085: Dialoguing as Women of Colour: Bryndis Roberts & Jennifer Gonzalez

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 9.33.56 PMSo often the conversation in the Mormon moment is dominated by white  men and women who are both dominant numerically in the church but have claimed a large space at the heart of contemporary LDS cultural debates.

In this episode I discuss the dilemmas facing women of colour in Mormonism with Bryndis Roberts and Jennifer Gonzalez.  Both are busy women both in the church and in their legal professions.  Bryndis is a relatively new member of the church who lives in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as  a Relief Society President.  Jennifer Gonzalez works in immigration law and has served most recently in the Young Women organization.

As three women of colour our discussion of broad, critical and captures many of the cultural nuances of Mormonism that only women of colour can truly appreciate.  This conversation is a powerful lens on a church that has privileged a particular discourse that is in desperate need of challenge.

 

Both women are active participants in the ‘Feminist Mormon Women of Color’ – FEMWOC group.  Bryndis is on the Executive Board of Ordain Women.

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6 Comments

  1. Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

    Wow where do I begin…With a thank you.

    I feel enlightened and provoked to much thought. I will write some of it here.

    I served a mission in the GAM or Georgia Atlanta Mission in 1986. It wasn’t even 10 years from “that day” that I remember so well. I’m a native of the S.F. Bay Area and so diversity is one thing I’ve been around. My education into diversity began when I spent three years in Lima, Peru. It was dangerous down there for a white family. I knew as a child we were not safe.

    That experience opened up a new understanding for me: people of color exist and they have issues that are different from mine. People of privilege exist and I am in that group. My parents were careful to make sure that we saw the poverty in Peru and it has stayed with me as I’ve journeyed through life. It was with me as I saw poverty in Georgia. I was out of the Ring area the entire time I was there and spent most of my time in Commerce.

    I hope things have changed but when I was there the prejudice was sickening to me. I’d have to deal with companions that would ask young children “do you dance” and each time I’d hear this asked I’d just want to die another death and I’d try to let the parents know that I was ashamed of being in the room at that moment. Based on that kind of behavior I’m amazed anyone of color ever was converted.

    My SIL is Latina and I am all too aware of how she has tried to teach her children about who they are. I am so thankful that she has done that and that she was willing to let me into the pain her family suffered while growing up. She was open with me in saying that letting me into that side of her life was a choice and not an easy one. For a person of non-color (WHITE) to ask is one thing but for a person of color to feel safe enough to let you in is a statement that you are allowed to journey and you’d better honor that journey. I’ve tried to do that with each person of color I’ve encountered. I find it to be a work in progress.

    Right now I reside in The Netherlands which has its own history with people of color. I look around at some of the advertising here and say to my husband “There would be race riots over these ads if this was the US.” The world hasn’t come far enough!!! And then I think back to the podcast I just heard and I have a few things to tell Buffy. Maybe even one or two to add to the conversation with the G.A.’s

    I think about an experience that I had during graduate school with my colleague, who happened to be a person of color and I (a person with a disability) anyway..we were confronted by someone in a group discussion. We were asked if we’d accept a job based on our circumstances of perceived inability to get gain employment any other way. We were both really hurt and angry. Now I might respond much different than I did then. At the time I wanted to rip her sorry head off. Jackie wasn’t so kind. Jackie got a great job in S.F. And then I think should I even have included this paragraph? I’ll leave it in as it is part of my journey and understanding and an experience that Jackie and I dealt with together.

    I then think about the situation in its entirety and I want to sit down and cry and scream and stop time like Wesley Crusher did in his last “Generation” appearance I want to set it right and make it all go better. But the traveler has him unfreeze time and they work it out. I wonder will it ever get worked out here. Is this podcast going to produce a positive outcome? Maybe when I hear that the ward in Atlanta has nice pews to sit in I’ll feel better. I might be waiting some time.

  2. Chuck

    I listened to both episodes and I will say that all three women are cock-sure that they are correct, have identified the flaws in the LDS Church, American society, et al. That said, while there are aspects of this conversation that indeed need to be addressed, I found most of the discussion to be a circular self-congratulatory fest among three woman who feel terribly wronged. I listened to both episodes while I was working around the house; I wish I had taken some notes to be precise but I did not. However, I point out a few questions/push backs/observations that need to be addressed by these women and all progressives who believe that a “fundamental transformation” of the LDS church and American society must take place. In future episodes, it would be nice to have more of a debate format which might challenge some of the premises that were espoused.

    1. White Privilege – the implication is that the so-called “white” world (first world? Anglo?) has not earrned the health, technological, economic advances and that no one but white people can access these advances
    *The contributions of the Anglo culture to the world needs to also be addressed objectively and factually which will include the
    tremendous health-tech-econ benefits that have greatly made life so much better for the third world.
    2. No country in the world has done more mitigate the wrongs of the past
    *Civil War deaths
    *22 Trillion dollars in transfer payments to the poor since LBJ’s great society
    *Affirmative action for women and minorities – Fed and state governments have programs. Approx 30% of the Federal
    workforce is black; institutions of higher education reserver slots for all of these “protected” groups. Fed contracts grant extra
    points to any subcontractor/business owned by women and minorities that are attempting to do business with the Fed gov.
    3. Racism in the U.S. exactly where is the institutional racism? I think all three women believe that unless minorities and women can be as successfull as someone that adheres to the principles of Anglo culture, then the institution or in this case, the country is racist.
    4. In 2014, the vast majority of the disparity is in a clash of cultures. The U.S. was founded on WASP principles, white anglo-saxon protestant principles. You may not like the culture and heaven knows it is not perfect. However, the discussion centered around some nebulous idea of integrating an internationalist point of view, a women of color point of view into this country with the sole purpose that it would make the lives of the women of color better. (see 5 below)
    5. I believe that the playing field is fair for women of color that are willing to adhere to the Anglo principles. I have seen no evidence where a woman of color who takes advantage of affirmative action, and applies a sound work ethic, organizational skills and committment to her profession, does not have the opportunity to be highly regarded in her profession, make a salary comparable to a man, et al.
    6. Back to culture, this is where the real rub exists. women, women of color and people from the third world have different cultures. I have spent 15 years overseas, most of it in the third world. The people tend to be quite nice, interesting and have many good qualities. they have their way of doing things and I think it is fine. In parts of asia, latin american, china, they all do it differently and most often with results that would objectivelly be considered sub par to western society. that does not make them bad nor do it make them undeserving of a better life and better opportunities. However, culture matters and is the most influential determinate in the success of a country or the people inside a country. In the U.S., while some people do fall thru the cracks, in 2014 after 50 years of federal assistance and a sincere effort to include all people, we still see racial and ethnic groups that want to retain their culture and refuse to assimilate into the U.S. culture.
    7. The discussion of the three women of color had a strong sense that men are silly, domineering and not much more than penises with two legs and two arms. I think this is a gross caricature of men….the same kind of caricature of women that they seem to take offense at. I would ask all three women several questions: In general, who does the dirty work in our country. Who is digging ditches, driving trucks, operating heavy equipment, fishing boats, etc. Who has fought to tame wild lands, died in various conflicts and wars to bring a certain peacy and stability to the U.S.? I submit that while women have played a part, this dirty work has and is still being done by men.
    8. I was particulary amused and equally bothered by Gina’s admission of her fondness for Marxism. While she is entitled to such a view, it is downright absurd in light of the equality that she seeks as a woman of color. An objective look at Marxism shows that over 100 million were slaughtered, starved to death or otherwise killed under Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al. The tech advances that make your lives so much better and give you a forum to air your thoughts and desires come from our free market system and none come from Marxism. The political freedom, freedom of speech, et al that you three women of color enjoy are absent in Marxist countries and can only be found in the free-market, western societies that you find so repugnant.
    9. Milton Friedman said it so well in an interview with Phil Donohue back in the 1990s??? when he succinctly stated how the free market has brought freedom, health, wealth and technology to more people than any other system. What a great argument Friedman made!
    10. My final observation/comment: What model do these women of color want to use to remake the U.S.? (I will assume that Gina had one too many Dr. Peppers when she made her fondness for Marxism comment 🙂 ) Exactly what cultural, political, religious foundation do you espouse? We know what works and yes, we can tweak the American system. I submit that it would be foolish to try to adopt the cultural foundations of the Russians, Cubans, Brazilians, Burmese, Ghanese, et al. That is not to say that they have nothing of valuee but none of them have the freedom of speech, freedom of choice, rule of law, organizational concepts, etc etc to create a properous country.
    11. Finally, while it may surprise the left and the Progressive movement, the resistance to the massive change you advocate is not that there is no room for change, but that the change you advocate would appear to “burn the current system down” and replace it with the chaos and lack of econ/tech progress that exists in the rest of the world. If your best argument is that it is only FAIR that we burn this system down to at least try to give everyone the same properity, then I think you are in for a long slog and a strong pushback.

    Again, the conversation between the three women of color was somewhat interesting but was rather generalized and shallow. I think the three of you can do better than that. Best of luck to all three of you.

    1. A Happy Hubby

      Bryndis, Jennifer, and Gina,

      Thanks for the very interesting discussion. If Mormonism is grow and thrive in the long run it needs to become more culturally tolerant than it is. Your discussion does have me thinking about the big question of how to fix some of what was brought up. To me much of it comes back to poverty. I happen to live in the Southern US, so I have first-hand seen some of what Bryndis and Jennifer are talking about. I do feel in my lifetime things are getting better, but slowly and only for some people. Like I said, I live in the South and in a predominantly white neighborhood. But there are several black families in the community and I have not been able to see anything that looks like prejudice towards them and the ones I know well say that within the neighborhood they agree. But how to spread that to all is a critical problem with no easy answers. That can’t mean that we don’t put great effort into doing what we can.

      Chuck – It seems to me you are being a bit harsh. They MIGHT have overstated some issues, but that is the way life seems to them. But I have to remember that if you have not walked in their shoes, your “world” might be different from their world – and both may be correct. I agree with some of their points and I also happen to agree with or partially agree with many of your points. I have to admit that I 100% agree that capitalism is the least worst system. I think there are things the US government should be doing to try and curb as much as possible (more than it is now) to help those that are not receiving the benefits to get to where they can – by making them employable. I also believe that Voter ID needs to happen, but it must be done in a way that ALL that are eligible can get the required ID even if that means spending quite a bit in areas where there are hardships to getting the ID. I see it as the only way to keep the voter fraud from happening and from some groups constantly complaining about voter fraud.

      So I don’t think Bryndis, Jennifer, and Gina gave us all the answers, but I do agree they are illuminating some issues that much of the church blind of it even being an issue.

  3. Courtney

    Thank you Gina, Bryndis, and Jennifer. I loved this conversation and am so grateful to you all. Bryndis, I listened to this at the same time as I’ve been reading Maya Angelou’s “I Know why the Caged Bird Sings” and it made so many of your points clearer to me–why race is the first identifier, why the shootings of black men by police is so significant (from your blog post), the power of the black church mothers, the unease of being patronized by a “liberal” (i.e. Mormon feminist) etc. etc.

    I also listened with this great pride for the amazing women in our church, and I felt more courage to use my voice. Thank you thank you!

  4. Marion Fust Sæternes

    The theological musings and cultural perspectives in this pod-cast are making my day. With voices like yours I can envision the sea-change and a different – better – future. Thank you! Thank you Bryndis Roberts, Jennifer Gonzalez and Gina Colvin.

  5. Corrina

    Wow, I just find Gina, Bryndis, and Jennifer to be such amazing, inspiring women. Thank you so much for this podcast. I am a white LDS woman, and I appreciate so much their perspective and wisdom. As someone who has studied anthropology and who has lived abroad, I have tried to be sensitive and aware to these topics, but my mind has been enlarged and enlightened by these women.

    I am inspired to go forward and do a better job in my community–both within and without the church. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I also appreciated how they touched on absurdity of the “mommy wars” that exists within the church; we need to reframe how we talk about motherhood as it is currently discussed–in such a privileged, exclusive way.

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