Reflections on October’s 2020 General Conference

I almost wasn’t going to watch the 190th Semiannual General Conference put on by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To be honest, I have been struggling with some of the vitriol that has come from Latter-day Saints regarding the racism and injustices being heaped on Black Americans. Between a pandemic, election year, peaceful and unpeaceful (caused by agitators) protests, and being a full-time student and a newlywed, it has been quite the year and my faith was taking a beating. And I often wondered where the heck God was. I didn’t know how much more I could take if our church leaders just did not address the chaos that was happening in our world.

To the surprise of some, myself included, a lot of the issues plaguing our country were tackled. Albeit some of it was lackluster, but when you think about it, it is much older white men doing the tackling of these issues, so I kept that in mind. I cannot speak to the experiences of other Black LDS people, so this is me purely speaking to my own. But I felt an array of emotions this October General Conference weekend and the talk that stuck with me the most was from the prophet and president himself, Russell M. Nelson.  

For the first time, in what I can remember, he spent some time denouncing racism and white supremacy and made it abundantly clear that righteousness is not dependent on one’s skin color. He specifically named Black people in his talk and expressed that he grieved with us, not for us but with us.

In times such as these, where many are grieving, it was comforting that the prophet of the faith, I belong to, is with us, he sees us, and he made that clear to the thousands that were tuned in live from all over the world.

Of course, the conversations need to continue, accompanied with tangible action steps on individual and systemic levels. Of course, everyone will take something different from president Nelson’s message, because the beautiful thing about these General Conference talks is that we take what speaks to us and we try to apply it in a way that is healing. With that being said, it is one thing if people weaponize a talk to attack others (that isn’t in line with what we are taught in the gospel) and entirely another to use the messages to get closer to Christ.

God is a God of love, justice, and mercy, otherwise we would not have the chance of trying again when we make mistakes. Take the messages for what they are and make space for everyone else to do the same.

30 Days of Home Cooking Challenge

On July 20th, 2020 I ordered cookies on DoorDash and not proud of how often I was using that app I decided to uninstall it and make meals at home. When the COVID-19 pandemic started my husband and I were ordering takeout more often than I’d like to admit for a couple reasons: we were afraid of going to the grocery store and possibly catching it and we both had busy schedules and were too tired to cook by the end of the day. The food takeout expense quickly racked up and I knew something needed to change.

I love to cook. I grew up in a home with a mom who runs her own catering business and is dang good at it. Although I knew I would personally never have a catering business of my own, I grew to appreciate the time, effort, and dedication that comes with preparing a home cooked dish.

So, on July 21st we started on day one of our 30 days of making all meals at home challenge. I’m more of the cook in our marriage and my husband is learning, but because it’s something I also enjoy I don’t mind doing the bulk of the cooking. I do appreciate that he doesn’t mind doing the dishes, if I haven’t already done them (I have a habit of cleaning up while I go because I don’t like cooking in a dirty space). Because I get bored with food easily, I knew that I would need to keep the menu interesting if we were going to do this challenge. So, Pinterest and I became reacquainted and 5 food boards later I felt a bit more prepared to make a variety of meals. A lot of them consisted of American and Nigerian foods because that is what I grew up on, and my husband loves it.

Honestly, I’m not the best at meal prep so that isn’t my strongest point, but I do a pretty decent job of scouring our kitchen and researching what I can make with the ingredients we already have on hand. I utilized MyFridgeFood—a free site that allows you to pick what items you have on hand and then it comes up with a list of recipes you can try—a few times. I also love having a variety of seasonings to use because that’s one of the ways I keep our meals interestingly tasty.

I learned to appreciate leftovers (I used to not be the biggest fan of them) mostly because it meant I didn’t have to think of things for lunch and/or dinner some days. We had some ready-made meals on hand, like corn dogs and ramen for days when I didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t feel well. We also had things like tortillas, cheese, bread, sandwich meat, etc. for easy meal ideas for lazy days.

When we went on a weekend getaway during this challenge, I made a meal that would last us for a day since we were spending one full day at our destination and then made sure that we had access to a fridge and microwave at our AirBnB. The only food item we ended buying was ice cream because we were in Logan and my husband is an alumnus of USU, so we always get Aggie Ice Cream when we visit. It was our little treat. We actually ended up saving more money on food during this trip than any others we have taken.

The purpose of this challenge was to get us eating out less and eating in more, as well as to save more money in the process. But my health has also improved, one of my sisters asked me if had lost weight during this and I told her I didn’t know because we don’t own a scale. But I do know that I lost inches around my waist, my clothes fit better, my digestive issues have decreased, and when I run or bike, I feel lighter. Since it has become a habit to cook at home now, we are continuing it and our current goal is to eat out only once a month.

You’re the Real Racist and Other Lies

Being an outspoken Black woman brings a lot of interesting people out of the wood works and being an outspoken Black LDS woman brings a lot of angry people of my same faith into the open. The last few weeks have been interesting to say the least. Personally, I don’t understand how anyone can see the heightened racial tensions and expect people to keep quiet about it. Sure, staying quiet means probably less stress and less hate being directed at you, but staying quiet hasn’t served me well either, because it typically means letting disrespectful and hateful things fly. I know that I expect people who call me friend to be the same people to speak up in the circles they inhabit when something racist is said, otherwise they probably shouldn’t call me friend. It is a lie that staying quiet about social issues keeps the peace, the only people who think it is keeping the peace are those that don’t feel that they are impacted by whatever issue it may be.

Being a woman of faith means that “well meaning” people will use scriptures to gaslight you and tell you that they basically don’t care about what’s happening to those that look like you, essentially hiding their racism behind the word of God. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that in those same scriptures we’ve been commanded not to use the Lord’s name in vain, and to use His words to defend racist behavior is to do just that. Every life matters to the Lord, but He is also the same one that left the 99 to search for the one, and when the one is being targeted that is the one He is going after for a bit. It is a lie to use God’s words to malign people and their lived experiences.

I understand how hurtful it is to be called out for something that you thought was not a problem. Being an outspoken Nigerian-American brings a lot of opportunities for Black Americans to call you out when you misstep, and while it does initially hurt, it is a learning opportunity filled with a moment to reflect. So, while it is hurtful to be called out on your racist behavior, use it as an opportunity to do and be better so that people of color can exist and thrive safely in every space and system. It is a lie to tell someone they are the real racist just because you don’t like that they asked you to do and be better.

Creating a Community When You Can’t Find One

A few weeks ago, I found myself lost and without a community amidst the rising of racial tensions in the world, the U.S., in my State, and in the city I currently reside in. Living in a predominantly white area has played a nasty game with my anxiety as the talk of armed people showing up to peaceful protests, and then people from the opposing side showing up armed to protect themselves rang. Everyone is showing up brandishing guns and the divide continues to grow deeper as the days and weeks go on.

As a Black woman married to a white man, I have had to accept the reality that there are aspects to my identity my husband won’t ever 100% understand and that it is okay. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily make it easy when navigating all that is currently taking place in our world. And I knew that we weren’t alone in it.

I had a few friends who were (and are) also in interracial relationships reach out to me regarding their own struggles and we were able to empathize with one another. Just because you love your spouse that happens to be a different race doesn’t necessarily mean that marriage suddenly becomes easy flowing. It’s not easy flowing when you are of the same race and/or even religion, of course it’s not going to be easy when you live in a world that judges you and who you love based on the color of your skin. And unfortunately, marrying into a white family doesn’t suddenly cure people of their conscious and unconscious biases, no matter how much they love you and you love them.

I decided to take action and create a space where a small group of interracial couples could virtually meetup and talk about their worries, struggles, wins, and how they are doing in general, in the current political climate of our world. There is something to be said about belonging to a community of people that understand some of where you’re coming from and can truly listen, validate, and provide helpful resources to you. Personally, I believe in surrounding yourself with people that can validate and correct you when necessary, because you need both to be a little more well-rounded.

While social media can be a great tool for connecting with people from all over, it has also become an exhausting place for many, including myself. So, I find it vital to create other outlets where I can breathe and just be because sometimes that’s all I really want and need, especially when there is so much going on in the world.

Trauma, My Old Friend

I remember the night I was almost killed like it was yesterday. Some of you have heard the story and some of you will have to wait a bit longer for it to be recounted, for now let’s talk about trauma, my old friend.

For about fourteen years I had the reoccurring nightmare about the aforementioned night. It was always the same thing–I would dream about exactly how things played out and then wake up in sweats, my heart pounding against my chest. I would quickly turn a light on while frantically looking around the room to make sure I was in a safe place. Once I was sure all was well, and I was not back in the same place the militants almost took my life, I would take deep breaths and try to calm myself down. I had those nightmares until I told my mother about them and she confirmed that the incident did indeed occur. I wasn’t just dreaming; I was reliving a traumatic event that happened when I was only six years old.

Through the course of my life trauma would appear in different forms and again I wasn’t always aware of what was going on until I would have nightmares or suddenly be extra cautious whenever I was on my own.

Unfortunately, the rise of phones with video recording abilities and social media has brought traumatic events onto the newsfeed of platforms that used to be a place where you looked at cute photos of family and friends and cat videos that I didn’t enjoy, because I didn’t and still don’t like cats (sorry, cat lovers). In recent times social media platforms have felt more like one traumatic event after another, namely with Black people getting murdered at the hands of racists on a mission. Even as I have attempted to avoid those videos, the news articles are filled with images that are disturbing and become seared into the mind. Seeing these images over and over and over again is replaying a traumatic even over and over and over again, and it is not healthy.

While I understand the importance of those videos being shot, it is literally causing Black people to relive trauma and when someone that looks like you is getting murdered it is human nature to think about yourself and your loved ones being the ones possibly in that situation, and that amplifies the trauma. It seems as though as soon as you think you’re done processing one traumatic event; another one is being reported about and it seems to be never-ending.

I hope that if you’re a Black person reading this that you will take care of your mental health by reducing the news that you take in. I also hope that you will reach out to the people you trust when you are overwhelmed. And if you’re a white person reading this, be more cognizant of the images and videos you share and who may be exposed to them. While it is important to keep up with the news and share information that could be imperative, it is not always necessary to share or re-share every piece that you find. And if you absolutely need to share, maybe include information at the top of the post regarding the topic at hand so that people can choose whether or not to continue reading or watching. I’ve seen it done with mentions of sexual harassment and other heavy topics, it needs to be done for acts of racism, as well.

Trauma may be an old friend of mine, but it is not necessarily one that I like being acquainted with.

On Anti-Blackness in Myself

I had a really good and necessary conversation with a good friend recently.

I was reminded that I held anti-blackness in me without even being conscious of it.

You see, I grew up in a home of immigrant parents who did their best but also held some biases that I was then taught. Although I prided myself on being able to see past what others fed me and befriended whomever I wanted to I still held anti-black beliefs in my unconscious.

For example, excusing or willfully ignoring racist comments and/or beliefs because I wanted to give people benefit of the doubt and in doing so not helping them or myself or my fellow Black friends. Another example, being ashamed of my culture because I went to church with a lot of white people and believed that something was wrong vehemently wrong with how we dressed, ate, talked, etc. I wanted so badly to fit a mold that would make me more acceptable to white people.

And even after all of that I was not immune to racist treatment. Somehow, I foolishly thought I was an exception because I was the epitome of doing things the “right” way in America, but that didn’t save me from being treated as less than.

I allowed white friends and non-black minority friends to say things about the Black Lives Matter movement that were not aligned with what the movement is even about. I shaped and rearranged myself to fit in spaces that were not created to hold people that look like me. I convinced myself that if I just smiled more, laughed at jokes that weren’t funny, kept silent when I should have spoken up, and awkwardly laughed when a racist joke was made because I didn’t want to be left out or seen as “too sensitive”. This is all rooted in anti-blackness and I participated.

There is a lot that I have had to unlearn and am continuing to unlearn and unpack as a Black immigrant Latter-Day Saint woman. There are a lot of layers that I am still sifting through. I certainly didn’t wake up aware of the atrocities Black Americans face so I too am facing hard truths and having conversations that are tough, but necessary. I didn’t even learn about anti-blackness until a few weeks ago and now I see it all over within the Black community and outside of it and within myself.

I am writing this for anyone else that feels a bit overwhelmed at everything you are learning about your country and about yourself right now. I am writing to let you know that you are not alone. I have shed more tears in the past month than I have in a while, but I am a crier so take that for what it is. I am writing this to let you know we’re in this together—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the painful.

Law Enforcement Officers Lives Do Matter

I agree that the lives of our Law Enforcement Officers matter. They are humans with real families and worries, after all.

However, Law Enforcement Officers do need to be held accountable and do need to stop killing Black people frilly-nilly. The movement is about many things, one of them being the systems that are put in place in this country to purposely keep certain groups on a playing field that is not leveled nor equitable and shining a light on them. Also, to stop killing Black people.

A lot of people will say, “Look at this successful Black person, what hardships have they faced?” or another person with a lot of wealth may say, “White supremacy and racism doesn’t exist, look how well off I am and I am a Black person, no one helped me get here just work hard and you can be like me!”

Recognizing racist systems does not mean that no one of any other color has not faced hardships, it means that the system has worked and continues to work in the favor of the majority race in America and when that race thinks that they hold more power simply because it has always worked in their favor, then it becomes dangerous for the existence of minorities. Second point is that oftentimes even successful Black people had a mentor or someone somewhere that took a chance on them, without that chance the likelihood of them being where they are is very low.

I reflect on my own life and I can see it. Although I have experienced my own hardships, I can see the privileges I have been granted because someone with more privilege believed in me and took a chance on me. Does this mean I didn’t/don’t work hard, nope; it just means I didn’t do it all completely alone. When I get where I am aiming to be it doesn’t suddenly grant me the right to look down on other people that look like me and say that I am somehow better than them or that the injustices they face are not real. No, it is an opportunity for me to help them network and then it is up to them where they go from there, because I have been granted that privilege. Everyone has privilege, it’s what you do with it that matters.

So, some of my questions are: why does it take protesting and rioting to get any semblance of justice? Why is it that when Black people are murdered while unarmed their past is brought up as if that is to somehow justify them being killed? Why do Black mothers die at such disproportionate rates in the hands of our healthcare systems? Why are the 2nd Amendment people quiet when a Black man did use a gun to protect his home against intruders and was arrested for doing so while they murdered his sleeping wife?

Please educate yourself by reading the plethora of educational materials that people have researched and worked hard to make available, doing so will decrease the likelihood of you unintentionally or intentionally derailing what the conversation and movement is truly about. There is a lot we didn’t learn in school, unfortunately, because our education system is also built on systems that are intent on framing history to make it “easier” to digest. But the truth is that history is rarely easy to digest.

Reflections of a Former Refugee

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘refugee’?

I think people often look at the word ‘refugee’ with negative connotations due to the images and discussions that typically accompany it.

Maybe it’s because I was once a refugee, but I think of that word and I think of courage, resilience, strength, hope, loss, fear, longing, and bravery. I can’t begin to fathom what it was like for my parents to not know what the next thing to do would be or what would happen to them and their children in the day-to-day. It was always about surviving until the next day and keeping us kids fed and safe, and I feel that takes a lot of courage, strength, and hope.

I didn’t back then, but I now understand a bit why my parents were so hard on me as the first-born living some of my childhood years in a refugee camp. I was still a curious kid so it’s no surprise that I wandered off and when I got in trouble for leaving my siblings behind, I would then take them with me. But I would get in trouble still because I wasn’t supposed to be wandering off in the first place, whether or not I took my sisters along. Life in a refugee camp for an independent and strong-willed six years-old was quite the adventurous one.

Although I have not yet arrived where I would like to be in life, I have come a long distance physically, mentally, and ambitiously. As I sit here writing this my loving husband is seated next to me playing Animal Crossing and every few minutes giving me some loving. In August of this year I will be celebrating one year of officially becoming a U.S. citizen (yes, I became a citizen before I married my husband). I’ve received education (there are still girls and women in the world who do not get this opportunity) and have worked and developed important skills. The list goes on, but all this to say that I am grateful for every single experience and hardship life has presented at my door from when I was born to now.

The young refugee is now a grown woman with a place to rest her head and call home, and with a person that helps her feel safe in it.

My Unsolicited Thoughts

I go between wanting everything to burn down and taking time to engage with interested parties regarding America’s racism problem. Obviously, racism isn’t special to America, but it is where I live so it is where most of my focus is; it is where I have these experiences.

One of my favorite authors is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie she has said a lot of things I love, one of them being, “Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.” It’s strong language, but it is something to reflect on as you are engaging in the conversation surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement and race relations. I do appreciate people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone to participate, to be called in/ called out, to get it wrong, to learn, and to do and be better. Regardless of the color of your skin you are bound to make mistakes and it can sting to be called out, but you will survive it, I did.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit interesting to suddenly have so many friends and strangers want to engage in this conversation. But I think a lot of people can point to an event that opened their eyes to how minority groups are mistreated in this country and some folks are still fast asleep, but it doesn’t mean they are immune to it being brought up. Hopefully the tough conversations are still happening.

I’ve been in a weird place mentally the past two weeks.

I want to scream. I want to cry (I’ve done this a few times already). I want to delete all social media accounts and live in a bubble of blissful ignorance. I want it all to disappear: the injustice, the debates on whether or not Black lives do matter, the focus on miniscule things, and the semantics some like to throw into the mix.

Our world feels surreal right now. We’re still in a pandemic with Coronavirus and somehow that knowledge hasn’t stopped injustices from occurring on a daily basis—this information can feel incredibly overwhelming, almost unbearable some days.

I haven’t bowed out of the work or conversation completely. I’m currently working on a project that will hopefully bring the voices of Black LDS women to more people because being Black is not monolithic and the voices of Black women are not heard often, let alone ones of Black LDS women. I’m hoping it will be a good experience for everyone. But if I don’t always want to engage in conversation I hope you can understand that I am probably just tired, but I also hope that it doesn’t hinder your desire to be involved and continue learning.

An Open Letter to Candace Owens

Dear Candace Owens,

Read the room. I know you don’t care. Heavens, do I know this. I’m writing this for everyone else that is thinking it but doesn’t even know where to begin; with that being said, I don’t claim to be a spokesperson for black people. But read the damn room.

The nation is in turmoil because many people are finally waking up to the reality that they have been asleep and/or silent about the racism and brutality that exists in our police forces and many other systems. I don’t claim to be someone that is all knowing when it comes to politics and don’t like to run my mouth off regarding things I’m not knowledgeable in.

As someone like yourself that has been on the receiving end of racism and received a lump sum for your terrible experience, you should not be vilifying a black man while his family and millions grieve his death across the globe. Someone needs to have fallen deeply down to a dark place of hatred to dig into someone’s past to find any kind of excuse as to why people shouldn’t be outraged about the unjustly murder of yet another unarmed and innocent black person.

Although you say that you hope Floyd’s family receives justice, there was absolutely no reason why you needed to bring up his past for the people who eagerly condone your hate speech and root it on. No one claimed that Floyd was perfect. His past has nothing to do with the fact that officer Chauvin murdered him by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and in doing so took an innocent life. To bring up Floyd’s past while his death is being mourned is to attempt to justify his death, at least that is the message that is being sent out, despite whatever your intentions may be.

Officer Chauvin, and every single officer that stood there watching him commit murder and did nothing, deserve the consequences being handed to them. Whatever Floyd did in his past, his life did not deserve to be ended over a $20 bill that did not end up even being counterfeit.

I don’t care if you’re black and conservative or independent or liberal it’s not okay to spew hateful rhetoric while families are grieving the death of their child and a nation is grieving another injustice.

You’re free to have your opinions. Your free to post them on your social media channels. But Candace Owens, just as I don’t speak for the black community, you do not speak for this black woman. Be well.

Sincerely,

Dumdi