Oh, My God Becky Look at Her Butt it is Like Soooo Big

Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Cover of "The Legend of Bagger Vance"
Cover of The Legend of Bagger Vance

I used to love this blog in college, but heres the post I want to talk about today. Its an oldie but a goodie. Maybe the most difficult thing for Mormons, and Im sure other people too, is to figure out how to talk to black people. I mentioned in an earlier post, when I first got to Utah, people liked to tell me stories about random Black people they knew. Babies and children of all sorts stare at me when I go to Costco – Ive seen them crane their heads around their parents to get a better look. Them I dont mind, its not their fault they have never seen someone of a darker hue before. But lets just say, I no longer go to Walmart in some parts of the world, because its just much too much uncomfortable.

I am often the only Black person at the events I attend, and Ive experienced the annoyingly eye-rolling to the jaw-droppingly racist, so let me give you the primer on what I do and do not like, and you can see if it generalizes to anyone else. 1) I hate being ignored. In one class I was in a girl from Arizona said she just didnt address directly differences of her friends, because she was scared of offending them. My response to her was, if we are actually friends, then let me teach you how to treat me. Its no different than anything else you have to learn about me – where I like to eat, what movies I will go see, and oh yeah how I talk and feel about this huge piece of what the world defines me as. I dont want people to be color-blind, because then it feels like you are pretending Im just like you, and Im not. I would like to be able to talk about those things that are different from you, whether its how much lotion I put on (a ton) or how often I wash my hair (not a ton), without feeling awkward about it. So maybe you dont know what to say: well I promise to be forgiving, if you promise to make an effort.

Numero dos: Wait until I say something racist first, and then laugh, because I eventually will, and it will be funny. Like when my friend makes a comment about their being only one white free safety left (whatever that is), it works, but if I say it then we’d all be awkward. Its probably true, but its mean. Its bad if you say something racist first, then I have to decide if Im going to be the bigger person, and I honestly will probably not talk to you again. But when I say it first, like when I told my best friend that I was his magical negro (see Will Smith in Bagger Vance and Morgan Freeman in everything), well then its funny, because its true. Then you can laugh at me while I eat fried chicken, but not before.

Three: I have no idea. Lets pretend this is like the Dave Chappell Show and you can ask a black girl. This could be fun. It will be an ongoing thing. Put your questions in the comments section and Ill get back to you.

Today Was a Good Day

Manhattan New York Temple
Manhattan New York Temple (Photo credit: jerryfergusonphotography)

Todays letter is brought to you by Ice Cube.

This seems a fitting time (@robstroud) to talk about my conversion story, which is really my mom’s conversion story since she’s the reason my family is LDS. My mother is from NYC and in 1978 she didnt know much about the church except what everyone knew about the church – no blacks. In that time, missionaries did not go to predominantly Black areas – kinda like how we dont really preach to Muslims today – so she did not have much contact with the religion.

So Im going to tell you this story the way my mother tells this story. “So, I was eating lunch at Lincoln Center up on the green, because you know how I like to eat outside. And a voice came to me and said, D—, go across the street and ask those people why they dont like you.” Quick break – so you have to understand, my mother is not the most aggressive person and starting a conversation that way is definitely not something she would do. Shes more likely to wander around by herself than accost some innocent people in a random building. And back – “So I just ignored it. And the voice came again, Go across the street and ask those people why they dont like you. Now you have to understand, the “street” is Broadway and 7th Ave cross. Those are BIG streets! Its no small thing to get up and cross them. But the voice came again, so I got up and crossed the streets. At that time the Lincoln Center building was the only LDS building in NYC and it also was the mission home. So when I walked inside I was greeted by two senior missionaries and the woman said, ‘How can I help you?” And I said ‘Why don’t you people like me?’ She looked at me and carefully said, ‘Its not that we don’t like you, its just that we have a rule that Black men cannot hold the priesthood. But we like you just fine.'”

So my mother started going to church and she said everything she heard sounded and felt familiar, and people were friendly and she felt accepted, but she could not join the church while the ban was in place. She had felt like a second-class citizen most of her life, and would not join an organization where she was considered one. She decided to stop going at the end of May 1978. A few days later, her church friends called her to say that the prophet had announced just that morning that all worthy men were allowed to hold the priesthood and my mother was baptized into the church a month later.

She met and married my father, who was also became a member, but was never really active, moved to California and were I was born and raised LDS. I have been a member all my life. I never knew it was that weird until much later on, because going to church for 3 hours on Sunday and watching videos in the LA Temple Visitor’s Center waiting for my mom to do whatever they did in there was just how I grew up. Being LDS, Mormon, is just who I was.

This, of course, is just part of the story – the how I got here part. Some day soon Ill tell the why I stayed part. Feel free to share your story or ask any other questions. Ill be happy to answer the best I can.

I Am 32 Flavors and Then Some

Rainbow lorikeet in Victoria, Australia.
Rainbow lorikeet in Victoria, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Song: Ani DiFranco.

I was flipping channels and CNN is broadcasting an installment of Who is Black in America? It made me think of my own decisions about how to identify myself.

Sometimes I tell my friends that I am almost the world’s most perfect minority. In addition to being Black, I am also Hispanic. A female, Mormon – all I need is a different sexual orientation and I wouldve hit the affirmative action jackpot. But being Mormon means saying I’m Black isnt simple, especially since I was raised outside of a Black community. In addition, not speaking Spanish, and having no connection to my father’s family, I have difficulty with claiming the Hispanic identity. In high school, my friends called me double-stuffed, which never really bothered me because it seemed accurate – I was Black on the outside and extra Mormon on the inside.

Going to college was the first time I was around a larger Black community, but my favorite comment when I told them I was Mormon was, “Um… you know you are Black right?” I still think its funny. I mostly hung out with minorities there – even the Mormons were minorities, mostly. But I didnt feel really connected to the Black students – I wasnt from NYC or Chicago or DC. In one class that was almost entirely Black, I was the person saying, “but Im sure they just dont understand and they arent deliberately trying to be awful.” Im pretty sure most people rolled their eyes at me and asked me why I was so conservative and naive. We were all having a tough year.

Choosing an identity under these circumstances is difficult. Once the social structure of being in the smart athletes group of high school was gone and the large Mormon social world disappeared once I moved East, it seemed harder to maintain a coherent identity. Add the normal part of growing up and deciding for yourself who you are – it just combined to make a frustrating stew. Politics aside, I read Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father during college. Really interesting good read. That book helped me think through who I was, so I could contain all the different parts of me in a way that might allow me to be whole.

The truth is Im probably not ever going to be one thing. I love other cultures too much to choose just one. Later this year, Im finally going to be leaving the country for the first time in 11 years to visit the Middle East and Im sure that will add another layer to the complexity. At this point, I embrace it. I used to think it was terrible to always be standing on the edge of the group. I went to college hoping to find people like me, and matched on different characteristics than I did with those I grew up with, but there was never a perfect alignment. Now, even though its still lonely sometimes, I realize that not belonging to any one group means I can belong to all of them (almost). From my perspective, its God’s gift to me. I will never lack for friends and a sphere to influence, because Im not restricted to any one area.

Im sure I will talk about identity again, since this was just a small random sampling of thoughts from the past 30 years. Im sure there are other ways to think about this than how Ive come down. So tell me – how do you craft your individual N of 1 status?