[This post was originally published at Feminist Mormon Housewives by Natasha Smith on February 9, 2015. The original text can be found here.]
Let’s be real, Feminist Mormon Community. We just had a major opportunity to embrace intersectionality, and we squandered it. What am I talking about? Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On that day, I watched as post after post dribbled through my social media co-opting Dr. King’s message. I saw many posts that talked about how Dr. King’s words apply to issues today as if racial inequality is not an issue today. I’m all for equality in every form, but given the current political and racial climate of the United States and the recent racial deconstruction of the Feminist Mormon Community, we needed to do better.
I know that as a community we are trying to understand how to be intersectional. This is especially difficult given the perpetual desire for homogeneity and erasure of differences within the Mormon community. I know that it takes time, and we are still learning. Still learning means getting it wrong sometimes. I get that. Yet, we need to hold ourselves accountable; we need to be able to have some sort of measurement or expectation of when we should be able to get it right. Without this measurement, we rely too heavily on the backs of women of color—and, specifically in this instance, black women—to be benevolent watchdogs, responsible for the ushering in of communal awareness and intersectionality without anyone else having to actively hold the community responsible for its crippling privilege.
It is not enough to use Dr. King as a springboard for our own social and political issues, especially not this year. This year we should have taken the time to examine Dr. King’s message for its current relevance as it applies to the deinstitutionalization of racism in America. MLK Day came on the heels of Ferguson protests and of discussions of racial discrimination within the police force and, more broadly,racial discrimination within our society. Dr. King’s message should have been applied to current problems of racial discrimination even within the Mormon community. MLK Day should have been a time of reflection and a time of communal self-examination that strengthened our understanding and appreciation of the trials and sufferings of the black community both within Mormonism and at large.
I’m not saying that current social justice issues within the Mormon community cannot benefit from Dr. King’s overall message of equality and freedom. If it had been any other day besides the day set aside to specifically honor Dr. King and the racial equality that he and so many others have given their lives for, I would be all for using his words and name to further uplift the many other causes that fight for equality. I would have been and am always proud to see people positively remember his message and words outside of the designated months of January and February.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about honoring a man who fought for racial equality and gave his life in the process. It is about appreciating how far we have come in the last 50 years, while recognizing how far we still have to go. The message is hard but simple. It is reiterated through marches, newspaper articles, tweets, movies, PBS specials, and blog posts, but as a Mormon community, we missed the message. That is unacceptable.
I’m setting the bar for where we should be as a progressive feminist Mormon community striving for intersectionality. The bar is set slightly higher than recognizing national days and months of remembrance and understanding and honoring them for what they mean to individuals of those communities and our society. Any lower than this is unacceptable. We have had too many conversations, too many tears shed, and too many growing pains for us to not meet this standard. No person of color should have to point out that as a community we failed to honor and remember a day or month because we decided to instead conflate the issues of one minority group with the issues of all minority groups. I’m not suggesting that we start the “Oppression Olympics”, but I am suggesting that we recognize the trials and hardships of individual minority groups within our community with reverence and validation of their experiences without dismissal or appropriation.
By overlooking or misunderstanding the relevancy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message, we are continuing the patterns of silence surrounding the mistreatment of the black community that have been set forth by our leadership. It is time to do more; it is time to do better.