Thanks to KerBearRN for arranging for this guest post.
Being the Villain in a Racist Fairy Tale
My name is Gabriel Gomes Fidalgo. Call me Gabe. I was born three weeks overdue on January 8th, 1987 in a little French town called Haguenau in Alsace near Germany. My parents were teachers in a traditionalist Catholic private boarding school and had moved there as a young married couple to flee from persecution.
You may wonder what persecution were they running away from in the 1980s? My dad is black and my mom is white. That is self-explanatory.
I realized at a very young age that I was different. My mom told me one day I was playing with her and I put my hand on her face and, amazed, I said “But I am brown!” It was exciting! I can perfectly remember my mom combing my afro while I was staring at the cows in the field near our house. I loved cows, I still do. When people ask me why, I simply respond that it is because they are black and white just like me.
When I was almost 4 my parents moved back to their hometown, the not-so-cosmopolitan city of Marseille, in southern France. I bonded with my Italian grandparents who were opposed to my parents’ wedding and my Cape Verdese family who never really cared. I have the coolest aunts and uncles and am very thankful to my Heavenly Father to have given me such a beautiful family and such a rich family history, but that is another story.
When I was 5 my dad met the missionaries and was baptized within months; my mom was baptized a year after. I remember going to Primary one Sunday and having this kid tell me that black people were cursed. Very young but very aware of what being black is, I just asked him what he meant. The Primary teacher who overheard the conversation (and who was also his mother) came to back him up and told me that God punished Cain with a black skin and that black people’s ancestors are cursed because of sins and so on and so forth, but her husband, a former stake president, could explain it better. I remember exactly what I felt this day: Nonsense.
I told my parents and they told me that it was wrong, but they never talked to me properly about it. I found myself in that same situation many times in my childhood.
When I was 10 my dad was called as a bishop, the first ever black bishop in the stake and I believe the second in the whole of southern France. I grew up being the bishop’s son.
I grew up in an area where skin color mattered. Blacks, Arabs, Italians, Spanish, we all knew where we were from and why we were here. Our parents or grandparents had left their homeland to come and build or rebuild France. We were proud of who we were and laughed about our differences, we laughed all the time about our differences. But being an Afro-European LDS, I didn’t get to do that because I was the only one. So one day I just asked my mom, “Mom, why aren’t there so many black people in the church?” and my own mother said the most shocking thing I heard at the time: “Because, unfortunately, it is a church for white people.”
The years passed. I grew up met many black youths like me across France, but we never spoke about our situation as black LDS. I remember white kids calling us “thugs”or “bad boys” just because we were from different areas and had different clothes on. I was young, silent and observing, wondering where that racism was coming from.
It was only late in my teens that I discovered the priesthood ban. I tried to get details about it, I asked my parents. To sum up the detail I got, I shall write that I heard that I shouldn’t worry, it’s the past. Black people were cursed but it’s ok now. Abel and all his offspring have resurrected… So I decided to give up and just hold on to the small testimony of the Book of Mormon I had.
When I was 19 I was called to serve in the glorious England London South Mission, where I served under the amazing President Jeffrey C Swinton and his wife Heidi Swinton. As every returned missionary does, I’ll say that it was the best two years of my life, and so on and so forth. However, I was deeply attacked on the racism front at the beginning of my mission. Some elders were holding racist comments in front of me about our African investigators. I remember this Zone meeting where to describe Africans this Zone Leader used the term “Lazy Africans.”
I remember trying to seek answers to why black people were denied the priesthood and why is there such a racist vibe against us, but people warned me to not seek for things that would destroy my testimony and that I should just go on with the present and the future. So I read everything I could find about it, from Mormon Doctrine to Brigham Young’s talks about black people. I found books in the LDS bookstores, in missionary apartments. I read everything I could find. I never found any doctrinal point in the scriptures, nor any logical explanation in books. I just found racist statements and mere theories.
I came to the conclusion that it was man-made. I focused on my mission and on being a good example to my white friends from Utah who had never seen black people, so that perhaps their view on us would change.
Time passed. I came back home and eventually I met the girl of my dreams. She’s awesome and she’s from Switzerland. We’ve had hard times, her parents not accepting our relationship for different vague reasons and refusing to meet me or to talk to me, but one day at a church activity to which I went in Switzerland I understood why. Their looks and attitude just gave me the answers I needed. Months after her mother spat it: “You know that church leaders told us to not get married with people of other colors.”
It wasn’t a surprise for me. I knew all along that it was a problem, maybe not THE holdback but still a stumbling block.
How long will we suffer from misconception? How long will the church remain silent? How long will we act like the bad has been done but we can’t do anything about it?
Truth needs to be said. Brigham Young said what he said. As one of these mixed-race children who ought to be terminated, as he said, I want the right things to be taught today. I want everybody to know that Joseph Smith ordained black people to the priesthood, I want everybody to know that when he died the church turned its back on those faithful black priesthood holders.
I want things to change and minds to evolve. I don’t want to be identified as a less valiant spirit, a fruit of iniquity, a descendent of Ham, a garment stealer, a murderer’s offspring.
I want to be able to interact with people without prejudices involved, and if I want to marry a white girl I don’t want to have to face people who will judge me because I am different.
I believe that I was taught the same principles, the same Gospel, and I took the same bread and water every Sabbath day that any other white Latter-day Saint did. I deserve to be treated and seen as a regular Latter-day Saint. No pity, no nurturing, no feeling of superiority should be involved in any interactions with other members.
The priesthood ban was a gross error that has impacted and destroyed the life and testimony of many. Even if the Church holds a strong anti-racist position now, no apologies have been made. The lack of revelation isn’t a reason. I believe revelation is not needed when you understand that the Gospel is about perfect love and unity as ONE.
I am Gabriel Gomes Fidalgo and I know that Jesus is my Savior. I know that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the restoration. And I know that this Church is the Church of Jesus Christ.
No one will make me change my mind. I was called a hippy or a rastafari many times to say that the gospel really is about one love and one unity. I’ve grown up seeing the church as a racist paradise, where racial prejudices could be explained with a smile to a black guy, and where people could actually get away with it. Today it has to stop.