At the Crossroads of Being Black and LDS

 

Guest post by Dumdi Baribe Wallentine

I remember when I made a Facebook post commenting about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ leadership lacked diversity, especially for it being a global church. The post was made about three years ago and slowly I believe it’s improving. At the time I made that comment, a former friend’s sister commented on the post and asked me if I even had a testimony of the gospel. I didn’t have a clue as to what that had to do with me pointing out that global church leadership should be a bit more diverse and representative of its members. As Facebook is known to go, a simple post turns into a heated debate, sometimes filled with attacks of the original poster’s faith or character more than the actual topic being posted about.

To this day I still have friends who have long left the LDS church expressing to me how they don’t know how I do it, stay in the LDS faith that is.

I feel as though when you’re Nigerian, like I am, you grow up with some sort of religious belief. It’s basically an integral part of how your parents raise you. When you become an adult you can either stay with the faith or find something else to believe in, but oftentimes you end up still believing in a higher power even if it is not in the same church your parents took you to when you were a child.

I think that when you grow up with so little to your name you tend to cling on to things that give you hope, something to look forward to the next day. Personally, I can easily see why believing in a higher power provides meaning for some people. Sometimes that belief is all that a person has, especially a person that is trying to survive in a world that doesn’t want them to. And to be honest, being Black in America can at times feel this way – that you’re living in a world where some people don’t want to see you thrive or even breathe.

When I became brave enough to speak up regarding the experiences I encountered with old white LDS roommates, college buddies, and former mission companions, I noticed that the ones I called my friends would slowly disappear or fight to dismiss and excuse away the racism that I had faced, even when there were witnesses there.

“How did you know they were being racist?”-a former college friend.

“Stop talking like that, you’re not from the ghetto!” – a former mission companion.

“I’m NOT going to be made to feel threatened in my own apartment!” – a former roommate in the middle of an argument she initiated.

“When black girls wear weaves it just looks like they’re trying to be white.” – a former co-worker.

And it goes on and on. All from white LDS women. Some of them had the decency to just disappear without a word as to why after years of friendship.

I hold no anger nor animosity towards the aforementioned women. I have only learned not to trust white women so quickly and to put some sort of guard up to protect myself. I don’t think people realize how cutting those comments are and how it basically tells a Black woman that her very presence is threatening to them, how the very skin they are in offends them.

At the crossroads of being Black and LDS is an imperfect woman that has a deep-rooted belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ and His Gospel. A human being. A daughter of God who wants to be able to walk in a world that preaches everyone to be a child of God and wholeheartedly means it. Because if I am a child of God, like it is preached in the LDS faith, then that means my life matters, too.

 

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21 Responses

  1. Violadiva says:

    Dumdi, thank you for this powerful piece that shines your truth like a laser spotlight. It leads me to pray “Lord, show me the ways it is I” and examine myself for ways that I have been the words or weapon of oppression and recommit myself to the words, actions and causes of justice.

  2. Allemande Left says:

    Thank you! You have given us so much to think about as we go forward as daughters of God who want to walk in a world that preaches everyone to be a child of God and wholeheartedly means it.

  3. Chiaroscuro says:

    lord forgive us for all the times we looked away or made excuses to make ourselves more comfortable

  4. Leah says:

    I love you, Sister. I am sorry for your sorrows and struggles. I am sorry for the things I have done or failed to do that have added to them. I wish you much happiness, success and peace.

  5. Barbara says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Dumdi — for taking the time to share your experiences and helping me to reflect on my own behavior.

  6. Allison Syphus says:

    Thank you for helping us all take a good look at ourselves to make change for the better. My husband and I also commented a few years ago when there were 3 new apostles to be called that the leadership doesn’t look very diverse for a worldwide church. And then 3 more white men were called. They are wonderful. But I know there are so many other wonderful men from other backgrounds who could enrich us as well.

    Anyway, I want to listen and read and learn and love. Thank you for being a strong voice!

  7. Marie says:

    Dumdi, thank you for sharing your experience! I am so sorry you’ve had negative interactions with white women. I appreciate your willingness to share and educate people with your experiences. It is heartbreaking to me that you and others have experiences like/similar to this. I’m sure I’ve said insensitive and inconsiderate things in the past without realizing, and for that I’m sorry. I’m part of the infertility community, and people say hurtful things all the time (realizing they are or not), and it makes me wary to share sometimes too. I know it’s not the same, but my experience has helped teach me to be more mindful of my words and considerate of others. I try to recognize all as children of God regardless of race, nationality, gender identity, etc. I’m still a work in progress, but I am trying. May you find the understanding, comfort, and peace you seek.

  8. lyrickinard says:

    Thank you Dumdi – your voice is important. What you have to say is important.

    It’s time we white LDS members look around at the simple truth that we have not welcomed our Black brothers and sisters and that with our history of outright racism within the church we need to try MUCH harder. It is US that needs to change.

    If we are Christlike we are not asking people to conform to our culture, we are welcoming and one of heart in living gospel principles.
    If we are Christlike we can look around and see how very important examples to follow are – and how there are almost no American blacks at all in leadership positions. It matters. It matters a lot.

  9. Di says:

    Thank you – we need to read these stories over and over no matter how uncomfortable or discouraging. I hear you and hopefully recognize my own blind spots and do better.

  10. RB says:

    I am so sorry for the unkind words and actions that seem to be such a regular part of your life. I hope that I have not caused you any pain. Thank you for sharing your experiences so I can better understand how to improve my behavior. I feel that I have never intended to be hurtful – but I know I can do more to help prevent harm. Recent events have caused me to look inward more than I have done in the past – and I find a lot of room for improvement. I am determined to increase my understanding and awareness and improve my actions whenever I can.

  11. Em says:

    Thank you. And I love your point about how you can critique lack of representation without that having anything to do with your testimony of the Gospel. The conference Ensign centerfold is crazy white. You could never effectively play “guess who” with it. Is he white? Old? Clean shaven? Wearing a suit and tie? Well that eliminates… two people maybe? Noticing this and pointing it out doesn’t negate a testimony of Christ.

    Anyway. I appreciate your post.

  12. Elizabeth (Liz) Neil says:

    Basically, Dumdi, I need to be taught, so thank you for your words. Growing up in Provo, Utah, I never saw a person of color except from the Indian reservation foster child program. Some years after I was married, my father and mother were called to serve in Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa as senior missionaries. My father had grown up in Ogden, Utah (a very racially divided city), and had been a professor and scientist at BYU who traveled all over the world in his profession. Toward the end of his senior mission, Dad sent us a long, wonderful letter about how he had come to confront his prejudices while serving the people of Zimbabwe. In 18 months, he and my mother grew so close to the humble native people in their branch that it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to them. As the saints of Harare sang “God Be With You Til’ We Meet Again” and rode away in a flat-bed truck after wishing my parents farewell, tears streamed down all their faces as they realized they would never meet again in this world.

  13. Jan Signore says:

    I love what you express, beautifully said, great insights. I admire that you have such a healthy attitude and, in spite of these terrible experiences, you remain focused on the core gospel we love. We raised our children in Washington, DC. When both of our daughters came to Utah for college they were shocked by some of the racist attitudes they encountered. Having been raised in a diverse area with friends from so many races and backgrounds, it was something they had not encountered before, we were all shaken by those experiences (we are white, BTW). So much still to be done, thank you!

  14. Ayanda Whiting says:

    Dumdi, thank you for sharing your truth. I realize that there may be SO many other experiences that you didn’t share about in this post. I’m really sorry you’ve had to go through those painful moments. It can be really hard to be a black Latter Day Saint woman, especially in a predominantly white community that is neither racist nor anti-racist. Sometimes you have to go through a long thought process of how to respond to prejudiced perspectives/ comments that are made during Sunday school or even Relief Society. You have to careful to balance speaking up for yourself (without sounding “accusatory”) while speaking words of kindness, compassion and humility. But also be careful of not sounding “too black” or contentious when you ask someone to elaborate on their insensitive comments. It can be exhausting. It’s funny because I’ve also been asked by many how I am still an active member while living in Utah. But…here we are, trying to continuously look unto the Savior who is our source of peace and Comforter.

    I love you, lady! Keep strong! We’re in this together 💕

  15. Caroline says:

    Dumdi, thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom. I wish all white members could read what you have written, search their souls, and commit to doing better. I know I’ll be searching mine.

  16. OregonMum says:

    Thank you for sharing your message.

  17. Julie Berry says:

    I’m so sorry. That sounds so terrible. Thank you for telling these painful truths. I hope you’ll keep doing so. We have such a long, long way to go to become the body of Christ.

  18. Sibongile Mkhize says:

    I often thought that Utah is kinda like a perfect place that there’s no racism at all, but lately I’m a bit sceptical about that cause I’ve had few people commenting about racism being so deep in Utah. But having said that I think white LDS should be examples to even those that are non members. But what I have realised is sometimes at church we kinda like sweep these things under capert with a hope that it will remain unseen and will never be discussed just to make people feel comfortable. And we continue to call each other brothers and sisters yet we fail to treat each other as such. This needs to be dealt with and be put out there have real talks about racism. At least Africa is well known that those issues are still burning and black people are a majority you know that you are not alone. It is a challenge to LDS that we need to look into ourselves and introspect deal with issue at hand. Before we suffer the consequences, because Heavenly Father is aware of these things and not happy at all. Thank you Dumdi you a true inspiration, we also love God with our dark skin we not different from our fellow white brothers and sisters. We are in this together. There is no privileged in the gospel because of a skin color. Priviledges has been created by people to accommodate a certain color to achieve other agendas. But in the Lord’s you don’t need a certain color to be recognized better but only your works and heart will help you attain eternal life. As black people we need to understand that and hold on to the iron rod no matter what….. One day the Lord will say to us, “you also my daughter or son belong here, welcome to my kingdom” Let us press on and love ourselves more. Time will come for our white fellow to change their hearts and see things in a better way.

  19. MargaretOH says:

    Thank you for a beautiful and powerful post.

  20. Marcus says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your experiences. We as a community need to start listening more and speaking less. I see these past acquaintances parroting talking points from various sources (some in and from the church even) that need to be abandoned and repented of. Children need to be taught and corrected.
    Elder Holland said it all and it’s time repent and move forward.

  21. Violadiva says:

    The author of this post, Dumdi Baribe Wallentine, has launched a blog with follow up content speaking to her experiences. Follow her additional writings here!
    https://sincerelydumdi.com/

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