I Am Not White: A perspective on racism

I’ve learned a lot about racism in the last 4 years. In Uganda they have a name for white people. Musungu. As you walk down the streets people will call out “Musungu” especially children. At first I liked it. It was like having a name and everyone knew me. It made me feel at home. Then I started to see it differently; I heard things like

“You can’t do laundry well you are Musungu”

“Give me money Musungu you have much.”

“Your wife is a Musungu she can’t cook”

“Musungu can’t dig”

Musungu don’t want to have children, they don’t dress modestly…the list went on. I felt that no one saw me. They just saw the color of my skin. Their idea of who I was as a “Musungu” had been shaped by hollywood. The stereo type I was placed in by my skin color alone was based on what the media had shown them.

I AM NOT WHITE

My skin is white I am not. I am Mormon, I am a Mother, I am a wife, I am happy. Those are choices I have made they are the things I have made an effort to become. They tell you something about me. White is just the color my skin happens to be.

By the way…my eyes are blue. Just in case that matters.

If minorities are poorer, have fewer opportunities or are stereo typed I believe that these are not problems of race they are problems of community, of choices, of habit and even of dreams.

When I told my family that I was marrying Joseph they had ideas in their mind about what that meant. They pictured a stereo type of a black man in America. It took less than a day before they had recategorized him based on his actions, and choices which were apparent in his appearance and demeanor.

I don’t believe that our police officers in general are out to get black people. I think they are put in a position because of their jobs where they are required to make snap judgements about people. Their judgements can mean life and death for themselves and those around them.

If you want respect be Respect -able.

 

Joseph and I have talked a lot in the last few days about this and he says,

“I am not sure why people are surprised by racism, Racism is a tool that has been used by political kings and masters to divide and rule communities and nations. It has existed as long as the human family. It’s human nature to notice differences in another person and one of those differences is skin color.

All of us have labels and one of them right now being pointed out is skin color. But there is one label that is crucial that we put on everyday, that is appearance. People will argue or say don’t judge me by how I look but the truth is before you say anything to any person, your outward appearance says a lot about you. The way you dress, the language you choose to use etc.

This is how I feel about the situation in Minnesota. We don’t have all the facts of what happened that evening at 9pm. We can only formulate speculations and frame stories of that incident. I am black and very grateful that I am housed into this skin color and so at first I imagined myself in the situation, picturing me with my beautiful family getting shot for some reason. I allowed myself to fear. But then I have tried to analyze the story, both from the view of that policeman and the gentleman who got shot.

Once again with no full facts and details of what really happened we can only speculate and frame the incident from our perspective. I suspect the media wants to frame it as racism so that they can emotionally appeal to most of the people. We can fear, we can let it divide us into camps of black lives or all lives, we can go forth with racial flames. Or we can come together for all the Americans who were killed in this tragic incidence. We can do our best to find justice and we can mourn with all the families that were involved in this tragedy, for any life taken is irreplaceable. May the almighty who is the creator of black skin and white, the giver and author of both life and justice intervene to help us comfort all involved.

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A Plea for Help

Poverty is a difficult thing. The more I learn about it the more complex it is. My eyes have been opened in the last three or so years in a way that I never could have imagined. We judge poverty by our own experiences. If someone doesn’t have running water or indoor plumbing we consider that a hardship because we have it and couldn’t imagine doing with out. My husband grew up without it and sees it as a superflous thing that doesn’t mean much to him. He sees what Americans have given up in order to have such modern conveniences and to him it’s not necessarily a win.

Sometimes as Americans we are a bit smug even in our desires to help. People don’t need rescuing, they don’t need someone to push for them to have the same modern convenices that we consider essential. Most of the time they just need an opportunity.

When I was in Uganda, my budget was kind of tight. I had used everything I had to pay my way there and to pay for my expenses during the 5 months that I lived there. Yet I was surrounded on every side by people who had less than me. How could I not help?

On the other hand, how could I help? Every day I encountered handicapped people whose needs far exceeded anything that I could give to make a difference, I encountered children who lived on the streets and had no home to go to. I encountered single moms struggling and often failing to care for their children. I saw people who were sick, suffering and the need was overwhelming. I helped where I could and I consoled myself with the fact that I was there making a difference. I was volunteering for a non-profit that helps single moms become self sufficient. Musana was making a difference and I could feel good about how I was spending my time and the little money I had. IMG_1613

Then one day I was walking the streets of Kampala making arrangements for the new street sign we were putting up at Musana. A woman approached me, obviously hungry, she had a small child strapped to her back and she was clutching her obviously empty breasts and pleading for help. She didn’t speak english but her message was clear. She had nothing to feed her baby. The baby looked at me with large open eyes from his mothers back. I shrugged my shoulders indicating that I had nothing for her and moved on. It felt heartless but what could I do? I couldn’t help everyone.

Since then I have had my own children. I have sat in a cozy gliding rocker in a decorated nursery and nursed my babies. During those times that I have not had enough milk I have gone to the kitchen and quickly made a bottle to satisfy my chubby sweet baby. I have come home from church after several hours of not being able to eat and made myself something to eat to help with that cold empty shaking feeling in my stomach that nursing a hungry baby leaves if you don’t eat enough.

Every day since my son was born that woman has been in my mind and heart. I have wept tears over the help I didn’t offer. Needless to say I would do things differently if I could go back. Still I would be faced with the same dilemma of too much need for my capabilities to help; but this woman, this one woman, I could have helped to feed her child. She came to me I could have done something.

A friend of mine is preparing for her own humanitarian trip to Uganda in May. She s raising $25,000 to build an orphanage while she is there. She is asking that we and anyone who is willing participate in “7 days of nothing” now I cringe a little at the title because having seen people who have nothing and it hardly compares. But the idea is to do without something for 7 days and donate your savings to the cause. Perhaps you can eat simply for 7 days. Nothing but beans, rice and oatmeal (typical food for many  families all over the world) Perhaps you can forgo using your running water and carry whatever water you need from an outdoor faucet, to get a feel for the way the majority of the world lives. Maybe try walking or riding your bike to work or the grocery store if you can.581766_10151416836355658_826602642_n

And if that is too much for you maybe you can skip your daily latte, or a trip to the salon. or go on a sugar fast for a week. Save what you can and send it to my friend to help build an orphanage. For Joseph and I we have washed our own clothes by hand, carried our water, walked wherever we need to go, done without many things and we know how to do it. We will be joining my friend in her 7 days of nothing and perhaps that woman and her sickly child will not haunt me so much. For you I pray that you will find something that works for you someway that you can give and I think you will find that the bigger your sacrifice the more impact it will have on your life.

But what about the children?

How would you respond to a mother in this scenario: A woman marries a man in the temple, time passes, they have children, raising them in the church. One day the husband tells her he is gay, that he has always known it but tried to do the right thing and married a woman in the temple. He cannot go on in the marriage and they divorce. The couple share custody of their children who they continue to raise in the church. After time the ex husband finds a partner and they live together. Children still go to church every Sunday, they have family home evening every week, pray every morning and night, sing primary songs together on car trips and attend baptisms of all their friends, anxiously waiting for their special day to be baptized. Then this policy is made public. How do you respond to this mother and how does she explain to her children (at next Saturday’s baptism service of their good friend) that they can’t be baptized? How do the children explain to their friends why they aren’t going to be baptized?

This is one of many responses to my recent blogpost about the change in church policy. As I attempted to respond to her I realized that my response needed to be more than what I wanted to put in a comment. So here is a bit more about this policy change. I realize that to those who are asking questions like this to try to poke holes and condemn the church for the policy change will still have plenty to say. There is nothing that could be said that would help that. However, for those who ask genuinely out of concern for those difficult cases such as the one above I hope what I have to say can help.

First we have to look at the root of this problem. The problem is not that a child can’t be baptized until 18. the problem is that these children can’t and others can. And I can see why this would be a concern.

My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Growing up there was no Santa, no tree, no presents etc. Most of the time I didn’t really notice or care. When I was about 9 years old I started taking piano lessons and every year around christmas time we would go to group lessons and recitals and people would ask us what we got for Christmas. I was embarrassed to say nothing so my siblings and I would look at the catalogs find some things that we wanted and tell everyone thats what we got. This was just one of MANY ways that I knew I was different from all the other children around me. Honestly, it didn’t hurt me. I got a little envious sometimes and occasionally I felt embarrassed but over all it wasn’t something I considered a hardship.

It could have been different though. If I had a parent or two, or grandparents who felt like this was a major issues and a hardship for me I imagine I might have felt the same way.

Mother and Daughter Talking

Mother and Daughter Talking

I stand by my original position that there are very good reasons for this policy change. How ever there are many that will face some challenges because of it. So to literally answer this woman’s questions: If I found myself in that situation I would tell my children that their situation is unique and that the Lord has asked them to wait a little extra time to be baptized and then we would continue to go to church, attend primary, young men, young women, etc. the same as before. And when times are hard and they feel the difference, because they will; when their friends are getting baptized, receiving the priesthood, passing the sacrament etc. I would tell them stories of others who have faced difficult times in a similar way. I would tell them about the faithful black saints who attended church for years, some of them peeking in a window when they weren’t even allowed inside. They didn’t know when this would change but still they held on faithfully until it did. I would use it as a chance to teach a very important lesson that todays society in general needs to know. That life isn’t fair, was never meant to be “fair” and that we never had a promise that it would be. I would also teach them that those that face difficult situations with grace and dignity are the ones who we look up to and respect. When they ask “but why me?” which they probably will. I will tell them that the Lord had confidence that they could handle it. Just like he knew that Anne Frank could handle her challenges, that the stripling warriors could handle losing their fathers, that Joseph and Emma could handle losing so many of their children. Many people faced challenges that others around them did not and could have asked why me. And maybe they even did, but the point is you use faith and courage and face those challenges and you come out on top.

If they were old enough to understand, I might explain how important it is that the church keeps a clear line on where it stands on certain issues and that this policy really changes very little for them in terms of how they can participate in church, and how they will be perceived. And if that is the price that they are asked to pay to draw a clear line. Its not such a big one.

I’ve been asked to make similar sacrifices for similar reasons and I can tell you its not so hard. Our attitude is everything! We can make or break this experience for our children. Lets use it as an opportunity for them to show what they are made of!

Discrimination Against Children From Same Sex Marriages? What Is The Church Thinking?

imagesActually I don’t like to say what someone else was thinking since clearly I couldn’t possibly know. And since I haven’t personally spoken with the twelve or the first presidency about this I honestly couldn’t say. But I can tell you that this ISN”T uncharacteristic of the church. This isn’t NEW or even DIFFERENT from what people should expect. (all things that I have seen a lot on Facebook lately) Let me tell you why. Most people may not be aware but the EXACT same limitations have been in place regarding children from polygamist families for many years. Now having come through that process myself I can say that these guidelines are in place for a good reason.

To begin with, let’s make a few assumptions. Lets assume that the teachings of the church are true and as part of that lets assume that same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s laws. ( I guarantee you this was part of the thinking for the 15 men who made this decision) Let’s also assume that another teaching of the church that the spirit can not reside in the presence of sin is also true.

Now lets imagine that these guidelines were not in place. Imagine that you are a say fifteen year old living in a same-sex family. The missionaries come and teach you that your family is living in sin. The very foundation of your home is an abomination to God. As a fifteen year old that’s a lot to handle. So imagine that you actually believe the missionaries and decide that you want to be baptised. That puts a strain in your family that no fifteen year old should ever have to deal with. Your church, your religious beliefs are saying one thing, your family another and you are caught in the middle without the option of leaving home. Now I realize that  conversion to the LDS church or really any church for that matter would put many people in the same position. The key here though is that this is a pretty MAJOR part of your life. And you shouldn’t be put in that kind of position until you are truly old enough to deal with the consequences. I think 18 is the earliest something like this could be handled. Legally its the earliest that you could make the choice to live a different lifestyle.

Imagine you have just been given the gift of the Holy Ghost but your ability to enjoy that gift is hampered by the fact that you are constantly surrounded day and night by “sin” Imagine your religion tells you to honor and obey your parents and in the same breath tells you your parents are living in sin.

On the other hand imagine you are a member of a same-sex couple. Your child (who is not yet even 18) is being approached by missionaries who are teaching them that you are living in sin, that your lifestyle is offensive to God. I can tell you that I would FREAK OUT on those missionaries. I may even file a law suit. Either way they have NO right coming into my home and teaching MY children those kinds of things.

Looking at it from that perspective I would say that the LDS church’s position on this issue. Is not only typical of the church, it is brilliant, it is kind, and it is absolutely the right decision. If a person from such a family wants to join the church once they are legally an adult, ready to live on their own and take on the consequences of their actions then the church can give them a green light. Before then its NO for a very good set of reasons. I also love that the church gives any person who was a child in these or similar circumstances a chance to meet with a member of the 12 before baptism. They need a little something extra, they need the personal touch of that meeting, they need a chance to have their questions answered and their hearts touched by the men we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. I love that the church offers this kind, loving, supportive set of guidelines. And I am glad they were in place for me.

The Worth of A Man

A friend of mine recently posted this interesting question or rather essay full of questions on Facebook. Having had many of the same questions myself in recent years and having so much to say on the topic I decided to answer her in a blog post. First here is her question:

I have a genuine and soul-searching question…. I’d love your insights, men. I need help appreciating you more..

I just read an interesting article about the rising trend of single motherhood. Among women under 30, the majority of babies born are now born out of wedlock. One of the reasons cited was interesting and bothersome to me… “Men are not as valuable as they used to be.”

.Over the last 30 years, men’s wages have dropped by 8%, while women’s wages have increased by 8%. The stigma of being a single mom has mostly disappeared, and with adoption / technology of artificial insemination, you can totally have kids without a partner.

.Here’s where it hits home and hurts me… If I’m being honest with myself, I’m increasingly discouraged and disenchanted with men. There is a reverence for self that I find often in women but rarely in men. And the last 7 years of seriously dating, pouring my heart and soul into awesome relationships where the guy just walks away anyways… It’s left me feeling like I can’t rely on men for much, and don’t NEED to rely on them for anything.

.I still harbor a strong desire for dedicated male companionship. But even if it exists, I feel like it’s so rare, that low likelihood of finding the belonging place I’m looking for, combined with a high likelihood of being betrayed or abandoned makes it not worth it to look anymore. It’s awfully tempting to joint-adopt with a best friend and share the efforts of child-rearing with someone I feel I can rely on. I’d prefer being the breadwinner anyways.

Our society is cruel to men… Exceedingly cruel. My roommate pointed out that men seem to be hurt enough by the man-hate that it makes them want to disengage. I see this pain too.

SO, help me understand.

What beauty should we be seeing? What unique gifts and contributions do men offer in a relationship, that makes it worth fighting for you?

.What would rejuvenate your courage, make you feel like a knight in shining armor again? What would inspire you to literally rush into battle, willing to give your life to protect a women, as eons of men used to do? What IS the modern equivalent? What makes you feel proud of yourself on that level?

What do you need, and how can we help?

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This is Joseph and Vilate responding together. Your topic brought up some great questions. For me having been in the same boat as you until I was into my 30’s I relate. Now, having been married for a few years I also have a new perspective on this. And Joseph has the experience you were requesting from a man’s perspective. So here is what we have to say.

First and foremost, marriage, although it can be incredibly difficult, requires self-sacrifice and even a good deal of risk, also has just as much potential for incredible joy, success and enumerable wonderful things. It is GOD”S plan. The way that HE decided was best. He knew that men would be challenging, he knew about video games and pornography and he still felt that this is THE BEST way.Yes, you can have children without having a man involved. However, there is great value in KNOWING and LOVING the father of your children. First, you know his character, his genes, his likes and dislikes. When you have a child with someone you look at them and you see a reflection of your partner in them and it brings so much happiness that it is beyond description. As I am writing this Joseph is dancing with our baby daughter to keep her happy while I write and unless you know and love them both like I do you wouldn’t know how perfect this moment is and how it makes up for the difficult parts of marriage and family. Men’s way of communicating is different from women and children need both. I see the way that Preston reacts to Joseph and it’s very different from the way he interacts with me. And its clear to me that he needs Joseph. Even in the first few months when Joseph wasn’t here I could see the change in him when Joseph arrived. It’s hard to explain these things to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Do you love your dad? You probably love your mom too. But could you imagine only having your mom? I couldn’t imagine my life without my dad. And because of that I would never NEVER consider having a child and making them grow up without a father.

Besides children needing them, they need us? When God said it is not good for man to be alone he meant it. Just look at any 30+ single man. It’s not good. They need us. And even if we don”t biologically or financially need them We still need them.

This is from Joseph answering this question:What would rejuvenate your courage, make you feel like a knight in shining armor again? What would inspire you to literally rush into battle, willing to give your life to protect a women, as eons of men used to do? What IS the modern equivalent? What makes you feel proud of yourself on that level? (I want you to know that he got teary trying to answer this question and he gave me the answer in less than a second.)

It’s love.

We heard a man bear his testimony about almost dying today and how the only thing on his mind was his wife and daughters and how much he loved them, and how much they loved him. When you feel the love that comes from the person next to you, you just feel empowered to bursting. It’s just like when I come home from work and Preston runs to me and calls me daddy, in that moment I would die, I would do anything for that person. It’s the same with my wife, when I feel that love and see that face I would do anything. When I watched you give birth, seeing everything you went through, I would have done anything to help and just feeling the love filled me up. There just isn’t any words to describe it.

So, (this is Vilate again) I’m sorry this has been long I’m sorry it hasn’t been more specific. ( If you haven’t read it already read the proper care and feeding of husbands by Dr.Laura) From having been in your shoes I understand that you want concrete, usable answers. I know that these answers aren’t that. But I think there is no easy answer. and I would just say one more thing. Marriage is hard, just like raising kids is hard. They are both much harder than I had ever imagined. But they are also FAR more wonderful than I ever imagined.

I think Joseph is right. Whenever things in my marriage have been difficult and I have prayed for answers on how to deal with him I always get one answer regardless of the problem. Love Him.

So, If I could go back and tell myself a few things on this topic I would say this. Don’t marry just to marry, don’t feel as if your life only holds meaning in marrying and having children, don’t waste a moment of your singlehood, don’t devalue yourself by allowing a guy to string you a long and play games with your heart, don’t settle for less when it comes to the kind of man that you want and deserve. If you are a strong powerful, hardworking, righteous woman, wait for a man who is your equal and then when you find him hold nothing back and move forward with faith. And if you don’t find him spend your life finding and living your mission because YOU have one and it is important.

So, lastly, has the value of men declined? No, do we not see/expect as much from them? Do they as a result not see/expect as much of themselves? Are women partially responsible for creating the selfish, video gaming, pornography watching, unambitious guys that we see today? Can we be a huge part of the answer to bringing back that knight in shining armor that my friend spoke of? I would say yes and if that is the case than I still believe that Joseph was right and the answer is LOVE. We need to love them enough to expect more of our men, love them enough to see their undeniable worth and rejoice in it when we find it. I believe our men will rise to the occasion.

The most important men in my life.

The most important men in my life.

Life is What You Make It.

My Mother always tried her best to bring my flighty, romantic little brain solidly back to earth. She was always reminding me that life isn’t one of my romance novels. I fought her hard on that one. I never wanted to give in a believe that those magical moments, the romance, the adventure weren’t real. I felt somehow that if I gave in and believed her it would suck all of it out of my future. And I wanted it oh so badly. I wanted to fall hopelessly and madly in love. I wanted to have crazy adventures and travel the world. I wanted to have those picture perfect moments, I wanted the little women sweetness of sisterhood moments and the Last of the Mohican’s “I will find you” kiss. I wanted it all.

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The other day talking to one of my dearest friends I said something that hurt my heart just a little. I said that we read books to escape the mundane reality of life. Turns out my Mother didn’t need to try to convince me of the hopelessness of my romanticism. Life would do it well enough on its own.

Or at least it would try.

But you see. During those teenage years filled with longing I learned something. Something that I had forgotten, and only just now remembered. Life is what you make it. Movies and books are full of wonderful exotic and romantic moments but so is life! The only difference is that books skip all the boring moments in between and in real life you see them all. But I firmly believe that if you don’t allow the mundane moments to cloud your vision and alter your perspective you will see, feel and experience in all its wonderful fullness the fantastical moments of your very own story.

I used to imagine my life through the eyes of a book. I used to read it in my mind how it might read if it were a story and I found that it really wasn’t far off. I could see many many moments of my life depicted in a novel I just had to imagine it it. I remember one time frantically gathering my music at the last-minute for a Christmas recital. The family was all trying to get ready in time, there was yelling going on to remember this or that and to please not sit on the lemon bars. It was a mundane moment that with the right perspective seemed story book worthy. And it made it so much more fun to experience it when I saw it for what it was. A future memory.

Tonight I sat watching a romantic movie and thinking about how that part of my life is now over and I am an old married woman. But you know what I got my story! I rode on a motorcycle, the wind in my hair and the sun setting at my back and fell in love with the man of my dreams in a foreign exotic country. I’ve experienced utter exhilaration as I ran into my husbands arms after more than nine months a part. I’ve held a new-born baby in my arms knowing that this little soul straight from heaven was created from the love that we share. I’ve had my heart-broken (as everyone should) and I’ve found healing, happiness, hope, and love.

And now the mundane sets in again. I have diapers and dishes and laundry up to my eyeballs. I have late nights and crying babies and teething and hormones. But I truly believe that if I can remember the secret I learned as a teenager I can make even the mundane magical and I won’t miss those sweet moments when life could just slip by without my noticing. I will turn that movie off and LIVE each of those mundane moments vividly and with full consciousness of the fact that EVERY moment is part of my story and I can make it what I will!

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Polygamy is just more

polygamyRecently two of my friends have told me that they almost wished that they lived polygamy so that they could have some help with the house work and/or kids. I smiled a little when they said that but didn’t say what I really wanted to say. It’s an innocent and understandable thing to think but has a few flaws. Here is what I really wanted to explain to them but it just wasn’t the right time or place.

Now I always feel that I have to add a disclaimer when discussing polygamy since I never actually lived in it as a wife myself. However, living in it as a child, and a young woman who anticipated living in it as a wife, I do have some perspective. The first thing that comes to mind when people when people say that, is that they seem to be forgetting that the “other wife” won’t just be another woman living in “her” home. It will be another WIFE, an equal in every way. The home will be HERS too. She will want just as much say in how the home should be run, how it should be decorated etc as you do. She is his wife and will want and NEED all the same things that you did when you married. You had to learn to get along with your husband, to accommodate his needs and wishes and now you will need to do the same with her.

Another thing that many don’t consider is that she might not be any help at all. She might have half a dozen kids that you will be responsible for in addition to your own while she goes to work to earn the extra income that will be needed to support the extra family. She might be a horrible house keeper, a worse cook and she might not like the way you raise your kids and have her own very different ideas about discipline. And since your children are now hers as well you will have to learn how to accommodate each other.

Now don’t get me wrong there are some positive things about having a sister-wife. I’ve seen sisterwives that genuinely enjoy each others company and on nights when their husband is away until late they hang out together and enjoy some girl time after the kids are in bed. They both love each others children and can share in and enjoy all the little things their kids do in ways that some one less invested just couldn’t.

I’ve seen sisterwives that were able to help each other with new-born babies, even supplying breast milk when one might not have enough. It’s nice to be able to leave your children and know they are in capable hands of someone who loves them.

I’ve seen it work out great when one wife has a talent or skill that the other just doesn’t. In my family we all knew that if we hurt ourselves and needed a sliver removed or a bandage put on Mother A was the one to go to. Or if you needed a hammer or screw driver or just a safety-pin Mother B would have it in her super organized drawer of “stuff” Mother C would plan vacations and be in charge of the garden when the others had no interest. Mother D enjoyed playing with the children and would make messy fun with homemade playdough. Mother E could make the softest yummiest rolls. Her steady diligence kept the huge yard watered. and Mother F was a live in Grammy. Each of them has unique gifts and talents that have made our home better in some way.

My point is that there are benefits to having multiple wives but I’ve never heard anyone who actually has lived that way suggest that one of the benefits is having help around the house. It takes a lot of selflessness, hard work and forgiveness. sometimes it turns out wonderful and sometimes it doesnt.Its just like marriage between a man and a wife only more of everything…more wives, more complicated, more children, more work, more house to clean, more love, more joy, and more sacrifice.