Sunday Spotlight is a series where we profile individuals in the Young Mormon Feminists community to hear their stories and get to know them a little better through Q&A or their personal narratives. This week we talked with Janan.
Who are you and what are you up to?
I’m a 25 year old black LDS woman living, working and learning in Washington, D.C. I enjoy writing about black/womanist theology, racism and African-American history/traditions, mostly for my personal blog and Rational Faiths. My passion for social justice, liberation, theology and writing led me to pursue a post-undergrad degree. I’m currently attending the Master of Arts in Religious Studies program at Howard University School of Divinity, with a concentration in Ethics and Social Justice. My research focuses on black/womanist theology in the framework of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What makes you a Mormon?
I have no preceding connections to the Church through blood or any specific lineage, so my Mormonism begins in a baptismal font in Indiana. Four years later and all I remember is having to be baptized twice because I wasn’t fully submerged the first time and how nervous I was, leading up to this one moment. I had no idea how this act would change my life and in some ways I’m still figuring it out, as it is an ongoing process. What I did know, however, is that there was and still is something special about this faith. Being a Mormon, for me, embraces African-American tradition. It shouts, it dances, it praises. It sings of a Christ who is not a passive observer of our pain, but rather, one who weeps with us. It flourishes in justice. It continues because of the strength of those before me and because of those who will come after me. It is an assemblage of those things and my emergence from those baptismal waters that make me a Mormon.
What makes you a feminist?
There is a group of people who will say:
“You are talking about things that you don’t know exist.”
They are right, of course. There’s no white American cis-heterosexual male hand that literally reaches down and keeps us in a state of oppression. But, referencing a discussion by James Baldwin, I know what my neighborhood looks like and I know what the neighborhood less than 20 minutes away from me looks like and how it’s nearly impossible to miss the stark contrast between the two. I’ve seen underserved areas be bought up and renovated by corporate entities only to be reassembled into housing complexes that people in this area can’t afford. I’ve heard groups tell us to wait for “a more convenient season” while black and brown bodies continually line the streets. I’ve seen people ask what a woman was wearing when a man sexually assaulted her before they think to ask if she’s ok. As Baldwin once said, “You want me to make an act of faith—risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children—on some idealism, which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen!”
I practice feminism because I believe that there are systems that maintain a metanarrative about race, gender, sexual preference, class and America itself; one that supposes that we are to be content with how things are because they are as they have always been. But what is joy when it comes at the expense of others? My feminist praxis is not to find a place at the table, with its distorted legs and crooked edges. It is to deconstruct it.
What makes you a Mormon feminist?
Over the years, my involvement with Mormon feminism has transformed to the role of ally. There are many aspects that I love about Mormon feminist praxis. Gender inequality in the Church institution and its culture is an issue that we cannot afford to overlook and the existence of the Mormon feminist spectrum has led to various changes in the past few years, in regards to creating leadership opportunities and spaces for some women.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I imagine I’ll have PhD attached to my name. Helping to raise kids with my husband. Running for public office.
Any parting words for us?
It’s easy to call out men riding on horses and burning crosses only to name it ‘hate’. But we must not forget about the crosses we burn in our own lives. Activism and advocacy require self-reflection. It is a transformative process. It’s an agonizing process. That process, however, creates a space for love. Anger is a powerful emotion and necessary to enact change. But we can’t forget the purpose of love to remind us why we go so hard on systems that serve to oppress.