White Dudes Talk about Race

I attended Black, White, and Mormon, “A CONFERENCE on the EVOLVING STATUS of BLACK SAINTS WITHIN the MORMON FOLD” at the University of Utah a few days ago.  I took a lot of notes from the speakers, and had planned to give an overview.  Lester Bush gave an outstanding speech Thursday evening.  I should have started with his remarks, but I went alphabetically with the titles of my notes, so I’m going to first give my notes of “our token white male panel” , as Paul Reeve said when he introduced the panel.  I tried to type as fast as I could to catch the essence of what these guys were saying, and I’ve tried to clean up my notes as best as I can.  Sometimes I missed stuff, and sometimes I couldn’t remember exactly what they said, but I think this is pretty good.  Here are my notes from the first session on Friday Oct 9, 2015.


Paul Reeve, Conference organizer and Professor of History at the University of Utah opening remarks


Paul Reeve, Professor University of Utah

Many LDS find the conversation about race difficult.  Many think the conversation begins and ends in June 1978.  Beyond that date is a thorny issue for our racial past and present.  The fallback position is to ignore, or tiptoe around.  Paul talked to a friend Galen who asked that he organize a conference and talk about it.  Conference today is the result of that conversation.  If Mormon youth groups can pull handcarts, we can do hard things and talk about race, no handcart required.

Paul talked to Dr Goldberg of the Tanner Humanities, who encouraged him to put his shoulder to the wheel.  Conference possible because of Tanner Humanities Center, Eccles Foundation, Greg Prince, Smith-Petit, anon, David Eccles Business school. Charles Redd Center at BYU, Humanities at BYU, UVU, U of U history dept, University of Utah Press, the staff at the Tanner Center, grads and volunteers, (and others—I can’t type that fast.)

After Charleston shootings, Paul listened to frustration of black LDS and they noted that few mentioned Charleston in talks at church the following Sunday.  One bishop read names, but the rest didn’t care.  In effort to not forget, Bob Goldberg wrote editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune.  He will read his editorial:  It Will Take more than Removing a flag to for the nation to mend.  (Reprinted from the SL Tribune)

Bob Goldberg

Bob Goldberg

In the midst of another summer of senseless deaths, America again searches its soul and pursues its demons. The recent shootings in South Carolina compound incidents of police violence across the nation. In seeking culprits we have targeted the visible reminders of our difficult racial past. The signs are public and easily recognizable. Confederate flags and statues of southern politicians and generals decorate not only Dixie but even the federal capital. They are easily found and purchased on the Internet.

Symbols, like words, are important. They mark the fault lines that divide us. They represent a past not yet finished and a future still beyond our grasp. If these symbols are removed, we believe that we can again move our national experiment forward and find the harmony that has long eluded us.

This is, however, a delusion. Symbols are only symptoms. When furled or removed from public display, the past is still with us and the present will still be broken. Our problem is the failure to face a deeper reality. We have yet to confront the pervasive racism and in denial we lay on the extremists among us.

Our history is long and sobering. The seeds of prejudice were planted before our ancestors’ enslavement of Africans in colonial Virginia and Massachusetts at the birth of the nation. The Constitution of the new United States recognized and accepted slavery as our leaders proclaimed human rights for all white Americans. Slavery proved profitable to North and South and spread west. As it did, slavery left scars on the backs of blacks and on the minds of whites. The most costly war in American history ended the institution of slavery but did not usher in an era of racial tolerance in the North or South. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, lynchings of black men and women spiked in a white effort to enforce the racial status quo through terrorism.

African-Americans seeking new lives in the North and West faced segregation and discrimination not by law but by custom. Blacks in the South found themselves in economic chains equally as binding as slavery. When Americans faced the threat of Nazism in World War II, we held to our racial prejudices. The Red Cross segregated black blood from white to prevent contamination. The Marine Corps would not accept black recruits. The Army created segregated units.

The civil rights movement, now seen as a part of the American pageant of progress, sacrificed its martyrs and realized only half of its agenda. Black men served and died in the Vietnam War disproportionate to their numbers.

Some among us now ignore race and preach the success of a color-blind society. They, too, are in denial, disregarding a history of inequities and its legacies of prejudice and discrimination. How ironic, that in our modern world public opinion polls counts large numbers of Americans who question Barack Obama’s American citizenship. Isn’t that what African Americans have been seeking for four hundred years?

Perhaps this summer’s soul searching will bring significant change. Perhaps we will move beyond the symptoms of our illness to find the root causes that divide us into tribes. If we do, our focus must not simply be on the outward symbols of prejudice. We must re-examine our long history and ourselves.

Robert A. Goldberg is a professor of history and director of the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah.

Tamu Smith somberly remembered blacks who have died in police shootings and mass murders over the past few years.

  • Trayvon Martin,
  • Michael Brown,
  • Tamir Rice,
  • Walter Scott,
  • Renisha McBride,
  • Natasha McKenna,
  • Tanisha Anderson,
  • Rekia Boyd,
  • Eric Garner,
  • Freddie Gray,
  • Sandra Bland,
  • Darrien Hunt,
  • Reverend Clementa C Pinckney,
  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd,
  • Susan Jackson,
  • Ethel Lee Lance,
  • Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor,
  • Tywanza Sanders,
  • Reverend Daniel Simmons,
  • Rev Sharonda Coleman-Singleton,
  • Myra Thompson

First panel – Race and the Inner City



Thomas Sugrue, U Penn.

Jacob Rugh, BYU

Paul Reeve, moderator

Paul joked that his is our “token white male panel” to establish historical racial complex, and the historical development of urban crisis.  It will discuss social justice, race, and what urbanization has to do with Mormonism since 1978.

Thomas Sugrue recently joined NYU and has published on a wide range of topics.

Thomas Sugrue, Univ of Pennsylvania

George Romney in Jan 1963, just 2 days after inaugurated gov of Michigan attended a conference challenging segregation in housing in Detroit.  He announced support for civil rights legislation and his support for civil rights in 1963.  While a mainstream republican in 1963, Sugrue felt George would be middle of democrat today.  He waded into the civil rights struggle, housing, education.

Romney was not playing to liberal civil rights.  The same year Gov Romney was elected, the Northwest Board of Realtors campaigned against civil rights laws.  They lobbied at state, city, and national levels to keep off civil rights off the agenda.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not include anything about housing.  The Board of Realtors were pioneers in their political claims and didn’t claim animosity, but rather color blindness.

The Realtors housing segregation claims were based on individual choices in a free market.  They felt legislation about housing was an unwarranted government intrusion into the space of transactions between private individuals.  They said in the founding docs of the US, civil rights would tell whom to tell who to buy and sell to.  They claimed this was a violation of freedom of association.  In this context, Romney spoke to the Northwest Board of Realtors.  Many had voted for Romney and given him money for his campaign.  His remarks were greeted by stone silence.

After Governor Romney spoke to the realtors, he received reams of correspondence.  Most expressed anger from his constituents, elites from Detroit, and from the LDS Church.  Don Brunner, an LDS member wrote “we feel you have deserted teachings of church, and abused your Melchizedek Priesthood to further your career.  How many negro priesthood bearers are in your world?  People in mixed marriages can’t be sealed because of a small part of negro blood in their veins.”

Romney dispatched most to responses to aides, but wrote Brunner directly.  “You’ll find in D&C 1 that the gospel is for all, and God is no respecter of persons.  I’m aware of our our doctrine, and nothing denies them full rights of citizenship.”  Governor Romney was schooling fellow saints.

Governor Romney was serving in state that was among the most racially divided in the US.  Solving problems in Michigan was challenging.  Inequality was baked into fabric of life.  Narrative of race and cities, remains entrenched how policymakers think about race.

There has been a narrative that the US was moving toward racial progress until 1960s and 70s.  The argument states that an over generous welfare state in Johnson’s war on poverty caused a decline in racial progress.  Angry black power alienated whites.  Urban riots destroyed cities, causing white flight, and disinvestment.

A left leaning said that everything was great in the 1970s until globalization.

Sugrue’s own research tells a different story.  Governor Romney took office in Jan 1963, before the riots, black power, and jobs began moving to Japan and Germany.  Detroit was already divided by race and suffering economic woes.  3 changes were devastating:  First, flight of industry was leaving Detroit before competition with other parts of the world began.  Second, workplace discrimination, despite civil rights gains, and third, housing segregation.

Flight of jobs and capital.  9 years prior to Romney’s election, Detroit had lost 134,000 jobs to Toyota, Honda, and BMW.  Even when American auto manufacturing was at its peak, companies were leaving Detroit for suburban green fields.  This was devastating.  Major manufacturers began replacing people with machines.  African Americans were most affected.  They had moved to entry level jobs that were disappearing.  Companies were moving mostly to white communities. Blacks had fewer opportunities.

Discrimination.  Even with the WW2 protests to get jobs, still faced obstacles.  In 1960, 67 of 11,000 skilled workers were black.  Blacks couldn’t get unionized jobs.  In 1963, Ford provided list of white color occupations open to blacks that listed a few hundred: porter, valet, mail clerk, telephone operator.  There was still discrimination.

Most vexing issue was racial segregation in housing.  In the 20th century, Detroit was more segregated than most cities.  It was not a free market, despite realtors’ rhetoric.  Interacting forces created segregated communities.  When realtors professionalized in 1920, they introduced a code of ethics.  One of these codes was not to introduce “incompatible elements” in a neighborhood.  In practice Realtors had no black members until 1970s.  Realtors steered blacks to black communities, whites to whites communities and made it seem natural.  Racial segregation didn’t go away with federal housing laws. This could be very subtle.  While they couldn’t openly say “blacks live here” they would instead tell a buyer “Do your neighborhood research” which was code for “look out for African Americans.”  Realtors were central to housing segregation.

Fed housing and the Hoover New deal (I think he meant Roosevelt) introduced the 30 year mortgage (created in 30s.)  In 1930, a minority of Americans owned homes; today it is 60-70% for whites.  The Federally backed loans had 1 proviso: it did loan in a mixed racial neighborhood and did not go to blacks wanting to live in a white neighborhood.  It was baked into the law.

Mass movement of homeowners worked closely with white neighborhoods; 200 home owners associations were created for solidarity and picnics, but also to maintain racial homogeneity.  There was a movement to repeal of the Detroit fair housing ordinance 1964.  There were pickets and protests when blacks moved into a white neighborhood.  There were 200 attacks on blacks in white neighborhood including arson, window breaking, etc.  The message was “We don’t want you.”

Combination of all these things laid the groundwork for crisis in Detroit.  Challenging these was difficult and required changing hearts in white minds.  In the 1940s, whites routinely dropped the N-word.  It was regularly in public, not so much 60s and 70s.  There were some changes in attitude, but not institutions.

Romney knew that to change segregation did not only require hearts and minds, had to change institutions.  In 1970s he swam against tide in HUD in Nixon admin, and lost.  This was unfinished business for Romney.

Ram Cnaan, U Penn.

Ram Cnaan, University of Pennsylvania

This presentation was difficult to prepare because Ram is not person of faith.  He hails from Israel.   He was embarrassed when a student asked, “Does congregation provide social services?”  His first response was “What does a church have to do with social services?”

In response, the student took to homeless shelter in a Baptist church.  Nothing in his studies of social work showed that religion had anything to do with social services.  Thus began a lifelong search for Cnaan.  Religion has a lot to do with social services.

He wanted to do a study on 6 states (perhaps stakes—I couldn’t tell) on giving habits of Mormons and planned to analyze data from 3000 active Mormons. He wanted to know in what ways African American Mormons different from white Mormons.  Problem.  In 6 states, he tried to study every member that came.  There were so few African Americans that he was forced to group all minorities together.  He tried to dismantle it for the day’s presentation, but the few monitories were Latino, African born, or others.  So he had to switch his topic to religion in general.

The separation of church and state is what separates the United States from Europe.  Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof.  There are 2 things stated by the Constitution.  Anyway can start place of worship; you don’t need permission from anyone.  You can’t do in Canada.  (In Canada, one needs permission from state and show that you have graduated from accredited seminary.  Same in Europe.)

Because of this, there are many different faith communities in this country and Americans are very active in our own religiosity.  There are 3 types of congregations: parish, congregation, temple.

Parish– is a geographical location.  Most common in some faith traditions. Catholics, Jewish, LDS are the last parish oriented groups in America.

Congregation-you decide where you go to church.  Some people drive past 10 churches before they reach their own church.

Temple-more Asian style.  Come when you feel like it, like during a crisis, or a holiday.  No group meets at a certain time.  It is more individual decided.

What’s better for integration:  parish or congregation?

Congregations are highly segregated. 9 of 10 are ethnically segregated, or culturally separated.  Often these are liberally oriented.  The reasons for this is that most people want a place that is similar to them.

Someone told him of a Big Presbyterian church in Indianapolis and they described it as in the “Heart of the black ghetto.”  What they call ghetto, is not what people on the East Coast call ghetto.  The campus of the church was all white, affluent.  A charismatic young pastor came and told him “We do everything for the community.  They offer twice/week free medical clinic, free legal clinic, associate pastors are coaching baseball and basketball, yet none of the community want to worship with us.  They feel betrayed. What can we do? Ram responded, “I don’t know” but promised to try to help them.

Two weeks later an advisory committee met.  A pastor from Long Island said, “tell them you don’t want them.”  Listen to me.  100 families of riches black people in long island.  Wall street.  Making hundreds of thousands or more.  They wear $10,000 suits.  They put pressure on some people and 4 men agreed to come.  These four men came in JC Penny suits, and everyone looked around wondering, “what are they doing here?”  The four families sat on one bench; as soon as the sermon was over, the families were never seen again.  Associate pastor tried to hold service for them.  The problem is that Americans don’t want to worship with people unlike themselves.  We want the same social class. Americans choose.  Ram didn’t tell this to the people in Indianapolis.

Ram did a study in Philadelphia.  Research was harder because there is no list of congregations there.  He found 2119 congregations and interviewed 1400 of them for 2.5-13 hours.

He found a wonderful picture of religion in America.  Philadelphia has more congregations in any other organization in city.  He showed 3 maps that showed churches segregated along racial and ethnic lines.  This was voluntary segregation.  People start where want and make culture hospitable to people who live there.

90% of congregation reported that 75% or more participants belonged to one racial or ethnic group.  He noted that congregations are generally smaller than parishes and have smaller budgets.  He expected larger churches had higher involvement in social services and was surprised that African American churches provide same number of social programs as larger counterparts.  Some were more informal.

One way to look at this picture is that people freely congregate.  This is wonderful.  It help communities and the majority benefit from congregation.  There is high social involvement in black churches, even though size and income is smaller.  They are doing well.

There is also a negative side of it.  Segregated communities have an opportunity gap.  Quality of education is unacceptable, and these are examples of how public education system failed people who go to school there.  There is no opportunity for change and upper mobility, and voluntary segregation is a source of perpetuating inequality in America today.

He doesn’t have answers to this problem but can be reached at cnaan at sp2 dot upenn dot edu.

Jacob Rugh, sociologist from BYU

Jacob Rugh, Sociologist at BYU

Jacob discussed the growth of LDS church in urban areas since 1980.  He noted that since 1980, the Mormon church was 58% American and 42% international, but not it has flipped to 58% international and 42% American.  There are 8.9 million Mormons outside the U.S.

He looked at existing explanations of growth.  Rodney Stark (non-LDS) expected exponential growth for the LDS Church because of (1) High birth rate, (2) volunteer missionary force, (3) migration and cultural continuity, (4) modernization and urban settlement.

The LDS Church grows fastest in large, diverse, open cities with lots of immigrants, and church growth is  more rapid outside Mormon corridor.  It is gorwing even faster than the fastest growing states of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.  In looking at metropolitan areas.  Salt Lake and Provo have high growth, but church growth is faster in 10 Metro cities (including places like Atlanda, Chicago, Dallas-Ft worth, and Los Angeles.)

When Joseph Smith, founder of the faith built cities, he planned the temple in the middle, then a grid around it.  The church has always planned like an urban church, with urban planning.  The church continues to build temples in big cities.

Why is the church still growing fast?

  1. Race – 1978 key turn point, but not enough
  2. Segregation – 1980 avg white American lived in 88% white neighborhoods

Jacob lived in Chicago from about 1978-1990s and it had a profound effect on him.  For example, what if white kids went to a black santa?  His other explanation for growth include:

  1. Rise of singles
  2. Immigration – there has been a rapid rise since 1990s for latinos, and since 2000 for blacks (esp on east coast)

In 1980, there was just 1 congregation in Chicago.  In 2010 there are 16 now.  Harlem in 2000s has had some large growth as well.  Miami and Queens have Chinese, Spanish, and Korean branches.  Philadelphia has seen a 32 fold increase since 1960.  There has been massive growth in last 10 years, largely due to West African immigration to Philadelphia.

Mormon faces are becoming more multi-ethnic.  Jabari Parker, a big Mormon high school basketball phenom from Chicago was asked by Katie Couric.  Is it weird to be Mormon?  Jabari noted that Mormons are stereotypically white when looking at Mitt Romney, the Book of Mormon Musical, but young people don’t know who Marie Osmond is anymore.  Parker embodies the Mormon church’s changes with regards to race, segregation, immigration, and he is still single.  (He plays for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks now.)  1/3 of students at BYU are multi racial now, and we better value multiculturalism.

Questions & Answer session

Audience members asked the following questions.

How much growth in Utah is due to white Mormons here?  Is that significant outside of Utah?

Jacob responded that Utah is still a fast growing, and has a high birth rate, but we shouldn’t isolate Utah as all white.  West Valley City is a majority-minority community.  In Utah County, it is all white are saturated.  Most converts in Utah County are Latino.

California, especially Orange County has seen white flight.  Whites leaving California has fueled older population; Utah, Arizona have been white flight destinations for California.

LDS church is parish based, and people tribal, should LDS be more congregation based to generate more unity, less segregation within church?  Means to bring diversity.?

Ram responded that the LDS church has an advantage.  (He didn’t say Correlation, but that is what he was referring to.)  Others don’t use the same text and content being delivered every Sunday no matter where in world.  In other faith traditions, locals have preference.  Easier for LDS church to do redistricting.  It works in West Philadelphia to cut lines including both the affluent suburb and poorer students at the University.  Philadelphia has quite a few Liberian, wonder if same people are converting to LDS.  That kind of things, same people every Sunday and integrating, same message and same Sunday service every place is a strength of LDS church to take real action to integrate.

All ways to div up.  Boundaries matter, whose in and out?  Where boundaries drawn determines how well parish is integrated.  Both studies draw ward boundaries to bring people together.

Audience member wondered how language wards impact ability to integrate?  Only blacks don’t get ethnic wards, and don’t have language wards.  If enough people share a language, they get an ethnic ward, but blacks won’t have that (though the Genesis Group is fantastic.)  Ethnic wards can’t integrate. Would be nice to translate to black wards.

Jacob said that in Chicago, leaders try to make it possible to have white members and to have blacks run show and have influence, not tokens.  That’s the best, ideal.  In future, Latino, young people outnumber parents, grandparents.  That is good bridge for whites to get with program to integrate meaningfully.

Ram has been looking for black branches.  He heard there is one in Florida, but can’t find it.  Everyone said exists.  He would like to see if it is enhancing or opposite.  Every other member, “we are integrated”.  Everyone comes is equal.  Doesn’t know if this is the case, because it is not something he has studied.

Tom – One last point, Mormons have a lot to learn from Catholics, also Parish based.  They have set up enormous south and east European congregations that are set up like ethnic parishes, similar to language wards.  In the 1920s at its peak, Polish and Italian Catholic weddings were considered a mixed marriage.  It eventually changed as result from first to 2nd to third gen citizens.  Catholic success led to no more need of these parishes, so in the second and third generation they began to disappear.  Polish and Italians became normal, but it took institutional transformation.

Ram – When these parishes were closed and merged, there was major resistance by members in Boston, Philadelphia when there was not enough to sustain separate church.  Instead of put together, members want to go to parish like protestants, and some refused to same service.  Pros and cons.

Paul – 19th century were white, Scandinavian, disappeared in 1930s after language assimilation.


4 comments on “White Dudes Talk about Race

  1. […] I attended Black, White, and Mormon, “A CONFERENCE on the EVOLVING STATUS of BLACK SAINTS WITHIN the MORMON FOLD” at the University of Utah a few days ago.  I took a lot of notes from the speakers, and had planned to give an overview.  Lester Bush gave an outstanding speech Thursday evening.  I should have started with his remarks, but I went alphabetically with the titles of my notes, so I’m going to first give my notes of “our token white male panel” , as Paul Reeve said when he introduced the panel.  Here are some of the highlights of the first session on Friday.  For more details, check out what I wrote on my blog. […]

  2. This was a good write up of some very interesting presentations. But my interest in reading this was almost spoiled by your horrific title. It is offensive to just call these distinguished scholars and presenters “white dudes” and doing so seriously detracts from your credibility.

  3. This was a good write up of some very interesting presentations, but that was almost spoiled by your inflammatory and unnecessary title. Calling these distinguished scholars “white dudes” belittles the value of the message they presented. It is insulting, condescending and wholly inappropriate, and saps away your credibility. I’d suggest changing it.

  4. Glad you enjoyed the post. Sorry you didn’t like the title. I don’t pretend to have credibility. I’m just a Joe schmow on the internet.

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