Whiteness Strikes Again
I am a white woman who claims Mormonism (it’s complicated, I do Community of Christ now) and Feminism. This week we saw the a fake news hoax in the Mormon corner of the internet that deeply upset black Mormons. During this episode, the white hoaxer co-opted the pain of black Mormons for his own purposes, a classic example of whiteness in action. Black Mormons shared their reactions in a number of videos here, here, and here. Please watch them, even if you missed the hoax incident.
Whiteness plays out continually in Mormonism. Gina Colvin, in her blog and in the A Thoughtful Faith podcast that she hosts, is always pointing out the ways in which the culture, attitudes, and political beliefs of white American Mormons are set up as “normal” in the LDS Church. This centering of whiteness in the LDS Church is a problem that many white folks have not yet learned to see or understand. We need to stop engaging in structural and individual behaviors that create a hostile environments for people of color in our faith community. I hope that we can see that this de-centering of whiteness is part of the work of Jesus, part of loving our neighbor, part of becoming Zion.
When I am teaching or speaking about whiteness, I like to start with the The Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It’s an article on white privilege. At the beginning, she notes
I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.
This really struck me when I first read it because I learned the same thing growing up in Maine. As long as I wasn’t outwardly mean or rude, I was not racist. And, quite frankly, being #NotRacist in this way was comforting. I was a good, checklist-oriented Mormon teen, and I was killing it with all of my non-meanness. But racism is more than individual acts of unkindness or discrimination, it includes systems that exclude and discriminate, systems that prioritize the cultures and values of white people over people of color. Racism creates a privileged class of white people, even if you don’t feel or see that privilege right now. But learning to feel and see privilege it is precisely what God calls us to do and formed the bulk of Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees.
In my experience, white people are often resistant to the idea of white privilege until they see the examples that she gives.
I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
It’s a good list. I have read it many times and it has helped me to see the ways in which white privilege has impacted my life. It helped me to start to see the whiteness of my environment. I learned that my experiences and life have been impacted by race, but for most of my life I’ve been ignorant of that fact. Once I started to see evidence of my white privilege at work, I understood that I needed more education. It’s a process and I’m still learning.
Right now, I’d like to invite you to learn with me.
I’d like for us to compile a similar list but with a focus on the white privilege experienced in Mormonism, Feminism, and at the intersection of the two.
I’ll start with a few:
I grew up in a church where I was taught that people of my race were righteous in the Pre-Existence, that my spirit had made righteous choices that are now a core part of my self.
I grew up in a church where God and Jesus were always depicted as sharing my race.
I participate in Feminist communities where when I am asked my opinion, people understand that I am an individual and my opinion is my own and not representative of my race.
I can speak and move in the spaces of Mormonism and Feminism without my words or actions reflecting negatively on my race.
Please note: the comments for this post are not a place to debate the existence of white privilege, to talk about so-called “reverse racism,” or to process the feelings of white people about whiteness. Please hold those conversations in other places. This is a place to brainstorm and learn to see whiteness. If that is something you are not ready to do, then do not comment below.