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.
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.
Lucy, Mary, and Thomas’ stories are not unique. Brigham Young encouraged Mormon families to purchase or barter for native children believing they would be better off in Mormon households. Native Americans, called Lamanites, could lighten their skin, becoming white and delightsome through conversion to the Mormon church. The saints saw bringing native children into their homes as an opportunity to save them while increasing the church roster.
Peninah was said to have been proud of her race. What did that look like in her daily life? What parts of her native culture did she pass on to her children? The family who wrote of her consistently referred to her native roots as “her race” rather than “our race.” She was also called a “true Christian colonizer.” Having native racial pride and the heart of a colonizer seem at odds with one another. Did native identity and pride continue with her lineage or end with her?
“Pioneer’s ownership was made possible by our participation in the genocide and forced removal of the indigenous tribes.
Before Brigham Young’s claim that God wanted us here, these tribes had lived on and stewarded the mountains and valleys. They used bows and arrows to hunt for birds, bison, and mammoths and fished in lakes and rivers.”
“Mary Snyder Wood was more than the words ascribed to her, including faithful, beloved, devoted to her husband, mild, and modest with a sincere disposition.
Although Daniel called her Mrs. Wood or Aunt Mary, I call her Mother Mary. I hear Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be” song lyrics in my head each time I think of her.
“When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me.
Whisper words of wisdom. Let it be.”
I yearn for Mary’s whispers to fill the spaces around her so I can see the authentic, complete, and complicated woman she was.”