Being Black in Utah
May 31, 2008 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Being Black in Utah. The Washington Post chronicles some amusing stories (and some not) of racial interactions in the Beehive State. Yet despite their small numbers black people have been in Utah from the beginning.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (27 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I believe I have commented before on this topic - we have a lot of black people in Utah, they just all play for the Jazz.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:41 PM on May 31, 2008

Joseph F. Smith, Sr.: First Prophet and President and Founder of the Mormon Church:
"Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species..."
LDS (Mormon) President | Apostle Joseph F. Smith, Jr. in his book 'The Way to Perfection' (1931):
"Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world with black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.

In justice it should be said that there have been among the seed of Cain many who have been honorable and who have lived according to the best light they had in this second estate. Let us pray that the Lord may bless them with some blessings of exaltation, if not the fullness, for their integrity here.

In the spirit of sympathy, mercy and faith, we will hope that blessings may eventually be given to our Negro brethren, for they are out brethren-children of God-notwithstanding their black covering emblematic of eternal darkness."
posted by ericb at 3:59 PM on May 31, 2008

Indeed, in the departure lounge one day last month, Monique Nesbit eagerly awaited her flight back to Los Angeles. A friend had told her to come take a good look around, because for the price of her Inglewood condo she could buy two houses in Salt Lake.

"But no. I knew in only two days," Nesbit said, and shook her head.

"You want a bit of community," she said. "And knowing that you belong somewhere."

Her daughter, Johnique Jackson, leaned forward.

"Besides," the girl said, "my cousin's here, and she started hanging out with white people, and she started smoking meth."

posted by MegoSteve at 4:06 PM on May 31, 2008

The first link in the OP goes to page three of the article; page one is here.
posted by bizwank at 4:07 PM on May 31, 2008

Yeah, they just kind of breeze over the history of the Mormon church there, with a two liner:
Until 1978, the church envisioned itself as a "white and delightsome people." That year, its president had a "revelation" that the priesthood should be opened to "all worthy males." Just like that, African Americans were equals in a church where decrees still matter.
Also, you linked to the third page of the article, this is first page
posted by delmoi at 4:08 PM on May 31, 2008

Yes, blacks and the Mormon church haven't had the best relationship. Hopefully we can move beyond that in this thread.

Mods emailed to correct first link, thanks for pointing that out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:17 PM on May 31, 2008

And she was like, 'I can touch your hair because I've never touched black people's hair before.' "


What the fuck, Utah? What the fuck?
posted by Caduceus at 4:21 PM on May 31, 2008

"The beginning"? Well, the beginning after the Native Americans.
posted by rodgerd at 4:29 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, blacks and the Mormon church haven't had the best relationship. Hopefully we can move beyond that in this thread.

To where should we move?
posted by ericb at 4:33 PM on May 31, 2008

So did they ever change their minds about the death penalty for miscegenation?
Brigham Young taught a much greater extreme. In a sermon given on March 8, 1863, Young stated, "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, 10:110).
posted by mullingitover at 4:37 PM on May 31, 2008

Blacks and the Priesthood in the Mormon church -- posted by BrotherCaine

Oh so eponysterical (read: not really) for this thread!
posted by ericb at 4:43 PM on May 31, 2008

Yes, blacks and the Mormon church haven't had the best relationship. Hopefully we can move beyond that in this thread.

So this is the thread where we're not allowed to discuss the topic of the link?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:47 PM on May 31, 2008

It's a religion of continuing revelation; that means you're pretty much allowed to make it up as you go along. What the LDS grand poobah says today is every bit as valid as what Smith said. I wish other faith traditions were as willing to say "you know what, we probably got that one wrong the first time. Let's start getting it right."
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:55 PM on May 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

"...blacks and the Mormon church haven't had the best relationship. Hopefully we can move beyond that in this thread."

I thought this thread was about blacks in Utah.

Believe it or not, there is a difference.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:17 PM on May 31, 2008

wait a minute, crash, I thought you told me that the demographics in the Beehive State were 'Mormons, Mexicans and the Utah Jazz."
posted by jonmc at 5:23 PM on May 31, 2008

Less than 1 percent of the state's 2.6 million people are African American, including several hundred Hurricane Katrina evacuees who arrived by chartered jet and were frisked upon landing.

WTF Utah???!
posted by brain cloud at 6:13 PM on May 31, 2008


Your own first link points out that Joseph F. Smith Sr. was the sixth prophet of the Mormon church, and not the founder.

The Mormon church certainly has some messed up racial issues. How much of that can be considered a product of American society? Because, while those quotes are wholly inappropriate, how different are they from other white, conservative, religious leaders of the same time?

(Not to excuse what these Mormon leaders said. Obviously it is abhorrent, especially from someone claiming to speak for God.)
posted by Grundlebug at 6:16 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, I think the Mormon church's position on race makes Utah an easy target for this kind of article. I'm sure you could round up similar anecdotes from all over the mountain west.
posted by Grundlebug at 6:19 PM on May 31, 2008

"wait a minute, crash, I thought you told me that the demographics in the Beehive State were 'Mormons, Mexicans and the Utah Jazz'."

Actually, it's Mormons, Mexicans, a few Gentiles, one gay guy, and one black guy who plays for the Jazz.

Plus we make the gay guy live next to the black guy so we can keep housing values equal.

posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:47 PM on May 31, 2008

Oh, I'll stay here in New York. A filthy papist like me would ruin the neighborhood.
posted by jonmc at 6:51 PM on May 31, 2008

"Besides," the girl said, "my cousin's here, and she started hanging out with white people, and she started smoking meth."

Normally I'm not about needlessly pulling out races, but I approve of this sort of "White people will make you a tweaker" talking point as a hilarious counterpoint to Negro Cocaine Fiends and Crazed Mexicans on Marihuana.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:56 PM on May 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

So they like invade people's personal space In Utah? I would be a novelty sort of like? Well shiiiet I need to go over there and let the young lady pull on somethin' REALLY new!
posted by Student of Man at 10:20 PM on May 31, 2008

Even though I've only visited a couple times, I definitely did not get the naive fascination treatment. In addition to the stares, the general feeling I got was one of outright hostility. In fact, on a high school orchestra trip to St. George, a black friend and I were walking to a convenience store and many of the passing cars honked and swerved at us, and one slowed, rolled down their window and screamed "NIGGERS!!!" at us. I have not been back to Utah since. I'd like to visit Salt Lake though, as I have a feeling it might be more as described in this article, and I don't want to dismiss the entire state because of a couple of ignorant assholes. I admire the fortitude and tolerance it must take for these people to live as such extreme minorities in the environment described in the article.

The hair thing, on the other hand, has been so common for me, at least where I grew up (Nevada) that it seems absolutely normal, or at least understandable. It was even a point of pride for me as a kid (better than "Why do you talk white?" anyway).

Also, I can relate to the feeling of suddenly not being stared at in San Francisco, but it didn't make me uncomfortable. I felt as though I could release a breath that I had been holding my entire life. I'm moving to Berkeley in a month or so. I think I'll probably stay for a long time.
posted by mayfly wake at 11:01 PM on May 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

I was good friends once with a black man who was born and raised in Utah.

When asked what it was like he would tell me that Utah was "Hate you" spelled backwards.

Which seemed a pretty apt summary, I guess.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

About ten years ago I was hired by a medium-sized Mormon company, about 1500 employees. By “Mormon company” I mean that the owners were Mormon, almost all the executives were Mormon and most managers were Mormon. Friends and family with little experience were routinely hired in key positions. The nickname for the company was "NepCo".

I am white, but my family is black, and I went to work the first day with some trepidation. I distinctly remember feeling a sense of relief at seeing a black guy working there. I later found out that he was the janitor. Even later I found out that there were no black people in any type of supervisory role.

My time there was challenging. I heard Martin Luther King Day referred to as "Watermelon Day". Non-Caucasians were called “mud-people”. Etcetera. Etcetera.

The department I worked for was eventually closed down, and its operations moved to Utah, just outside Salt Lake City. I was offered the option to move to Utah or be dismissed. At the time, my children were three and seven years old.

I love my kids. I quit.
posted by nedpwolf at 1:06 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

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