With the fast approaching 2012 elections on the horizon, there is one question left unanswered. As a widely circulated Associated Press article asked, “Will Obama’s Blackness Prevail Over Romney’s Mormonism in 2012?,” it went on to point out the unique and historical pairing of President Barack Obama, an African American, and Mitt Romney, a Mormon, who represent two oppressed groups in American society on opposite ends of the political divide as the two run for the highest office in the land. The article, however, went one step further and posed a second, equally challenging supposition—how much progress has been made against race-based discrimination? With two weeks to go before the presidential election, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney have used much personal fodder to attack the other, which is astounding given our inclination in American politics to severely trash the other candidate’s more exploitable areas. In this case, one would have guessed that the Obama camp would have by now unleashed on Mitt’s Mormonism and its racist past just as Reverend O’Neal Dozier told the Palm Beach Post, “If Romney is the nominee, President Obama’s surrogates will bring out [the] racist views in the Mormon Church.” In fact, to his credit, President Obama has steered clear of the topic all together, leaving it to others to examine. And yet, the American press has been hushed on the topic.
Interestingly, despite the constitution stating that there shall be no religious test to hold public office (United States Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3), President Obama was subjected to months of religious attacks prior to the 2008 election; accusations that still go on presently. But the national media has neglected to discuss Mitt Romney’s Mormon ties coupled with LDS racial folklore. Although I respect the regard given to our First Amendment and the separation of church and state, it leaves me wondering—is this a form of white privilege manifesting through our national elections or are republicans simply cherry-picking topics, peculiarly when this issue was addressed in republican primaries and has since been quietly shelved? (I would argue that they are one in the same.) But the American people have a right to know the totality of the character of the American president.
The Church’s racial past and present is a prime target for political attacks. On the verge of potentially winning the election, negative attention around the contentious subject of American racism would likely bring unwanted scrutiny to Romney’s political ambitions, particularly when, if successful, he will become the first white man to unseat the nation’s first black president. In January 2012, African-American analyst, Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. wrote an online paper titled “Mitt Romney and the Curse of Blackness” in which he gave his own interpretations to the Book of Mormon. Pointing to the candidate’s LDS beliefs, he found it “deeply troubling” that the Book of Mormon “says…explicitly and in numerous passages [that] black people are cursed by God and our dark skin is the evidence of our accursedness” (pointing in particular to 2 Nephi 5:21; 1 Nephi 12:23; Jacob 3:8; and Alma 3:6). Hendricks is pointing out historical racial metaphors of white=good and black=evil, which symbolism is evidenced in the visceral hatred that many white Americans have at the presence of a black man in White House. Is this perhaps the reason why the history of Mormonism’s experience with Blacks has been convincingly ignored by mainstream American media? Hendricks further remarked, “What makes this all the more problematic …is that at no time has Mitt Romney ever publically indicated that he seriously questioned the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon’s teachings about race, much less that he has repudiated them.”
Despite LDS claims as the “one true” church with a universalizing message, these are serious charges in which Romney has remained remarkably silent—not breaking free from his religious convictions, yet not offering any consolation with regards to the teachings of his faith that could provide a glimpse into his own racial beliefs, expressly his thoughts about black people. Virtually nothing has been said about his record on civil and social justice, including during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts. Instead, what we often hear from the mouth of Mitt Romney on matters of race is a reference to what his father accomplished as the great social liberal that he appeared to be. Former Governor George Romney was something special—a white Mormon man with an outward public passion for social justice; something you don’t see everyday, particularly in the 1960’s. George Romney was a social liberal that fought for civil rights, often at odds with racist church leaders determined to alter his course . In 1967, as the elder Romney prepared for his own presidential bid, Jet Magazine picked up on a story where Romney stated, “he would leave the church if it ever tried to prevent him from working for the elimination of social injustices and racial discrimination.” Whether he would ever really have left the Church or not since, by all accounts, he was deeply devoted to the Church and its leadership, Romney took the time to seek the council of high-ranking church leaders on matters of race prior to his run for Governor of Michigan.
Mitt Romney’s efforts at instituting something similar to “Obamacare” in his state is, likewise, commendable; however, he cannot continue to avoid the difficult question that many Americans have a right to know, especially if Romney holds similar views as past Mormon leaders who believe Blacks are a cursed race. Mitt Romney and other Mormons today, just like his father did in the 60’s, continue to hear and receive negative messages about the character and disposition of people of African descent, despite the Church changing its official stance on race in 1978. Yet, I do not believe that Mitt Romney is a closet racist. I do believe, however, that he has deep-seated ideas in his head about black folk like most white Americans, particularly those who attend racially segregated churches like the Mormon Church. How could this not be? For most of our history—246 years of slavery followed by 90 years of Jim Crow, about 85 percent of our existence as a nation—we have struggled to truly come to grips with the meaning of freedom and equality, although we use these terms loosely and romantically. Racist images, ideas, notions and inclinations to discriminate (white racial frames) have spanned 20 generations of American life, and white Christianity has been a central fulcrum to justify unjust white enrichment remaining an anathema for black folks. In order to unlearn racism, one has to do serious work, taking a hard look at oneself and the benefits received from unjust enrichment. It has only been 34 years since church headquarters lifted the Mormon priesthood ban that barred black men from holding the priesthood and denied black women temple marriages, hardly enough time to unlearn an entire generation of white racist thinking and understanding about black people, especially given church headquarters has yet to offer up any rational explanation why such a ban existed in the first place. Instead, what is typically articulated from white Mormons and “bright” Mormons (socially-white people of color) for that matter when questions of race arise in the public domain is, “only the Lord knows why Blacks could not hold the priesthood.” Thus, we have an idea where the Church stands today. And further, we know where George Romney stood. But what we all want to know is, what is your position, Mitt?
~ This blog was originally posted here. You can follow Dr. Darron Smith on Twitter: @DrDarronSmith
Thanks for the insights, Darron. I have wondered about some of these same points, especially given how quickly white evangelicals (like Bill Graham) gave up their long held view of Mormonism as a non-Christian ‘cult’ in the name of whiteness and opposition to Obama. It has to be the white racial frame in operation….
It’s all about the privilege of whiteness.
Surveys show that Americans have more resistance to a white Mormon than they do to a black man, than anti-Mormon fervor is stronger than anti-black fervor.
I think what’s missing in these surveys, however, is the fact that being anti-Mormon brings less stigma than being anti-black. These surveys also don’t take into account that a black man who’s a Christian can easily become a Muslim in the public imagination. Asking a white Southern Baptist if they’d rather have a black Christian or a white Mormon presupposes this southern Baptist doesn’t doubt the black man is, in fact, a Christian, and not one of those liberation theology Christians either.
Moreover, I think we can all be honest here: it’s definitely easier for a white person to get away with anti-black “dog whistles” than for anyone, much less a black Christian/Muslim, can get away with anti-Mormon “dog whistles.” Especially since the white Mormon has Fox in his corner and, at best, the black Christian has MSNBC which probably contributed to his post-first debate tumble in the polls as much as his first debate performance.
For that matter, how could anyone effectively dog whistle against Mormonism?
Is Romney racist? Probably. At the very least, he’s shown no resistance to relying on racist framing and jokes, ie “No one’s asked for my birth certificate.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but he showed no qualms with the LDS stance on race, even as president of LDS northeast congregations. What concerns me in regards to his views on race is that he seems not to have many, and the ones he has are decidedly pro-white.
But of course, Pres Obama can’t bring that up. That’d make him anti-white and convince some that Beck had been right all along.
As for Billy Graham, it doesn’t bother me that they removed the LDS church from their list of cults. What bothers me is the timing of the move. That in combination with Franklin Graham’s Islamophobia bothers me. That said, I think Billy Graham’s daughter Ruth Graham Lotz is cool. I met one of her daughters and sons-in-law, and they were cool, too.
I have to agree that the Mormon religion is a socially white religion. And it would be nice if anybody could ever explain the relationship between “Mormonism” and “Freemasonry”. I know there is some sort of relationship, but I don’t know what it is exactly. Or if it is that the Mormon religion was born out of Freemasonry. It’s definitely an American made religion. And there’s definitely a lot of deep seated racism.
While I’m not an expert on the Mormon religion, I do know enough about the religion, as well as Protestant religions to know that they are different enough that it would seem, theologically speaking, the Black Protestant Churches would be more compatible with white Protestant Churches, with that being, if religious beliefs should play a real role of importance for the Protestant voters, white Protestant Christians would be more comfortable with President Obama than Governor Romney. But that religious Protestant unity between Black and White society is clearly missing even in this “post-racial” era. But it’s clear that race plays a larger role for many white Protestant voters…even with the last election for that matter, because if white Protestants stood for a strong Christian theology, they would have been on President Obama’s “Liberty and Justice for All” theology that is preached so widely from the Black Church, those very principles, Jesus, if he had lived, had preached himself even though he was most definitely not a Christian, he was a Jew…a Jewish religious reformer who was challenging the tragic inequalities within own geographical time and place in history.
Black Christians down here in Texas laugh at the White Christians perceptions of Jesus and argue that if Jesus were to come back in live in current white U.S. society, he would be bloodily crucified by them as Jesus would be, what? Helping and advocating for the poor and socially excluded–not preaching principles of capitalism and the more wealth and power you have, the more God loves you, etc. The Protestant religion has very deep divisions racially due to whites being the exclusionary group, which has been the case since the beginnings of Protestant religions in the U.S.
It’s interesting the white racial unity trumps interracial Protestant unity…not surprising, but interesting to say the least. Not saying that Protestants should not support Romney solely based on his religious viewpoints, but rather that many will argue that their support for Romney has nothing to do at all with racism, when it does.
On the otherhand, it is nice to know that there are many whites who do support President Obama, regardless of race/ethnicity and religion (as he’s been charged of being a Black separatist, a Muslim, and who knows what else…) as I had recently heard that the last Democratic president to get as much support from white society was JFK. So while racism plays a clear role in the voting decisions of white society for many, some level of commitment for voting for the candidate who best represents their values, etc., plays a role for at least some others…. With that said, President Obama’s success even with these voters (his supporters) has been largely the result of colorblind racism at play during his candidacies and his last presidential term….