We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. I am by no means an expert on race or history. I am just someone who didn’t know what I didn’t know until I needed to know it. Because it is my honor to be the mother of children of a different race than mine, placed into my hands by their first-mothers and through our open adoption arrangement, it is my privilege to have my eyes are opened on a daily basis. When I share things about race, it’s not out of a desire to be performative, to shame anyone for not understanding something, or to put myself out as some kind of leader. It’s just part of my lived experience that I believe may be helpful to people I care about.

One thing I hear regularly is “Utah is not a racist place. The (LDS) church is not racist.” Even if you believe that is true, ignoring the past or trying to rewrite it to fit the current narrative is not healing or helpful. Healing only comes from truth. Here are some truths.

-Mormon pioneers brought black slaves with them to Utah. Mormon pioneers sometimes gave slaves or their labor as part of their tithing to the church. 

-Brigham Young said, “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, page 110. 

-Slavery was made officially legal in Utah in 1852 and was not repealed until an act of Congress in 1862.

-Washington County was begun as the “Cotton Mission”. Many of the people sent here by the LDS Church to colonize this area were from the south. They brought with them their love for the area they had left, and laid it over this land in a strangely sanitized way that somehow glorified the south without acknowledging the harm that was and is unable to be untwined from the enslavement of an entire race of people. Many people in Southern Utah cannot and do not understand how their beloved “Dixie” is an identity that can and should be compassionately put to rest, as it no longer serves the growing diversity of the area. I grew up singing the songs of Dixie. I attended the local college when it still held mock slave auctions as a fundraiser. I was there when the college paid for a very large and expensive bronze of a “rebel” soldier holding the Confederate flag. This is highly entrenched in my psyche and has been very uncomfortable to see, acknowledge, and let go of.

-Utah enacted anti-miscegenation laws (interracial marriage is not legal) in 1888 and was the second to last state to repeal those laws in 1963.

-Into the late 50’s and early 60’s, even noted African American like Ella Fitzgerald were not allowed to eat at the restaurant in the Hotel Utah and were made to use the freight elevators.

-Members of the LDS Church who were POC were not allowed the blessings of the temple and priesthood that were key tenants of their faith until 1978. I was 5 years old that year.

-Depending on your age, either your parents or grandparents were alive during the civil rights struggles and they were either okay with people screaming death threats at 6 year old Ruby Bridges for trying to go to school, or they were not.

-When the federal government created MLK Day in 1986, Utah only adopted it under the name “Human Rights Day”. It was not formally recognized as a holiday to honor Dr. King until 2000. I clearly remember my school teacher (I was in high school) telling our class that we had to celebrate this holiday, but we didn’t need to make it “all about the blacks, it could be about being good to all humans”, accompanied by much eye rolling and shaking of the head.

These teachings, histories, and attitudes colored my upbringing consciously and unconsciously.  And if you grew up in Utah or Mormon, and are my age or older, especially if you’re white, when you look back, you will certainly see what I’m talking about if you want to see it.

So these truths must be acknowledged, mourned, disavowed, called out. This is how you cleanse a wound. Not by ignoring it, or pretending it didn’t really happen that way, but by cleaning out the gunk, reapplying healing balms, tenderly bandaging, protecting and keeping clean as the healing begins, learning from whatever caused the wound, taking proactive steps so that it will not happen again, especially if you and/or the system you came from was the one that caused the wounding.