How to Forgive a Racist

The other day I Googled, “How to forgive a racist person”. It didn’t come up with anything particularly helpful except for some articles about the history of white people expecting Black people to quickly and wholeheartedly forgive them, even when it meant the Black person’s loved one was killed as a result of their racism.

A few weeks ago after I shared on my Facebook page about the gaslighting and racism I experienced at the hands of a former mission president, I proceeded to get a message from another white male who served in the same mission who told me that, “he hoped I could find it in my heart to be kind”. He sent that message after seeing my post about the experience. Nowhere did he mention that he confronted the former mission president about his racist behavior.

God invited all of us to forgive and I do my best to do just that. God also asked us to repent. Forgiveness is not the only way forward, repentance is also a way forward and we have been asked to do both. When people are never confronted about their terrible behavior, they perceive it as acceptable and continue to participate in said behavior.

If you’re reading this, I pray that you will invite your loved ones to stop with the racism long before you ever approach the person at the receiving end about their need to forgive and make racists comfortable. And how exactly do you forgive a racist? That’s between you and God, not when people are rushing you to because they need to feel better about their deplorable behavior.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Who Will Stand Up for Black Women?

I recently wrote a guest blog post for The Exponent II talking about some of my encounters with white LDS women at different stages of my life, sharing some of the racist comments they have said to me. I went on to share the post with friends and some of the women I mentioned. Most of them sincerely apologized and went on to express how the encounter changed them and propelled them to confront the racism that they hadn’t realized was a part of them and are now doing the work of anti-racism. One of them told me they hadn’t remembered saying what they did, but that IF they had offended or hurt me that they were sorry and that they are married to a black person now and will someday raise a black family. I told them that I remembered the encounter and shared the post with them because I wanted them to read it and I thanked them for doing so; they thanked me for sharing.

Fast forward a few hours later, I get a message from their black spouse stating that I had labeled their partner a racist and that they had come crying to them because they didn’t remember saying what they did and had apologized and apparently I didn’t accept the apology and so on and so forth.

So, in sharing my personal experience with this person they claimed that I was now labeling them a racist, didn’t accept their conditional apology, and they were married to a black person and speaking up about injustices, so somehow it meant that I could no longer share my traumatic experience that happened at their hands. It’s okay that they no longer remembered it because I remember it like happened yesterday. In fact, the night after it happened I told several people about it when I got home.

Who stands up for the black woman? When are we allowed to be upset because our character was attacked? Who has the black woman’s back?

Why do white women get away with doing and saying racist stuff while black men are murdered because of it? While black women are threatened and made to feel unsafe because of it? While black families are disrupted from having a fun family gathering because of it? While the worker can’t do so in peace because of it?

Being married to a black person, having a black in-law, having black children/grandchildren, even having black siblings does not absolve you from racist behavior and implicit biases. When you use the black person in your life as an excuse for your egregious behavior you are using our skin color as a defense for yourself, but when we are targeted and murdered because of our skin color you are silent and suddenly no longer comfortable with talking about race and race relations. Black bodies are only bothersome to you when we are seemingly inconveniencing your life. Black bodies are only okay with you when we are entertaining you, feeding you, humoring you, or guarding you from being labeled a racist.

I have learned that although many people are slow to defend and support black women we continue to rise and force our voices to be heard, because even when we are pushed out and dismissed you will still hear us.