

Black Mormon women spoke at a recent panel in Salt Lake City at the Black, White, and Mormon conference. Photo courtesy Tanner Humanities Center

Let’s set the record straight.

The LDS Church published a piece about blacks in the church that didn’t quite cut it. (It conveniently came just a week or so after folks started comparing the church’s new gay policy to its errant blacks and the priesthood policy, as the church admitted.)

As Feminist Mormon Housewives’ Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks wrote:

A short article called “Race Relations,” published at the Mormon Newsroom website, seems to have been re-released yesterday (though the article or at least some version of it has been in existence for a few years). The article presents The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a church that has done very well in its inclusion of black people, both before and after 1978. Included are quotes from (an African-American stake president).

Tony Parker, (an) African-American stake president, oversees nine congregations in the Atlanta area, including one headed by a black bishop. Parker has been a member of the Mormon faith for 25 years.

“I’m a better person now than I was back then,” Parker says. “I feel better about myself. They have been years of personal growth and enrichment.”

Parker says he has a simple answer to critics outside of the Church.  “Anyone who thinks the Church is racist just needs to come and see. They can sit in our church on the sidelines and watch, or talk to members.”

Asked if he had ever encountered a prejudicial comment from a fellow Latter-day Saint, Parker said: “My experience has been almost universally positive. Sure, there have been occasional bumps in the road, but nothing to damage my personal convictions.

As I’m sure most anyone would agree, the fact that (Brother Parker) had either very minimal experiences with racism in the church or no experiences with racism whatsoever is an incredibly good thing. However, such experiences aren’t universal, and I question whether the Newsroom would have been willing to include quotes from people of color that told a different story. If they’d called (Brother Parker) for a quote and one or both of them had said, “Actually, racism is a problem I’m dealing with frequently in my role as stake president,” or, “I have experienced a lot of racism as a member of the church,” would those quotes have been published? I doubt it.

This is an article that doesn’t so much as acknowledge the fact that black women couldn’t attend the temple before 1978, that doesn’t talk about segregated congregations or black people who were asked not to attend their local wards or branches so as to not offend the white people there, and that explicitly invalidates the words of Mormons who have said that the Church has a problem with racism. This is an article motivated by PR needs, not full-fledged honesty or repentance.

If members of the church, of whatever background, want to get a thorough idea of current or historical race relations in the church, this article does not do the job. The quotes from Brother Parker constitute part of the picture. Other parts of the picture are filled in by FEMWOC, written by feminist Mormon women of color who illuminate the landscape of modern Mormonism and share their own perspectives with grace and boldness. Other parts of the picture are filled in by Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel, the Sistas in Zion, who write and speak with humor and brilliance. Other parts are filled in by the women on this recent panel at the Black, White, and Mormon conference in Salt Lake City (which, oh my good gracious, if you have not watched this yet, WATCH IT).

(Also check out these related panels on Race at BYU and Race at the Ward.)

These resources and others speak at least occasionally of racism experienced within the church — not baseless claims leveled by outsiders, but real face-to-face encounters with moments that judge people to be lesser based on the color of their skin and the nations of their ancestors. This is part of the picture, too. Let’s just be honest about that.


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