A Conversation

The things that are going on now in the USA and in the world matter. I believe what is happening is very possibly the most huge thing in my lifetime. Maybe in 50 years people will not hardly remember this moment. We seem to have a very short memory sometimes. But I hope and pray that they will remember, and that good reform, understanding and empathy, peace, and love will have come from it. I won’t be here to see that, but hopefully my children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren will be living in a much better world then. They will be able to see then what side of history I was on. I hope they can see I was on the side of love, even if I did not know how people and institutions can get there.

People’s voices and experiences are important. Because I believe that, I have tried on Facebook to post some people’s voices. I have often been misunderstood merely for posting an article. And I am sure I have been blocked and de-friended by some people, too. Perhaps this post will offend everyone I know on all sides of the issues, but I hope not.

I have not commented much at all on most of the Facebook posts or articles I have put up the past few weeks, because I was just trying to put voices out there. But there has to be conversation. When we live in an echo chamber, or say things that shut down other’s experiences and concerns, then we cannot change. We cannot empathize. We cannot fully love our neighbor.

It is time to mourn with those who mourn. It is time to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. It is time to be uncomfortable ourselves in order to do those things. It is not a time to invalidate other people’s experiences by saying ours are not the same.

If we do not listen and believe and have empathy for each other’s experiences, nothing will ever get better. And things have to get better.

This blog is just my voice, and experiences, and thoughts. Much of how I think and feel about what is going on in the world now is because of the things my children have suffered. I want people to listen, and strive for change, for their sake.

For those of you who don’t know me, to give you some context for where I am coming from: I am a white woman. I am 62 years old. I have been married to a white man for almost 42 years. We have black children, and we have white children. I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 41 years. I believe a lot of the same theological stuff still, but it is too long to explain all of that here now.

When I was 3 years old my Mom was listening to me talk to our black friend, Pearl, in another room. She was older than my Mom, I believe. I loved Pearl.

My Mom heard me ask Pearl why my skin was a different color than her skin. My Mom said she was very embarrassed that I had asked Pearl that question. But it didn’t seem to bother Pearl, and Mom heard her explain to me that God made people with all different colors of skin, and that it didn’t matter what color your skin was.

I don’t remember that incident, but I am sure it shaped my early view on race. I do remember that until I moved to Florida and was in Jr. High School, I hadn’t realized that it really mattered to many people what color someone’s skin was. Until Jr. High, I didn’t know very many black people, but those I did, I loved, and they loved me.

In Florida at that time, when I was in Jr. High and High School, I remember busing being a huge issue. We lived in St. Petersburg, and the “black” and “white” sections of town were extremely divided geographically, so children were being bused far to school in order to integrate the schools. It was a huge controversy that as a child I didn’t understand all the ramifications of very well. But I think that was a big part of why I began to realize that people cared what color people were.

In High School we actually had “race riots” at school. My friends and I weren’t directly involved, and we thought it was terrible that we couldn’t all just love each other. I was very naive to all the underlying problems. I am just recently realizing how woefully inadequate my education was as far as Black History, and even just general American History. There are so many things I have only known about in the past few years, and some even only in the past few days!

At some point during the “race riots” in High School, they canceled school for some time, but I remember one very scary experience before that. Most of the halls at this school were actually open air halls, really just sidewalks along the sides of the buildings. But one building was enclosed and there were glass doors at the end of the building. I was in class in that building, and our classroom door was locked. We were all quiet because we could hear the rioting going on in other parts of the school. At one point we heard the glass door at the end of the hall break, and our teacher said “If they come in here, I won’t be able to do anything.” That was a chilling moment. They passed by our classroom and didn’t come in. I have no idea if it was one of the black groups of kids, or one of the white groups. I was scared either way. But I had the sense that it was the white racist kids’ fault that this was happening. Back then what we were worried about was being beaten up. Nowadays we would have had to worry about being gunned down, but that’s a different conversation.

Before Vaughn and I got married we talked about wanting to adopt children. We had no idea I would have any problems getting pregnant and carrying a pregnancy, but we wanted to adopt anyway. I did end up having terrible problems with pregnancy because of a prescribed drug my Mom took when she was pregnant with me which cause uterine deformities in me. We had two biological preemies, one of whom lived, and we adopted 6 other children. Of our adopted children one was white, and the others were children of color.

Before I go on, I want to say that we lost two of our children. Some people who know us know about this, and some don’t. But I have mentioned them in the numbers of our children, so people who don’t know the story will wonder. They were adopted at an older age, not as babies like the others. They had already experienced terrible things. Their early lives were absolutely affected in immense ways by the things that happen to people because of systemic racism. Their lives with us were affected by our not completely knowing about, nor understanding, the damage they had suffered, and by our naive belief that love alone can fix most anything. They did things that made them a danger to the other children, and as soon as the system became involved (through us calling them for help, and because we were legally required to), things quickly became a mess and totally taken out of our hands. Finally, all that we were allowed to do was let them go, to give them a chance to have another family before they were too old. It was the worst thing that ever happened in my life. Imagining the harm caused to them by the whole thing is horrifying to me. I know they have had many struggles since. I do not ever blame them for anything that they did as children. I pray they are happy.

I thought I knew a lot about adopting children of a different race than me. I had read several books about it. I had books for children about it. Vaughn and I taught a class for the LDS Church about adoption in general, with part of the class being about adopting transracially. We were experts, right? It was easy, right?

Well, as far as the race issue goes, at home it was easy. To us, they were just all our children, and all beautiful. We were not “colorblind.” We just loved them all.

Oftentimes I would be at the store with some or all of my children, and I would notice someone staring at me a lot. Almost every time I would first think “Do I know them from somewhere?” And then I would realize they were actually probably staring because I was a white woman with black children. Most of the time the stares seemed to me to be just curious. Occasionally the stares didn’t seem very happy about what they saw. But it was always white people that I remember staring. Black people would always smile at us, if they noticed us at all. Fairly often black people would come up and say hello to us, too. They would talk to the kids, and they were always friendly and kind. I don’t ever remember white people coming up and talking to us like that. I felt emotionally safer with black people when I was out amongst strangers with my children.

With white acquaintances or white people I knew, they would often say to me what wonderful people we were to adopt these kids. I wonder if they would have said that if all our children were white? I always felt they were trying to be kind, but I also was always somewhat upset when they would say it. It seemed a judgement on our children in some way. And also, it just wasn’t true. We adopted our children because we wanted children! Not because we were some great, altruistic people. I did want to be a great, altruistic person. I did want to be a great Mom and help all my children. But that is not why we have our children. It was actually in some ways a selfish thing. I wanted children desperately. I always have. When I was little I wanted to have 12 children. I love them. It is about love. It is about being a Mom. It is not about being “charitable.”

For a long time I was surprised by what I thought was the low level of racism our family and kids were experiencing compared to what I had thought would happen. That was mostly when they were quite young. People are mostly fine with cute little kids. They are not so fine when those cute little kids become teens.

It has also only been in the last few years that I have found out many things that were happening behind the scenes. My kids have sometimes purposefully kept things from me, in order not to hurt me, and sometimes to keep me from causing a scene. Also, sometimes it was to keep from giving people more “reasons” to not like them. I wish I had caused some more scenes, though.

I have also been reminded of many things that happened years ago. Sometimes when things happened involving friends, I would not confront the issue hardly at all. I would chalk it up to ignorance, and overlook it to a great degree because of their other kind qualities. And it was almost always friends who were LDS like me. It’s important to be polite when you are LDS. When almost all your friends are in your ward, it is emotionally hard to do something that might alienate them.

I am just going to put a few of the other experiences my children and I have had:

It was our first Sunday in a new branch (like a small ward, or Church congregation). We were in Gospel Doctrine class and the first thing the teacher did was tell a racist joke. I was stunned. I didn’t say anything.

I parked right in front of a convenience store and gave my two black daughters some money to go in and get a candy bar while I watched them from the car. I told them to hold hands. They held hands, chose their candy, and went to pay. The cashier guy said “We usually don’t serve n____r’s here, but you are cute little n____r’s, so I’ll let you buy this.” They didn’t know what the “n” word meant, so they weren’t upset until much later when they realized. They also didn’t tell me then. It almost makes me faint when I think about the danger I put them in.

My black son’s white friends at Church (there were no other black children anywhere close to his age at Church except his siblings) would often tell racist jokes when he was out with them. They would use the “n” word sometimes. He told me recently that he would usually laugh along with them because he was young, and because he figured they were just joking, but sometimes it made him feel really badly.

That same son of ours knew that one of his friend’s Dad had a stick or bat behind his door that he called his “N____r Knocker.”

I was told by a friend at Church that people should not date those of another race. I was really shocked. I said something like “What am I supposed to tell my children? That they can’t date someone who looks like their siblings?” I think I also talked about that actually NOT being the doctrine of the Church any more, but it is hard to prove that when so many racist comments have been made by so many leaders.

Our teenage white daughter was very good friends with a black teenage boy at Church. He was the only member of his family who came to Church. The only black people at Church in that ward were him and our black children. We often took him to Church meetings. We all really liked him, and were happy to have our daughter be friends with him, or date him. I have realized now that apparently there was a lot of “talk” behind our backs about how the relationship was not good. I just found out a few days ago (although this happened in the late 1990’s), that the black teenager was called in alone by the Bishop and told that he needed to find someone to date who was his own color. We were not talked to about this by the Bishop at all. A black person, who was still a child, was called in without a family member, or anyone, and made to feel terrible.

A white girl at Church and our black son liked each other a lot and wanted to date. She was a really nice girl. We loved the whole family. But she called our son one day crying because her parents told her that she couldn’t date him because their family didn’t do the “mixing races” thing.

Another white girl in our Stake (a group of congregations in the LDS Church) liked our black son. They wanted to date. Her parents were very concerned about this. They took previous statements by Church leaders about black people and white people not “mixing” to the Stake President and asked him what to do. Apparently he tried to avoid problems, and told them that it should be more about the families involved, but that it really wasn’t wrong, I think. Apparently they decided to let her, if she would date other people in between every date with our son. But it never happened, and I don’t remember why.

This incident is not about our children, but my husband was a Theatre professor at a university. He was directing a play, and in it a black and a white person kissed. Several board members came to the President of the university and complained. They said they didn’t want to see that stuff on stage at that university, and they wanted Vaughn either fired or not allowed to direct anymore. The President told Vaughn about it, and said it didn’t bother her, but she was letting him know. At some point after that Vaughn was removed from directing, but there were other reasons given, because the previous department head came back to the department to direct again, so we don’t know the actual reason for sure, but suspect that was at least part of it.

When we moved to Utah, we thought there would be less racism. We were wrong.

When my children would be walking on the street with a group of friends who were almost all white, sometimes the cops would drive up and ask what they were doing. Then they would have the kids of color turn their pockets out, but not the white kids.

When our two youngest children were at high school, kids would often call them the “n” word (one daughter said she heard it at least once a week). Even teachers would also use the “n” word. My one daughter’s seminary teacher used the “n” word in class, although he did not call her that directly. And kids would walk by our daughters and say “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.”

They would write “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right” on the white board before my daughter would come into the classroom. They also wrote it on her textbooks and on her locker. They would say it in seminary when they would learn about people cursed with dark skin. Then they would say she and the few other kids of color in the school would be blessed and turned white in heaven.

Most of this I did not know about until they were out of school. I reported one of the few incidents my children told me about at the time to the Vice Principal. I had been assured by her that if there was ever any problem, that she would do something about it. It ended up being brushed off as a “joke,” and nothing was done.

When my daughter would go to the Principal or her Counselor at school about these things happening, they would tell her that they couldn’t do anything unless the kids put their hands on her. So much for stopping emotional abuse and bullying.

When my daughter worked at the deli in town, people asked to be served by someone else who wasn’t black. One person said our daughter was probably spitting in their food because she was black.

And on . . . .

And on . . . .

When George Floyd was murdered, and one of my children told me she was going to a protest, I lost it emotionally. She is attending a university far away from us, and I could not get there to go with her, and stand in between her and anyone who might hurt her. Every fiber of my being wanted to be there.

I consider myself a pacifist. But at that moment I imagined myself between her and a police officer, and I knew if they tried to hurt her, I would do anything I could to stop them. I say this so maybe you can begin to have some empathy. What would you do to save your child? Was my peaceful black child in danger at that protest? Of course she was. Was I proud of her, and would I have been proud to protest with her. Of course I would.

I think I have cried every day since George Floyd died, mostly because of the hurtful, blind, and ignorant things I have seen posted by my friends on Facebook and elsewhere. Many times it has been out of extreme frustration at what I see as the lack of understanding, and empathy, and lack of willingness to listen to and believe others’ experiences. There is so much of “I have never seen that, so it doesn’t really happen,” and “All lives matter,” and “There isn’t systemic racism,” and “Look, I found a black person who agrees with me, so all you other millions of black people are wrong, and I won’t listen to you” and on and on.

One of the most frustrating and upsetting things that I have seen many of my friends say is something like “The police will leave you alone if you aren’t doing anything illegal.” All I should have to say in answer to that is Breonna Taylor’s name. All you have to do is Google a little bit, and you will find so very many videos and reports of police not leaving innocent people alone.

There are many totally innocent black and white people being killed and injured by police. And there are many people innocent of any major crime being killed, or hurt, or harassed by police.

Those are all tragedies. Police being killed are also all tragedies.

So, what do we do? Well, I surely don’t know, but I have some opinions. And I am extremely limited in what I personally can do in my own little sphere and with my personal limitations. But I will try my best to do what I think I should.

I admit I have some extreme views.

I love America. I would rather live here than anywhere else. I love freedom and liberty. We have more of it here than most anywhere, I believe. But I also believe we don’t have anywhere near enough of it here.

So, when I suggest things that I think should happen, I think they should almost never happen through more laws, and oppression, and force directed at individuals. I think they should happen through people listening to and trying to understand each other, through hard conversations, through compromise, through changing policies and procedures of institutions, through discarding cherished and entrenched beliefs and institutions that are false and harmful, and through individuals deciding to love and care for others even at their own expense.

Human beings are destroyed by lack of freedom. I believe history bears that out over and over and over again.

There can be no thought police, ever. Sometimes these movements go so far that thought starts to be legislated. Then people are killed for their thoughts or beliefs. Then everyone loses their freedom. We have to allow people to think evil thoughts.

We cannot legislate morality and love. But if we can change perceptions, institutions, etc., then maybe hearts will also change.

I believe law enforcement and the judicial system have to change in major ways. There are specific drastic changes that I believe have to happen. I fully acknowledge that I am ignorant on much of police procedure and other institutions, and that changes are very complex and difficult to make. I can also be reasoned with, and am willing to learn and change my mind, as I have done on many important topics in my life.

But here is what I think. And these are just a few things. So much needs to be overhauled.

First of all, when you do away with something, you had better have something better ready first, to take its place. If you leave a vacuum with no way to deal with things that were dealt with before, then something worse will jump right in and fill it.

No more militarization of the police. No more of the police doing any job that can be handled by another agency or organization. No more training to overcome their innate reluctance to kill another human being. No more lethal force allowed except in the most extreme of cases. No more recruits hired that are psychologically questionable for the job. No more being allowed to lie to people who have been arrested. Mandatory body cameras on every officer and every police car during every encounter with any civilian. No more quotas. No more Qualified Immunity. Extremely high standards in psychological testing, morality, problem solving, etc. for all recruits. No one hired who has the least inkling of an “us vs. them” or racist attitude. Mandatory ongoing deescalation training. Mandatory therapy. Extremely high pay for the hopefully many fewer police officers, who are hopefully dedicated to protecting and serving. It is a job that requires willingness to self sacrifice, and they should be paid accordingly.

The release of all prisoners incarcerated for drug possession, and other victimless crimes, into programs to help them with reintegration into society and rehabilitation. And quit arresting them. Get rid of those laws. Many people just need help. Help them. Prison does not help.

Politics is such a big mess, I don’t know what to say. It seems to me to make most politicians into monsters. I think any great power over others does that.

I wish we could look at someone doing something we think is bad and ask ourselves why they might be doing it, instead of immediately judging them to be evil, or stupid, or thugs. Why do people riot? Why do they loot? I realize there are some very bad actors coming in and stirring things up and doing very nefarious things for possibly very scary reasons that have little or nothing to do with what the majority of people are peacefully protesting about. But some people are driven to do things out of extreme grief and anger that is rooted in things we can do something about. The same things they are doing have been done to them for centuries. Should we just arrest them or kill them? Or maybe there are changes that can be made that will actually help them. Can we stem the desire for retribution with listening, understanding, change, and love?

There is always a danger that those people who were killed go so far as to become the killers. People fear that, and all people should. History has to be remembered. Pendulums swing too far and the oppressed can become oppressors. But if the oppressors had done something different earlier on, would the swing never have gone so far?

I see so many friends posting things that to me are so callous and unloving, yet I know them personally to be loving people. I think it is because they just haven’t really deeply listened to someone of a different race or circumstance. We are all in our own boxes, and it is hard to put ourselves in someone’s shoes whom we have judged to be wrong before hearing their experiences or feelings. It’s easier to have an echo chamber for your Facebook page, or your Church congregation, or your group of friends. I am very grateful that I do not have that. I would be so much more ignorant than I even am.

So, here are my ideals for my own behavior. Because as far as people go, we can only really judge and change ourselves. Although we can persuade, with gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. I pray I can live up to these things. They are Jesus’ teachings. I think ultimately the things he taught are our only hope. And I am not talking about what religious institutions do. They have often caused much harm. I am talking about pure love.

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the Devil, who is the father of contention; and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 5:8 RE)

And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (3 Nephi 5:16 RE)

And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (3 Nephi 5:18 RE)

Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God. But I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. . . . Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, go thy way unto thy brother and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart and I will receive you. (3 Nephi 5:24 RE)

I say unto you that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and to him that would borrow of thee, turn thou not away. (3 Nephi 5:30 RE)

I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. (3 Nephi 5:31 RE)

. . . if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (3 Nephi 5:34 RE)

Verily, verily I say unto you, judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote out of thine eye, and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (3 Nephi 6:5-6 RE)

So, those things have huge implications, if we really believe them. We often put a “but” behind them. We give ourselves an excuse not to live that way.

What I do think we can do within those parameters is strongly call for change and try to facilitate that change. We can protest. We can bring all our forces of persuasion to bear. We can fight against corrupt and evil institutions.

What I think we might have to do, though, is sacrifice ourselves in many ways for the love of our neighbor.

Because what matters the most?

We can open our mouths boldly. But what do we open it against?

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 1:25 RE)

Those who believe in a Zion to come believe that only people who will not take up arms against their neighbors will be there.

What I have seen so far in this whole thing, is that when people lay down their arms, and refuse to fight, (i.e. police kneeling and/or protesting with the protestors) then hearts are softened and hopefully can heal. And good change can only happen with good people of all races working together, I believe.

I could go on. I could talk about the people of Anti Nephi Lehi and other things. But hopefully this long post is enough to get some of my thoughts across. And I hope I am not misunderstood.

I am going to put a few links at the end to things that have informed some of my views and added to my understanding of others’ views. Maybe they will be valuable to others, too.

Again, I believe love has to be the thing, or we are all lost.

Race in America

Not Just Tulsa: Five Other Race Massacres That Devastated Black America

Statistical comparisons

Qualified Immunity

Baratunde Thurston: How to Deconstruct Racism

Myths About Confederate Monuments

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