“Cain is your uncle!” “Did you murder someone, too?” “You’re related to a murderer!”
We were teens. There was a substitute. All the other girls were absent that day, and I was surrounded by immature teenage boys.
I sat there in this perfect storm of circumstance with a mix of emotions. I knew that these kids were being intentionally obnoxious. I knew that they were enjoying teasing me simply because this lesson made me an easy target. This wasn’t the first time that this happened, and it wouldn’t be the last.
But it bothered me. It STILL bothers me.
I told them to be quiet. I said that I, in fact, was not related to Cain. You know what doesn’t work on teenagers while they are teasing you? Logic or trying to reason with them. Unfortunately, I had an absence of proof while they had my skin color and the lessons that we had learned in seminary on marks and curses to bolster their points.
I sat there.
Fuming at the injustice of their statements and upset that I could say nothing that would change their minds.
I sat there.
Holding back tears and wondering if maybe they were right.
I sat there.
I hated them, but mostly, I hated me.
Most people think that this story happened decades ago. I guess it is easier to sweep aside and invalidate my experience if it didn’t happen recently, but I’m only 28.
People have told me that the Curse of Cain is not real, but I know it is. I have experienced it. I’m not talking about a curse found in the Bible or one that makes your skin black. I’m talking about something much more recent and rhetorical. Although many don’t realize it, it is a curse that infects both the oppressor and oppressed. It does not discriminate: The entire Church suffers. It is a curse made by man in the name of righteousness and for the protection of Zion. It is the marrow that sustains the backbone of racism within the structure of the Church. This is the curse that was born out of the overly imaginative and racist teachings of Mormon leaders. It is the curse that was used to justify the implementation and subsequent upholding of the Priesthood and Temple Ban. It is a curse that was born out of culture, fear, and misinterpretation and is carried forward on those same precepts.
Last week marked 37 years since the Priesthood and Temple Ban was lifted. Even though blacks can have the Priesthood, attend the Temple, and receive all the associated blessings, the Curse of Cain is still in effect. When the Church removed the ban, only one symptom of the racism within the Church was addressed, but no effort was made to address the much more insidious racism that comes with belief in the Curse of Cain, which is a belief in inferiority. We allowed members to universally believe that God had wanted the ban and that God decided when it was no longer necessary. The continued discrimination against black people in the Church was substantiated after the ban was lifted by maintaining that the ban had been justified and was of God. This implied purpose of the ban has encouraged the othering of black people through cultural beliefs and practices such as not allowing interracial dating.
Even now with the release of the essay on Race and the Priesthood, previous teachings and justifications have not been whole-heartedly eviscerated as the teachings of man. By not directly addressing the racist beliefs held by leaders in the past, we have permitted the Curse of Cain to permeate the teachings and beliefs of rising generations in the Church. These are generations that never even experienced and have seldom heard of the ban. As long as the Church does not directly address the racist teachings that have been preserved for posterity, the Curse of Cain lives on as part of all of us.