Geraldine Ferraro and the Mormons

Jeff NeedleMormon 31 Comments

No, I don’t have any profound knowledge about Mormonism and Ferraro, but the recent uproar over her comments about Obama have raised a question in my mind.

First,  a word about race, Mormonism, and America.  Like it or not, race is still an issue in almost everything we do.  We can’t seem to break free of it.

Ferraro said, in effect, that if Obama were white, he wouldn’t be where he is in the race.  Consider the possibility that: a) she’s right, and b) the Bible says that “the fool uttereth all his [or her] mind.”

The evidence that she may be right might be summed up in two words: John Edwards.  Both fine orators, both on target on most issues, Edwards with more experience.  But Obama is still in the race, and Edwards isn’t.

I don’t know if this topic can be discussed dispassionately, but I’d love to hear your comments on this issue.  We all agree that people of color are woefully under-represented among the General Authorities.  They’ve had 30 years to find competent people to fill these posts.  Nationally, could Obama be benefiting by being a mold-breaker?  Hillary is also breaking the mold, by the way.

Your thoughts on this are solicited.

Comments 31

  1. There have certainly been lots of articles written on white guilt, so there may be something to that. On the other hand, John Edwards’ political views are quite different from Obama’s. Obama is pretty moderate, while Edwards is slightly to the right of Karl Marx.

    Frankly, it’s about time we had a woman or person of color in the big job!

  2. I have to confess that I like Obama better than Edwards — by quite a bit actually… yet I’m not sure I could tell you why.

  3. Ferraro was absolutely right. And everyone knows it, but no one is allowed to say it.

    Many people (myself included) are interested in Obama, in part, because he is African American and would be the first African American president (see post #1). That doesn’t make him less qualified for the job, but it is definitely a factor in many people’s minds.

    Obama has many other strong attributes that make him appealing, but race is definitely among them.

    Along a similar vein, I’d love to have an African American or Hispanic Apostle. I would be more excited about that than a caucasion Apostle. Is a non-caucasion more qualified? No. But I like the idea.

  4. I find it interesting that Obama and Clinton and every other politician denounce such remarks, but then when you hear people interviewed, they’ll often list the great qualities of their candidate, and then add:

    “And besides, I think it’s time this nation have a (women/black) president.”

    I’ve heard this a number of times, even from campaign surregates. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that someones race or gender is a valid reason to support a candidate, and then act offended when someone says their race or gender is helping them win.

    And you can’t deny the fact that in many states there was a huge gap between the white vote and black vote. How do you explain that, if race is not a factor?

    Let me be clear that I don’t know for sure if Obama would or would not be in the race if he was white, but it’s quite hard to argue that race has not had at least some influence.

  5. I read a post recently where most of the things we get from Salt Lake are meant to keep the church out of legal trouble so that we can continue to see the work move forward.

    I suppose it is VERY difficult for anyone to “sue” to have someone place into a very high position in something like the church.

    I also am convinced that there are still many racial bigots amoung our older population, and in particular someone as isolated as Utah is.

    Just my thoughts.

  6. Interesting thought here: Is ANYONE really qualified for the position of apostle?

    I would argue that the answer is emphatically no. If you take what the calling really is–to be a personal representative of Jesus Christ on the earth and to represent the Savior in every word and action, to be a living testimony that there is a God, then no one can possibly be qualified, even if that person has seen God in the Flesh, which is just about the only argument a person could make that would say someone is ‘qualified’ for Apostleship in any meaningful sense.

    That said, I don’t know, and doubt I ever will know, if any reasonable portion of the LDS apostles even claim theophany.

    I would argue that in addition to theophany there are other qualifications that might be desirable in leading a large organization, but that’s the Industrial/Organizational Psychologist training speaking.

    I think a similar claim could be made about leadership of any large country–I don’t think anyone is truly qualified. In fact, I would argue that unlike the Apostleship or leadership of the LDS church, there is no clear defining experience that would make a person easily distinguishable as extremely qualified to be president. Thus, I place Barack Obama as ‘somewhat less unqualified’ than Hillary or McCain. I speak as a reforming Republican. In light of another conversation here, can I call my self an AntiDemocrat Republican? I’m not a Democrat–I don’t believe in mob rule. I believe in a representative government (that’s what the party names refer to, and that’s how they originated, and they still are relevant in that context!). I’m also somewhat opposed to many of their social policies, but I’m also very sympathetic to a lot of their other social policies, while maintaining a very strong controlled free market bias, with low taxes and open trade being key success drivers in my mind.

    Well, I’m starting to rant. My point was originally that no one is really qualified for any of the positions in most cases, so why not have a black president, apostle, or other church leader? Why not vote for Barack Obama? He certainly can’t make a bigger mess of things than the last two presidents have for these past 16 years (yes, I’m firmly convinced that a lot of the current mess is a result of Bill Clinton’s policy and ineptitude).

  7. If only Jessie Jackson or Shirley Chisholm or Al Sharpton had been lucky enough to be black. Oh, wait a minute, I guess it’s a little more complicated than that.

  8. #6: To argue that Obama would not have been successful if he was white is not the same as saying that any black person would be successful at a presidential candidacy. Of course it it more complicated than black and white, but that doesn’t mean that race isn’t a part of the equation, and possibly could be a deciding factor.

    Again, I’m not saying I’m sure Ferraro is right, necessarily, but I’m not sure she was wrong either.

  9. John Edwards was not a white Barack Obama. Edwards’s rhetoric failed to energize voters because coming out of Edwards’s mouth this cycle the words didn’t seem genuine. Although his opponents have tried to pin the hollow rhetoric label on Obama, it hasn’t stuck because he communicates a genuineness that voters pick up on. That quality doesn’t have anything to do with Obama’s color.

    Edwards was a noboody. He’s a trial lawyer from a southern state who had a partial term in the US Senate when he decided to run for V.P. in 2004. The Democrats gave him the V.P. slot that he’d been seeking and he and his running mate lost. End of story. Camping out in Iowa for 4 years doesn’t add to your qualifications and it didn’t convince the Iowans, who are smarter than that. Unlike Obama’s upward experience trajectory, Edwards has been on a downward trajectory since Nov. 2004. It was hubris for Edwards to run this year; just like when Dan Quayle ran in 2000.

  10. Maybe the nation is saying that we want a person of color to represent us. We want to show that we as a nation have come that far in overcoming prejudice. The lack of African-Americans in church leadership seems to say that the nation has come farther than the church.

  11. I can’t for the life of me see Edwards as charismatic as Obama. And Obama’s appeal is his charisma only.

    I just heard Ferraro’s comment on Fox and, for me at least, they are what I would classify as racist, not maliciously racist, but a racist comment in essence.

    On the general authorities, yep blacks are underrepresented amongst the GA.
    Seems the apostles don’t see them as capable yet? or maybe Jesus himself doesn’t like them (how racist is this comment now!!)

  12. Carlos, to me, racism is when someone believes that someone’s race makes them inferior, independent of other qualities. How does Ferraro’s comment fit that? Stating that someone’s race may be causing people to vote for him who otherwise wouldn’t isn’t racism, by that definition, whether she is right or wrong. Or do you take issue with my definition? Did Ferraro say something else besides that which would qualify as racism? I admit that I didn’t hear it from her mouth.

    As far as GAs go, does anyone have any numbers of what percentage of the LDS members are black, so we can get an idea of just how underrepresented they are? I’m not arguing that they aren’t, I’m just curious to what degree they are. It would be interesting to see the numbers of blacks at various levels of church leadership to see where blacks stop being represented (are they unrepreresented as bishops or just as GAs?), but those numbers are probably hard to come by. If they are underepresented at lower levels, then the question isn’t why they aren’t being called as GAs, but why they aren’t being called to local leadership, since the GAs are picked from a pool of local leaders, in general.

    By the way, what about hispanics in this picture? They are clearly underrepresented as well, right? But that can probably be explained, at least in part, by the fact that on average, hispanic members are much newer converts than caucasian members, and therefore it will take some time for them to see that changing demographic of the LDS church reflected in the leadership.

  13. If we only look at members of the LDS church that have been members for at least 20-30 years, are blacks and hispanics still underrepresented? Not that it’s a rule that it has to take that long (I’m sure someone will point out an exception), but generally it takes that long to rise up through the local leadership callings and gain the broad church experience usually required of a GA.

  14. Someone needs to let God know that He’s got to be more affirmative actionish when he inspires callings so we can ameliorate our white guilt;)

    I would love to have a woman or black president for one big fat reason, it would end the politics of sexism and racism on both sides. If America can elect a black president, than its proof that it’s no longer collectively racist. Puts all of the race-baiters out of a job frankly. But I’m not willing to go this way unless that president is more libertarian and Constitutionalist, which Hillary and Obama both fail on. Wait! So does John McCain. Crap!

    We need to look at the new form of discrimination going on today–generational.

  15. I can’t for the life of me see Edwards as charismatic as Obama. And Obama’s appeal is his charisma only.

    I just heard Ferraro’s comment on Fox…

    If you’re getting your news from Faux News, it’s not surprising that you think so little of Obama.

    Ms. Ferraro said, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

    I thought that Ms. Ferraro’s choice of words was unfortunate. The way she worded things certainly gave the impression of some underlying racism (unintentional, imo), and possibly some underlying sexism (weird, coming from a woman). Would she have been better off saying that his ideas are pedestrian and unoriginal, and he is benefiting from the country-wide romantic notion of possibly electing our first black president?

    With regards to the church, I think that there is currently a bias (for lack of a better word) against an apostle who converted to the church as an adult. When it comes to leadership of the church, it seems that the desire is to have leaders who have a long relationship with the church, and who are relatively young when called to the Qof12. The black population was very small in 1978, and growth in black members has really only taken place since then. So, if we are to have a black apostle who is second generation, or converted as a child (like Brother Uchtdorf), all the possible current candidates are likely to be in their late 30’s/early 40’s, and still gaining experience as bishops and stake presidents (and probably area authorities or new members of the Seventy, I just don’t know how many there are).

  16. ” We all agree that people of color are woefully under-represented among the General Authorities. They’ve had 30 years to find competent people to fill these posts. ”

    Are you suggesting that we need to put people in offices because of the color of their skin?? That, IMHO, is what is completely wrong with society. We need to quit catering to any race and just asimilate as the human race. Until we quit find excuses because of color or area of the world, we will never get past racism.
    We need to put people in office that can do the job not because of what they look like!!

  17. The faith required to join a church that did not allow you full membership (the priesthood) seems like as good a qualification for working for the Lord as being raised by a Mormon mom. Certainly having someone look like you gives you a role-model. There are thousands of faithful minorities in the church with few role-models. Why is that? What are we saying to them? Maybe your kids will be good enough, but you aren’t?

  18. I’m distraught over the comments made here. I completely agree with Patrick (#18), in that, if we put people in offices, whether church or state, because of the color of their skin or sex, or whatever, then we are wrong. Obama isn’t a good/bad candidate for president because he is black just like hilary isn’t a good/bad candidate because she is a woman just like Edwards isn’t a good/bad candidate because he is white. I think the impetus is even more for any church that people aren’t put into offices to be “role models” for certain children or to represent a certain population. What are you teaching children by telling them that their role models should be the same skin color or sex as them. If you want to create a world without -isms the only way is to demonstrate to everyone how to accept everyone. You can’t just teach a white child to accept a black child, but tell the black child not to accept a white child. If you do that you will just end up going in circles never making any progress.

  19. In subtle and not so subtle ways, minorities—especially Black children (sometimes by their own African-American culture and counterparts)—are told that they are not as smart, calm, or as capable as their white counterparts. They are told that they are athletic and angry and will be pregnant or sexually active in their teens. True they can look to a white role model, but a white role model does not address the fact that a Black teen does not have to play sports or be angry. How can a white role model help a Black teen ignore the stereotyping placed on Black teens?

  20. “I also am convinced that there are still many racial bigots amoung our older population, and in particular someone as isolated as Utah is. ”

    No doubt about that. I was talking with my elderly neighbor, and TBM, about evolution. He said that the idea was foolish and cannot see how we could be genetically related to the apes. He followed that by saying ” I can see how the blacks are though.”

    I have not been able to remove the stiches from my tounge yet.

  21. Allie (#20). So there are two steps to solving your problem. One being to teach the children that they are not inferior to white children (or any other child for that matter) and need not succumb to the stereotypes of what is considered the norm for them. This would be considered thinking outside of the norms that society created for them. The second is to then teach them further that the only difference between them and anyone else is skin color and the skin color does not attribute to intelligence, personality, or athletic skill. But again that would accomplish nothing if you taught children that their role models are people of their same skin. In the end you are perpetuating what you are fighting to overcome. You should teach children to find role models regardless of race or gender. How can you teach your child to accept another culture by telling them the only ones they can look up to are ones of their culture? You are saying that a white role model can’t address the issues faced by black people. I as a white person may not understand what it means to be black but that does not mean that I can’t encourage a child of another race to become whatever they desire to achieve. I can see that certain races are boxed into certain norms accepted by society, but what you are saying is that because I am not a certain color I can’t help them unlss they share my lack of pigmentation. That makes no sense to me.

  22. Jeremy I know things don’t make sense to you because you try not to be prejudice and love everyone. But you see things differenty.

    That we need role models that resemble ourselves doesn’t make any sense to you because you have plenty of role models that are like yourself. You don’t go to church where you are the only Black person in the room. The older woman doesn’t refuse to take the sacrament from you, but insists that a white boy bring it to her. Your Sunday school teacher didn’t tell the class that most of the violence in the world was caused by people who were cursed with black skin. The teacher didn’t tell you that you earned this curse not only from what your ancestors did, but from what you personally did in heaven. When the teacher indicates that worthy, righteous black people’s skin will get lighter, the kids didn’t look to see if you’re as dark as your elementary school pictures.

    Teaching children that they are the same as their pigment lacking friends is very difficult in a world where so many signals are given to the contrary. Teaching children to love themselves so would be so much easier if their were more signals i.e. roll models that showed equality.

  23. The statement made by Ms. Ferraro doesn’t make any sense. If Barack Obama had not been born in Kansas to a white mother and a black father, he would be a different person than he is now. If his father had not left when he was 2, he would be a different person than he is now. If he hadn’t spent some of his youth abroad, he would be a different person than he is now. If he hadn’t been raised for a time by his grandparents, he would be different than he is now. Those are a just a few reasons he is the charismatic, authentic voice that he is. As mentioned by John Hamer earlier, there is a reason people continue to respond to his candidacy. That authenticity comes from the many different formative experiences he’s had. If he were born under different circumstances (whether that be racial, gender, economic, geographic) he would not be the person he is today, and therefore would not be the same candidate.

    That being said, if a white male candidate were as well-spoken, intelligent, interested in people, in touch with the current issues, and adaptive to the electoral process as Mr. Obama, I don’t see how he would not be in the mix of things as well.

    Something like race or gender doesn’t get you this far in such a hotly contested historical primary.

  24. Here is what Ferarro said

    “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

    I suppose you can make an argument that the statement is not racist. But it’s hard to argue that it’s not incredibly condescending. Obama is a whole lot more than a lucky black man. He is an extraordinary person for a host of reasons. Ferraro’s problem is that she has tried to dismiss him based on the color of his skin. I don’t like that type of thinking and I am glad to she got punished in the media for her arrogance.

    Ok — now on to Mormonism

    Jeff says

    We all agree that people of color are woefully under-represented among the General Authorities. They’ve had 30 years to find competent people to fill these posts.

    Hmmmm – it seems to me that the Church engages in social change about 30 years after broader society does. If Barak gets elected, and in doing so he changes the social dynamics of leadership the country, and the result is that African Americans gain numerous positions of leadership at the top of diverse organizations, then I could see the Church following suit. But not until about 2038.

  25. #21 ‘He followed that by saying ” I can see how the blacks are though.” ‘

    Goodness. I laughed, but really why do they believe that?

    #13 Mike L
    This comment about been related to apes is a good example of a malicious racial comment. My addition about them not been capable (#12) and Jesus not liking blacks is another example of a malicious racial comment. So are the comments made by Obama’s pastor.

    But racism is much more than the old dictionary definition of superiority. For me and many others in today’s society, it includes what is described in #20 where statistics are used in subtle and non-violent ways to show children of a particular race that members of their race are more likely to be athletic –and then call it just biology. It includes the cultural racism which says ‘they have a different way of speaking and different vocabulary’ and many more subtle and distinctly non-violent non-superiority opinions.

    If we weren’t racists then we wouldn’t even mention the differences in skin colour when addressing social issues. But everyone still does.

    Last Tuesday I had our weekly stake presidency meeting where the stake president said that he had been told by the area presidency to make sure that all wards are represented in the high council especially the Tongan and Samoan wards. Is that calling people by revelation and faith to find the best candidate or some kind of neo-racial profiling for church callings? You decide!

  26. In an earlier comment I asked for some hard numbers to back up the assertion that blacks are under-represented as general authorities, and to what degree. My request has been ignored, and instead it seams people would rather just use the opportunity to voice their own grievances about how general authorities are chosen.

    So I went looking for some facts, and anything reliable is pretty hard to find, but I did come across this website listing the number of black Mormons at 200,000. It doesn’t cite sources so if someone knows a more accurate numbers, please do tell. The church claims 13,000,000 members, so by my calculation blacks make up about 1.5% of members of the church. Now, that’s tragic, I think, and mostly a result of the policy of the church up until 1978 I think. But that’s a separate topic.

    What would have been the percentage as of 20-30 years ago, when we would expect most general authorities today to have been baptized? Probably well below 1% I would think. What’s the percentage of black general authorities? I haven’t found a good way to count that yet, but even if there are only a few of them, that’s still close to 1%. Again, if anyone has better numbers, I’d welcome it.

    So is it any wonder why there are so few black general authorities? There are very few black members, and if we assume God is race blind, as he says he is, then why should there be more black general authorities than there are members, as a percentage?

    I think a more useful conversation would be why we have so few black members, and what we can do about it. Too bad that would be a thread-jack.

  27. I agree that her remarks were condescending (“He is lucky to be who he is.” Really? He’s lucky that his dad died when he was 2?). And I don’t understand her point about women. But I still don’t see how her comment could be considered racist. Maybe the first sign that I’m racist is that I don’t see how someone else’s comments are racist when apparently everyone else does.

    So to those who consider it racist, I have this question: Would it be racist if it were true? Clearly you don’t think it is true, or you would think it was racist, right?

    Now let me be clear that I don’t know if it’s true, but there is certainly some indications that it might be. According to this news story:

    “Exit polls indicate that Mr Obama won Tuesday’s Mississippi primary with the support of 90% of black voters, who made up half the electorate, but only 30% of white voters.”

    Now, this is just one state, I admit. But there are others that show similar race gaps, and it a tight race like this one these sorts of things could make the difference.

    So how do we explain these numbers? There are only three alternatives: (1) 60% of white voters are racist and would have voted for him if he were white, thus bringing the total vote for him up to 90% (2) 60% of black voters wouldn’t have voted for him if he were white, thus bringing to total vote for him down to 30%, or (3) some combination of the (1) and (2).

    Of course it is a combination, but let’s not jump to the conclusion that they would just cancel each other out. It my opinion, it seams highly unlikely that he would have received 90% of the vote if he were white, and a little more likely that it would have been closer to 30%. Therefore, it’s clear to me that him being black helped him in Mississippi. Did it help him there and in other places enough that he would not be the front-runner if he were white? I don’t know, but it’s certainly plausible. And if something is plausibly true, that seams to rule out the possibility of it being racist, doesn’t it? Condesending? Yes. Ill-advised? Yes. True? Maybe. Racist? No.

  28. Mike L,

    We all agree that Ferraro’s remarks where condescending, but she did so within the racial framework, that is her comments where boxed in by her definitions on race and the advantages of playing the race card.

    But Obama, as far as I can see, hasn’t played a race card only the Clintons did and after that some 90 odd percente of people who say they are black turned towards Obama. So it isn’t true or false but a case of p…off a part of the electorate just like Huckabee did with mormons. I may be wrong here because I’m a far away observer and I stand to be corrected if needed. But this is what I see.

    About the GA’s, the only black GA that I can remember was Helvecio Martin from Brazil who had been a member for many years before the ban was lifted. But today Africa is very large in terms of new converts and there have been several black area authorities shown on ldschurchnews, who are general authorities within their set boundaries, so I suspect that the correct percentage is much more than the 1.5% estimated. Again I’m only guessing with this because I don’t have any figures available.

  29. I guess I was including area authorities, and from what I can see there are no blacks in the 1st or 2nd quorum on the seventies right now. So technically, yes, they are underrepresented there. If they are to be represented proportionally, there should be a grand total of… 1. (Apparently the quorums of the 70 are not full, by the way, something I didn’t know before–wikipedia says the total number of general authorities currently is 94.)

    So seriously, all this angst over 1 person? If the church called one black GA, you’d all be satisfied? I think my point still stands that the problem is not a lack of black general authorities, it’s the lack of black members.

  30. I think we can all take notice that being ‘a person with colour’ is not an advantage in the American political system. I speak from my own experience serving in the West Virginia Charleston Mission. Racism was a tremendous problem if ever we could teach a person who wasn’t white. The historical institutional racism aside, there remains entrenched in cultural groups that happen to be Mormon a distinct distaste for those people who aren’t white. I honestly can’t believe that Obama won Virginia by the margin he did in counties like Montgomery and Floyd – where there is little to none of the vote. This is redneck country where one would regularly tract into clansmen or others with similar views.

    I would suggest that Obama is lucky because he inspires hope and vision of politics done in a different / less partisan manner. The text of his speech doesn’t paint the picture of what he will do like Edwards, or tear down others (like Clinton), but it is that inspiration that motivates. Inspiration isn’t based on race or percentage of population or any other demographic break down it is a function of 1. passion, 2. quality of character and 3. reaching out to people.

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