You may be irreverent, but you are no thug.

… and you already know this, but it hasn’t stopped ignorant behavior in the last two weeks on social media.

It hasn’t stopped lots of Mormons who should know better but act like they don’t and instead want myself, and other MOCs (Mormons of Color) to “just lighten up!”

Since there is no lightening up – neither here nor in the afterlife nor on the way to glory (and I don’t care what your parents told you about brown people turning white based on righteousness) – let me stand straight in this crooked room for a bit and take a break from my normal writing focus.

Here’s my open letter (of sorts) full of random commentary to all of the LDS folks flashing #thugmormon on social media in these last 2 weeks,

You’re. Not. Thugs.

Y’all. For real. How did this happen? I have so many questions! Fill me in, is this another Restoration thing? Did I miss the memo? You know we Mormons love to restore stuff and tell people the real meaning of a regularly (or not) recurring phenomena… like baptism, the Trinity, the Godhead, masonry, temples, who can give blessings, how to translate ancient writings, etc.

And now, you want to redefine thug for the rest of us? You realize that we’re the folks whose lives are marginalized  by the word “thug” in mainstream and conservative Republican media, and you want to own it as if it’s a cute accessory to wear? For how long, just until you get bored of the attention and need something else to stay on the radar?

Are you trying to be funny? Is my favorite Mormon funny man calling himself a thug?

Who’s responsible for this mess? Who thought this was a good idea?

Virtuous? Lovely? Good report? Praiseworthy?

This is what we’re seeking after? Thug Mormons?

Is this a thing? Or is it a joke, you know, like what we Mormons usually are to the mainstream world….

You realize you’re acting like a bunch of pre-pubescent teenagers who are trying to be cool with the rest of their friends, right? Mormons are always the nerdy kid on the outskirts of the religious cool kids club. We always have been. White Mormons were some of the first to be friends with the outcasts in America, until it cost you your whiteness, and then you changed tunes so that you could get statehood when Utah was still in Mexico and you’ve been distancing yourselves ever since. But now you wanna be thugs? And you want Mormons of color to be okay with it?

Explain that to me.

“And I’m a Mormon” too, y’all. But I’m not, nor will I ever be, a #thugmormon, because I know how language works and I’m not naïve or entitled enough to believe that my minority status as a Mormon of Color in the LDS Church– just like your religious minority status as a White Mormon in America – is enough to make anything equal in a land of racist rhetoric like ours.

However, what you have that I don’t and will never possess, is racial privilege which allows you to joke, not just as Mormons but as white people in America (even though  you are swelling the ranks with people of color’s conversions internationally).

Listen, I know it seemed like a great idea to “poke fun” about the radio host who called BYU a “religious school with a football team of thugs” because “Religious School/BYU? Thugs? Haha, yeah right. That’s flippin funny shiz.”

Translation:  BYU is a bunch of religious white people, and there’s no way white people can be thugs! (but you saw how the picture used in the radio host’s article didn’t include any white guys, right? You saw that. It was about the dudes who performed the haka and got into the brawl last year. Men of Color.)

Invisible White Privilege Translation:  We can’t be thugs because that’s only reserved for the non-white people on our football team! Especially when we aren’t playing football!

Idiot Translation because you have no idea how much white privilege blinds you and causes harm to others: LET’S MAKE A HASHTAG OUT OF IT AND CALL OURSELVES THUG MORMONS!! IT’LL BE AWESOME**!!!

**only for White Mormons.

And so it commenced…. All of these #thugmormon social media posts based in open rebellion of Mormon Culture.

I was waiting on the ProgMos though because the Progressive Mormons, man, they have their finger on the pulse of LDS Culture. They know when unbelievable injustice happens! They speak up! They quote black leadership as if racism towards black people is over in the Church since 1978, and MLK or Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela’s words need to be picked up, dusted off and restored to a new fight for oppressions experienced by white mormons!  They apologize for each time they co-opt people of color or forget to invite people of color again, and again, and again. But hey… maybe this time, they’ll jump on it from the beginning and not get hit with another case of afterthought-edema (a swelling of ideas after the fact).

I believed in them. I thought that they’d see this as a HUGE opportunity to highlight the Church’s inequitable treatment of its diverse membership, point out some of the bullying, right? Because that’s what thugs do in conservative media and in their webster dictionary definition – they harm things and other people.

If anybody would get it, the ProgMos would get it. They’d get what it means when brown and black people are called thugs for “destroying their own community” right? Because progressive Mormons know what it’s like to see their communities ostracized, forgotten, denied, and disparaged in the Mormon Church. They’re passionate about it!  They’d jump on all of the negative things associated with the word “thug” to point out to the Church and other Mormons that this could get ugly if we were to be honest, right? They’d say “let’s not play around with fire unless we really want something to burn.” Right?

I thought I’d see folks speaking truth to power, like, on some real radical stuff:

  • i speak up about the lack of equal gender representation in leadership #thugmormon
  • Mom sat in the circle to bless the baby #thugmormon
  • Single sister acts as an uninvited 3rd witness to a baptism #thugmormon
  • Gay LDS Couple crashes a ring ceremony with legal marriage certificate begrudingly signed by Kim Davis #thugmormon

I was hoping they’d maybe get really Godfather-esque or Scarface (some of the Original Movie Gangsters) about it and focus on the harm attributed to thug behavior:

  • Excommunicating people for asking too many questions #thugmormon
  • Witholding temple recommends for going off manual when teaching gospel doctrine #thugmormon
  • Last ones to integrate Priesthood leadership after calling the Civil Rights Movement communist #thugmormon
  • Top LDS leadership members of racist John Birch Society in the 1960’s #thugmormon
  • Dragging our feet for 34 years to change the Official Declaration 2 heading to reflect less racism #thugmormon
  • Waiting until the dead of night in December 2013 to release the Race and the Priesthood essay, then saying nothing about it ever over the pulpit to date #thugmormon
  • Releasing teachers who talk about the race and the priesthood essay #thugmormon
  • Talking about religious freedom in order to be against marriage equality and then ignoring the burning of black churches or massacre of black Christians at Bible study #thugmormon
  • Protecting our right to polygamy and our own little theocracy, #mountainmeadowsmassacre #thugmormon

But nope, nothing radical, historical, or honest of the sort…..

Instead, folks started posting about dating guidelines, prolonged virginity, refusing callings, cooking weird food, drinking coffee and caffeine, the kinds of clothes they wear, their home or visiting teaching,  watching risky television, and skipping one of the three hours of church and calling themselves #thugmormons.

Are you kidding me? It was like living in the twilight zone. How did y’all mess this up, especially you, Progressives?

Truth be told, I saw zero Mormons of Color running around talking about being “thug” anything. It’s not a costume we get to put on and take off. It’s not something we play around with. Thug has evolved from something negative into something even more negative. And my fellow non-melanite Mormons, somehow, are either the last to know, or are added to the group of many who just don’t know enough to care.

I tried to have this conversation with a few people that I thought were friends because, surely, our friendship mattered enough for them to hear me out.  It was peculiar to me that the only people seeming to enjoy this play on words were white. It worried me to see – and know – that it was funny only because it was “lilly white mormons” calling themselves thugs and nothing could be further from the truth at BYU, you would think. Those athletes that get suspended each year, nobody’s talking about them unless they are winning games, volunteering in prisons, or repenting from honor code violations.

It was like watching this big inside joke that included Mormons and yet excluded so many Mormons of Color at the very same time.

I noticed that nobody I knew that had a lot of melanin in their skin was calling themselves a #thugmormon. I think we’re too busy trying to not “fit the description” adhered to by racists that call us thugs, to willingly hashtag ourselves into this foolishness.

I was confused that whenever a protest against police brutality popped up in social media, lots of non-melanite Mormons on my timeline had plenty to say about “thugs” and it wasn’t about skipping church, leaving early, or lying about your hometeaching. It was shaming and blaming and distancing and disparaging. It was the stuff that makes me hate social media on Saturday because I have to see these same people on Sunday and share a sacrament tray while giving them a look that says, “take two pieces of bread and 3 extra waters for that crap you posted on my timeline that you “thought I could appreciate.” Well I didn’t appreciate it and you better be thankful for the Atonement otherwise I might never make it to heaven staying in the same ward with you. You know what, just eat the whole damn tray. You need it. And I need them to re-institute wine in the sacrament, or at least strike a deal with Martinelli’s. I’m gonna have to put this on my tithing slip.”

I thought I had friends who, if I said OUCH! Watch your language! – they’d pause and say – “oh my frickin heck, LaShawn! I got carried away using some really fetchin’ insensitive language. Thug is a word that will never follow me the way it follows black and brown people in the US. I wouldn’t want anyone treating my heritage as a Mormon the way I’m treating your current reality as a black person.”

But the ones I expected to be open to hearing didn’t pause. They didn’t even try to hear that I was taking a huge risk in asking them to consider their language.

“What’s the big deal, LaShawn? Thug doesn’t even mean what you think it means!”

To which, I’d reply – if it doesn’t mean what I think it means, then it doesn’t mean what you think it means either. Isn’t that fair?

Nope, white privilege says it only means what white mormons who want to make fun of a reality they will never inhabit want it to mean, which is “it’s funny to me, LaShawn, so laugh, even if it’s a justification of your death at the hands of another for you.”

I tried to say, “you know the word has evolved to being the new nword, right? You saying #thugmormon is like you
saying #nwordmormon — you get that right?” I was channeling what I teach my students about telling someone that they said something racist. 

Nope. They didn’t. They just said I was making a big deal out of nothing. I kept trying. I said Mormon is my identity too and I don’t appreciate you flaunting this idea of #thugmormon. That’s not how I want to be recognized as your sister in the gospel.

Yet, I was so obviously reminded that no, Mormon was not my identity as a woman of color. It was a borrowed white identity, and as such, they could joke about whatever they wanted. Regardless of my feelings about their jokes.

So, I did what any person who is silenced by privilege and racism does – I went and looked up the word thug. I found three different definitions – a historical, linguistic one, the version created by Tupac, and the NPR discussion as well as the Atlantic article on how thug is used today.

None of which were anything that Mormons should want to have associated with their identity, so why were they so attached and so defensive about their attachment? It doesn’t make sense to me unless you have privilege to spare. Unless you know it’s a temporary thing, a joke at someone else’s expense.

And maybe, being Mormon, there are white people who feel they need to have a joke at someone else’s expense because they have been the joke for others (is Romney going to try to run again? Sheesh.) And then to the rest of us who are also Mormon with melanin, who know better than to associate ourselves with the ignorant hashtag, we recognize the racism within which we live, not in some distant past that was alleviated in 1978, but in our present and foreseeable future at this point.

This is what makes racism a parasitic disease, as a person of color you are forced to question your reality and prove that you feel pain to people who are privileged enough to ignore when they are inflicting it. They live in a system built to protect their entitlement, yet will not hesitate to capitalize on the backs of your lived experience.

You wanna talk about definitions of a thug, then go to the icon. Tupac said it best, “when I’m saying thug, I mean, not criminal, someone that beats you over the head, I mean the underdog. The person that nothing succeeds – he’s a thug, cuz he overcame all obstacles, it doesn’t have anything to do with the dictionary’s version of thug. To me, thug is my pride. Not being someone who goes against the law, not being someone that takes, but being someone that has nothing, and that even though I have nothing, and there’s no home for me to go to, my head is up high,  my chest is out, I walk tall, I talk loud, I’m being strong.”

When that radio host blasted the men of color who are members of the BYU football team, it was not the time for White Mormons to co-opt an experience and make a joke out of it at the expense of Mormons of color. It was time for white Mormons collectively, and BYU as a whole, to defend their players by supporting their presence on the team, not making a mockery of the racism that impacts the lived experiences of their team members off the field.

I’ve always expected better of Mormons, particularly living here in Utah, USA. I expect us to get it because supposedly we already have it (the Truth, the restored Gospel, etc.) and consistently I’m disappointed in our most loud and public behaviors. Sure, I can laugh at jokes made by white Mormons about being thugs because it’s always fun to “make fun of yourselves” but that’s not what this is.  I know what I’m laughing at and I know why it’s funny on some level of shared culture just as much as it’s not funny on some nuance of not shared lived experience, so I stop laughing.

If you really want to be of one heart and one mind, you may want to consider doing the same.

LaShawn is a mental health professional in Utah, USA. She is a lifelong member of the LDS Church and sees the Gospel as an invitation to live a full and authentic life.

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