In covering the recent massacre of the nine black Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Deseret News wrote an opinion piece that seemed to spin the mass murders as a generalized attack on religion. This trivialization was more than just a blunder, it was yet another painful remainder that if left to our own devices, we will find reasons to chant "#AllLivesMatter" while ignoring the fact that the only lives taken last week were black ones.
The Deseret News is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and while it is not the official mouthpiece of the church, it is looked to by many as a voice of Mormon thought. We expect better from the Deseret News. While their follow-up article calling for us to mourn with those who mourn was a much more empathetic response, we wonder why was this not the first line of thought.
As Mormons we know what it is like to be persecuted, with that persecution even reaching our houses of worship and including Missouri's extermination order of 1838. So, can we please stop actin’ brand new? “Actin’ brand new” is urban speak, and it means behaving as if there is no history, no precedent. As black women, it is shocking to us that many Mormons don’t seem to understand discrimination or empathize with victims of racially targeted violence. Because our blackness and our Mormonism share similar struggles, we and many people of color operate under the assumption that we don’t have to explain certain struggles to our Mormon brothers and sisters. We expect them to get it because of these shared histories of persecution. That shock makes us wonder how they can act so “brand new.”
Even though the Mormon experience is not parallel to the black experience, it most certainly can be used by its members as a source of empathy and understanding, thus fulfilling our Christian responsibility to mourn with those that mourn, even for black lives.
Seeing the long list of the names of the nine who died — the Rev. Clementa Pickney, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanda Sanders, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson and Ethel Lance — only begins to give a sense of the great and tragic loss.
While online support for Mother Emanuel is needed, it is not enough to call Roof out as a racist, yet shy away from calling this exactly what it is. It was a terrorist attack, specifically against a black church, meant to create fear within the black community. For far too many people, racial ignorance still trumps Christianity! Our inability to acknowledge America’s racist past and present only places our children at risk of inheriting this disease we claim we deplore!
Last summer, social media was flooded with videos from celebrities to elementary-age kids taking the ALS Challenge. Millions of dollars were raised in an effort to find a cure to eradicate this disease. Yet when it comes to the "disease" of racism and hate, we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge it still exists. So how can talking about it even be an option? Racism and hate are as crippling and deadly as is cancer. Eradicating racism requires more than money; it requires love, communication and a willingness to build relationships. Christians should be standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity.
Beyoncé said, “If you like it, then you should've put a ring on it.” As Latter-day Saints, we know that the ring isn’t always enough. None of us will get credit for wearing a CTR ring if we are failing to choose the right.
Tamu Smith, who resides in Provo, and Zandra Vranes, who resides in Boise, Idaho, are authors of SISTASinZION.com