On Being a Latter-day Saint and a Black American: Seeing Past Skin
I thought that Blacks were second class in ALL White societies until I learned I was wrong!
The White People
In Part Seven, I mentioned my crush on Katie and us singing together. That made me feel a little less like I did not fit in. Aside from performing music with her, Katie would take me to seminary as an added service since as I aged into an older teen, I still had no car.
Going to seminary is common for teen Saints. It was also another excuse to be with her. My feelings did not cool for her, though, never did I act on them because I feared the White people. I knew if I asked her out, maybe they would kick me out of the Church or something. It may have been untrue, but I was unwilling to find out.
I went to church with real Southerners, not just Utah transplants. In my mind, a real Southerner was a White man or woman who tolerated Blacks. God had His work cut out transforming me because I still did not trust White people. Earlier in my young life, I experienced many racist insults that I did not understand at the hands of some ignorant and well-intentioned people--both White and Black. It was clear on many such occasions that my Black behind was not welcomed to step out of the racial norms! This was not my impression so much with the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was the impression that I brought with me into the Church in my teen years.
As a young man, only one family turned me away as their home teacher (visiting lay minister) for being Black. I understood it then. I accepted it. It is the South, and they were White. Why should I expect something different from White people whether they are Saints or not? I did expect something different, however.
When our congregation split due to the significant growth in the area, I was separated from the only Black family in the ward that actually went to church. There were Black Latter-day Saints in the area. They just decided to leave the Church after a while and be with people that looked more like them. The cultural gap was too much of an obstacle for them.
As for me, I was devastated. I knew with that family missing from my weekly worship; I would experience rejection from the remaining Whites! I was glad that I was able to have a couple of years in the Tifton Ward before we split into the Tifton first and Second Wards. There was no choice in my estimation of whether or not to go back to the historically Black church. I found Jesus in reading the Book of Mormon. I found fellowship among the Latter-day Saints I had never experienced at other churches. Sharing the same race as the majority of adherents of a church was not enough to shake my resolve to worship with the Whites.
The OJ Simpson Racism Indicator?
Rarely did I experience racism in church. Most of my racist experiences occurred only in my head produced by my cultural (TV) experiences and not by reality. My racist experiences happened when I was alone with a book about church history. The people, though Southern, did not show any racism to me if they felt it. I just made sure I did not rock the boat socially. I danced with the White girls, and that was all!
Mavis Harrell, as I mentioned took Dexter and me to church almost every Sunday. Sister Harrell, an older woman, was also very kind to me. She treated me as the person I was. I began to associate Utah with non-racist people because of her and a few others I met in my ward, the transplants. Sister Harrell was a transplant. She rarely missed church, so it was great having her provide rides to me. I owe her an enormous debt for providing me with that service.
Funny that what made me think that sister Harrell was not racist is a comment she made to me on the way to a church meeting. News about the O. J. Simpson case was all abuzz in the world.
In an angry voice, she merely said, "He is innocent." In her mind, the glove did not fit so they should acquit!
To me, that was a revelation! That a White person would side with a Black person... an old White person at that!
Funny how now I think the man actually did kill his wife! Slowly, the members of my church, my home congregation, taught me how to stop being so race-oriented. It took years. It took a move to New York too. It was happening, though.
Moroni saw me! When he wrote of the centuries for my benefit, he told me what church was for. He taught that the purpose of the church is "to meet together oft (often), to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls." Moroni 6:5. It does not matter what pigmentation our skin evidences; we are to speak to each other about the health of our spirits, he says.
Moroni saw that I would be crushing on Katie and preoccupied with my racial description. He put that bit in there for my benefit. This historian added a key by which I could become a faithful follower of the Kingdom of Christ. Quoting his father whose name was Mormon, told me the key is behavior. "I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men," Mormon teaches. "For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also." Moroni 7:4-5
I saw the good works and gave thanks or glory to the Lord for showing me a group of people who I could trust with my heart. Moroni knew that I needed that; so, he wrote about it.
Would you be willing to read the book associated with this article?
© 2016 Rodric Anthony