Friday, July 27, 2012


From a recent online discussion, where an old best friend posted a picture of Morgan Freeman informing his interviewer that the way to solve problems of racism is, "Stop talking about it." After an involving argument with his cousin, the conversation was nearly put to rest when his cousin suggested I get over my harsh, racist experiences because everyone experiences inadequacy over skin color, including white people. (And she has a number of non-white friends, she says, so she also doesn't feel she is a racist person.) I got angry, and what follows is my angry reply. I post it here because, frankly, I'm sick of having to repeat myself whenever I hear this. So now it's here.

Perhaps you, as a white person, feel you've felt inadequacy over skin color. To be honest, I have no idea how it would be similar to mine, or my family's, or anyone else I know who isn't white -- and it is, at the least, arrogant of you to presume it's similar.

I've been kept from hanging out with neighborhood kids, held up in a Harmon's on false theft accusations when I was nine, prevented from dating a ton of white people (who specifically told me it's because I'm not white), limited in my academic field, certain kinds of marginalization and stereotyping in my middle/high school years and at church, called racial slurs and spat at, kept ignorant of my cultural history -- and in my darkest moments, each time those things happened a part of me desired to have white skin.

Have you ever been rejected by a lover because of your skin color? Has your heritage ever been completely obscured by the celebrations of another race? Have you ever had someone call you a dirty name, then spit at your feet, and tell you it's because of your skin color? Has a professor ever told you to specialize in studying the history of your skin color because everyone else in the department gets to study anything else? Have you ever spent lonely days or lonely nights staring at your skin, and wishing there was just a little bit more white, and not darkness? I'm talking about a very profound sense of alienation, social marginalization, and self-loathing. And every non-white friend I have knows what all of this is like. And you're telling me you've "in your own way" felt this desire, this wishing, and the endless guilt that follows? NO. You have not.

It is a slap in my face to say "...oh yes, us 'whites' feel it too." No alienation or inadequacy you think you've felt over having white skin could possibly compare or relate to the alienation and inadequacy over *not* having white skin in me, or my African American girl friend, or my Mexican/Chilean American girl friend, or my guy friends from Pakistan and Afghanistan, or my co-worker from the Dominican Republic, or...A white person trying to argue that everyone feels the hatred and inadequacy of racism is mocking, and it's offensive. I'm sure you didn't intend to be offensive -- but that's very offensive. And it is precisely the ignorance in that attitude I'm identifying as racist.

Of course "hatred and intolerance of another race extends past 'whites.'" But you have entirely missed my point if you think that's it, and we should all just move on. Racism is not a universal behavior, like there is no banality of evil; the song from 'South Park' about how "everybody's a little bit racist" is a bunch of hogwash that only perpetuates the same broken ideology contemporary racism embraces.

For racism to continue, in fact, it needs white people to publicly say things like, "I've dealt with racism even as a white person; we all have to deal with racism, so let's all be equal." Racism doesn't work like that, and every day it's more and more unfortunate less and less people with white skin fail to understand this.

I'm not the only one to deal with this issue, but until everyone (especially white people) realizes that I and others like me shouldn't have to be the only ones who think critically and authentically about racism, then it will always be a problem for you and me and everyone else. And the kind of thinking you've demonstrated is proof no matter how informed you believe you are about racism, and no matter how many friends you have of diverse ethnicities, you still don't get it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Better Devil

From a recent correspondence with my cousin, over recent LDS church actions in Provo.

Hey, my young cousin. I think much has already been said for you to think about. 

Let me answer some of your questions directly -- beginning with your question about why I am playing devil's advocate, when the devil is (as you put it) "inherently evil" and, therefore, what makes me better than those leading the church whom I accuse of evil. 

 A lot of Mormons I know often indulge in an image of apparent self-victimhood, and I think it's pathetic. If members were actually challenged with legitimate criticisms, frank evaluations, and provocative questions, perhaps the church might have more to offer the world. 

As it is, members often dismiss agression as if it is only agression -- and not the obvious symptom of an organization and culture deeply threatened by the maladjusted, anywhere it's found, and so by nature of its very structure creates its own fundamental discontent and opposition. The primitive Christianity, the social/cultural naivete, and the willful psychological ignorance of most Mormons in this state have led me to believe the church, despite rapid global expansion, doesn't deserve to survive another century the way it is now.

I openly accost the church precisely because there are those who, like you, like the church (and with good intentions) but choose to not distinguish its abusive management and corporate organization from the radical potential of its own spirituality, philosophy, and history (since acknowledging complexities might betray or undermine the nature of good intentions) -- thus, my opinions are not something they care to hear. 

I am not playing devil's advocate. The devil, throughout Western religions and the arts (literature, music, even comic books, etc.), is a character heavily invested in certain traditions, archetypes, history, and meaning. Mormonism, however, has an entirely unsophisticated understanding of Satan by comparison. He's simply a bogeyman, and a scapegoat, and it seems his only real use is to be feared as "inherently evil," the real source behind every human failing, weakness, or temptation. In the view of any mainstream Christian, that's weak at best. No other Mormon I've known besides myself is at all suspicious of how often we tend to blame something on Satan. 

 The devil is the ultimate con man, the trickiest of them all, as well as a rebel forces leader. He's considered a freak, a monster, and the first outcast in the world. Why else, upon his birth in the novel, does Frankenstein's monster love Milton's Lucifer? There is an instant understanding from the monster, who is himself unnamed. 

To me, the devil is less a god of evil and more a variation on the trickster figure, because there is both light and dark in him. Satan is a fallen angel with a bone to pick, but the devil is someone who challenges everything you think is true and forces you to grow stronger by taking up those challenges. That's why, to me, the last truly great devil Mormons had was Joseph Smith himself. He's not someone you want to completely trust, but it's not that he's simply to be feared, either. 

 No matter how many times the LDS church leadership does something incredibly stupid, like this new MTC building, I keep waiting for them to do something that will make me lose my mind at last and become a big problem for them; Mormons will rue the day I finally break, so it's probably a good thing I've been such a [slightly] polite pushover this long when they've spent this long pushing almost all of my buttons. 

Simply put: the Mormons need a better devil than the one they claim to believe in, and I'm willing to put on those horns because that role must be played -- and, if I do say so, I qualify pretty well for the job. I don't intend to play the devil's advocate. Not at all. I intend to play devil, himself. 

Your next question makes sense, cousin -- asking if I'm any better? Well, I'm not in this game to compete against other moral positions. I leave that to any self-proclaimed heroes, martyrs, or fools. If you've come this far, but you have not taken on the ambiguities and complexities of something or someone you love, you will only have a narrow understanding of them, entirely limited to what you've invented. 

 It's difficult for anyone to hear horrible things about something or someone they love, and particularly if it's spiritual in nature. But faith without questions is dead. Simple as that. A static testimony is a bunch of white noise over a pulpit, a D.O.A. sentiment. The early church leaders believed in the utmost rigor in one's testimony, constantly keeping it dynamically alive with persistent study, questioning, searching. Last I knew, I've read the Book of Mormon four or five more times than any of my friends who all served missions instead of me. Testimonies need to be challenged to survive (which -- it turns out -- is what a good devil is around to help accomplish, if you consider Jewish rabbinical literature, for instance.) 

Mormons cannot often take it when someone appears to be making their lives harder by criticizing the church, and there's at least one good reason why: they deserve better than the church is giving them and, knowing that, leadership has nearly the entire membership tranquilized, arresting nearly any spiritual development that doesn't happen on their terms. Last time that happened in this country, a young farmer boy from upstate New York decided to go see God about it and fight to make his faith his own -- and just look what happened to him. 

Another reason: there are few to no good adversaries of Mormons. I'm looking into that. 

Finally, my cousin, you asked if I have the right, in all fairness, to make people's lives harder. As nicely as I can, you are woefully unprepared to demand what's fair. 

You have always, compared to my lot in this world, enjoyed a certain amount of privilege (and while it's not entirely your fault you're in the dark as to why, there are things you can do to educate yourself). A happy marriage, family, getting paid somewhat fairly, being a return missionary -- all of these things, this culture and society will practically hand to you. It's all yours for the asking. But because of my choices, I've been fixed like a moth on a board to my proper place as "a bad apple." Something went wrong on my way out the factory. I will never have any of the blessings you have. My chosen [homo]sexual behavoirs and chosen cultural identity as a queer faggot, as well as my mulatto ethnicity, will always marginalize me to degrees you, unfortunately, aren't immediately aware of. Some choices have even been completely taken from me. 

It may be tough to hear others hate on the only real organization and people you've ever loved but the church and its members have, throughout most of its history, continually made harder the lives of men and women like me, and most certainly in ways that make totally infantile any provocations Mormons feel they've "suffered" from people who oppose or criticize them. 

I love women, I love the cultures of peoples who aren't white or from the U.S. I do not stop talking to someone because they have sex, do drugs, or read Marx. I don't discriminate between so-called "lifestyles" -- those are what the rich have, and I hate the rich. I love any number of things about being truly alive in this world, for as the scripture says, we are that we might have joy. And Mormonism has since its inception attacked women, non-white peoples, sexual deviants, non-nuclear families, knoweldge and wisdom, history, and any number of things that are far more profound than talking smack about a church. And one of these days, Mormons will finally lose all my good graces. 

You don't like questioning something you love, or wondering if it's a horrible thing, but I've been questioning everything about who or what I love my entire life, and it has bore a hole in me through which I will fall for forever. 

I gave the church my life, and nearly completely my love, and the church has done almost nothing but make my life harder -- and it'll continue to get harder as I get older, because it will always be part of me. 

I tried to make a choice to be happy and follow what's in my heart; because of that, I will be punished. 

You have the faith that what's in your heart is aligned with what God wants: turns out, God wants his kingdom fully of white/white-faced, politically conservative and heteronormative males, and I'm none of those things. 

There is no family I will live with forever. I have no glories or blessings to claim, and my inheritance is dust on a wind, compared to yours. I am an eternal orphan, just a kid from yesterday. And so are many others I know who've been in very real pain because of the LDS church. Almost everyone I love most, Mormons cast aside and marginalize. 

You ask if I have the right to make people's lives harder: we'd beg of you, what gives you the guts to even ask.