Pioneer Day, a holiday in Utah for the past 172 years, is back in full swing. This means fireworks, festivals, and the annual “Temple to Temple 5K” where participants can walk or run past BYU and admire the beauty of Provo’s multiple temples.
At this year’s SUPer DUPer Day event honoring pioneers, President Dallin H. Oaks gave the keynote address. His main message suggested that there are many modern-day applications to the way pioneers overcame their trials long ago. Through honoring and emulating them, we, too can conquer any challenge.
I’m (mostly) fine with Oaks’ main message. I do think there is much to admire and respect (or pity) when it comes to the Mormon Pioneers; I was, however, forced once again to face Oaks’ militantly white-centric, colonialist perspective which always manages to rear its head during events I’d otherwise pay no attention to.
To be clear, I don’t have anything against people honoring their ancestors, nor do I have any qualms with SUPer DUPer Day except for its laughably juvenile name. I do, however take issue with how Oaks stated that in order to trek through this divided world like our beloved, persecuted pioneers, we must stop celebrating diversity. It is, after all, in direct opposition to inclusivity.
Here are Oaks’ exact words to the Church News after claiming that the legacy of pioneers is “one of inclusion” at the SUPer DUPer Day event:
“We live in a time when inclusion is needed — in political relations, in cultural relations, in legal relations — and it’s not forthcoming in our society. As a Church and as a culture, we need to lead out in demonstrating inclusion, not dissent, diversity, diversion or opposition.”
When reading those words, I had no problem agreeing that inclusion is elusive in society. I did, however, need to take a moment for Oaks’ latter words to sink in. Had a prophet of the Lord just said that diversity stands in direct opposition to inclusion—to pioneering?
What does that mean for diverse, BIPOC members who do not have pioneer ancestry, but ask to be included and treated as religious equals anyway? Why is honoring our BIPOC ancestors something that puts us in direct opposition to the white, Mormon ancestors we’re commanded to emulate?
What role are we, diverse members to play during prophet-sanctioned events like SUPer DUPer Day if the things we cherish and fight for are the very things we must abandon in order to be obedient, pioneer-like saints?
Once again, Oaks described this “global” church as a colonialist religion where white-centric narratives, family history, and traditions are held as the standard of righteousness which BIPOC members must strive to achieve.
Why? Because the LDS Church doesn’t actually want inclusion. They want assimilation.
Take it from Sister Oaks, who said at the SUPer DUPer event, “For us, I think the best part was feeling the spirit of those in attendance and how much they loved their ancestry.”
This is what moves white members, and reminds them of the basis of their faith: other white people assembled to honor white-centric experiences, traditions, and doctrine. That’s what feels holy to them. That’s what feels like home. BIPOC members are “welcome” in that space as long as they, too, honor it without disrupting or taking away from (i.e. adding to) what white members love.
This means we are not welcome as we are. If we were to love our ancestors and replicate their journeys in our daily lives (through food, art, activism, etc.), we would be dishonoring what the pioneers fought for—a place where they and their own kind were free to be themselves.
So, instead of being allowed to love our ancestors, we’re expected to feel shame over their inability to measure up to these God-chosen pioneers. Our diversity is a threat, a stain on the unity of Zion. What white Mormons have built, we can only be expected to break by being ourselves. To be accepted, we must drink the colonialist Kool-aid that will kill our beautiful differences and makes us one of Them. We must do this thankfully, weekly, with prayers of repentance in our heart
Well, I’m done being told that my heritage isn’t worth fighting for in today’s non-inclusive society. My voice will continue to demand that diversity be seen as the gift it is. If anything, rejecting and betraying the things in my heart is the exact opposite of what a faithful pioneer would do, which just goes to show that the rules of inclusion, of righteousness, don’t apply to BIPOC members.
Instead, the white-robed masses of Zion are elevated and congratulated at the expense of BIPOC members’ mental health, sense of belonging, and the strength we inherited from our ancestors, whom we love and honor with greater respect than firework-ridden holidays or politically charged SUPer DUPer events.
The only way for us diverse folx to obediently emulate Oaks’ beloved pioneers is to be deluded and brainwashed into abandoning our sense of home for the promise of something better. Though this may sound, on the surface, like BIPOC members actually do have an opportunity to do the most pioneer thing ever (give all there is to give), there’s a big difference between sacrificing for your community and being sacrificed for someone else’s benefit—a cost no unmarginalized, white, pioneer-descendent member is expected to pay or understand.
So if assimilation (a.k.a. self-annihilation) is what it takes to be a white-washed pioneer, just watch how fast I take my shoulder off their goddamn wheel.
You can read the church news report about the SUPer DUPer Day event here.