My daughter is in show choir, and her Scottsdale school just finished its fall Broadway performance. This is a school with a top notch arts program (for a public school), and hundreds of talented kids involved in theater and choir. The program for the evening was showcasing musicals that were socially progressive or that highlighted historical events. They highlighted women’s suffrage (Mary Poppins) and equality (Thoroughly Modern Millie), social media and anxiety (Dear Evan Hansen), and racial equality (Hairspray). Before the Hairspray segment, a student made a brief speech about still having a long way to go toward racial equality and how important it was to be welcoming to all Americans of all racial backgrounds and avoid the problems of segregation that were in the past.

Their performance was energetic and well executed, with dozens of male and female students singing several songs about racial integration. What was missing? There wasn’t even a single African American student in this particular performance. [1] Welcome to the 60s, indeed.

Michael Che on a recent Saturday Night Live talked about the Kaepernick kneeling controversy and said that for many black people, they only feel welcome in about 8 of the 50 states, and many of them haven’t even been to some of the flyover states. A recent episode of Adam Ruins Everything highlighted why we are still as segregated as ever in this country, and that can be summed up in one word: suburbs.

http://www.trutv.com/shows/adam-ruins-everything/videos/the-disturbing-history-of-the-suburbs.html

The New Deal sought to increase home ownership by making it much easier for people to get loans. However, “redlining” made discrimination a feature of this deal. What was a “new deal” for whites was a “raw deal” for blacks. Home owner communities often had explicitly racist policies encoded in their contracts. For example, a clause in the Levittown standard lease of 1947 says:

“Levittown homes must not be occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”

From 1934 through 1968, 98% of home loans went to whites only. That’s 34 years of very recent, encoded discrimination that held back families of color out of the suburbs, and this had downstream impacts, impacts we still note in suburban communities today. I remember in the 1970s when we were moving to New Jersey, my parents said they had nearly closed on a home until the realtor let it slip that it was in a “black neighborhood.” That’s an expression that my kids in 2017 would find unfathomable–that it was openly seen as a clear dividing line between desirable and undesirable neighborhoods, but that’s how things were in the US at the time.

These advantages helped white homeowners to build wealth and send their kids to college. Even when anti-discrimination laws were passed, those in redlined neighborhoods had been held down so long financially that they couldn’t afford to move to new neighborhoods. Schools are funded by property taxes, which means that arts programs like the one my daughter is in are directly funded by the same racism that has created suburban segregated neighborhoods. That’s why a bunch of white kids in Scottsdale can get misty-eyed talking about the importance of integration and then don white go-go boots and plaid mini-dresses to dance around to snazzy tunes about civil rights.

Some friends were recently discussing a seminary class in which the Book of Mormon’s views on race were being addressed. While the teacher gamely tried to polish that turd, many of the kids shared very unsavory folk doctrines and comments about race that they had likely heard at home. One student in the class was a person of color. One. And that student had to sit and listen to these terrible speculations and beliefs from clueless classmates who don’t consider themselves racist but lack the empathy and imagination to understand how their words affect others.

The race ban has created a serious segregation problem in the church, one that we seldom discuss or address. We don’t feel racist, so we must not be racist, we like to think. Our BYU brochures, if not our actual experience, are racially diverse. Surely, we rationalize, our hearts are not racist. And yet, when we have so little racial diversity represented in both our congregations and our leadership, how can we understand the experience of others? Being insulated from exposure to other races because of the racism of the past is still going to create racist outcomes.

Like the theater kids in our Scottsdale school district, we Mormons have warm feelings toward people of color. We want to create an inclusive society. We want to achieve a post-racist standard of living. But we aren’t there, and we aren’t really even close. If this recent election has taught us anything it’s that the racism that has gotten us where we are was barely simmering below the surface, waiting to gleefully resurface and claim that even a very slight erosion of privilege is on par with over two hundred years of dehumanizing systematic discrimination.

[1] There were some other people of color. Given that this is Scottsdale, we had a few students from India and also some Latino students.