White people have a history of perceiving black men as dangerous, fearful, and menacing. White people have gotten away with killing black boys and men, claiming they were afraid.
As a white woman, I never enter spaces, worried that others will fear me. My husband has learned how important it is to lower white people’s fear of his blackness. He has learned to do this by being overly cheerful and adept at small talk. And he does this by how he wears his hats.
It has been a challenging and humbling journey to come to the understanding I now have that racism gets into all of us. I do not say this with the judgment I initially had when I used to wag my finger outward at “those racists.” I am not saying there are not white people with no racism in them. But they are rarer than we like to admit.
Joseph Smith reminds me of a chameleon, especially regarding his beliefs about slavery and black people. I wonder if, like a chameleon, he adapted his dogma to what most benefited himself and the church.
Brigham Young believed slavery was an institution put in place by God as punishment for bad behavior by black descendants of Cain. It was their destiny to live lives of servitude. Young felt it was blasphemous to fight against it. God would remove the curse and end slavery when righteousness prevailed.
Mormons entered Utah with little regard for the indigenous people already living there. It didn’t take them long to begin participating in the purchase of Native people to add to their labor force. Mormons believed it was better to have them live as an enslaved or indentured person among the Mormons rather than a free life of what they perceived was savagery and degradation with their own people.
All these years later, Mormons are still proud of their rescue stories. Theatrical reenactments, complete with music and costume, pay homage. Youth participating in coming-of-age treks are encouraged to draw upon the strength of the Mormon pioneer.
Daniel Wood mattered to those who planned his memorial, built a monument, and continued the cemetery’s upkeep. As someone who appreciates history, I was giddy with excitement over the details of Daniel’s funeral, including the details such as the lilac-colored lettering on the banner draping his casket. It made it easy to imagine myself there among my people.