White Lady Speaks to the Genesis Group

Preliminary explanation, because inevitably somebody doesn’t get it: This is one of those risky posts–a satire.  Think Stephen Colbert.  The subtext is real, however (like Colbert’s).  The truth is, Mormons in Utah (particularly older ones) are often uncomfortable with Blacks and overly eager to prove that they’re not.  The question “What should I call you?” pops up over and over again, and the conflation with African nationals and African Americans is common.

The LDS Genesis group, organized in 1971 when all church members of African lineage were denied the most significant privileges of church membership, was intended to be a support to black Mormons.  There was only a handful in 1971, but they were there.   Genesis meetings still take place monthly in Salt Lake City, with other Genesis groups established elsewhere in the United States.  There is still a need for them.

A few years ago, I attended a Genesis meeting in which an elderly white woman invited

The Genesis group is established, Oct. 19, 1971

Genesis members to a family history conference to be held at the church.  I could sense her nervousness, even her fear.  She seemed scared to death that she’d say something wrong.  I couldn’t resist a quiet satire. I would dedicate this to Stephen Colbert, but of course he is completely colorblind.

White Lady Speaks to Genesis

Hello, brothers and sisters.  I just found out today from my stake president that I was supposed to give a talk to you.  I’m sorry, but do I call you African Americans or Blacks?  I was raised with Colored–not that I was raised with them–not that there would have been anything wrong with that–but I was raised saying “colored” when the subject came up, which was not often.  Not that there would have been anything wrong with the subject coming up often, but my parents were very tolerant people, so the subject didn’t come up often.  And I’ve always been grateful for that.  Anyway, we want to invite you Black Afro-Americans to our Family History Fair.  Let me describe it to you.

We are depicting the history of this great nation, so we will be doing things a little differently.  There will be two entrances.  For this particular event, we’d ask that you enter from the back of the building, where a fine Negro will stand as usher.  (I hope I can still say “Negro.”) The first room will depict the slave ships, and that is one reason I’m here to talk with you.  We need a few married couples to portray the slaves on the ships.  Our stake president has requested that these couples be married because we need to arrange things in a certain way.  Oh my, if you knew the troubles we’ve had in deciding how this room should look!  We thought of making it realistic and putting you–meaning the Negroes, or Afro-Colored people–in stacks facing the ceiling, since that’s how it was really done, but the fact that–well, just let me say that there were implications which were not appropriate.  So we’ve decided to just have you stand.  If you choose to help us in this room, you will not need to memorize any script. 

Then we will have the Civil War room, which will depict both sides of the conflict.  We don’t want to ignore the confederacy and those brave Amafricans who fought for the south, so we’d like a few of you to be flag bearers for that room.  You’ll be able to carry actual muskets, though of course they won’t be loaded. 

Then we will have the World War I room.  We’ll have the white soldiers in one room where we’ll be serving corned beef and lemonade, and the Afro-Nig-um-niggardlies in another room, where we’ll serve greens and other food you people enjoy, like pigs’ feet.  I might even try some myself!  It just sounds so good and so interesting!

We need volunteers for the World War II room also, and once again, true to history, we’ll have one room for the American soldiers and one room for the African American soldiers.  Did I say that right?  We also wanted a few of you to act as waiters in the white room. 

Finally, we will indeed portray the Communist threat, and would ask a few of you to be part of the Civil Rights Movement room.  Not that I think anything less of Martin Luther King just because he was an adulterer, but we’re trying to really capture history here.  We want you to know that we are taking you people into great consideration for this display, and we will actually have a Ku Klux Klan room.  However, we will not condone the Ku Klux Klan.  We will have our stake president himself just outside that door explaining that it is never a good thing to burn a cross on anyone’s lawn, and that lynching was just terrible–just terrible.  In fact, if you want to dress up in the robes of the Klansmen as a sort of statement, we’d like to invite you to do that. 

Lastly, we will talk about the Lord’s great plan of Happiness.  We’d like a few of you Negroes and Negresses to portray exalted Afro-Americans.  We were told that a few of you are involved in inter-racial relationships, and we talked about whether or not we should depict this.  We are perfectly respectful of your marriages, but just as we would not show a gay couple, we feel we shouldn’t show a mixed couple.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it–I mean the mixed couple; of course there’s something wrong with the gay couple.  But our challenge is to maintain the faith of our white members.  Some of them–and I personally am not in this group–but some of them would be challenged if we were to suggest that we approved of miscegenation.  We want this fair to be uplifting and faith-promoting, and as the scriptures tell us, it’s best to give the majority what they believe in, or words to that effect. 

Well, I’ve forgotten to mention that we will have prizes.  Actually, we’re looking for one of you to be a prize.  And please consider that we are doing this in the most respectful way.  It is blessed to serve.  Jesus himself said service was the true path to exaltation.  The grand prize for this fair will be a day of service for one lucky family.  We would like one of you to pay tribute to your ancestors by portraying them in past years.  We will even provide the costumes, which will be beautiful.  We have hats and coveralls for the men and beautiful–what do you people call those turbans the mammies used to wear?  Well, we’ll have those turbans for the women, and very nice skirts too. You might be asked to do laundry, drive a car, cook the family’s meals for a day, or weed a garden.  But whatever you are asked to do, be assured it will be consecrated to your good, and to the family’s good.  And don’t forget the prizes we’ve set aside just for you.  We are so grateful for your help in this endeavor that we have arranged to have chitterlings for every Afro-Colored Negro who attends.  We will also have little whistles for the children, though we’d ask that they not use them until they get home.  For those of you who are interested or want the blessings for helping us truly talk about our wonderful history, please see me after the meeting. 

 I hope I haven’t taken too much time.  What a joy to see all of you in our chapel!  It reminds me of the great work happening in Nigeria, where my sister served a mission.  She came to love you people dearly, and I know I will too.  Thank you.

 

 

About Margaret Blair Young

Margaret Blair Young teaches literature and creative writing at Brigham Young University. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in the history of blacks in the west, particularly black Mormons. She has written six novels and two short story collections, but has lately become interested in filmmaking. Her current endeavor is a film to be shot in Zambia called Heart of Africa (www.heartofafricafilm.com)

  • Craig

    I think this article does a disservice to you and to the faithful members who try to overcome the sins of their generation.

    • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

      I knew that many would have that reaction, Craig. I am almost always extremely serious about the issue and about my faith. This is a satire, of course, an exaggeration of what actually happened. In Utah, because we are still so white, the discomfort with diversity is sometimes cringe-worthy. I’ve wept over it sometimes, and every now and then, I laugh about it and seek a way to move forward.

  • http://YAHOO BROTHER HILL

    Wait, did I just read this right. Nor this really didn’t happen, tell me this is a joke. It is isn’it . Let me reread it. OKAY YOUR PULLING MY LEG. AND MY ARM RIGHT. LET ME READ THIS ONE MORE TIME. Margaret is this in one of your book,girl you had me going. I was just on my way back to Utah and loose my religion. I know they ( white people ) have not fallen back that for. Are have they, nor this was just a joke. Right.

    • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

      Brother Hill–this was a satire. Yes, a joke. Come on back to Utah! We need you!

  • K

    Thank you! I myself come from a “mixed” family – not that there’s anything wrong with that! LOL

  • xenawarriorscientist

    Nope, it’s true. We live in a very segregated Southern town and a few years ago the elders found out it was a lot easier to tract the black neighborhoods (because suburban white people are cranky and slam the door at you, whereas there’s a lot more respect for preachers in the black neighborhoods). Baptized about 50 people into our very white suburban ward. The vast majority haven’t come back.

    It was HI-LARIOUS to watch the ward try to perform mental gymnastics to convince themselves that there was no difference between their white-collar selves and the new people, and that what teenaged girls from the ghetto really needed on Wednesday nights was scrapbooking lessons.

    • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

      I am currently writing to two missionaries serving in the South. I’m sending them black history. And your last line about scrapbooking lessons is hilarious–and sad.

  • juliagblaair

    You didn’t get permission to record my talk!!! And I’m an innocent product of history and culture!
    But I’ve REALLY changed and YES I have changed. We’ve all changed and we’re coming to understand
    that we’re all people of color. And we each have our story. And we’ve all made terrible mistakes!! And some of us have been hurt badly.

  • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

    My mom is so cool. And no, she was NOT the speaker. :)


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