Tuesday, December 6, 2011

26 Undocumented Teens

In honor of Human Rights Day (celebrating the UN's adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the first floor of the Salt Lake City and County Building will exhibit a special photographic collection by Lynn Hoffman-Brouse (photographer) and Annie Brewer (social worker). I like to think of it as a small qualitative sociological study. The exhibit is entitled, DREAMers and contains photos and hand-written auto-biographical notes of 26 undocumented immigrant kids who would have benefited by the federal DREAM Act, a bill which did not pass (again) last year. Here's what the SLC Mayor's Office of Diversity and Human Rights says about DREAMers:
The photo exhibit brings awareness through portraits and stories of the unique plight of nearly 30 young, intelligent, hard-working students who came to this country as children, were raised as Americans, but have no legal status that allows them to work, vote or apply for student aid. The intent of the exhibit is to help eliminate the negative stereotypes and misconceptions that are associated with undocumented immigrants.
An opening reception will be hosted by the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission and the Mayor’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights on December 10, 2011 at 6 p.m. at the City & County Building. Please RSVP to odhr@slcgov.com 
 The exhibit will be up December 1-31, 2011. The address of the Salt Lake City and County building is 451 S. State Street. But if you can't make it to see the exhibit in person, the online version of the photos and text may be found on the photographer's website.

Image and text of one of the 26 undocumented teens in the DREAMers exhibit








The DREAM Act (The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) is a federal bill that has appeared in many different forms. It originated in the U.S. Senate in 2001. It was debated in Washington in 2001, 2007, 2009, 2010, and again last year (2011). It proposed a pathway to permanent residency (green cards!) and eventual citizenship for undocumented youth who:
  • Came to the U.S. before age 16.
  • Have resided in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years.
  • Are between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of the bill’s enactment.
  • Have graduated from an American high school or received a GED.
  • Submit to a background check.
  • Have committed no felonies, and no more than 2 misdemeanors.
  • Are of “good moral character.”
Immigrants who meet these standards would be given conditional status for six years, during which time, they would be required to complete at least two years of college education or military service in order to then qualify for permanent residency.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mormon Ladies Discuss the Utah Undie Run and Gay Rights

Nov. 5, 2011. It was a tea party.

It was not the Tea Party, but a tea party.  We were 6 Mormon ladies sitting around a table in a living room in Orem, Utah. Mormons follow a code of health that allows for herbal tea, although not regular tea, but our host served hot cocoa instead. She told us she was holding the event because she had attended a quilting club meeting about the courses and customs that go into a traditional English tea. The hostess, and three guests (including myself) were of British heritage--the other two were Brazilian.

Our discussion of culture led naturally to a recent eye-widening cultural phenomenon. I paraphrase our host: "It was on our way to the General Relief Society meeting. There we were, a bunch of church ladies, just a few blocks away from the (LDS) Conference Center, we looked out the window and saw a huge group of men--they were practically naked!" She laughed as she told the story. What they had seen was the Utah Undie Run (Sept. 24-25.) According to the event website, the official purpose was to "protest against Utah being so uptight."

The Undie Run

2,270 runners participated, says the Salt Lake Tribune. The protest planners asked participants to

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Immigration Law and Workplace Anti-Discrimination Law have a relationship status: "It's Complicated."


David Littlefield is an adjunct law professor for
the University of Utah. He has specialized in
Immigration Law for over 30 years.
"I'm gonna talk about everything you ever wanted to know about immigration law in the workplace--then, I'm gonna tell you some things you didn't want to know." That was David Littlefield's opening statement. The event was the Salt Lake City Mayor's Anti-discrimination Seminar, September 27, 2011 at the State Bar Association building. Dave, a white gentleman with an impressive beard, was comfortable behind the podium, as if he'd given this presentation many times before. 

the audience, all 32 of us

I surmised that the group was mostly made up of lawyers--many said they were legal advisers for small businesses or locally headquartered corporations. The lady behind the meeting registration desk had asked me if I was

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NAACP Conference: What everyone needs to know about employment rights

I attended the Saturday morning and afternoon portions of the three-day NAACP Tri-State Conference here in Salt Lake City at the Little America Hotel on September 24th, 2011. The group of conference attendees was much smaller than I anticipated. Although KSL advertised the conference as open to anyone, I gathered that most of the people there were those in leadership positions representing their NAACP branches.

Image taken from the web page advertising the NAACP Tri-State
Conference.
Some details.

The workshops were conducted in a room I estimated to be about 30x40 feet. Attendees came and went throughout the day, but there were usually about 35 people seated in the conference room at once. I observed that there was an equal number of men and women. Attendees and presenters varied in age, anywhere from 20 to 80 years old. Although the NAACP is historically an African American civil rights organization, they are interested in a wide variety of civil rights causes, and

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Does making racist jokes mean you're racist?

Salt Lake Community College Writing Center's group-think writing
project, Utah Freedom Writers, had advertisements invoking the
1960's civil rights era with a "Get on the bus!" slogan.
(I've reproduced below a modified version of the paper I submitted to the SLCC  Community Writing Center's 2011 Utah Freedom Writers project. The other submissions on the writing center publications page are written in varying styles and by authors of all ages. Take some time to check out what Utahans are saying.)

Does making racist jokes mean you're racist?
(
This is my take on what journalists are calling the "Marilyn Davenport email scandal." I previously titled this paper, "Removing the Screen: Turning Civil Rights Debate into Dialogue") 

First, let's get on the same page about

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Study Culture?

Sameer and I both lived in apartments south of the university. We used to walk home together from the library.

"In my country," He loved to talk about Nepal, ". . . in my country, we never, never drop our parents to the old folk's home. They live in your house, you will treat them with respect. And when your father tells you what your career you will have, that is your career. That's how we do it. Family unity is more, more important than any desire of an egomaniac child."

And then it would be my turn. "In my country. . ." I'd try to explain how the American theme of Independence affects the way we live family life--but I couldn't do it without the sense of guilt for our inconsiderate and self-serving ways. I was enchanted by Sameer as he continued to offer me opportunities to question life as I knew it.

(image source)
I began to realize that what I had always thought to be human nature, wasn't. Culture is more than

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Numbers: Racial Diversity at the Utah State Fair (2011)

Markus T. Boddie
(image source)
The 2010 Utah State Fair advertisement campaign, featuring a soulful character in retro clothing singing sensual songs while stroking a pig, or eating funnel cake, shouldn't have come as a surprise--Jared Hess's directed works always carry a tone of charming irony. But the commercials never made it to the screen. The Fair Board decided they would use the audio from the ads for radio advertising, but argued that the video ads were too sensual and reached the wrong "demographic." Hess concluded that the board pulled the ads because the performer, Markus T. Boddie, is African American. Oddly, the radio spots (same content and lyrics) would have been sexier than the T.V. commercial ads, because in video form, the sultry lyrics are sung to an animal, or a deep-fried pastry, making the whole thing silly, rather than really sensual. Here's the statement Boddie made to KSL on the matter,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

American journalism, and the slanted tale of violence in Palestine

This is the third installment in The Culturalist's 2011 Series on Islam.

My recent interest in local Muslim perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have led me to an fascinating organization: If Americans Knew founded by California journalist, Alison Weir. Weir started the organization when, following a trip to Palestine, she realized that the mainstream media (ABC, NBC, CBS, NY Times, NPR, et. al.) were offering an

Friday, September 9, 2011

One Muslim's Perspective: What Utahns don't know about Palestine

This is the third installment in The Culturalist's 2011 Series on Islam. 

Ever have one of those days when your own ignorance hits you in the face? That was me a few weeks ago. I realized that all the information ever presented to me on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been markedly myopic. Why is it that I'd  never heard the Palestinian side of the story, not once?

Rose Shultz
I finally found an excellent primary source who let me interview her this week. Rose Shultz is a Utahn, and a convert to Islam. She worked for Salt Lake City Police Department for 16 years, and recognized after 9/11/2001 that the police here were profiling Arabs. This led to her great quest for knowledge, which has included three University of Utah Bachelor's degrees (Political Science, International Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies), and several trips to Palestine. She is currently working on a doctoral dissertation.

Before answering my interview questions, Rose gave

Friday, September 2, 2011

One Muslim's Perspective: Utah and Religious Discrimination

This is the second installment in The Culturalist's 2011 Series on Islam.

What is it like to be part of the Muslim minority in Utah? This kind of question is best answered not with a generalized summary, but by hearing the perspective of one individual at a time.

Maysa Kergaye, the woman who spoke at the Islam presentation I attended at the Salt Lake City Library last month, agreed to answer a few personal questions through facebook a few days after the presentation. I asked her to speak as an individual, so please note that she is not speaking for all Muslims.

Q: Do you ever experience discrimination here in Utah because of your religion?
A: I think everyone experiences

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How much do you really know about Islam?

Khadeeja Mosque (West Valley City, Utah)
This is the first installment in The Culturalist's 2011 Series on Islam.
 
Pop Quiz!

1. True or False? In the Qur'an, all women of the faith are commanded to wear face covering, but many women who practice Islam in the United States choose not to do so, because it is unpopular. 
 
2. True or False? The teachings of Islam include the belief in the second coming of Jesus.

3. True or False? Muhammad, whom Muslims revere as the last prophet, performed many miracles, including healing the sick.

4. True or False? There is a global consensus among the believers of Islam that any war Muslims fight against non-Muslims may be considered a "Jihad," or Holy War.  

5. True or False? The Arabic version of the Qur'an is entirely in rhyme. 

6. True or False? In 2009, there were an estimated 25 hundred Muslims living in Utah.
    Answers Below:

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    The Mestizo Institute. Does art change the world?

    Where is it?
    MICA gallery webpage

    Months ago (Spring 2011), I found myself driving back and forth looking for an address on the block at North Temple and 600 West in Salt Lake City. I thought what I was looking for (the Mestizo Institute of Culture and Art) was a museum of some kind. I finally found it, a small coffee shop, "Mestizo Coffeehouse." It was one of the shops on the first floor of the Citifront apartment complex. The Mestizo art gallery (also the meeting place of the Mestizo Institute) is a small exhibit room (I'm guessing 30x20 feet) with a couch and a couple of comfortable chairs set up in the center.

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    Prayer in School

    A dear friend, a life-long Utahn, whom I respect greatly, recently expressed a concern about the way local society has changed in the last few decades. She said something like this:
    Life was so much safer here in the past, it was idyllic. And now, in this world full of evil, we can't even have prayer in schools.
    This was not the first time I'd heard a Utahn speak passionately about the change Utah has undertaken in the past few decades. This change has come, in part, because of Utah's fast-growing population. I've also heard many Utahns express the fear that "minorities are taking over" in a way that suggests the freedom of the mainstream is diminished.

    Before responding to my friend, I was carried away in a daydream. Students, circled 'round a flagpole before the facade of a three-story 1930s school building. They were holding hands, their heads bowed in prayer.

    This was not a contrived, nostalgic image of the past, it was a memory, a real scene I recalled from my own high school days. In the late '90s, I attended Leon High School in Tallahassee, FL. Although the dominant religion in the community was, and still is Southern Baptist, I knew kids at school who were of various Protestant Christian denominations,  as well as Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and those not associated with a religion. I assume there may have been other religious groups I was unaware of.  Students sometimes met together to pray or discuss religion. In addition to the group I participated in (the early morning seminary program organized by the LDS Church), I knew of other bible study groups, and a club called The Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And then there was the group in my daydream. Anyone could join them in the prayer circle at the flag pole, and yet, students who did not share their beliefs were not offended by what they were doing.

    I skipped to a second school memory. We were in the large music room. A choir mate had suffered death that weekend in a car accident. We cried together and a teacher called for "a moment of silence." Many eyes were closed in prayer.

    Both my choir teachers were involved in music production at their respective Protestant Churches. Why had they asked for a moment of silence allowing for prayer, rather than simply having a group prayer? I had a few friends in choir who were Jewish. Had the teacher chosen to say a prayer (in the Christian manner of praying) my Jewish friends may have felt excluded.

    Let's return to the text of the First Amendment

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    What Utahns are saying about Mormons and the *I'm a Mormon* ad campaign

    If you happened to do a double-take upon reading the title of this article, don't worry, I've forgiven you ahead of time. Let's start by acknowledging that LDS persons (also called Mormons) are a different demographic group than Utahns. These groups certainly overlap, but it's very important to recognize that not all Mormons are Utahns and not all Utahns are Mormons. In fact, these groups don't overlap as much as one would think. Only 12%  of the world's Mormons reside in Utah (2008), and only 60.4% of Utahs are Church-recorded members (2008). Only 41.6 % of Utahns are active members (2007), and only 58% of Utahns self-identify as Mormons (2009). I happen to be both a Utahn and a Mormon.

    Just to make sure there's no confusion, by "Mormons," or "LDS," I am referring to members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, not the former Reorganized LDS Church (now called, The Community of Christ) or the fundamentalist Mormon groups associated with polygamy.

    I'm a Mormon ad campaign

    Times Square, NYC
    In the last few weeks, many media sources have published stories with titles like this: Hundreds of Mormon Ads Launched in New York City (The Huffington Post). Apparently, two 40-foot billboards display the Church's I'm a Mormon advertisements in Times Square to greet people on their way to the controversial Broadway Book of Mormon musical. The ads are also found on subway cars, taxi cabs, and television. Although I have not seen the musical myself, I've read several articles, heard a few of the songs, and have come to the understanding that it's main intent is to portray Mormons as nice, friendly people who believe in something completely ludicrous. No wonder the Church's response is to let Mormons tell a little about themselves; these individuals want to show that they are a diverse group, and not deranged or naive.

    A few articles I've read about the campaign perpetuate ridiculous rumors, like that the black persons used in the campaign are not really Mormons, but actors hired to create a false display of racial diversity. Others develop conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the Church is secretly trying to promote Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman. But the Huffington Post article I mentioned above, and another one titled, Faith Ad Campaigns Chase After the Great 'I Am,' cite relevant sources to
    1. show that the ads are not so out of the ordinary. The Church has used television and billboard advertising for decades, and other religions have recently taken up an advertising approach similar to this campaign.
    2. explain the reasoning behind the campaign.
    This ad: Deborah (center) who co-founded One Heart Bulgaria
    "Our research showed us that many people know very little, if anything, about members of the church," Michael Purdy [LDS Church spokesperson] said. "By giving people a glimpse into the both ordinary and extraordinary aspects of the lives of our members, we hope they'll realize these are people with whom they have a lot in common."

    During the last presidential election, in which Romney also ran, a Pew survey found that when asked to give a single-word to describe Mormonism, three of the top four words respondents gave were negative. "Polygamy" was No. 1, "cult" was No. 2 and "different" was No. 4. The No. 3 response was "family" (The Huffington Post).
    Here's another article: 'I'm a Mormon' Campaign expands to N.Y. This title comes from The Deseret News, a Utah newspaper owned by the LDS Church, but commonly read by both Mormons and Non-Mormons alike.

    What Utahns are saying

    This blog post is a summary and analysis of the 68 comment conversation following this Deseret News article. It's not a perfect representation of what all Utahns are saying about Mormons and the ad campaign. But I believe it's a candid qualitative sample worth peering into.

    Among the varying ideas were a few recurring themes.

    Critique: These ads won't improve public opinion of Mormons
    Critique: Religions shouldn't advertise at all
    Critique: It's a conspiracy!
    Are Mormons normal?
    Positive response to the campaign
    Discussion of the anti-Mormon movement
    Insults and other conflicts

    Critique: These ads won't improve public opinion of Mormons

    While most commentors indicated a pro- or anti- Mormon position, this charming comment, one with an objective (or at least indifferent) attitude, had received the highest number of "recommendations."
    Chris B | 5:24 p.m. June 14, 2011
    Salt Lake City, UT
    I don't care too much what the Mormons do or dont do, but it does seem like anything related to them gets the liberals bent out of shape - and to me thats funny. So keep up the good work Mormons. (Recommendations: 22)
    Whether or not he intended to do so here, Chris B indirectly expressed the idea that the ads won't successfully improve public opinion of Mormons, at least among "liberals," or people who already find Mormons annoying. 6 more commentors (one of whom was a Mormon) said that the ads would have no effect on the public's negative perception of the Church and its members. Some, in effect, said that this was because Mormons aren't normal and that the public would see right through any attempt Mormons made to portray themselves as normal. (See my section entitled, "Are Mormons normal?")

    Critique: Religions shouldn't advertise at all

    Although only one commentor directly stated the opinion that religions shouldn't advertise, there were altogether 24 comments in this strain of the conversation. A Mormon commentor responded defensively to say that religions should advertise, and for the following reason:
    cg1020cg | 4:27 p.m. June 15, 2011
    ABERDEEN, WA
    Hmmm, to those on this blog that question why would the LDS church put up these advertisments or question the need for our church or any church to engage in advertisment. Well, how many times is Satan advertising on the tv or print for people to follow him? Case closed!!!
    An insight into Mormon rhetoric, for those who aren't familiar: Mormons commonly speak of the vulgarity in popular media as Satan's means of leading us astray. Not long following cg1020cg's comment, there was a little debate (two more comments) regarding the existence of Satan.
    Both Mormons and non-Mormons criticized the ad campaign for making religion commercial, flashy, popularity-based, or "cheesee" [sic]. Two commentors said they thought it was not spiritual enough, and was pandering to people's emotions. 
    One commentor complained that in the ads a certain group was unrepresented:
    Tom (above) has a PhD in Computational Biophysics
    Mormoncowboy | 10:46 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Provo, Ut
    The campaign doesn't bother me much, I don't mind proselytizing. Still, the "And I'm a Mormon Campaign" should be rather discouraging to the lower-class Mormons (economically) who seem not to get fair representation from this campaign. The Church is sending out a subtle message here of who they prefer to represent them. Not the meek, humble, the poor, that Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount, but rather the successful and impressive!
    A commentor responded to Mormoncowboy to say that in her search (I assume on Mormon.org) she found quite a few people with I'm a Mormon profiles whom she believed had low economic status because of their type of employment. She also added,
    nayajja` | 6:31 a.m. June 16, 2011
    Ephraim, UT
    If highly educated people show up on the profiles more than you would like, it is probably because those are the people more likely to read internet sites like this and to take the initiative to write a blurb about themselves. 
    Both Mormoncowboy and nayajja are right, but they're talking about different parts of the campaign. While any member of the Church can post a written profile on Mormon.org with a picture, the Church-made video ads like the ones in Times Square are limited to individuals the Church selected.
    Scott Swofford, director of media for the LDS Church's missionary department, said he participated in many intense brainstorming sessions, trying to figure out a way to select members, trying to decide what they were really looking for.

    Jeff (above) is an antique bike sculptor for Harley Davidson
    "We didn't want people that were famous or well-known, but we wanted them to be extraordinary in some way in life," he said.

    They tossed around 60 names, which were narrowed down to 48, which were narrowed down to 30. The selected subjects are an eclectic mix of ethnicities, backgrounds, occupations, ages and talents. A mix of veteran commercial filmmakers and student filmmakers, headed by creative director Parry Merkley, joined the project. Swofford said their goal was to avoid a controlled, scripted feel.

    "We went for YouTube quality," he said. "We had two-man crews going across the country gathering the pieces. No art director. No makeup person. We wanted it to be very raw and documentary-like."(Mormon Times)
    Now, on to the question of money. Six Deseret News article commentors (Both Mormon and non-Mormon) opposed the expensive NYC ads, saying that that kind of money would have been better spent on "charity," "humanitarian initiatives," etc. A Mormon responded by explaining that Mormons believe that advertising is worth spending funds on, because they take literally the New Testament commandment to "proclaim the Gospel." She added to that examples of charitable programs the Church continually supports. Two other Mormons said they trust the Church leadership to make inspired choices about the use of funds.
    There were two comments defending the idea of religious advertising by pointing out that it's no different from commercial advertising: annoying to many, but helpful to a few.


    Critique: It's a Conspiracy!

    Below I've pasted the branch of the conversation surrounding the idea of "ulterior motives."

    xscribe | 9:01 p.m. June 14, 2011
    Colorado Springs, CO
    I just don't understand the need to advertise one's religion, unless there is some ulterior motive, such has voting a Mormon into office, for example.

    Cats | 2:16 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Somewhere In Time, UT
    Dear xscribe: the "ulterior motive" is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's all.

    LeDoc | 5:03 a.m. June 15, 2011
    SLC, UT
    It's also possible that somew will construe this as a back door way to support a political candidate (I mean SERIOUSLY) who doesn't know Mitt's Mormon?) and get around having to report the $ spent as campaign contributions.

    procuradorfiscal | 7:52 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Tooele, UT
    Re: "I just don't understand the need to advertise one's religion . . . ."
    I've never understood the need to ridicule or demonize another's religion. Unless there is some ulterior motive. Such as defeating a Mormon running for office because you disagree with his positions, but recognize that a disingenuous attack on his religion is more likely, at least historically, to defeat him than an attack on his politics.

    The idea that the LDS Church might be secretly supporting the Romney campaign struck me as odd. Although the Church recurringly emphasizes its neutrality when it comes to candidates and political parties, every once in a while, the Church does take a formal position on an issue. And it just so happens that on a couple of issues, Romney and the Church stand in conflicting positions.

    1. Immigration. Romney has for some time stood in favor of strict enforcement of immigration law. He opposes driver's licenses and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. He has also proposed immigration reform that would end the policy that gives immigration application preference to those with citizen family members. The LDS Church, on the other hand, by stating support for the Utah Compact, recently formalized a public position in favor of legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for residence without requiring them to go back to their native counties. They emphasize a stance firmly against breaking up families.

    2. Abortion. The LDS Church has not made formal statements recommending political action on this issue, but has held a specific standard for its members. It has decried abortion for "personal or social convenience," but condones it in trying circumstances, "such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth." Mitt Romney, in contrast, has had a strictly conservative position on abortion, promising to overturn Roe v. Wade, and suggesting that if things went his way, abortions would never take place, regardless of circumstance.

    Although I think it unreasonable that the Church leadership would be particularly interested in supporting Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, I find the concern understandable. It makes sense for the public to worry whenever there's a political candidate associated with a large powerful organization or business. But even if the Church were interested in Romney, consider this: If the NAACP had spent money on advertising that promoted a positive portrayal of blacks in 2008, would that have been an unethical monetary support of President Obama's campaign? If the National Women's League had put up women's rights billboards in Times Square during Hilary Clinton's campaign, would that have made the race unfair? No. Such efforts would have been respected as unaffiliated with the candidate. When a person from a minority group runs for office, they enter the game with an unfair disadvantage. And there's nothing wrong with minority groups taking an opportunity to express who they really are when an opportunity arises.

    Meanwhile, the LDS Church has been obsessed with advertising itself for 181 years. The idea that the Church is launching this particular campaign to take advantage of the timely attention it's getting (from the Book of Mormon musical and the Romney and Huntsman campaigns) seems much more reasonable than the idea that the Church is trying to secretly promote a political candidate or that the Romney campaign is conspiring with the Church to "get around having to report the $ spent as campaign contributions." 

    Are Mormons Normal?

    There were three comments (one made by a Mormon) stating that this huge effort to make themselves appear normal actually makes Mormons look desperate. Two commentors said they thought the ads paint a picture of normalcy that is false, reasoning that Mormons aren't as normal as they'd like to think they are. One of these explained that his assertion was based on his dislike of the Mormons he met when he first moved to Utah; He came to believe the whole group to be "insincere" and "ingenuine." To one commentor, the campaign seemed irrelevant; he said that the public is concerned more with the strangeness of LDS doctrine than with Mormon lifestyle.

    As you can see, the use of the term, "normal," or the idea of it expressed in other words, was frequent. The nature of the campaign, itself, suggests the idea of normalcy. According to Emily Schmuhl, Mormon Times journalist, that was the intent.

    Put simply, the campaign has cast its real life subjects as diverse, secure in their faith and … ordinary. Normal. Fun. Creative. Friendly. Happy.

    Another commentor stated that while Mormons may think the ads are great, non-Mormons still think Mormons are "weird." He added to that an interesting assertion, offensive to Mormons and others:

    Ernest T. Bass | 8:34 a.m. June 16, 2011, Bountiful, UT
    Take away Central American and Africa, and [Mormon] convert baptisms are down and when there are converts they aren't exactly educated types who are getting baptized.

    These two stereotypes

    1. That converts to the Church are unintelligent or uneducated, and
    2. That the Church's successful missionary conversion efforts are limited to underdeveloped countries/communities

    Scene from The Book of Mormon musical.
    are among some of the ideas perpetuated by the Book of Mormon musical that the I'm a Mormon ad campaign seems specifically designed to overturn. However, while there are no studies done assessing whether or not converts to the Church are stupid (which is Ernest T. Bass's implication), there is evidence that Mormon converts actually do constitute a less-educated population than born-in-the-faith Mormons.

    The 26% of Mormons who are converts to the faith differ markedly from lifelong Mormons in several ways. First, converts tend to be older than lifelong Mormons. Nearly half of converts (48%) are over age 50, compared with about three-in-ten lifelong members (29%). Converts also tend to be less educated than nonconverts (16% did not graduate from high school, compared with just 6% of lifelong members) and they earn decidedly lower incomes (40% make less than $30,000 a year, compared with 21% among nonconverts). (Pew Research Center)

    Aside: It would be remiss to finish my commentary on Ernest T. Bass's statement without wagging a finger at his offensive generalization that the people of Central America and Africa are uneducated.

    Six Mormon commentors said they felt it was necessary for Mormons to portray themselves as normal. Another Mormon commentor questioned the idea of "normal." Here's that section of the conversation:
    Independent | 11:15 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Henderson, NV
    I think this advertising campaign is very appropriate. I also think it is a bit inaccurate to say that the aim of the campaign is to show that Mormons are normal. Of course we're not normal. Look around you. Normal is broken. Who in their right mind would want to be normal? What I think the campaign is trying to show is that although we are different, we still put our pants on one leg at a time. We're different for sure, but you don't have to join a convent or give up electricity to be a Mormon.

    Mom of 2 | 12:23 p.m. June 16, 2011
    Eagle Mountain, UT
    The best kind of "advertising" anyone can do, on a church or individual level, is to live a good life. The LDS church does this already, but I think it would be better PR for them to donate the money to a good cause instead of putting up ads telling everybody how normal they are. Don't force everybody to look at you and see how mainstream you are; just go about your life quietly and do the best you can, and people will notice on their own.

    Independent | 5:00 p.m. June 16, 2011
    Henderson, NV
    Mom of 2, the problem is that no matter how much good we do, the best people say of us is "Those Mormons are nice people, but boy are they nuts." We're not comfortable with that characterization, because some of our "nutty" beliefs are actually quite important to a full understanding of the purpose of life in our view.
    From the full conversation, I have gleaned differing definitions of "normal." Below, I discuss in what ways Mormons are or are not "normal."

    Proposed Definitions of Normal
    Are
    Mormons
    Normal?
    Explanation

    Fun. Creative. Friendly. Happy.
    Unknown
    Most of these are personality traits, and I would never suggest that all persons of a group fit these descriptions. We'd have to do years of sociological work before we begin to know, until then, it's fair to suppose that Mormons are as likely as anyone else to have these characteristics. We do know a few details about how U.S. Mormons compare to the American population in education. While only 23% of the general population have "some college education," 32% of Mormons fit the category. But as far as how many graduate from college, Mormons (18%) are similar to the general population (16%).
    not nuts
    educated, intelligent
    sincere, genuine
    not naive
    Yes, They're Normal
    I have frequently become acquainted with the Anti-Mormon sentiment that Mormons are manipulated into blindly pledging allegiance to Church leaders. People who accuse Mormons of this are concerned about the LDS belief that the leaders of the Church are prophets, to whom God speaks to guide the Church. As in any religion, there may be persons who believe without critical thinking. However, I have always known the Church to discourage it. One of the essential LDS doctrines is "agency," which Mormons are taught is the right and obligation to make one's own individual choices. Mormons are also taught to follow the example of Joseph Smith (the church's founder) who questioned the religious views he was taught, and found answers through prayer.
    not in a cult
    not desperate to prove something
    No, not normal.
    Mormons are desperate to prove something. Although many stereotyped minority groups are interested in portraying accurate depictions of themselves, Mormons have an additional reason for doing so; they take very literally the Christian imperative to proclaim their gospel message.
    diverse
    Yes and No
    Diversity can mean any number of things. For brevity, I refer specifically to diversity of race, ethnicity, geographic residence, and political affiliation. Undoubtedly, members of the world-wide LDS Church are a diverse group. However, in the U.S., Mormons lack diversity in several areas. 76% of Mormons in the U.S. reside in the Western states (35% live in Utah.) While the general U.S. population is 71% white, 86% of Mormons in the U.S. are white. Only 3% of U.S. Mormons are African-American and only 7% are Latino (2009). 65% of Mormons say they identify with or lean toward the Republican party, only one other religious group has more partisan consensus (77% of historically black Protestant church members are Democrat). (Pew Research Center)
    no "nutty" beliefs
    Yes and No
    It seems to me that all religions have nutty beliefs. All religions espouse beliefs in supernatural phenomena, miracles, omniscient God or gods, afterlife. I think the reason LDS doctrine is singled out as nutty, is because it claims to be a form of Christianity, and yet, it differs in a couple areas of doctrine that other mainstream Christian groups share in common. For example, Protestants and Catholics are unified by the doctrine of the Trinity (one God who takes three different forms: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), which was formalized as part of the Nicean Creed. Mormons, in contrast, believe that the developers of the Trinity doctrine were uninspired, and that the Bible's original doctrine was that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are individual beings, though unified in purpose.
    puts pants on one leg at a time
    Yes and No
    This expression is an idiom about life-style. LDS culture and practices make Mormons unique. Their religion affects the way they dress, eat, date, spend their money, etc. However, Mormons are not as far from the mainstream as stereotypes suggest.


    Positive Response to the Campaign

    Of the 68 comments in the conversation, 15 were made in support of the I'm a Mormon campaign. 12 of these commentors indicated that they were Mormon, one indicated that he was not, and two didn't say. Four said that the ads were a good response to the musical. One replied that the I'm a Mormon campaign has been around much longer than the musical. (He/She was probably referring to the Mormon.org version of the campaign.)

    A few Mormon commentors with positive response for the campaign added statements of belief. One shared a scripture. Two others shared conversion stories.

    Discussion of Anti-Mormon Movement

    One commentor said the I'm a Mormon campaign is a good response to Warren Cole Smith, a popular Evangelical Christian political writer who is criticized for being, "so intent on marginalizing the Church of the Latter Day Saints that he implied that he wouldn't even fly in a plane piloted by a Mormon pilot, let alone vote for a mormon president." (patheos.com)

    There were two comments about the I'm an Ex-Mormon ad campaign on YouTube, one noting the "bitter" nature of these ads, and another noting the popularity of them.

    5 more Mormon commentors complained of religious discrimination. Of these, four added the optimistic belief that negative attention can indirectly result in conversions to the Church.

    Insults and other conflicts

    Altogether, there were 15 intentionally offensive statements made throughout the conversation. Some were rude statements and generalizations about groups, others were intended to insult fellow commentors directly.

    Insulting comments made by Mormons:
    • 2 toward atheists
    • 4 toward the LGBT movement
    • 1 toward non-Mormons
    • 1 toward the pornography industry
    • 1 toward the entertainment industry
    • 3 directed at a commentor named Pagan
    • 1 directed at a commentor named sergio
    These Mormons seemed to be trying to defend their culture and beliefs, but clearly did not add to the positive image of Mormons the ad campaign seeks to achieve.

    Other insulting comments:
    • 7 toward Mormons (3 by Pagan, 2 by Sergio)
    • 2 toward religion in general
    Not that this is really a surprise. Anonymous internet conversations allow people to be on their worst behavior without consequences. The ruthless candidity is probably the reason I continue to study this type of conversation year after year. Just for fun, here are a few conflict highlights:
    Pagan | 8:53 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Salt Lake City, UT
    Why do mormons feel the need to shove their chosen lifestyle in our face? :)

    Captain Kirk | 10:16 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Lehi, UT
    @ Pagan | 8:53 a.m. June 15, 2011
    "Why do mormons feel the need to shove their chosen lifestyle in our face? :)"
    Because they are proclaiming the gospel of Christ and trying to save people ... according to what they believe. I often find your prolific comments as an effort to "shove" your lifestyle in others faces. I know that you see it differently. At least the LDS message is, in my opinion, an effort to help people.

    Eddie | 10:41 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Syracuse, UT
    @ Pagan
    Since when is the LDS Church has the "need to shove their chosen lifestyle in our face?" I guess we could respond with "since when do we need people like Pagan to seek out and read articles about us and then make rude comments"? It is you who chose to read the article, or read billboards or anything else that is Mormon. If you don't like it you can ignore it and go about your life.

    Pagen | 10:50 a.m. June 15, 2011
    SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    'Because they are proclaiming the gospel of Christ and trying to save people... (sic) At least the LDS message is, in my opinion, an effort to help people.'  -Captain Kirk
    And I'm sure you see it that way. The claim of Mormons being 'in your face' was an attempt at satire. A direct similarity to those same claims against LGBT.
    I'm sorry if I offended you.

    Belching Cow | 11:30 a.m. June 15, 2011
    Sandy, UT
    @Pagan
    "Why do mormons feel the need to shove their chosen lifestyle in our face? :) "That's pretty funny. Maybe the LDS Church does have something in common with the LGBT community.

    procuradorfiscal | 12:22 p.m. June 15, 2011
    Tooele, UT
    Re: "Why do mormons [sic] feel the need to shove their chosen lifestyle in our face?" We could ask the same question of you, substituting "LGBT activist" for "Mormon."

    nayajja` | 6:06 a.m. June 16, 2011
    Ephraim, UT
    @Pagan "Why do mormons feel the need to shove their chosen lifestyle in our face?"
    You have it wrong. Mormons invite, not shove--mainly because they believe their religion promotes happiness and they want to share. Gays don't invite; they try to shove their lifestyle choices into educational curricula and they try to illogically compare their lifestyle choices with race discrimination, and they try to pass laws making criminals of those who disagree with their lifestyle choices, meanwhile forgetting all about laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. The entertainment industry doesn't invite; it creates outrageous "entertainments" based on hurtful and false stereotypes that mock our religion, to enrich themselves. What if the Broadway musical had been a mocking attack on the "values" of gay people? Think it would win Tony Awards?
    Concluding Remarks

    Although as a Mormon I certainly approach this topic with a bias, my interest has been to uncover truths (whether positive or negative) about Mormons, the I'm a Mormon ad campaign, and the Utah conversation about it. I appreciate your readership and feedback.

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    Just how Asian is the Asian Festival?

    Utah Asian Festival, June 11, 2011

    Utah Scottish Festival Highland Games
    On the drive down to the Sandy Expo Center, I saw a freeway sign indicating that one of the annual Scottish Festivals (yes, I'm Scottish) was taking place that same day.

    Oh, how repeatedly bored I am by Scottish Festivals! Mind you, I think Scottish dance is charming enough, and men in kilts tossing cabers are undeniably fun to watch; I don't know, maybe it's that hearing the same bagpipe tunes over and over again makes me feel like I'm losing my mind. Ah, I know what it is--it's the booths. Tents full of over-priced junk, and people trying to pass it off as Scottish. The few "authentic experiences" available at a festival like that are drowned out by the volume of phony merchandise. It's so insulting. Like, I come and am immediately demoted from seeker of truth to consumer of goods. Why are they selling shortbread when they could be giving away recipes and conversing about traditional baking tools and methods? Why are they selling the same paperbacks and jewelry (that you can find at any store) when they could be giving presentations on folklore, symbolism, song, and literature? And what about the connection to the contemporary country? I've never seen a booth about current events in Scotland. It's as if we're celebrating a country and a culture so caricature, it's a Scotland that never existed. A pop myth.

    All that aside, I started to wonder if I would feel out of place at the Asian Festival. I turned the radio on. It was MPR's Prairie Home Companion (yes, I grew up in Minnesota.) Sigh, I thought to myself, this is my kind of me-culture, Midwestern folklore and parody: a celebration of tradition that doesn't take itself too seriously, and isn't trying to sell me anything.

    Then, I arrive.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Color, Kinetics, Kin

    Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple (Spanish Fork, Utah)
     This week's article contributed by guest writer, Gloria Gardner Murdock.

    An electromagnetic field in Utah’s Spanish Fork drew in 50,000 revelers – reported as predominantly LDS college students – in celebration of the Hindu Festival of Color, known as Holi, March 24-25, 2011.

    Jessica, age 33, learned about the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple’s event from friends in the Seattle area where she lives, and decided to share the fun with her newly married younger sister, Shairstin, in Sandy, UT and their returned missionary brother, Brett, who attends BYU.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Do you judge people by their race?

    Earlier this week, I found this:

    The U.M. Magazine Poll Results
    We asked you...
    With all honesty, do you judge people (whether negatively or positively) by their race?
    We ran our poll for one year and it resulted in 33% of our voters choosing "yes" and 66% choosing "no".


    Well, this is odd, I thought. I wondered to myself if the third admitting “yes” to pre-judgment was a more self-aware and open-minded bunch than the 2 thirds voting “no.” I thought the demographic for the poll complicated the results anyway. Urban Mozaik is a multicultural, e-magazine, intended for celebrating diversity. Anyone taking their poll is presumably a lover of all races and cultures, why else would he or she read the magazine? I trust UM recognized that they were basically asking, “Are you aware of your natural, human tendency to judge people (whether negatively or positively) by their race?” My big question is, did the pollsters realize as much? Then I had a good laugh imagining myself taking the poll, and staring for a half-hour at the question, unsure of its intent. What kind of answer would they prefer to see in the ideal future? 100% “yes, I’m self-aware of my racism?” Or 100% “no, I’m not racist, period?” 

    I’ve been enjoying UM’s free-response questionnaires. Reading them, I mean. They ask candid questions about controversial race and immigration questions, and post volunteers’ thorough responses

    What I’d like to publish here today is not a questionnaire response submitted to UM, but one submitted to The Culturalist.