Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Todo Monologues: Part 2

There is one word in Villanueva's Bootstraps that mentions Mormons. Literally just the word "Mormon." The context is that Mormons and American Jews operate in a middle ground called "autonomous minority groups"--distinct but mainstream. Not on the road to assimilation like immigrants, not in a caste they can't escape like minorities. I read it, wrote, "hey, that's me!" in the margins and figured that was it.

Then in class, the one reference to autonmous groups comes up. "But they aren't discriminated against," said K. "Yes they are," I said. "Maybe Jews," she said, "but not Mormons." "Yes we are," I said. Luckily things moved on before it got too awkward (I'm not even sure that counted as "outing" as a Mormon), but I couldn't help thinking about it.

Aside from Joseph Smith's martyrdom and the expulsion of Mormons from Illinois, there are people who are getting their houses egged over Prop 8, people being passed over for promotion, people who have to walk through a gauntlet of protesters just to worship freely, and even just that awkward air whenever it comes out that I'm a Mormon. We have been and are discriminated against. I don't push the issue, but I am irritated. Not mad, just irritated, like a blister in a shoe. This is example of the ethnic ignorance that Bootstraps is supposed to highlight, but it's not the time to pursue it. I understand a little, though, about how young Victor feels when he hears his heroes describe the "sneaky puertoricans" trying to run scams--uncomfortable, but unwilling to "out" that I feel uncomfortable. I haven't had many situations where I felt this way, which does show how Mormons are in a different category of minority, and I can't imagine how Villanueva and other "passing minorities" feel when these kinds of "present-company excluded" moments come hard and fast. Empathy. That's what I'm hoping to learn from this, even though I'm distracted for the rest of class and my heels snap unusually loudly when I climb down the stairs afterwords. I shouldn't be offended, and it's a new feeling for me.

Besides, Mormons don't usually play this game; it's not a competition of "the most oppressed minority wins." Obviously, we (and American Jews) have to good fortune of enjoying our distinctiveness (what I did on Sunday, ordering a coke during happy hour) without being completely unable to operate in the mainstream--no one has to know what I do Sundays, or why I prefer a soda. The Church doesn't play this game; they don't file slander lawsuits and they don't organize class actions. When do we get to fight back? Not today. Heck, I won't even explain my offense openly, even if it could be educational. Mostly, though, I think I don't defend my experience because it's not about me. It's not about Mormons. It's not even about the "autonomous minorities" off-handedly mentioned; it's about Villanueva's experience.

Some day I'll get my own say. It will probably be similar to Villanueva's--admitting my discomfort, trying to position myself in classes full of the "other" who think I'm the "other," marginalized in some sense. It will probably be just a little whiny, but maybe entertaining. Maybe even enlightening. I'll be sensitive to the majority, trying not to implicate anyone directly.

But even if the Church doesn't fight back as an entity, I want to leave people fair warning: discriminate against me, really discriminate in a legally significant way and I will destroy you to the best of my capacity. We don't deserve to be treated by academia as we are, which is similar to the way Villanueva describes. Autonomous minority or not, you don't treat people that way. We cheek-turn, but it only makes both sides (more conservative and more liberal) more cheeky. I wish I could be an activist.

But, really, this probably won't happen; it's not our way. Ours is a fleeting and apologetic offense to take.


Day said...

This post has really gotten me puzzling over the distinction between being discriminated against for something you can't help, and standing up to be counted for your beliefs.

For some people, Mormonism is a choice. On the other hand, to a certain extent, you believe what you believe, regardless of what you would prefer. There's also no question that some of the acts you've described are simply harassment, and should not be tolerated-- employment discrimination being the obvious extreme.

But that uncomfortable silence when you announce that you're Mormon, I find myself needing to defend. In certain circles, at least, that silence comes in response to the church's hard earned reputation for widespread discrimination on it's own part. What you have described that Mormons face is a pale shadow of what gay people (even gay people who are trying very hard to be good church members) and blacks have faced from within the church, or from the church members that surrounded them.

To the extent that you have chosen to be a part of this, it is reasonable for them to dislike you for it, and to stand against you and what you have chosen in the public sphere.

Day said...

(preferably, to stand against you in the public sphere by way of mature conversation.)