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.