So anyway, when a friend of mine who happens to be Mormon sent me an essay that he wrote, I asked him if I could re post it on my blog. He said that I could if I didn't use his name, as he happens to have an important position in the church.
If you don't mind I will honor those wishes.
Here is what he wrote:
"We Need to Wake Up
A recent Pew survey of 1,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints revealed, among other things, that 49% of Mormons say they (we) experience “a lot of discrimination”, while only 31% of Mormons believe Black people experience “a lot of discrimination.” In other words, Mormons think it is harder to be Mormon than it is to be Black.
I get it. At one time I may have answered this question the same way. I would have been wrong.
You see, Mormons, especially those in the West where the religion predominates and where the people are predominantly white, race is an abstract. It exists on TV, in the news, occasionally with an individual (though we love to say we never even noticed they were Black), and mostly it is in history books. I, and I would guess most like me, were taught that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for rights, won, and now things are better. We watch the old news reels, we would never do something racist ourselves, and we assume this is just how it is. That is what I used to think. Why would I think otherwise? I knew a couple Black people, they seamed popular, I never heard anyone call them that one word. Everything was fine right?
On the other hand my local newspaper had lots to say about how horrible Mormons are. We made it too hard to drink, we meddled in politics, we were just mean. A cursory look at the Salt Lake Tribune would never leave one lacking in ammunition to disparage the LDS church. Every now and then national news or events would dig up some polygamy or related scandal or question what goes on in our mysterious temples. Living in the hot bed of Mormonism has a polarizing effect, you are in or you are out, you love them/us, or hate them/us. In the coming weeks the church will hold a semiannual conference in Salt Lake City that will be broadcast around the world. At the gates to temple square and on the sidewalks surrounding the conference center, there will be people with large signs shouting in megaphones about how horrible Mormons are. How do I know they will be there? Because they are always there. No one growing up in Salt Lake City will likely ever see someone holding a sign complaining about Black people. We would never do that.
Then I left Utah.
Having lived in Georgia, South Carolina, and now Philadelphia, I have learned a thing or two about not just Black people, but my being a Mormon “back East” as well. First lesson, racism is alive and well. Second, there is little social consequence for publicly mocking Mormonism. The two are not the same.
Driving around the south it is not uncommon to see confederate flags on bumper stickers, on clothing, and waving in front of homes and in public places. These flags, despite what those flying them may say, serve as a visual reminder of a horrible past. The past I'm talking about isn't slavery, its the 60's. This is when people waving these flags sprayed well behaved college kids with fire hoses and sicked police dogs on peaceful protesters. This flag flew over a battle in Mississippi when a qualified Black man tried to enroll in college. The message that flag intended then, is not forgotten by Black people today, yet many people still fly it with pride.
My father never got sprayed with a hose by the Police for being Mormon.
But of course, this was in my history book and MLK won that fight, right? The legacy of that last generation carries over to now. National statistics show that this history of direct and legal oppression, which again lasted into my parent's life time, means that being Black means you will more likely be poor, get arrested, go to a cash strapped under performing school, find it harder to get a job even when you are qualified, have a broken family, be judged negatively by your appearance, and die younger than the national average. There are absolutely no statistics showing any of these challenges in the lives of Mormons. Some individuals have made great strides, even becoming president, but expecting every Black person to be Oprah or Obama is just like expecting every Mormon to be Mitt Romney or John Huntsman. Funny enough, the statistics show the average Mormon is more likely to be Mitt Romney than a Black person is to be Oprah.
But remember I said racism's existence was only my first lesson. I began my second when I wore a name tag and pedaled a bike around an American city. I was called hurtful names daily and pelted with debris from passing cars almost as regularly. Being struck by half eaten muffins and bagels was sort of amusing, being hit by beer bottles, not so much. In my professional life I have been the sole sober person at a corporate event when my superiors began making jokes about the number of wives I must have or my magic underwear. I have had perfect strangers vocally question my sanity immediately upon our introduction and on numerous occasions when visiting other denominations heard my own condemned as evil over the pulpit. A play mocking Mormonism swept the Tony's, and every other day I see a news report reminding me that most Americans really don't want to vote for a Mormon. Make no mistake, mocking Mormons is publicly acceptable.
Finally, again, these two lessons are not the same. It is human nature to view one's own struggle as paramount, but not all mountains are on the same scale. Let us not confuse Pikes Peak as comparable to Kilimanjaro. They simply aren't the same. I fear the protection of the Wasatch front has left Mormon's ignorant of the reality that lies beyond. This is in no way a problem specific to Latter Day Saints, it's an American problem. The national nature of the problems with race is why I'm writing this now. I have great pride in my faith, my Utah roots, and in my nation. I love them all and want all to be better. As a Mormon I am forced into the work of bettering the image of my faith in the public's mind. I live it every day. But I am not just Mormon, I'm also white, and to ignore the tangible unearned obstacles faced by those in my country who may not look exactly like me, would set me up as an obstruction to the discovery of a solution.
If anything, the persecution Mormons do face, which is very real, should wake us up to how horrible the effects of racism could be, and in fact, are."
We might have a Mormon president soon. And now, because of the killing of Trayvon Martin, A-merry-cans are once again calling for a serious conversation about race.
If Willard Romney happens to become president of these divided states, this essay should be required reading for him.