Those who know us well - who have known us for more than the last two years - realize, however, that Hotel DeGraw has housed a Black "son", another Black young man and the three-generation family of that second young man. That experience has opened our eyes to the practical reality of the racism that still exists in our society.
What bothers me the most is when I hear members of my own religion who can't let go of the racial practices and justifications of the past. The following is a quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, perhaps the apostle who speculated more than any other about the racial issues of his day (emphasis added by me):
“Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.
We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.
It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the Gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the Gentiles.”
(”All Are Alike unto God” - BYU devotional - August 18, 1978)
I believe that part of what Elder McConkie's statement repudiates is the explanations used to justify the practices in question. Without direct revelation on the subject, individual leaders turned to the explanations of the society in which they lived - and spoke of curses and lineage and other "reasons" for their situation. Elder McConkie said we need to "forget about them."
I mention this here because I heard today the same justifications we should have left behind in 1978. I heard skin color called a curse - referring to Australian aborigines. My heart sank. Allow me to share my perspective - using the BofM issue of skin color as the example:
The word “loathsome” is a socially defined word. It means “disgusting; revolting; repulsive” - not exactly how we would describe anyone being viewed by God. Therefore, any “loathsomeness” is, by definition, subjective - defined by the person or people calling someone else loathsome. Based on everything else (everything) I read in all of our scriptures, God does not view anyone as loathsome based on skin color. The most that could be asserted reasonably, imo, is that people’s philosophies, creeds and actions can be labeled as loathsome to God.
Where does that leave me? It leaves me to look at the Nephites in the exact same way that I look at the early saints - people with existing biases who needed a way to teach their children why they couldn't let go of those biases, even with the light of the restored Gospel and the actions of their original Prophet. In the case of the Book of Mormon, there were fairer skinned Nephites (due slightly to more constant and covering clothing and less exposure to the sun? - plus mixing with a people of similar ethnic descent?) and darker skinned Lamanites (due slightly to less constant and covering clothing and more exposed skin? - plus mixing with a darker skinned, indigenous people?). They hated each other - or, at the very least, were enemies. They also were family - at least, initially.
How does one distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys when they are family? How does a father justify the division to his children? The same way people all over the world all throughout history have done so - by the most visible and obvious difference - skin color.
Father: “Son, stay away from those wicked Lamanites.”
Son: “Why, Daddy?”
Father: “They don’t believe in God.”
Son: “How do I know that - and how do I tell who is who?”
Father (with loathing): “Just look at them. The Lord cursed them with a darker skin than us.”
Son: “OK, Daddy.”
This has happened throughout the history of the world - probably in every society that has existed. I heard it in words just that clear from firmly believing Protestants when I taught in the Deep South - in the 1990’s. Why do we have to attribute it to God?
We know prophets are not infallible. We know God won’t force stuff on us that we can’t handle. We know he weeps over the actions and attitudes of His children. Just because people in the past (even inspired leaders) couldn’t get past this particular prejudice, why do we need to hold onto it when it no longer is taught in our day - and when the racism it breeds is condemned by our own leaders?