A cold night. January or February. I stand with friends outside Brigham Young University’s “Smith Family Living Center.” Students are dancing inside the plate-glass windows. A young black man approaches, looks into the building, moves on.
I know him, someone claims. He’s LDS. Must be lonely. Can’t hold the priesthood. Can’t marry in the temple. Seed of Cain. Curse of Ham.
We enter the Family Living Center, join the dancers.
His testimony of the true gospel, I think, commits him to a difficult life now; but in the eternities. . . . My mind skids to the warm, firm thighs of the tall girl from Idaho who is holding me as close as I her.
This is a scene I come back to often, especially when I'm wondering just how I became who I have become and what possibilities lie in my future.
Eighteen years old. A Mormon missionary in waiting, just months from two years spreading the Gospel in Germany (spreading is too strong a word, there was only one odd convert). Fresh out of high school. Gathering experience at the Mormon university—social experience as well as intellectual and theological.
And, unwitting fellow student with Ann Davies Romney.
This I learned this morning as I read Jason Horowitz's Washington Post piece on Mitt Romney's two years at BYU (the two years I was in Germany). It's a good account, I think, of life at our university in those days. You can read it HERE.
As the son of school teachers, raised in Farmington, New Mexico, naive about the Civil Rights movement (only the vaguest thoughts, including a hint that it was probably Communist inspired), unable to think of a term-paper topic except for a diatribe against socialized medicine (lamented in an earlier post—click HERE), I knew little about the social world Horowitz sketches in his piece. Cougar Club? I did, once, disastrously (or, better, hilariously), attend a costume ball at the invitation of a Cougarette.
Although he mentions it, Horowitz doesn't elaborate on the racism that infected us on the BYU campus in those days. (See my earlier post on my own racism—click HERE.) I, in Germany, Mitt Romney, in France, and thousands of other missionaries preached and defended the belief that a black skin (as well as the brown skin of Native Americans) was a curse carried by descendants of the murderous Cain (or by descendants of the unrighteous Lamanites).
Mitt's father (see the earlier post on pressure from a Mormon apostle to do otherwise—click HERE) supported the Civil Rights movement; but as a practicing Mormon there was no way around the ongoing denial of the Priesthood to black men (women are, to this day, still denied the power that the Priesthood bestows). No way around for me. No way around for Mitt.
ADDENDUM: EMAIL SENT BY CHUCK HAMAKER
ADDENDUM: EMAIL SENT BY CHUCK HAMAKER
You said that you in Germany, Mitt Romney, in France, and thousands of other missionaries preached and defended the belief that a black skin (as well as the brown skin of Native Americans) was a curse carried by descendants of the murderous Cain (or by descendants of the unrighteous Lamanites).
We had specific instructions in Peru to be polite to those who we assumed --given our North American prejudices -- had African origins but not to “encourage them”. People in all shades and hues. I rebelled against this in a small town where I was the branch president in Northern Peru. A man who missionaries had baptized and was active in the local branch leadership had two sons, and the previous missionaries who were branch presidents had refused to permit them to be ordained with the Aaronic priesthood because of what missionaries thought might have been African heritage on their mother’s side based on some grainy black and white photos that indicated the relatives had curly hair. The Spanish term they used for the curly hair was crespito. I looked at the pictures and laughed. They are crespitos como yo, since I had curly hair too. It wasn’t long after that (it was sometime in 1968 when my experience happened) that the church began to rethink this grotesque practice, but it couldn’t do much else given the boom in baptisms in Brazil, where if you used standard north American prejudices most of the populace looked like crespitos or negritos or some other such types. But the people were being baptized in the thousands. They would have had to mandate genealogy tracing before baptism and ordination to sort it all out in Brazil, and in much of Latin America where “working like a black man” was often said with pride of anyone of another race who was doing their best..at least that’s my memory and I’m sticking by it. And we were very solicitous of those we thought were Native Americans in Peru and Ecuador, actually seeking them out, doing our best to proselytize them, so that although we had that damned "white and delightsome" language from the Book of Mormon, in my brief experience in the “lamanite” world areas, they were part and parcel of who we were trying to convert.
And finally, in those days, in the Mormon temple ceremony, the devil was said to have black skin.