we need equality, kinda now

It was suggested to me, recently, that I should not be upset about racist comments from my church, because, and I think this may shock some of you, I am not black. I am not black, and (SPOILER ALERT) I am not a man. So while it is good that I stand up for things that seem wrong, (Really? Oh. Good.) I should focus on the things that apply to me, and not look for excuses to condemn the church.

I reject that idea on so many levels,  and it makes me really upset.

1. I reject the idea that anyone who advocates for change is just "looking for an excuse to condemn the church." To vilify our motives, my motives, with the assumption that people like me just want to cause problems? Unacceptable. Racism is the problem, and racism condemns us as false Christians. Pointing it out? Common human decency. 

I want the church to stop being racist because racism is wrong. I want them to recognize the wrongness, because it is the first step to making sure it never happens again. I'm also not a Jew, but the phrase "Then they came for me," rings in my head. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemoeller

2. If we tell ourselves that we cannot be upset by things that do not directly concern us we our denying ourselves  of what I believe is the primary purpose of our existence: To gain empathy. To alleviate the pain of our fellow humans, not only the humans that are like us, but the humans who are not like us. Jesus said it best: Love one another.

For the Mormons in the audience, Alma says it too: Mourn with those that mourn, even when we aren't black. Comfort those who stand in need of comfort, even when you are not directly hurt.  (Mosiah 18:9)

It is why we are here. You can believe it is why God put us on earth, or you can accept it as just the right thing to do, but it doesn't change the fundamental truth: Learning to love and accept one another is why we are here.  Sometimes we fail, and we hurt each other, but we must be willing to try again, however imperfectly.

3. But there is a Black man who said some pretty great things about our need to confront not only racism, but injustice and inequality as a whole: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't just for Black people, it was for human people.

James Zwerg knew that too. James Zwerg participated in the Freedom Rides from Washington D.C. to Birmingham. At one point, he was the only white passenger. In Montgomery, the bus was attacked. Zwerg was one of the first people who stepped off the bus, allowing others a chance to escape. His attackers used his suitcase to bash his skull, then pinned him down and proceeded to knock out his teeth, while spectators stood on the sidelines. One man stood by and watched the beating, carrying his little girl on his shoulders.

When asked about his experiences, Zwerg simply noted, "My faith was never so strong as during that time... I knew I was doing what I should be doing."

I've never been attacked for standing up for my beliefs. I've lived a comfortable and safe life because of people like James Zwerg. The very least I can do is say what should be obvious: Racism is wrong. I can't just stand by and watch.

4. Lastly, because racism is one piece in the ugly puzzle of injustice, I want to include a quote from Joss Whedon. Yes, he of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. In his speech for the "Equality Now" foundation, he responds in various ways to the question, So, why do you write these strong women characters?

"Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and women who’s confronted with it. We need equality, kinda now.

So, why do you write these strong female characters?

Because you’re still asking me that question."



*It was also inferred to me that white people are hypocrites for being mad at Professor Bott because black people aren't even upset at his comments. Apparently, someone has spoken to all the Black Mormons, and knows how all of them feel. I'm not even going to address this argument further, because it makes my brain hurt.

*Here is a  question I am not asking: Can you be a good and faithful Mormon and still reject racist "folk doctrines?" I'm not asking that question, nor have I ever, because the answer has always been "yes."  Despite comments to the contrary, I never implied that those who stay active in the LDS church, despite it's issues, are wrong. I respect the individuals that faced discrimination- black, white, male, female, and still stay in an attempt to make the world, and the church, a better place. We all have ways to combat injustice, from Jim Zwerg to the actively Mormon BYU students who protested Professor Bott's comments last week. I never said, nor believed otherwise.


Femme Facetious said...

Thank you.

jeremysmom said...

Great post.

It's distressing how our public discourse has evolved to the point that labeling racism is considered more provocative and more offensive than the racism itself. Ridiculous rules about who has the right to speak out on racism and collusion by all parties to ignore what is blatant perpetuates the situation.

But racism is racism, and everyone has the eyes to see it and the words to call it out--but most lack the nerve.

So, again, really excellent posts. A surprisingly interesting and useful resource for the topic (if you can get past the salty language) is Give it a few pages. The guy's given some serious thought to the topic.

Andrew and Becca said...

I love it. There are also plenty of women around who don't get offended at blatantly sexist comments, but I'm still glad it pisses off my husband, even though he isn't being directly harmed by it.

Speaking of empathy, I just read the most fascinating book - Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature." It is long. It is detailed, and it will take forever. But it is awesome and thought-provoking and inspiring, especially the chapter on how empathy is evolving to be stronger in today's society than it has ever been and bringing violence rates to a new low (take that, everybody who bemoans how awful everything has gotten since the good ole' days!).

LovelyLauren said...

This was awesome.

I think it's also important to recognize that nothing would ever change if only the oppressed were upset about it. Obvious example is obvious and oversimplified, but slavery probably wouldn't have ended if the slaves were the only people who had any sort of problem with it. People who are openly and acceptably discriminated against need as many voices in their favor as we can give them.

Valery said...

"...but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." - Atticus Finch

I loved your "my heart is in the coffin", mainly because your conscience is bothered by the hardship that Caesar might/probably will encounter. It bothers me that there are people who aren't bothered by the racism Caesar will experience and who continue to be ostriches and bury their head in the sand. Props to keeping your head above it all. And props to holding the church accountable.

Emily said...


Jenna said...

I 100% agree that the most important thing we should gain in life is empathy/charity. 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind. It doesn't matter what else I've got going for me, if I don't have charity, I am nothing. I'm trying to be like God, God is love, I'm trying to be love. I hope that's how people will remember me. Jenna was love.

Thank you for emphasizing that charity includes empathizing with people who are different from you. I bore my testimony in Relief Society one week about Dominique Storni, the transsexual woman who spoke at the last Counterpoint conference. I said that it's easy to have charity for people who are the same as you. The real challenge (and reward) is having charity for those who are not the same as you. I'm proud to report that my comments were well received.

Unlike yours, it appears. Don't let the haters get you down. There are lots and lots of people on your side.

Tammy said...

Well said.

Donna Bardsley said...

Amen, amen, and amen.

Sue said...

This is how more people need to think. Honestly, this is one of my issues with organized religion... I'll just keep looking for my answers though. Thank you for sharing.

Brien said...

What a great post! I get a lot of the same push back from people when, as a straight man, I loudly protest the injustices I see in society (and the Church) against gays and lesbians. You've helped me articulate my defense a little bit better!

Ru said...

The odd thing about these sort of defenses is that I suspect those who use them are just naive -- they've heard one person use the justification and they think, "Oh, that does make sense. Who am I, or you for that matter, to object?" But of course, the logical implication of that idea is exactly what you've described -- a world where everyone tolerates intolerance or worse so long as it isn't happening to them.

Lisa Louise said...

I completely agree that is is a naiveté that makes fellow mormons swallow and regurgitate the stories we were told our whole lives. "blacks weren't given the priesthood to protect them, etc" It is frustrating when I see educated people and members of the church just shrug their shoulders and accept this and the other injustices currently happening in front of our eyes today. Thanks for you post Steep, there are so many of us that agree!

MamaBear said...

i <3 u, MCB. every time you post one of these incredibly articulate, intelligent posts, my heart gets all warm and fuzzy.

JustMe said...

Perfect! I don't always agree with you but you always make me think.

You are 100% correct and I wish you could hear me say "Go Steph!"

Zurmely family said...

seeing the legislation going forth and the disturbing movement by the Republican party, we as women need to stand up for all and any inequality and injustice. It's crap. and it needs to stop. we are all God's children and we are all equal and I'm sick of hearing differently.

Halli said...

So, a friend turned me on to your blog and I have to say that IT IS WONDERFUL!!!!! Thank you for your lovely thoughts. By reading some of your articles today, I have felt less lonely in my Mormon faith journey. Thanks.

ChristyLove said...

Thank you for the link to his speech, I've been looking for that!

It sounds to me like there are people who'd rather talk crap about your passion for justice than admit they don't care about the world outside themselves. This isn't meant as a passive-agressive diss. It just sounds a lot like the "You can't help everyone," mentality, and when someone says that what I hear is "I'm making an excuse for finding my egg and cheese breakfast more interesting than human rights, that my peer group will hear and validate so I can continue not giving a damn."

I'm not sure if that came out right but you probably get what I'm saying.

fevre198.5 said...

Long time reader, first time commenter. This was very powerful, especially the part about Mr. Zwerg. Reading it gave me goosebumps.

Nat said...

My sentiments exactly.

Tarasview said...

this is just a fabulous post!

well said :) (and this from a white, Canadian Christian pastor's wife!)