not in Primary anymore

thoughts from a minority feminist: privilege

by Tinesha

I’ve been a LDS member my whole life and being a woman in the church is difficult. However, being bi-racial—usually assumed Black—is exhausting. (To read more about my asserted racial identity, read here.) Being a minority woman in the church is exhausting.

What I have seen in the church is what I call subtle racism. The thing about subtle racism is it’s subtle. It isn’t yelling derogatory racial slurs or writing hate messages on the wall. Subtle racism is the assumption you can’t do as well as your White peers in the church because, well, you’re not White. No one outwardly admits to being a subtle racist and often, if you’re not a minority, you don’t see the subtle racists. The quiet jabs and comments to demean a minority’s intelligence sometimes aren’t blatant to others, but it is when you hear it and you experience it. A lady in RS asked me when I converted and was shocked to find out I’d been a member my whole life. A calling was not given to me because of assumptions I wasn’t worthy. A YW’s leader confronted me about my drinking and sex problem, assuming, of course, that I was a crazy partier. When all my other friends got to teach primary classes alone, I was designated a supervisor.

Now, perhaps one could argue that those weren’t because of my race. But then—what were they? No one else got asked the same questions I did in church and I know for a fact no one else in my Beehives group got asked to not wear high heels because they were ‘walking like a prostitute’.

To say the least, people in the church generally already have assumptions about me. I’m either a convert, and when they learn I’m not I still wouldn’t understand about the church, I’m stupid, I can’t do things by myself, and I’ll never be good enough. Being a Mormon minority woman feminist is tricky and it’s sometimes exhausting because people already assume I’m not worthy so sometimes saying ‘I think this is ridiculous’ about something pertaining to sexism in the church leaves some people looking at me and almost sighing with relief—“ah, we knew it. There was something.”

So let’s just say, coming out fully as a feminist and participating in feminist blogs and conversations, while exciting, was—and sometimes is—terrifying. But I felt like there was something missing, almost, like no matter what, not everyone was fully getting it. It’s hard to explain to someone how you see and how you experience racism. Even the open-minded people I do know would walk away from a situation where someone had asked me if I played jazz music because ‘it was in my blood’ and didn’t quite understand why I was put off. I grew up in predominantly White areas, so I understand most of the culture and object lessons that were taught that are often discussed within the feminist sphere, but sometimes I find myself begging people to understand where I’m coming from.

When I participate in a Mormon feminist space openly, I am representing Mormons feminists and my race. I carry two bags, the heavy weight of sexism in the church, but simultaneously, the heavy weight of racism. I acknowledge I have privilege in the socio-economic sphere or educationally, therefore I have no room to speak on my lack of privilege in those areas. Yet I am qualified to speak as a minority. White privilege is a thing, especially when it comes to the church. Even in feminist spaces! Perhaps it doesn’t seem real, but it most certainly is.

An easy first step to remedy to pains of those who suffer sexism and racism is to simply realize and recognize your privilege. After that, it takes a conscious effort to include and want to hear voices of those who are oppressed by sexism and racism. Once we hear other people’s experiences—since I am not qualified to speak on everyone’s behalf—it makes it easier to see what things can be remedied in our own behavior and in the church. That’s how to move forward.

 

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11 Responses to “thoughts from a minority feminist: privilege”

  1. Ally

    I love when feminists post stuff like this because I am white and often not aware of all that my privilege entails. I’ve done subtly racist things in the past – without realizing it and with the best intentions – and then realized years later that it might be offensive and just another burden for that person to bare. I definitely don’t want to be like that anymore. We all need to get in a mind set of checking and being aware of our privilege. I think it’s important for feminists to realize that while we may be more aware of some things, we aren’t perfect and still have more to learn. And especially church members – we need to be aware of this so we are more welcoming and better christians. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Emily January

    This is fascinating and makes me so so sad. Although I’m white, I experienced some of what you did when I moved from California to rural Utah. Because I was an outsider and because my parents were divorced and I came from a step-family, a lot of assumptions were made about me. Wearing sleeveless shirts was normal for me, but I was scolded for it. Leaders made assumptions about my worthiness and intentions as well. Othering is certainly alive and well! I’m sorry you have experienced those things. Thanks for raising awareness of it.

    Reply
  3. Eleanor

    That’s pretty crappy! I grew up in New Zealand and was part of the only white family in the ward (I’m bi-racial too, but I look white) everyone else was Polynesian. I was often made to feel like I was not as ‘cool’ because I was so fair, but nothing like what you have explained.
    I remember my mission president being very racist though, in a compensatory fashion though, he immediately assumed that the native missionaries (I served in Asia) had zero religious support, and over compensated in what came across as a pitying and condescending fashion.

    It’s tragic to hear your experiences but I hope sharing them causes some change. Even in just a few individuals. There is no better place to start than there.

    Reply
  4. Kate Kelly

    Tinesha, 1 million thanks for such a great post. It’s refreshing.

    As a person with privilege (and, I would venture to say that very few English speaking people with ready internet access have NO privilege whatsoever), it is really hard to see something (privilege) that society, and in this case the church has socialized to be invisible. I highly recommend this book to those, like me, who find it hard to see/recognize our privilege. http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-An-Ally-Breaking-Oppression/dp/1842772252/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369968193&sr=8-1&keywords=becoming+an+ally Do you have any other good resource suggestions?

    Also, often I so desperately want to “make a conscious effort to include and want to hear voices of those who are oppressed by sexism and racism” but, I find it awkward to reach out to people of color specifically seeking their input. I feel like an overzealous “friendshipping” person in a ward. I don’t want to have to say “I want to hear from you b/c you’re black & have a unique perspective.”

    For Mormon Stories I wanted to make a rule that each panel had to include at least one woman and one person of color & my idea was flatly rejected… but, honestly I didn’t see any other way for inclusion to happen than through a direct/blatant effort.

    Ideas? Is there any other way? Is that approach worse?

    Reply
  5. Thelma Williams

    I am not a Mormon and could never be.However, I have witnessed the narrow mindedness and racialism among the Mormons at lodge.Perhaps this issue could cause you to further examine the whole bogus teaching of the church and thereby save yourself from these erroneous teachings.I used to attend the Mormon church with a friend and do not anymore as i found her to be quite racist in outlook and the teachings so far from the truth I could not attend anymore.I hate to see black people or anyone else joining the church.look at the faculty of BYU and check to see how many minority members it has, check the hierarchy of the Church and see if they have ever had a minority in its ranks.This is not a church but rather a cult.save yourself from this misbegotten bunch quickly.

    Reply
  6. Janan Graham

    Thelma,
    Based on your premise, it also can be said that one should remove themselves from American society as the microaggressions Tinesha described are a part of the systematic racism that exists within our country. These stereotypes and actions are not unique to the LDS church but an extension of the prejudices that are unfortunately a part of the American experience for people of color.

    I’m sorry about your experience because you, heck anyone, deserves better. You are absolutely right about there being an absence of minorities among the highest ranks of the church. As it exists in the United States, the church is very White across the board. That can prove to be problematic in regards to how minorities are sometimes viewed within it. At the same time, for a lot of minorities who identify as Mormon, the church is more than a few rude comments or aspects of culture or personal biases misinterpreted as doctrine. The history of the church has its racist moments that had a profound effect on the narrative of minorities within it. But people are not infallible (and yes I even mean the prophets as well) and just as it would apply outside the church, educating others is essential to bring about any changes. It can be exhausting at times, having to be the person to explain why you can’t just touch my hair or feeling like I have to prove that I’m not just another statistic. However, telling someone how a certain line of reasoning is racist is more productive than letting these instances of microaggression and direct racism fly.

    Personally, I would rather be asked my thoughts on a subject pertaining to race as opposed to assumptions being made on the behalf of all minorities. Often times those assumptions and the language used as a result of those assumptions is Eurocentric in nature and only causes a lack of enthusiasm for participating in these discussions. I think often times people approach the problem of the lack of diversity within these public spaces as needing to fill a quota. This renders a person into a state of tokenism that can be described as uncomfortable at best. At the same time, as I stated above, people won’t know unless something is said. It’s important to approach this topic with awareness and respect. Understand that it’s not easy feeling like you (the person being asked) have to be the representative of your entire race and for some people, it can be unnerving. Understand that you (the person asking) are coming from a place of privilege so be mindful of the language that is being used. Acknowledging your intentions is also important. You’re more likely to get a response if you acknowledge that you’re basing your questions from a pure interest in how to improve your understanding of race.

    Anyways, good job, Tinesha. Talking about race and privilege is essential in any discussion on feminism so I’m glad you shared your thoughts and experiences with us.

    Reply
    • Janan Graham

      EDIT: Often times those assumptions and the language used as a result of those assumptions are Eurocentric in nature and only cause a lack of enthusiasm for participating in these discussions.

      Reply
  7. morphic

    I find it crazy how much history has influenced how we talk about race, yet at the same time is not known or talked about by most people. I really do think that the one-drop rule is still invoked by people (especially in the church? or maybe just in areas of the country that lack racial diversity?) even though they may not understand where it came from or how it was used originally. Also, being made to feel like you are expected to speak for your group or that you are the token sucks.

    Reply
  8. marinaeymf

    This post basically sums up my life as a minority. I’m SE Asian and grew up in the U.S., and I’ve gotten the “are you a convert?” question many times even though I was raised LDS. In one situation, I brought a friend to church who happened to be Mexican and middle-aged — people thought she was my mother even though we looked nothing alike except for the brown skin. I agree that it is exhausting, extremely exhausting, being a minority. To be honest, I haven’t always felt welcome in some congregations, but out of sheer stubborn will-power I stay because 1) I love the doctrine of Christ, and 2) I want other people to know that they can’t break me.
    It’s so nice to know that I’m not alone!

    Reply

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