I can pinpoint the exact moment that I realized I was racist. It was last year and I was reading Jana Riess’ Flunking Sainthood blog right after the General Women’s Meeting where she shared some highlights including:
I remember being present at the April 2013 session of conference when Sis. Stephens was allowed to pray – and I shed a few tears as I witnessed a false tradition of our fathers end. Halleluia, right? #LetWomenPray is accomplished and we’re all good: check that box. Well, 18 months later when Sis. Mkhabela prayed I noticed she was the first black woman and I tweeted “Yay, intersectionality FTW! #womensmeeting #ldsconf.” I felt rather enlightened because I’d learned about white privilege and what intersectionality meant over the last few years: I was an progressive ally, right? I know that racism isn’t over. So this is a great thing that Sis. Mkhabela prayed. Well I kept reading Jana’s post and I saw this comment by TomW:
I was in the kitchen with the television tuned to BYU-TV when I heard an African voice emanating from the living room. To be honest, I didn’t stop in my tracks, stunned that an African female was offering the invocation. My reaction was more one of smiling internally at yet one more affirmation of the continuing international growth of the church. In hindsight, having listened to the Sistas’ podcast that you linked, I realize that this was clearly more momentous to some of our members than in was to others, but I tend to look at the moving forward of the work to be a very natural progression, and this was the latest manifestation thereof, and it did gladden my heart.
It was if a brick had just hit me on the side of my head: I had responded to the 18 month gap between a white woman praying and a black woman praying the same way TomW did. My basic response was internal smiling and happiness to see the work move forward in a natural progression. All of a sudden my brain yelled, “WHY, SELF, DON’T YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE “NATURAL PROGRESSION OF THINGS?”
Why am I okay that first white men, then men of color, then black men, then white women, then women of color, and then finally black women are afforded a certain privilege? Why, back when Sis. Stephens prayed did I not notice or care that only white women checked that box? Holy crapola: that is racism. The “natural progression” is a racial injustice: and not only was I not speaking up against it but apparently it’s hunky dory with me?
I know a lot of people these days have problems with the political correctness run amok and they think that the terms sexism/racism/etc. are being used too often. But I learned something that day: I didn’t need to have malicious intent in order to participate from, benefit, and support a racially unjust system. I just had to not speak and I was part of the problem. In fact, now I was the worst part of the problem, because those with evil intent are easier to weed out. I don’t have to “not like black people” to be racist, I just had to not listen to them. I don’t have to want to hurt someone to harm them. I just have to stay close minded, close hearted, and silent.
PPS if you haven’t realized yet that the priesthood ban affected more than just black men not getting the priesthood – you’re wrong. We not only banned men from holding offices and keys of the priesthood (which is the current practice in regards to women today) but both black men AND women were not allowed to receive their endowments, do initiatory work, sealings for their ancestors, or have temple weddings themselves. It hasn’t even been 40 years since collectively as a church we’ve acknowledged that #BlackLivesMatter when it comes to exaltation.