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Race Matters 

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Last week I made one of those errors in editorial judgment that a newcomer to this community is likely to make. In his weekly satirical column The Deep End, D.P. Sorensen took as his theme the controversy over the LDS church’s interest in the posthumous baptism of Jews. One paragraph, which many will recognize, disturbed me:

“The Lord caused a sore cursing to come upon them. One minute they were white and exceedingly fair and delightsome, the next the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them, that they might not be enticing unto his people,” Sorensen wrote.

I removed the passage because I thought it was inflammatory, not realizing, until Mr. Sorensen brought it to my attention, that it is a close paraphrasing of what is written of the Lamanites in 2 Nephi 5:21 of The Book of Mormon.

I bring this up not to draw attention to an ongoing controversy about the role of race in the LDS church—although I would certainly like to know exactly how one parses that bit of apparent scriptural bigotry. The fact that there is a controversy over it suggests a healthy debate is underway.

I address the subject of the race because I think we should not, in the wake of the debate over Trent Lott’s poisonous speech, let it go quite yet. In its eloquent and tough editorial published Dec. 23 on the controversy, the Deseret News made, to my way of thinking, one slip. It gave the impression that Lott’s viewpoint is a relic of the past and of the South. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Racism, as evidenced by segregation, is everywhere—the difference is that it has become more subtle. “Whites Only” signs have been replaced by zoning laws and the affordability of housing, with weighty implications for educational and employment opportunities.

In many ways, the South has found an accommodation with the question of race that the rest of the country still grapples with. My experience of the last two years in North Carolina revealed for me a society in which blacks and whites had at least developed a social code built on a common language, even if certain visible signs of integration, like good housing in black neighborhoods or interracial couples, remained rare. They have a long way to go, but so do the rest of us.

Growing up in southern California, there was nothing about anti-Mexican racism in the 1960s—or today—that was much different from the Jim Crow South.

There is an old joke about the difference between racism in the North and the South. In the South, the joke goes, a white man doesn’t care how close a black man gets, as long as he doesn’t get too important. In the North, a white man doesn’t care how important a black man gets, as long as he doesn’t get too close.

There is more uncomfortable truth in that than we’d like to admit.

We could all benefit from a frank discussion about race, especially in Utah, which is becoming an increasingly diverse place. I have a feeling we’re all a little tapped out talking about religion, anyway.

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About The Author

John Yewell

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