****Today’s post is a guest post from Eliza M., a first generation Filipino-American and second generation Mormon.****
One of my major pet-peeves is when white people assume that all brown or black people are related. It annoys me even more when this assumption is made by people at church. The church congregation that I attend isn’t the most racially diverse (common theme in many LDS wards), so when I sit next to a brown person or bring a brown friend to church, people tend to make assumptions. For example, last year I was giving an older brown woman rides to church. Besides noticeable brown skin (and eye-liner), we really looked nothing alike. Several people at church, on the other hand, kept asking if she was my mother – a few even came up to her and began conversing in Spanish. This would have been great fellowshipping, except for that fact that neither of us is Latina, and neither of us speaks Spanish. Let me make it clear that incidents like these aren’t isolated. I found myself in a similar situation a few months ago when someone assumed that the young (brown) woman I carpool to youth activities was MY DAUGHTER. I’m 26 years old, and I look my age – are they really assuming that I’m old enough to be a mother of a teenager? People at church have asked if I’m related to the few other women of color in the ward – “Is so-so your aunt/cousin/sister?” (Ironically, when my actual sister did visit, nobody assumed she was family.) This past month, an elderly white gentleman mistook me for one of the few women of color in our congregation, thanking me for doing such a great job on a talk I didn’t give. After a failed attempt to explain that it wasn’t me, I ended up mumbling a thank you and speed-walking out of the hall-way.
While my situation may seem laughable, in reality it deeply saddens me. It’s not like I walk into church, note all the white faces, and then automatically assume that I’ve crashed the Duggar family reunion (every white person is related to them, right?) When I’m faced with the microaggression of people at church assuming that I’m related to all other brown people in attendance, it’s a constant reminder of how few of us actually attend. I’ve lost count of how many brown and black friends I had growing up who eventually stopped attending mostly white-American LDS congregations because they felt incredibly out of place. Each time a random church member asks me if I’m related to a particular person (they usually don’t say why, but the elephant in the room tells me it’s because we’re brown), I get the impression that they view me and other brown people as one simplistic, faceless mass – easily replaceable and lacking memorable complexity. And before I start getting lectured on how I shouldn’t be going to church because of the people, or how the gospel is perfect but the people aren’t (yes, I’m well aware), or how I need to be that pioneer and take the first step for “my people,” or how this shouldn’t bother me and-if-it-does-why-don’t-you-just-go-to-another-church – please take a second and try to imagine and understand what it’s like to feel so completely isolated from your faith community. For many people, especially LDS women, the church community is often the focal point of their social lives. Imagine perpetually being on the outside looking in – even if you’re invited to something and you conjure up the courage to go, you’re constantly asking yourself, “What am I doing here?” I can push my introverted brown self to participate in and assimilate to a church built for white extroverts, but I can never shake the feeling that I don’t fully belong.
I realize that some people of color may read this and feel upset because they’ve never encountered microaggressions at church or felt out of place – to them I say, that’s wonderful, but your experiences do not invalidate mine or the reality of continual discomfort that many others recognize and deal with. It has taken me so long to actually give voice to these feelings, and even now I’m often pressured to just grin and bear it (and my jaw is throbbing in pain.) I love the gospel and doctrine of Christ enough to have waded through learning/justification about Lamanites and their “cursed” dark skin, myths about the curse of Cain and less valiant spirits in the pre-mortal existence, many other racist stereotypes, and microaggressions like assumed familial ties to all people of color. If we continue to brush off racist attitudes and microaggressions (especially from people at church) and say it’s a non-issue, we continue to perpetuate a church culture of oppressive behavior, even if people swear it’s unintentional. Let’s take what we learn in church about Jesus being inclusive and thoughtful of many different types of people and (like we ask in our prayers) apply it to our own lives. I don’t have a quick-fix solution, because changing cultural mind-sets take a long time, but we can start by approaching suggestions and correction from people of color as opportunities to learn, not something to roll our eyes about. We can try being more careful with our words and attitudes towards people who already feel isolated as minorities within a minority.