I attended the same conference Mormon Heretic did last week, Black, White & Mormon, held at the University of Utah. His earlier post highlighted the remarks from the first panel, Race and the Inner City. The other panels held that day were: Race & Mormon Women, Race at BYU, Elder Sitati speaking about Race and the International Church, and Race at the Ward. After the panel on Race and the Inner City that MH covered, there was a 15 minute break, and soon the day’s panelists all gathered in front for a quick prayer:
As someone was introducing all of the panelists for “Race & Mormon Women,”  a thought struck me: I tirelessly advocate for more voices of women to be heard at church (in history, lesson manuals, even from the ward/GC pulpit) and yet not once have I ever heard a black Mormon woman quoted or used as an example.  Not only that, I have never noticed the lack of voices from the faithful women of color in our church. This was one of the reasons I traveled from Rexburg to SLC for this conference. I am in need of so much learning and growth in this area.
Paulette Payne was the moderator of the panel. She is a television host and public relations professional from Atlanta whose graduate work in Africana Women’s Studies is titled “Hallelujah and Amen: The African-American Religious Aesthetic and Black Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southwest Atlanta, Georgia”. Before turning over time to the panel she presented some of the findings of her research, which focused on nigresence, or how African Americans conceptualize their racial identity. She spoke about the different ways African Americans navigate, assimilate, and weave their African American and Mormon cultures and identities together.
Paulette would ask a question and panelists would take turns answering, sometimes building on each others’ experiences. Seeing as I live-tweeted my notes , I decided I would share as much of their stories as I could remember.
Janan Graham-Russell is a writer, graduate student in religious studies at the Howard University School of Divinity, and community organizer. When asked what strengthens her, she answered that she sees herself in the story of Hagar through a womanist lens. When Hagar was thrust into the wilderness, God gave her the tools to survive; she feels similarly. She shared the first time she attended the temple she was walking through the hallways and noticed the artwork, the one in particular that stuck out had a white Jesus and behind him every single angel in the sky was also white. For the first time in her life she realized this is how her fellow saints viewed her: absent. Black people didn’t exist in LDS theology. That led her to one day, while thinking about the lack of discussion about Heavenly Mother, wonder if maybe Heavenly Mother she was a black woman. While so often Mormons use our history of suffering and persecution to shape our cultural narrative, white Mormons with pioneer ancestors will never understand the difference in experience of African Americans who have the heritage and brutality of hundreds of years of slavery.
Catherine Stokes is a retired deputy director of the Illinois Dept of Health and community volunteer in Illinois and Utah. She shared her background growing up in the south where relatives left in the dark of the night to avoid lynchings and how she’s lived in a culture of overt racism. Back then if someone said they wanted to be your friend they meant it, because if they didn’t they would let you know that, too. After moving to Chicago and experiencing the church there, she shared some of her experiences with covert racism (nice and sweet on the outside but still holding racist views inside), including when one church member was talking about curses being the reason for the priesthood ban she said, “Would you throw one of your children away? Then why in the hell do you think God would??!” She shared her experience of Elder Maxwell calling her out of the blue to ask her to fly to Ghana and speak to government officials in an effort to re-open Ghana for missionary work. One of the government officials asked her, “What is the role of women in your church?” She responded, “Women should be at cutting edge of music, science, and technology; but also have a special responsibility for the development of children.” One of her words of advice to people of color in the Church is, “You’ve got to filter out what doesn’t enhance you. You can’t let the church get between you and God.”
Dr. LaShawn Williams-Shulz is a CSW with a Doctorate in Education, adjunct faculty member, and a practicing mental health therapist. She grew up in the church and spoke to having to reconvert herself over and over again. She grew up in a white Mormon community and had a very stereotypical Mormon teenage experience, including having crushes on her EFY counselors. She said she was socialized into whiteness and eventually it ended up pushing her into her blackness. It wasn’t until her boyfriend’s mother told her she couldn’t date her son that she began exploring the idea of her race and embracing her African-American identity. When it was time to decide if she wanted to go on a mission she decided to stay home because she felt she could not answer any question she received about race and the Church while serving. While the race essay on lds.org is progress, she said we are not having needed conversations about race in the church that will stop her babies from asking her if she is cursed. She mentioned how difficult it is that she can’t bring up #blacklivesmatter at church because her fellow Mormons are scared just to discuss blacks in the scriptures. She also shared how she responded at Rational Faiths to the #thugmormon hashtag.
Tamu Smith is co-founder of Sistas in Zion and co-author of Diary of Two Mad Black Women. She grew up a Pentecostal in California and her family members were black nationalists, she grew up attending Black Panther social events. At age 11 she converted to the Church; she said while she’d already been ‘saved’ for the first time in her life she felt truly saved. Her family allowed her to attend the LDS church and Pentecostal churches concurrently (2 churches every Sunday!). Her family support extended to her mother helping drive her to early-morning seminary when a white boy in her class said he could no longer give her a ride because his parents told him that she was black and they might end up dating. Her response? “A black girl would –never– date you!!!” After she married her husband they stopped by SLC temple on their way to Ricks College, and for the first time in her life she was called the n-word (in the temple). Tamu shared how hard it is to talk about #BlackLivesMatter (Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner) because most Mormons respond with “Well he/she shouldn’t have resisted” or “It was his/her own fault.” She thought out of all people Mormons should understand what it feels like to have a community member killed by police brutality, because that’s exactly what happened to Joseph Smith. Does that mean he deserved it?
The last question was “What keeps each of them in the church?” Each panelist cited an experience of personal revelation and their relationship with God that keeps them here. LaShawn Williams-Shultz mentioned that the work she does on racism in the church *is* the Gospel; she is turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. Cathy Stokes said she “never testifies that ‘the church is true’ because the ‘church’ is all of us; and it is only true so far that you are true and I am true. So instead of having a true church our work is to create a true church by being true.” At the end of the panel they received a standing ovation. It was truly a blessing to be in the presence of spiritual giants testifying of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. The spirit was strong and I was definitely strengthened. I hope these discussions can continue and we can further progress towards Zion.
 I’m not counting the recent examples of Gladys Knight’s conversion or of the most recent Sis. Dorah Mkhabela praying recently in #ldsconf, which happened so recently. Only in the past year have I even learned about Jane Manning James on the internet.
 in-depth bios found here
 all live-tweets were storified here, for more info
Thanks for writing this up. I attended the conference as well and LOVED this particular panel. Love love loved it. All of the panelists nailed it. It was just a joy to be there and witness their strength, wisdom, humor, and charity.
You mentioned that LaShawn decided not to serve a mission, and I just wanted to say that I remember that story a little differently. If my memory serves, it wasn’t that she DECIDED not to serve, but rather that she wasn’t ALLOWED to serve because her view of the priesthood/temple restriction was incompatible with what her priesthood leaders thought it needed to be if she was going to serve a mission (ie she thought the whole thing was a mistake rather than thinking it was God’s will at the time). Not sure if she explicitly said asmuch or if I made an assumption, but I just wanted to share my impression. I’ll be interested to see that part of the recording when it’s available.
Thank you for commenting about that, Sara – as soon as the video is released I’ll come back and update with the primary source information.
There is not a race problem in America or in the church. I would, however, say only extremists (liberals, skin heads, etc) are hyper-focused on race.
By way of reminder, we have a black President. The worst President we have ever had for sure, but our country did elect a Black man as president. Most people (except the extremists noted above) respect, hire, admire, aspire to be, emulate people for the content of their character or for their achievements and not because of the color of their skin. There is just simply not a race problem in the church or the USA.
The women on this panel said otherwise and have the stats and personal experience to back it up.
Just remember that Ken is a troll.
Ken is exhibit A on why we need leaders who are able to model ways to have discussions about race in our country and in our church.
I wonder if people are racist against trolls.
Ken- Clearly, you and I do not exist within the same plane where you consider someone with liberal leanings an extremist.
But, General Conference might bring us together. Perhaps consider why President Hinckley specifically addressed racist behaviors in General Conference: Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible? (The Need for Greater Kindness, April 2006)
Generally prophets don’t address things that aren’t a problem. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t making that up. I’m also sure it hasn’t magically fixed itself in the intervening years.
This session moved me too. Thank you, Kristine for writing it up. I have a hard time believing that anyone (including Ken) could hear these women’s stories of pain and faith and not be inspired. It was miraculous.
PS Maybe ask LaShawn, but I also understood her to be saying she would not allow herself to serve a mission because she didn’t know how to respond to that question, rather than someone else stopping her from serving.
I am saying people keep trying to point out a problem that does not exist, speaking collectively and not individually.
The only people that continue to point out problems that don’t exist are extremists
People that continue to claim there is a war on women by the right are extremists. People that continue to preach there are widespread race problems in this country are extremists. Again, America elected a black man as president. And the leading contender for the Republican Party, in some polls, is black. People that continue to push man made global warming, when data along with a statement by 31,000 scientists say otherwise are extremists.
Liberals support all of these issues that are not a problem and thus in my view are extreme. I am just pointing out facts, how is that unkind?
#9 – Ken…it’s a PROBLEM for so-called “Liberals” b/c they have nothing positive to sell. MH himself name-calls when he has nothing, which is sad, b/c he’s actually a lot smarter than that, and comes up with some real gems as well, to his credit. Pity.
There will, however, always be a race ‘problem’ as long as someone out there harbors racist sentiments and hasn’t the decency to keep it to themselves. And being ‘racist’ isn’t the exclusive property of whites.
Considering that only some five years before I was born that a then-Apostle (Mark E. Petersen) could publicly stump for racial segregation, while ‘allowing’ blacks to drive whatever car, including a CADILLAC, they could afford (as if they needed HIS permission), the Church in its collective body and as an institution have come a long way. There’s still room for improvement, though, if a dear sister like Tamu Smith, as apparently young as she appears to be, could be called the “N-word” in the TEMPLE. Of all places, not that any is appropriate.
Still, I’d rather listen to the black members themselves when they feel a need to discuss the Church and ‘race’, and most definitely NOT any white liberal, member or not, expressing some manner of ‘white guilt’. The ‘latter’, pun intended, generally are nothing but spoil sports and can take a huge dose of STFU, AFAIC. The former are the ones who have, and unfortunately may still be living in it the present tense, and it’s they that I have concern for. 
I don’t think that Ken actually believes that America has no race problems because it has elected one black man as president (out of all 44 we have had), because he believes the Mormon church has no race problems even though God has never chosen a black apostle (much less prophet).
But I still don’t think Ken is a troll. He’s stating his sincerely held beliefs. I think that people who disagree with him have to come to terms with that sincerity, and with the likelihood that most active American Mormons probably have views closer to him than you might feel comfortable. Yours is a religion that cannot speak out on racial injustice because its adherents do not believe there is widespread racial injustice.
Thank you Andrew, it is my sincere belief. I would add with the civil unrest that prevented full rights to blacks is the primary reason we only have one of 45. It is good to see, I just wish he were component to do the job.
so do you think that America had a major problem with blacks when there was “civil unrest that prevented full rights to blacks” but that now, there is no problem?
Do you think that the church had a major problem with blacks prior to 1978, but now has no problem?
Ken, if you were a poor black woman instead of a rich white guy, i guarantee you would see this problem differently.
Yes i do think some trolls are racist.
“There will, however, always be a race ‘problem’ as long as someone out there harbors racist sentiments and hasn’t the decency to keep it to themselves.”
so people aren’t racist as long as they keep the words to themselves?
Also, an hour after I left the conference I went to a family wedding and a relative told me that new white apostles was proof God was in charge; that if there had been a man of color it would have been leaders bowing to PC police. The average LDS white person does have covert white supremacy, it seems.
Also Andrew, this is the truest true statement spoken in these comments:
“Yours is a religion that cannot speak out on racial injustice because its adherents do not believe there is widespread racial injustice.”
The civil war was about race, so yes, if people are willing to kill or be killed about slavery then there was clearly a widespread problem with race. Along these lines, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect any church to force blacks and whites to worship together with such tension. I think the church did the right thing waiting until tensions cooled sufficiently to make the integration successful. 1978 was that time in my opinion.
#17 – Ken: What you YANKEES term the “Civil” War (which was decidedly UNCIVIL to the good people of the Confederacy, thank you) was NOT about slavery. Do folks forget the so-called ‘border’ states (MO, KY, MD, and DE) retained slavery as a legal institution until officially abolished by the 13th Amendment in December 1865 (some EIGHT months after the end of the War of Southern Succession or Confederate Independence), with DE and KY being legal holdouts, having refusing ratification.
Even Lincoln was NOT committed to the abolitionist cause, in spite of his personal feelings about the wrongness of slavery. As he once declared, his overall objective was preservation of the Union by whatever means necessary (a great deal of it blatantly unconstitutional and a huge violation of the separation of powers, for all practical purposes, Lincoln was an elected dictator). As far as slavery was concerned, if keeping it everywhere then legal would preserve the Union, Lincoln would favor that, if abolishing it everywhere would better, then abolition it was, or, if in some cases slaves were freed and other cases not, that would be his policy. The overall objective, above all else, to “Dishonest Abe”, was preservation of the Union, even though by his unjustified war of aggression against peoples that only wanted to do what their great-grandfathers had advocated some 85 years previous: the ability to leave peacefully and form their own country.
And though I spent a great deal of my formative years in Florida (which is decidedly the most Southern state geographically but the least culturally), and was home ported out of Georgia in the late 80s and early 90s, my education in American History came from required GE at Fresno State, which was quite liberal in spite of being able to tell by scent the wind direction (like any school with extensive AG facilities). Politics aside, my prof taught the unvarnished truth. Now, only tenure would keep the PC police at bay.
…to form their own country where they would be able to have slaves, as many of the confederate states wrote into their declarations of secession.
Even though Lincoln didn’t actually free any slaves until the middle of the war, isn’t interesting how the secessions started because they thought that slavery would be challenged?
Kristine, thanks for reporting on this.
Wow, Ken must be thrilled that Hillary Clinton may become president. We can then declare sexism fully eradicated.
The last thing we need is another incompetent president like Obama. I don’t think she would be as bad as Obama, but who could?
I think that Joseph Smith had the right idea, by ordaining blacks to the priesthood.
In the NT the church was taken to the Gentiles. That means that it was open to all nations and all skin colours, black, white and everything inbetween.
If the old thoughts that Israel was to not marry outside the covanant people, then american mormons should not have married any of the European converts.
Brigham and others who had opinions on inter-racial marriage were not based on theoligy but their own raciest thoughts.