If you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s time you check out these amazing BYU students bringing light to racism on the campus. As we “discovered” through the school’s recent study on racism, the world’s worst kept secret is that BYU has a serious problem with race, and a whole bunch of students and faculty don’t actually understand what racism is or recognize it in themselves. Admissions staff also think that being “race-blind” is ideal, a policy shift that actually resulted in fewer BIPOC students being admitted. It might be more apt to say that BYU is “racism blind.” So, how do you solve a problem that students, faculty, administrators and board members don’t know they have and have every incentive, both personal and institutional, to deny they have?
Enter The Black Menaces, a group of talented BYU students, all members of the Black Student Union, who have gone viral on TikTok with their very short “man on the street” style interviews with fellow BYU students. After my daughter (who continually thanks her lucky stars she didn’t get into BYU) went down a one-hour TikTok binge, watching their videos, she told me about it, and I likewise took the plunge. She wondered what students would have said if they were asked these same race-related questions by white students, and I think we all know the answer to that question.
Here are some of the many questions they have asked, for a quick recap:
- Do you believe the priesthood and temple ban was from God? So much hemming & hawing and discomfort–wowza. Most answers were “I don’t know” as if they hadn’t ever considered it, which we all know is a lie, and quite a few “Yes, God’s the culprit.” There were only 1 or 2 clear “No” answers. There were a lot of people avoiding eye contact.
- Do you support Blue Lives Matter? Do you support Black Lives Matter? The first answer was an enthusiastic yes, explaining why cops are mostly good protectors, followed by a heavily caveated yes for black lives matter that was really “all lives matter” with a dose of “so long as blacks don’t take it as an excuse to commit violence” which was yikes and a half.
- Are you a feminist? You can see some of these in the link above. Answers were (disappointingly) mostly no, a few “I’d have to research it more” (good one), and one or two immediate “YES” answers, which the interviewer agreed with.
- Would you marry someone who didn’t want to be a stay at home mom? Surprisingly most of the men answered “yes” pretty quickly to this except the one pre-med student which confirms what I’ve thought all along–don’t date pre-med guys because they are egomaniacs in the making, “pre-gomaniacs,” if you will. A lot of guys at BYU seem to share the fantasy of being the stay at home dad, and while I don’t blame them, I would just add that daycare isn’t really run by Satanic pedophiles as some conservatives like to think.
- What’s your favorite thing about BYU? Nearly everyone said “it’s cheap,” a few white kids said “sports,” one white girl said the social scene–??, most black students were completely stumped.
- Do you support gay marriage? Another one with a lot of hemming & hawing and “I don’t know. I guess I’d have to think about that” as if they had never considered it (yeah, right), a few quiet nos, and one or two yeses. This one was reposted by several queer TikTokers who responded to the weak sauce BYU student answers with incredulous faces and outrage about their rights being stripped by these milquetoast cowards.
- What’s a black stereotype that doesn’t apply to you? (Asked of black students). This one was good from an educational perspective for fellow students, but the only answer that surprised me was that one black student listens to country music.
- Do you think there will be polygamy in the celestial kingdom? Almost nobody was willing to say “no.” Most looked unhappy about it but most either said yes, or said they weren’t sure.
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the dating scene at BYU? (Asked of black students). I think the highest rating was 2-3, and the lowest was negative 11. Basically, that’s a byproduct of the racist teachings against miscegenation that AFAIK are still in manuals. I know they were in 2010 when my son was outraged they were being taught in his early morning seminary class. It’s absolutely disgusting that these teachings are still out there, and they have certainly been effective at making black students romantically isolated at BYU. Having said that, I felt that negative 11 in the core of my being. I too hated the BYU dating scene which, in my experience was full of creeps and misogynists.
- Who said it, Mormon leader or Hitler/Robert E. Lee? Students wanted to give Bruce McConkie and Brigham Young a pass, but those who did were wrong.
- What did you learn about Black History in February (Black History Month)? A few had learned something, but most looked like they got caught flat-footed on this one.
- Can you recognize this picture [of Rosa Parks, Malcom X or MLK)? International students fared better than American students on this one.
- What black person do you most admire? There were a few good answers here, but also quite a few who looked like a deer in headlights.
- Do you have any black friends at BYU? Most did not, but hey, maybe this interview changed that.
There’s a long history of dissent at BYU, efforts to counter the often oppressive conservative culture and to stir up thought among the student body, especially given the dampering effect of the Honor Code and ecclesiastical endorsements. When I was a student there in the late 80s, we had the Student Review filling that gap. There were also underground groups like PLU (People Like Us) for queer students. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There will always be a need for student expression, and it doesn’t matter whether BYU likes it or not, and it doesn’t matter how much they try to regulate and police it away–dissent is a vital part of human life, particularly on campuses where kids become adults.
Arguably, there’s even more need for it now than ever before with the school’s recent crackdown on LGBTQ students and allies and its declared indifference to retaining accreditation for programs that disallow this kind of oppression. The Black Menaces are doing important work here, holding up a mirror for students and faculty alike to see what they see. BYU should be grateful for the chance to examine what’s going so wrong there, but given the board’s current retrenchment, that possibility seems extremely unlikely.
Despite being featured in an approving article in the Daily Unifarce (that’s what we called it anyway), they’ve also been informed that filming on campus requires a permit, a newly invented rule to control the narrative yet again and to literally silence the conversation on race. Apparently BYU and the Church didn’t get the memo that this is Tik Tok, not National Geographic. My hope is that the Black Menaces keep up this important work, and that other students in solidarity film the crap out of everything they can on campus to expose the fact that this new unenforceable rule is motivated by racism and fear of exposure. The “man on the street” videos present what students say without commentary or response from the interviewer. This is just what people on campus said. The Black Menaces are not criticizing the students, and even express sympathy for how difficult it is to say the truth when your education hangs in the balance.
BYU seems to be doubling down on its Dolores Umbridge playbook. If you deny racism (or Voldemort) exist(s), you can pretend “All is well in Zion” and not have to make any changes. You can punish people for showing that the problem exists rather than actually dealing with the problem. Cracking down on the Black Menaces rather than grappling with the school’s (and Church’s) racism is par for the course at BYU in 2022. If you pretend it doesn’t exist, maybe it will go away.
- Do you think this kind of activism will succeed or not? Why?
- Did anything about these videos surprise you?
- If you attended BYU, what would you have said in response to these types of questions? Have your answers changed over time?
- Do you think the answers these students are giving are representative of Church members’ views in general, or are they unique to the BYU student body (due to their age and inexperience and the thought-policing culture at BYU)? How would older Church members you know answer these questions?
- What questions would you like to see BYU students answer?
 One of the biggest reasons she was thrilled to go to ASU instead of BYU is student diversity. BYU is 81% white, and less than half a percent of the student body is black. ASU is 47% white (3.5% black).
 A term that could describe many Mormons, and is also an excellent name for a punk rock band.