Dr. Darron T. SmithA Critique of the Critical Race Theory of Mormon Studies Scholar Dr. Darron T. Smith
In a 2014 [Salt Lake] Trib Talk interview, Black Mormon Studies scholar Darron T. Smith said,
Even though Blacks were welcome in the [LDS] Church even at that point, they were also second-class citizens in the Church and they never really had full, equal standing even when they were a part of it. So I think we can’t let White folks off the hook that easy with that. Also, I would add, as well this flies at the fundamental issue of, I think, social alexithymia that most White Americans suffer from. This idea that I can’t love anybody other than White people. I can’t love across racial lines. It’s very, very problematic. I think it also adds to this idea that if I can sort of distance myself from my fellow man or woman because I have a pathology, a social pathology if you will, it enables me to do all sorts of things like typecast Blacks as magical. It also creates this idea that Blacks are more animal-like. It also creates this idea that Blacks are this, that, or another. Black children, for instance, are older in appearance, right, and therefore guilty more so than White children. So it has all these implications for, for American society that extends into the Church. The Church is not a microcosm, or the Church is not removed from the larger society. It’s a part of that society and often it reflects, and its history has reflected, sadly, the history of race relations in America. This idea of White supremacy as it flows into religious thought.
Later in the interview, in response to a comment that said he wasn’t sure what more there was to discuss after the 1978 revelation allowing Blacks to hold the priesthood in the LDS Church and instead wanted to focus on the similarities that White and Black Saints have, Smith stated: “Spoken like a true White person.” In the background of this interview, laughter ensued to this racial joke.
In the 2018 2nd edition of Newell G. Bringhurst’s Saints, Slaves, & Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, Smith wrote a postscript. There he talked about “White Theory as an analytical tool in studying LDS race relations” and says the theory
functions to explain white people as a group and decenter their unearned (and unjust) privileges and access to society’s most desirable resources and opportunities. These privileges include access to better jobs, schools, housing, neighborhood, health care services, and even places of worship. Whiteness thus operates discursively, institutionally, culturally, and within other domains of society.
…Although Bringhurst’s work was a precursor to what critical race scholars refer to as ‘whiteness,’ it helped to identify the origins of Mormon racial folklore that began with the Bible. Saints, Slaves, and Blacks carefully investigates the formation of a religious organization that used fake theology as a political and moral weapon of superiority in the pursuit to control black bodies and forestall any black advancement in the Church. Such is the story of America. Newell’s erudite review of racist white male behavior led to a paradigm shift in my understanding of Mormon history. (200)
It is obvious that Smith himself has bought into Critical Race Theory (hereafter CRT). Smith talked of typecasting. However, notice the typecasting he does with “whiteness.” In other words, this is what Whiteness is and does and most White people suffer from being this type of oppressor. Whiteness is bad by definition! How racist is that?
Can you imagine if I were to typecast by responding, “Smith has spoken like a true Black person”? It is reminiscent of President Biden claiming, "If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black." Or imagine that I claimed most Blacks suffer from social alexithymia. Or imagine I asserted “blackness” as a working theory to explain me getting robbed in a Black neighborhood. Not only would that smack of racism, it would sound very uneducated. It’s not one’s race that is the problem. It’s individuals within a race that act in certain inappropriate ways. It is a shame that Smith and many others have moved so far beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision to be judged not by the color of one’s skin, but by the contents of one’s character.
By the way, not all Black scholars buy into CRT (cf. Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe for just one such example). Note the word “theory,” since that is exactly what it is–and a racist one at that. White people are inherently oppressive and must continually repent of their whiteness. This is just another in a long line of intellectual fads.
Furthermore, the corollary that it is merely Blacks who are the inherently oppressed race should be obviously wrong. Some Blacks certainly are not oppressed. Of course, Blacks may be oppressed by individual Whites in given situations, but that is different from typecasting Blacks as the oppressed or victims and Whites as the oppressors or victimizers. Sometimes Whites are the oppressed or victims. This also should be obvious. Privileges cut both ways. Again, it depends on a given situation. In addition, sometimes Blacks are oppressed by Blacks. In fact, according to a 2013 FBI Crime Report, the overwhelming amount of the violent crime committed against Blacks in the U.S. has been done by fellow Blacks (thanks to my Black friend Paul Clarke for this information). To blame this fact on the White race is really myopic and turns individuals into subhumans who cannot but help to act in certain ways.
Following his first chapter entitled “No One is Born a Racist,” Dr. Ben Carson wrote a nice response to CRT. He said,
In his book Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington provided compelling reasons not to see oneself as a victim and to create one’s own pathway to success. I also read about [Black] explorers, inventors, entrepreneurs, doctors, and a host of other people of great accomplishment. It became apparent that color or race had much less to do with success than hard work, vision, and determination. Yes, there were some people who perhaps had a steeper mountain to climb in order to achieve success, but that simply made them stronger and more capable of scaling the next mountain. With that realization, I stopped listening to people who claimed that the system was rigged against the success of Black people. What does in fact increase chances of failure is a defeatist attitude associated with victimization. This is one of the reasons why those who try to make Blacks feel like long-term victims of a society that once included slavery are doing them no favors and most likely are doing them harm.
…Believe it or not, there are actually substantial numbers of Black people who are prejudiced against other Black people. They consider themselves superior and can be rather hateful and dismissive of other Black people. One interesting tidbit that few people know is that there were many Black slave owners in the South during the early days of slave trading. Some people don’t want to acknowledge that because it contradicts the narrative of innately oppressive white people. (Created Equal: The Painful Past, Confusing Present, and Hopeful Future of Race in America, 27 and 30-1)
Finally, Smith as a scholar should be much more careful in attributing his “whiteness” theory to the Bible. Recall he said that whiteness “helped to identify the origins of Mormon racial folklore that began with the Bible.” Undoubtedly what Smith was referring to was a certain interpretation of the Bible that took Cain, Ham, and Ham’s son Canaan as cursed with black skin and thus, as with the latter, slavery. They were supposedly the origin of the Black race. However, whiteness or White supremacy was never mentioned in the Bible and the Bible also never mentions the origins of the Black race. So yes, a particular theory of the Bible affirmed racism for quite some time, but that is quite different from saying this all originated with the Bible.
December 21, 2022