While Joseph Freeman was the first person to break through the racial priesthood barrier in the LDS Church, he has experienced a lot of racism in his life. He describes some of the job discrimination he has faced as a teenager growing up in North Carolina.
Joseph: A lot of the jobs in the city, white workers would be hired first, and then if they needed some other workers, they would hire blacks. But those jobs, you never got promoted. There was never a black supervisor. You were always the lower workers. I worked for Sears and Roebuck for three years on the dock there in Greensboro. I never saw, not one black supervisor. The plant was so big, it would take you almost 15 to 20 minutes to walk from the front door to the back door of the plant. There was not one black supervisor in that whole building.
I worked for Cone Mills for a while, which is a textile [company] before I joined the army. I loved my job, and I loved my supervisor. He was an old white guy. He was kind of shriveled up with age, a skinny guy. I just loved that man. I talked to him one day and I said, “How can I become a supervisor someday.” He looked at me and his mouth opened. His lips began to tremble, and a tear rolled down his cheek and he said, “It can’t happen, Joseph. It just can’t happen.” I didn’t understand it. Because I wasn’t thinking about the racial things going on, institutional racism. I didn’t even know about anything like that. I’m just a kid growing up, trying to find a job, thinking about college, and he’s telling me about something that’s real, that’s happening behind closed doors in the back room of the building. These people know. You’re never going to allow the black people to come up in the company and develop.
When I left for the army, I just didn’t think like that. I didn’t even realize those kind of things were happening. I thought that the doors of life are open to me like they are to anybody. Older people that I grew up with, used to talk about education. They’d say, “You get to get a good education. Nobody can take that from you.” I understood that. But I didn’t understand the idea that, you might have an education, but you’re still not going to get the job. I can remember when I was probably about 16, and I started driving. I drove up to the bank one day, and there was a black teller. She was working the window, that was the first black teller in the whole city of Greensboro. It was just wonderful. Every time I’d go, I mean, it was just like seeing an angel. She’d smile. She understood that the black people were very proud of her being there in that position. That’s not a high position. You’re not making a lot of money, but she had a nice clean job that nobody else had. She was the first black girl to do that. So it was just wonderful.
On our side of town, we had black dentists, black doctors. We never saw a white doctor unless you went to the hospital. Those doctors, of course, had the practices not in white neighborhoods, but in black neighborhoods. People paid cash. They didn’t have insurance. That’s just how it went.
In the schools, they were not integrated with white students or white teachers. But, during my senior year, they actually did change. My senior year, we had white teachers mixed with black teachers. It was hard. It was hard on them and hard on us, because they didn’t want to be there. I can remember one white teacher that I had, that was really nice. She was an English teacher. I can’t remember her name. But she was just very kind, very sweet. But most of the teachers during that time, it was just like a robot teaching you. If you wanted to ask questions after class, they were going home. They didn’t spend time to help you with your problems, if you were struggling with math or something like that.
So, it took a while for people to learn to adjust and love one another. That’s how life feels. That’s what Martin Luther King was fighting for, I should say, marching for. He was trying to bring America to the point of saying, “We must go to school together. We must go to church together. We must live together in order to love one another.” Because you can love somebody that you do not know. You begin to know them. You begin to realize they’re human just like you are. They want the same things that you want, a good job, an education and to take care of the family. [It’s] just that simple, nothing more. That is why continually marching, enduring going to jail, all the things that had to happen in order to bring that about, so that we could learn to love one another. When I joined this church, inside of me, I understood that. It didn’t matter whether we have the priesthood. It matters that we worship the same God together.
What are you thoughts about systemic racism?
If you think racism is no longer a problem, think again. In our final conversation with Joseph Freeman, he outlines continued problems he has personally faced over his life, including an experience with military police in which he came close to losing his life.
Joseph: One thing to share when I was in the military, I went on a marine base, there in Kaneohe. As I drove my car in, they had officers’ parking spots were written on the ground. On our base, they were up on the sign. So, you’d see the sign, you’d know, okay, that’s an officer spot. Don’t park there. I didn’t realize that when I drove on their base, and I just parked my car. I went and bought a hamburger. It was very close. My wife was then my girlfriend. Her and another girl, they were sitting in the car. This MP came up behind us. He wrote a ticket. He didn’t ask us to move the car anything, just wrote the ticket. I think he was giving tickets to everybody that was in that line. There were probably more people than me that had made a mistake and parked in officers’ spot. Anyway, the Provost Marshal came by and he was a major. He’s kind of like the guy that’s the head policeman. He saw me and he said, “Send that guy to my office.” Now I don’t know why he singled me out, but I was the only black guy that I saw out there. I’m not on my base. I’m on a marine base instead of the army base.
Joseph: Well, I then go in to his office, which is still fairly close. He asked me a few questions. “Why did you park there?” I said, “Sir, I didn’t know it was an officer spot.” I don’t know today, if it was a general or colonel or what. But anyway, I shouldn’t have parked there. He says, “That’s what all you guys say,” meaning black guys. I said, “Sir, I’m sorry. But I didn’t know. I didn’t realize it was an officer spot.” He said, “We’re going to impound your car.” I had just bought this car, a little ’66 Mustang.
GT: Wow. That would be worth a lot of money today.
Joseph: Yes, I’m thinking, “You’re not going to take my car. But anyway, he sent me back out. Then he put an MP car in front of mine, and then one behind me to make sure I don’t get out, I don’t run.
GT: Oh, that’s horrible.
Joseph: Then they drove me down to another station, their main office. When they get there, they want my keys. I just said, “No, you’re not taking my car.” I was ready to fight. These guys have got guns on them. If I had fought with them, they would have killed me. But I said, because I was getting pretty upset with him. There were three of them and just one of me, and my wife and the other girl were in the car.
Joseph also shares the racism his children have experienced growing up here in the West. Is racism a regional or national problem? BYU just came out with a report on racism. Is racism a problem there?
The Church really needs to account for historical racism in its leadership and ranks.
Young people have friends and romantic relationships with those of different races at much higher rates than their grandparents did. This has led many to be increasingly distressed by the Church’s failure to apologize for the race-based priesthood exclusion that had no basis in doctrine.
The Church now admits that this policy never was doctrine, but it soft pedals that acknowledgement. What is needed is an actual apology. The Church needs to admit that it’s leaders were wrong, there is no excuse, and the current leaders are sincerely sorry.
Along with this is a need for greater acceptance of global culture. The continued ban on green tea, which is actually healthy and is used by billions or people in Asia, makes no sense to existing members and certainly not to investigators on that continent.
There are so many aspects of racism I don’t understand.
Probably the most incomprehensible is when some people seem to see those of different races as not quite people. I don’t know how to word it well, but when there are cultural restrictions in place against people because of the color of their skin, then that society has deemed them as “less than”. I think it can happen at a macro or a micro level.
Joseph telling about his experiences illustrates that. His telling it helps me understand more. It helps me understand a black experience. It helps me see all my neighbors as part of a wonderful tapestry.
Years ago I had a discussions with a sister-in-law who claimed there is no racism anymore. I gave her space to believe she was not racist, but that if even a few people are, then racism still does exist. The sil (and other family members present) could not accept that racism continues.
I see powerful signs of improvement, alongside trenches of deepening racism. I have hope that persistent information and education will turn the tide.
Taking a long view matters.
Relating this to the previous WNT post, I value the example of several of my neighbors in their 70’s who actively post constructive, positive information on social media. One of them brought me a Black Lives Matter sticker her grandson created.
A large part of my world view comes from listening to NPR in the car or in the kitchen. In narrative form, they help me understand the world better.
It’s easy and enjoyable (who doesn’t like stories?).
What further evidence ence of systematic racism would you need than the founding document (BOM) of the organization and the second leader (BY) off the same ?
Pardon the pun but it’s all there in black and white.
“If you think racism is no longer a problem, think again.”
Rick (and others), if you think racism is a one-way street, think again; HARD. Racism that some blacks show toward other races can be more severe; because there is a blanket of denial/protection/appeasement from segments of society.
Small (but true) example. The Director (wht) of a high-school show choir was relieved of duty because his tryouts only selected 3 out of 16 positions for blacks. At the same time, the basketball team had 1 wht player out of 15.
Here’s an activity you can try. Print the following on an index card:
“I am proud of my race, its accomplishments, and desire to see its history continue to be part of our children’s education”
Now, pass it to persons representing several races/cultures. will the reaction be the same for all?
Wow, the parking story was incredibly maddening. It is disturbing to continue to hear stories like this even today.
Racism is a worldwide phenomenon. There is nowhere in the world, let alone any region of the US, that is racism- or ethnicism-free. I think there might be some biological predispositioning in humans to be more prone to generalizations, stereotypes, distrust, and negative attitudes towards groups of people who don’t physically resemble the appearance of their family. These biological propensities map onto cultural norms which in turn significantly influence the behavioral patterns of individuals. Consciousness of the our propensities and of the norms of the culture(s) that surrounds us requires contact with lots of different individuals. Education, urbanization, and other factors can expose individuals to a broader range of interactions. But different cultural forces permeate education systems and urban environments and it is difficult to predict how these will manifest themselves, let alone prevent and correct negative and deleterious manifestations. Systemic racism is a real phenomenon. Myriad studies show this to be true. But I’m not quite sure how to solve this issue, and concede in part that there may not be a remedy for this, let alone one that will satisfy the demands and sensitivities of the diverse cultures that inhabit the US. Talking about racism seems imperative. But it also seems that backlash against anti-racist narratives are inevitable. Finding a productive way to talk about it that does not provoke backlash is incredibly challenging. I often wonder if racism in the US has gotten worse since the George Floyd protests. Opponents of anti-racist narratives appear to be more brazen, aggressive, and angry. Consider how country singer Morgan Wallen’s album sales rose considerably after videos surfaced of him saying the n-word to people. And then there is the counter backlash to the opponents of anti-racism, much of which is also extreme. Toxic forms of leftist political correctness, like systemic racism, do exist, and they are most certainly counterproductive to the anti-racist movement’s quest to make the US less racist. Just last week, more details came forth about an incident at Smith College that happened two years ago in which a janitor’s job was severely impacted simply for following protocol and ask a student who was sitting in a restricted area to eat her lunch, and who happened to be black, to move elsewhere. The student got very angry and retaliated on social media claiming that she was a victim of racism. Now, even though an inquiry into the matter resulted in college formally deciding that the janitor had exhibited no racial animus toward the student and was only acting according to protocol, the court of public opinion had done its damage. Suffice it to say, it was certainly an incident of an oversensitive person crying wolf about racism.
I don’t doubt that there are problems with racism at BYU and its minority students have felt its negative effects. However, I also don’t doubt that there individuals who may misinterpret seemingly harmless comments and behaviors as racist. In the great ongoing debate about racism, the overall picture is clear: people with darker skin color tend to have it worse, and by about every metric imaginable. We have to talk about this. We have to be sensitive about this. Sensitivity trainings, talking about white privilege and systemic racism, etc., that’s all a must. But this fact does not give individuals license to overstate and exaggerate a victimhood narrative and then take action based on these exaggerated conceptions of racism to inflict shame and financial pain, and sometimes even physical pain, on the seemingly undeserving or concoct social punishments whose severity far outweighs the degree of offense. In the justice system, we try to make punishments fit the crime. When it comes to racism, I would hope that we as individuals, inasmuch as we have social power, seek to do the same.
The problem with your statement is one of magnitude. If there are 99 examples of white on black racism, and 1 example of black on white racism, this isn’t an apples to apples comparison. But White supremacists are happy to trumpet the 1 as if it is equal to the 99. It’s called false-equivalence or what-about-ism.
We can do better, and as Christians, we should be leading the charge to make our society more just for our black brothers and sisters.
Mark Gibson Gibson, I didn’t see your comment before I published mine. But your attitude, which seems to want the readers to recognize that whites are somehow these mass victims of racism, is absurd and very counterproductive to actually recognizing and solving the problems of racism.
“Racism that some blacks show toward other races can be more severe”
Just baseless and probably written not with the intention of having a serious discussion but just provoke a reaction. Inasmuch as victimhood is a competition, blacks and other ethnic minorities win against whites in just about every feat. The idea that whites have it rough because of some sort of widespread non-white racism against whites is pure fantasy and is an incredibly misguided and offensive idea.
Anyhow, I was moved this morning by an article I read of two black business owners in Draper who handled a racist harasser with about the most patience and dignity I can imagine anyone doing. I desire you to read it in hopes of a more productive conversation about race and racism and in hopes that we may avoid provocationism, exaggerations, and pot-stirring: https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/two-draper-black-owned-businesses-turn-harassment-into-teachable-moment
There is a difference between racism and bigotry. People of all races can be bigots but racism is a power structure.
One of my job functions at a large financial institution was to search for disparate treatment and disparate impact on our company policies and practices. This financial institution prides itself on progressive racial and gender issues, but my department consistently found evidence of disparate impact, which is when rules which are formally neutral favor one group over another. It’s literally everywhere, from where freeways are built to who gets home or car loans and who gets hired, even though many claim we’ve moved past racism. I’ve seen the racism statistically firsthand. There is no question.
The even harder part is admitting that I used to be openly racist and that bias still exists in me today. Hopefully if I understand my bias at least I can try to offset and counteract it.
I greatly appreciate John W’s long comment. Whether the pre-disposition to regard the “other”
as inferior is biological, as he suggests, or whether it is cultural hardwiring, it exists. I lived in Germany 1952-1970, and saw many Germans (and Europeans) negatively stereotype “all” Americans as being a certain way. I also saw many Americans return the “favor” about Germans and Europeans.
Between 1975-1999, I lived in four East Asian countries for a total of 14 years. I saw the same phenomenon. People of those countries being negative about foreigners, and foreigners in the expatriate communities in those countries kvetching about “the natives.”
I think that there is a basic human need for one group of people to have another group of people to serve as its “the mistrusted other.” I saw this most interestingly as my ability to speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese grew to the point that I was comfortable in talking about just about anything in that language. I experienced several times people who got angry with me that I could speak their language well, beyond the point of a limited fluency that could ask for and understand directions to the local train station. People of one group often do not like it when their “veil of others not understanding them” is removed. For example, when in Taiwan, I once attempted to engage a man in (Mandarin) conversation on the question of Taiwan importing U.S. pork products. This issue was a key sticking point in U.S.-Taiwan trade negotiations. The man’s anger was not that I disagreed with him, but that I had “invaded” his language to reply to him when he raised the issue with me. He told me, “I don’t like it that you can discuss this with me in Mandarin.”
We direct anger toward other groups, and also want to exclude others from being part of our group.
Sadly, One of our most fundamental needs is to look down on others. This is very applicable to the questions of Mormon insularity and group-think discussed in W and T.
Taiwan, thanks for your stories about your experiences in Asia. That’s phenomenal that you can speak Mandarin so well. On a side note, I’m sort of a language nut and Mandarin is actually my most recent passion. I find the language mind-bogglingly difficult, but for that reason I guess I’m drawn to it.
I think your right about all cultures showing some rigidity to embracing people from other cultures. I have experienced similar attitudes to what what you’ve experienced in Asia while living in Turkey and Egypt. People are friendly, but they don’t see you as one of them and give you different treatment. It isn’t necessarily bad treatment but you definitely feel different.
One of my gripes with ethnic studies and anti-racism training in the US is that it seems stuck in the 1960s. Its view of race is based largely on the US experience from independence up until MLK. It fails to account for the full range of diversity that has come since. It does not have a well developed narrative about Latinos, for instance, and often treats their experience as that of blacks in the US. Far from. In fact the term Latino is questionable as it is an extremely broad label. Brazilians are included under the label. Their culture is very different and they don’t self-identify as Latinos at all. Additionally popular anti-racism narratives often fail to account for the experiences of the migrants from far-off countries. In fact the most well-to-do group of people in the US are dark-skinned: Indian Americans. But that’s probably because they themselves or their parents were upper-class when they migrated to the US. The same goes for Nigerian Americans. They tend to be much more well-to-do than other blacks simply because they came here already with wealth and status. Lastly it paints discrimination problems under the label of racism, when in fact throughout the world a lot of discrimination problems stem from cultural differences (culturism), not differences in physical appearance. Kurds are discriminated against in Turkey, for instance, but only when speaking the Kurdish language in public settings and making open displays of Kurdish culture and Kurdish nationalist sentiment. If you’re a Kurd and speak Turkish (millions of Kurds can’t even speak the Kurdish language) and practice a way of life like other Turks, no one would know your a Kurd.
Personally I prefer class-focused liberalism to race-focused liberalism. But critical race theory isn’t entirely wrong or bad, even if popular and less articulate iterations of it have their flaws.
Rick: Black racism against other races appears not as prevalent because it isn’t given as much attention; we don’t know how often it occurs. But, assuming you don’t deny it happens, should a victim of black racism say “Well, I’m in the minority so I should just let it go”? And to allude that my opinion is akin to white supremacists is cowardly on your part.
We should be working to identify/eliminate true racism in society.
Thanks for your nice comments, and appreciate your sharing your similar experiences living in Egypt and Turkey. Also appreciate your critique of the risks of overly-simplified ethnic studies and anti-racism training. Bottom line is we are all ornery, cranky individuals who others try to lump into groups, often for the purpose of discrimination.
Another example of in-group exclusion of “those who have strayed from the true path.” (We have this issue in the Church). I served as a missionary in Taiwan 1977-1979. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, no one could mistake me for a native, and people were unfailingly kind and helpful to me as I started to learn Mandarin. But the American-born Chinese who served as missionaries with me got pretty rough treatment from the locals, many or most of whom flatly refused to consider that these young men (no sister missionaries in this category) were NOT Chinese, but Americans of Chinese descent, all of whom thought in English, and many of whom had to start learning Mandarin from the first “ni hao.” These missionaries were often viewed as traitors to the Ancestral Homeland. I would attempt to explain that these young guys were just as American as I was, and it didn’t cut any ice.
Good luck studying Mandarin! It is a beautiful language, even if one of the Protestant missionaries who translated the Bible into Chinese flatly said, “The Devil invented the Chinese language.”
Statistics that portray blacks as more violent than other races are skewed. Some are intentionally perpetrated by white supremacists:
“One of the most exaggerated statistics was about the number of white people killed by other white people. Trump’s tweet claimed the number was 16 percent, while the FBI’s data shows it is 82 percent. The tweet also asserted that 81 percent of whites are killed by black people; the FBI number is 15 percent. As the Post concluded, “Trump cast blacks as the primary killers of whites, but the exact opposite is true. By overwhelming percentages, whites tend to kill other whites. Similarly, blacks tend to kill other blacks. These trends have been observed for decades.” Report by the Southern Poverty Law Center
Finding reliable news sources is not hard. Though not as easy as spreading hateful stereotypes.
Mark Gibson, rather than casting blame on others, I encourage you to follow the apostles example when Jesus said one would betray him. The apostles all asked, “Lord, is it I?” They didn’t point fingers at Judas. Stop finger pointing at other races and acknowledge the big systemic problems that are much larger than the motes in others eyes that you seem to like to point out. There is a big fat log in your eye on this issue.
Mark Gibson, you want us to acknowledge that blacks can have racial prejudice as well. Yes, I acknowledge that. What are the systemic negative effects of prejudiced attitudes on the part of blacks against whites? I really can’t see that black racial prejudice against whites is having any negative impact on whites on a systemic level. I’m sure we can find some individual cases where black prejudice has had a negative impact on a white person’s life. Sure. Are whites on the whole worse off because of this? No.
We can’t use the existence of the small area of white victims of black prejudice as an excuse to dismiss the much larger area of black victims of white prejudice, where we continue to see negative impacts on a systemic level. Similarly, it is irresponsible to seize on the flaws of critical race theory as an excuse to dismiss conversations about race entirely. I subscribe to critical race theory simply because it appears that its theorists are working the hardest to understand race and racism. Alternative theories about race and racism, especially ones coming from the right, just don’t seem as well-developed and as willing to acknowledge the full scale of problems out there. I hear too many folks citing flaws with some CRT theorists’ work as an excuse to dismiss it outright. It is the classic baby and bathwater fallacy. Let’s critique some theorists’ work for sure. But let’s build on what’s solid in the theory to move to a better understanding of race. It can’t be that the best way to solve problems of racism is just to stop talking about it, or only to talk about seemingly insignificant side issues while ignoring larger key issues.
It’s painful to recognize our own implicit biases we hold.
You can test yourself for implicit bias:
Economic inequality exacerbates our implicit biases. Read “The Broken Ladder” by Keith Payne. It’s eye opening about issues that we must address as a society if we want to repair racial inequities in our country that have been perpetuated for far too long.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed some pain on the outside edge of my left thumb as I typed. On close examination, I could see a small area of infection. The original injury – a cut or poke – didn’t even register, but now it hurt hundreds of times a day as I typed. I was very much aware. It started to affect my thinking. I had to try and compensate to avoid the pain.
Systemic racism is kind of like that. Injuries, large and small, that cover your entire body. Almost anything can be painful. It’s not exaggerated pain. It’s prevalent pain. It’s everywhere and never really goes away. Yes, the reaction to a seemingly small aggression – or even something completely innocent that pokes that hurt – may seem out of proportion. But the cascade of pain is real.
This has been described as micro-aggressions: routinely poo-pooed by those who have never experienced them. But I see flinches, eye-rolls, or even tears almost every day on the face of my daughter.
Ask a BIPOC individual what it’s like. Ask how many days in a row go by without it.
But actually – DON’T ask. It is not the burden of BIPOC to help *you* understand what it is like and what you can or should do about it. That is draining. There are plenty of books, blogs, forums, and videos that can facilitate educating our white selves.
Next comes the hard work of honestly examining ourselves. And then doing something about it.
Why does it seem to some an undue burden to help alleviate this pain?