Black Mormons and the Politics of Identity

Black Mormons and the Politics of Identity

The New York Times

Susan Saulny

SALT LAKE CITY — When Marguerite Driessen, a professor here, entered Brigham Young University in the early 1980s, she was the first black person many Mormon students had ever met, and she spent a good bit of her college time debunking stereotypes about African-Americans. Then she converted to Mormonism herself, and went on to spend a good deal of her adult life correcting assumptions about Mormons.

So the matchup in this year’s presidential election comes as a watershed moment for her, symbolizing the hard-won acceptance of racial and religious minorities.

“A Mormon candidate and a black candidate? Who would have thunk!” Ms. Driessen said. “I think 30 years ago, we would not have had this choice.”

After examining the dual — and sometimes conflicting — identities, she has decided that she will cast her vote for President Obama over Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. Ms. Driessen believes that there is plenty in the Book of Mormon to support Mr. Obama’s candidacy, and she likes to cite chapter and verse, like Mosiah 29:39 and 23:13…

…While the church does not track members by race, there are thriving Mormon churches with hundreds of black members today in many urban areas, including Washington, Chicago and New York, although African-Americans represent only a tiny fraction of the six million Mormons in the United States…

…“I feel a definite sense of pride in the U.S.A. that we have a Mormon candidate and black candidate,” said Catherine Spruill, who is mixed-race like Mr. Obama and Mormon like Mr. Romney. “I feel pride for my people, because America picked that.”…

…Religion is always on her mind, however, and she particularly enjoys a certain political punch line that is making the rounds among some black Mormons here.

It goes like this: Mr. Obama calls Mr. Romney to say he thinks it is time the country had a Mormon president. But just as Mr. Romney is thanking the president for the apparent concession, Mr. Obama interrupts him to say, “My baptism is on Saturday.”

Undoubtedly, some black Mormons are still wrestling with the decision of whom to vote for.

“It’s tough because you’ve got the first black president, but he’s running against a candidate who has the values I believe in,” said Eddie Gist, 43, a black Mormon who lives in Salt Lake City. Mr. Gist said he may end up leaning more toward Mr. Romney, but added, “I really can’t go wrong either way.”…

Read the entire article here.  Watch the video of the interview with Susan Saulny and Megan Liberman here.

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