Today I was reading in the scriptures this account of Matthew(27)when Jesus was arrested: “And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.”
I was looking at several artistic representations of Christ, in most cases the artist seem to portrait him as a white-looking man (or light-skinned) with blonde hair and blue eyes.
I am not blaming artists during the Renaissance period or any other period of time for such depiction because that’s exactly how they pictured him, looking similar to Western Europeans.
However, due to our past and present history with race and skin color (Priesthood ban, black sisters forbidden to go to the temple, the pseudo-doctrine of blacks being non-valiant in the preexistence, Cain’s curse, Nephites being white and delightsome while Lamanites were cursed with a dark skin, and the list continues..) I wonder how important is for people who aren’t white in the Church to relate to a Deity of a different race or skin color? When our Latino or Black brothers and sisters see a picture of Christ, can they identify with him?
We don’t really discuss much the issue of race in Church because we figure we are all brothers and sisters in the Gospel, but mostly because the topic makes us uncomfortable but unfortunately some of our past teachings are still alive and kicking.
I know of a few people who still believe and preach that Blacks were not valiant in the pre-existence and they”re not afraid to say so.
I remember once when I was a teenager, the missionaries and I went to visit this young Latino girl. When we were discussing the Book of Mormon, one of the missionaries referred to her as a “Lamanite” (I was *this* close to do something I would later regret). The young woman was visibly upset but didn’t say anything and just looked down with sadness. After the meeting, I asked him why he said such a thing and he told me in all seriousness that all “Latino people are Lamanite descendants and they are not like him” (of course, “white and delightsome”).
Kenneth and Mamie Clark were African American psychologists. During the 1940’s, they published three major papers about children and perception of race. They did several experiments using dolls. It involved a child being presented with two dolls.
Both of these dolls were identical except for the skin and hair color. One doll was white with blond hair, and the other was brown with black hair. The child was then asked questions such as which doll they would play with, which one is the nice doll and the bad one, as well as which one was the “pretty” doll and the “ugly” doll. The experiment showed a clear preference for the white doll among all children in the study. This experiment was repeated a few years ago with similar results.
In a world where everywhere you turn, the depiction of perfect beauty is being white (preferably blonde), do we try in our very small ways to demonstrate there is beauty everywhere regardless of race? I wonder, do we assume things about our brothers and sisters based solely on their ethnicity? For instance, if we see a Latino brother, do we assume automatically that he is not educated, illegal, on welfare and he cannot speak English? If we see a black single Sister in the Church, do we automatically assume that she would only date a guy of her own ethnicity? (after all, she should ‘stick” to her own race?)
This is not about being politically correct, this is not about people being too ‘sensitive” “¦this is about understanding, being empathetic and not assuming that just because something isn’t that important to us (because it doesn’t affect us directly) we expect our brothers and sisters (who are minorities) to do the same.
Everyone needs to feel they fit in and I think we have a lot of work to do on that regard. Personally I would love to see in our LDS chapels (particularly those branches or wards with a large membership made out of minorities) different representations of Christ rather than just the typical blondish man. I would like to see a beautiful Black looking Christ or a Latino looking one (Or any other race/ethnicity for that matter). A Christ for everyone.