My Black Voice is (s)ILENT

During the early days of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time watching LDS influencers interact on their various social media channels. With nowhere to go and nothing to do as the world screeched to a halt, I found myself immersed deeply in the #ldsinfluencer hashtag on Instagram seeking like-minded individuals who shared both truthfulness along with relatable and optimistic messages.

Maybe, I was searching for something. A part of me believes that I was seeking to find connectivity in a church that despite their best efforts doesn’t quite reflect my blackness back to me. Still, I remained optimistic that somewhere…somehow, I would find community.

I had long dubbed myself an anti-influencer. I didn’t share the bubblegum messages of peace, love, and charity. I didn’t push my followers with content about following the prophet. I didn’t stick to the surface-level script most influencers have that diminishes their real-life problems into the categories of “punishment versus unworthiness”.

George Floyd’s death woke me up. But why did it seem like everyone else was asleep?

Instead, I spoke about the hard things. I shared the good and bad parts of my journey and how being a member had impacted my ability to remain resilient in the storm. I testified that as much as the gospel had changed my life, there were temporal aspects from my pre-baptism life I held onto. I didn’t make cute sappy messages where I used my “church voice” to appear as though I had the answers to life’s problems. I was me…sassily expressing myself and sharing my own take on living the gospel life while preserving my true self.

I had first noticed the shift in my followers following the death of George Floyd. Like other black Latter Day Saints, I awaited some sort of message to soothe pained hearts from the church. When no response came, I took inspiration from a returned missionary and started to talk about the experiences I had while visiting friends in Utah.

My follower count which had been steadily growing started to decline. No longer was I seen as the “agreeable” black woman but I had somehow in the opinions of many politicized my page. Without outwardly expressing their disdain, I had been asked to “turn my blackness off” for the sake of likes, follows, and engagement.

 I just couldn’t do that.

Over time, I’ve realized all LDS influencers seem to be reading from the same script. In my mind, I thought I could change it. I was wrong.

Engagement with my posts hit an all-time low. Even while still churning out content, I was seeing how these “surface messages” seemed to prosper over my own. Things deteriorated further when I placed more emphasis on speaking about the topic of mental health. While mine was deteriorating following my bout with Covid-19, I decided to speak openly about my own struggles dealing with anxiety and depression.

The hub of “friends” from the community was silent. My message fell on deaf ears as my follower count decreased even more. Five hundred followers by then decided that I was no longer their cup of tea and vamoosed for the nearest exit.

I stopped posting on my Instagram page, feeling the hypocrisy of the LDS influencer space. I started to open my eyes to how performative it all seemed. There was no message of support or a true sense of community.

Instead, I realized that in a gospel of perfection, the color of my skin often excludes me from the narratives that I might experience struggles. When white friends posted about their challenges with their lives and mental health hardships, they were immediately flacked with support and care.

I, on the other hand, was expected to endure.

I realized that the culture which surrounds church members excludes BIPOC from ever experiencing difficulty. We are expected to be hard, tough and endure every difficulty that comes our way so we will be deemed the “Golden covert”.

After losing my grandmother in 2018 and sharing my experiences with the grief that consumed me, a follower kindly reminded me that I should focus on the good and just focus on producing content. In her words, “I knew where my grandmother was going and I should just try to return to normal as quickly as possible”. It mattered very little that I was in pain. In her eyes, I was simply meant to fake it for the sake of being a good member. I was expected to sit down, shut up, focus on the Spirit and go back to life as normal.

After these encounters, my wheels fell off. I decided to live life away from the hashtags and the performative captions. I decided to focus my energy on my other writing projects and began writing the hard-hitting content for my Exponent articles. In my mind, if my black voice had no power…if it contributed nothing to the conversation then I would simply remove myself from the narrative that failed to provide me with the community I needed.

A weight has been lifted off my shoulders as I find comfort in having these hard conversations in spaces where my voice adds value instead of living in a faith-based fear that my words will be misinterpreted and misconstrued.

I’m much more aware of the energy of spaces that allow me to use my voice as a woman of color. I am protective of the spaces that accept me as I am and don’t ask me to change what makes me uniquely me for the sake of fitting in with the model example of what makes a good member of the church.

I’d like to think there’s a community for black women in church spaces. I’d like to believe that somehow, we break glass ceilings with our words and in speaking out about the disparities that exist in our church culture.  Our voices and opinions add spice and flavor to a church that might not project our blackness back to us but allow us to feel as though we do add value to the conversations that surround us.

I hold on to the hope that one day our voices won’t be silent. I pray for the day we add value instead of being seen as less agreeable if our opinions differ from the major. That day will come.

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8 Responses

  1. Lizzie says:

    I remember the first time I consciously and directly dealt with the racism in our Mormon culture. I was living in the urban mid-Atlantic after graduating from BYU, and my boss was a black woman. We were talking one day and I said she should visit Utah, since she’d never been. She looked me square in the face and said she didn’t think she’d be welcome there because of how she looked. I didn’t know what to say because I felt she was likely right. I wanted to defend “my people” — be a good missionary — but I couldn’t honestly do so.

    My heart hurts for you and every BIPOC individual who has had to face misunderstanding, silencing, outright rejection, or any other thing because of the color of your skin or ethnic heritage. Some wards are better at including and listening and supporting than others, but we still have so long to go. And I wonder if, given our history and the institutional/ patriarchal structure that still exists, we’ll ever get there. I hope you continue to find places to safely and effectively use your voice. I understand if you need to take a step back from some spaces because you are not supported there. I hope those of us who haven’t been injured as directly by our culture’s racism (understanding that racism harms all of us) can work to make our world a safer and more welcoming space for all.

  2. EmilyCC says:

    I learn so much from your posts. Thank you for articulating the pain that you feel when people stop engaging and fall away from relationships rather than being brave and willing to have hard conversations. This is something I needed to hear as I work on my internalized racism.

    • Ramona Morris says:

      thanks emily. i took a break from posting these black issues just to have mental clarity and to not overwhelm myself but i realize that unless i’m ready to rattle and make some noise, i can’t inspire people to do the same.

  3. Angie says:

    I don’t know much about LDS influencers or instagram, but I have had a pretty crappy experience interacting with LDS people on Facebook. I have been very very vocal on FB about George Floyd, inequity, income inequality, Trump etc., leading me to unfriend almost 100% of church members. It was nightmare-quality, seeing the racist tropes they would regurgitate, or the testimony-like posts about Trump. Literally, I had nightmares about it, so I cut those people from my online life. I still go to church with some of them (my LDS FB connections were from past and current wards), so I interact with them at church and in-person only. And I work on my rage, because I can’t sustain being angry all the time. (This comment has a lot of “I” in it, just wanted to share my initial reaction to your post.)

  4. Angie says:

    (Now a less me-centric comment?) Do you think the tides are turning? You say “that day will come,” do you see this happening? Maybe it’s happening a little bit in mainstream American society (at least white people were at Black Lives Matter rallies, and racist crimes are facing some consequences), but is it happening at church? I wonder if the world will become more tolerant, and these church members who want surface content will just be left behind.

    • Ramona Morris says:

      Hi Angie,
      To answer your question. I would say yes and no. I feel like the church culture does perpetuate that poc stay in our place especially black women. With the exception of Sista’s In Zion we don’t really have any of those rebellious lds voices from black women who acknowledge the church isn’t this 100% majestic place.
      Change doesn’t happen without acknowledging that all black voices are not the same. Black members are not a monolith. Our voices differ. As much as can be done, our leadership does more to change perspectives on understanding poc voices. We can shout all we want for the change we want to see but it doesn’t really benefit us when we speak ourselves. So in that aspect poc in the church always have to silently refer to a white ally so that their needs can be heard before it is acknowledged and recognized.
      I’d like to be hopefuly that the tide will turn but as this moment I don’t feel as though it will.

  5. Gina says:

    I love everything about this post. Please don’t ever let your rich cultural roots be whitewashed from your identity by any organization.

    years ago, Dallin H. Oaks instructed African members to leave their culture and cleave to the Utah/American/White culture of the church (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2012/03/the-gospel-culture?lang=eng)

    Oaks delivered those commands to African members in a broadcast from Utah, which says so much. I am one of the few lifelong members who says, “No” to this doctrine of cultural erasure. A loving God would not ask you to abandon your identity for Him.

  6. Mindy says:

    I appreciate your powerful voice and writing. I am so grateful you are part of the Exponent community. Thank you for your candor about mental health, which means so much to me, as I struggle too.

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