- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 27, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199754071
- ISBN-13: 978-0199754076
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.3 x 6.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #971,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Religion of a Different Color Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness 1st Edition
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"Cleverly framed....Reeve's book is a landmark in Mormon studies. For non-Mormon and Mormon audiences alike, it offers answers to the long-vexing questions of the when, where, who, and why of the origins of what is colloquially called the 'priesthood ban.' And Reeve's book adds Mormons to the well-established historiography on how ethnic and cultural minorities in America became white. Reeve's book is now the definitive history on Mormonism and race."--Max Perry Mueller, The Journal of Religion
"Overall, Reeve's book is a tremendous step forward in studies of Mormonism, race, and racialization, and indeed of race in American history more broadly. By examining a spectrum of groups, Reeve creates an unprecedentedly fleshed-out picture of these racial processes."--Alexandra Griffin, Reading Religion
"Fascinating, deeply researched, intricately argued, and wonderfully illustrated. This will be the definitive work on race and Mormonism from the religion's origins to the early twentieth century, with a postscript carrying the story forward through the twentieth century down to Mitt Romney."--Paul Harvey, Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"Reeve goes beyond the more traditional narrative of Mormons' views of racial minorities (especially blacks and Native Americans) to consider how those racial beliefs were constructed as a dialectic alongside the racialization of Mormons by non-LDS outsiders, particularly in the nineteenth century. In its sophisticated conversation with whiteness theory and the history of American race relations, Reeve's book is innovative and theoretically ambitious "--BYU Studies Quarterly
"Religion of a Different Color should stand as an exceptional and transformative study of race and American religion. It is a rich and unique contribution to scholarship on Mormon religion that is equally a well-crafted study of race. It should certainly serve to inspire intellectually generative debate and further research on the constitution of racial whiteness for many years to come."--Mormon Studies Review
"Religion of a Different Color is a true historical tour de force. It instantly joins the elite ranks of the Mormon studies canon, becoming required reading for anyone interested in the Mormon past (or present). The book's utility goes far beyond Mormon studies, however, as it should also be consulted by scholars of whiteness and American race relations as an expert analysis of how religion impacted and was impacted by the national discourse about race."--BYU Studies Review
"Reeve's book...will probably go down as one of the most important books in Mormon historiography."--Juvenile Instructor
"In this revealing study, Paul Reeve puts the subject of Mormon racialization in a new light. Mormons racialized others, to be sure, but were in turn racialized themselves. In the nineteenth century critics denigrated Mormons by seeing them as racially a between-people, near-Black, friendly to Indians, and likely allies of the yellow hordes. The church's compensating rush to whiteness, unfortunately, went too far. Now Mormons are seen as too white, obscuring their innate inclination to universalism. No one has told this excruciating story so well as Reeve."--Richard Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
"Compelling as a set of incredible, revealing stories as well as nuanced analysis, this study places Mormonism within varied worlds of race in a way unequalled by any denominational history of religion and white racism. Reeve's work represents a breakthrough in Mormon history, religious history, and history of the West, as well as in the study of race relations."--David Roediger, author of Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All
"Religion of a Different Color plows truly new and important ground in explaining the fuller story of Mormonism's place in the long American struggle with racial bigotry, as well as the uses of racialist thinking in U.S. history more generally. Previous studies have tried to explain the traditional racial teachings of Mormonism mainly by reference to doctrines and developments inside the Church. This new study instead analyzes the heavily racialized context of the entire nation, in which Mormons became both victims and perpetrators of racist policies and practices."--Armand L. Mauss, author of All Abraham's Children: Changing Mormons Conceptions of Race and Lineage
"With prodigious research and a keen eye for detail, context, and irony, Paul Reeve masterfully guides us through the fickleness and combustibility of nineteenth-century American racial discourse, with Mormons as his unlikely subjects. In the process of fighting off swarms of accusations that they were not white enough, Mormons reified whiteness as the sine qua non of American respectability. Religion of a Different Color provides a powerful new lens that helps us better understand how and why race remains such a troubled legacy for both America and 'the American religion.'"--Patrick Q. Mason, Claremont Graduate University
"A widely researched, soundly documented, challenging addition to whiteness studies and to scholarly literature on race generally."--CHOICE
"Thoroughly researched, clearly written, and surprising, Reeve's work is the new starting piece for discussions of Mormons and race."--Western Historical Quarterly
"The argumentative thread is rich and complex; my summary here hardly captures the subtlety and detail of the discussion. Fortunately, Reeve has a gift for short, targeted sentences and summary paragraphs that make his major points with crystalline clarity. That knack for pinpoint summaries helps the reader navigate through a text full of quotation, illustration, and sometimes dense textual analysis of Mormon writings."--The Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"In the shadow of Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Baltimore, and countless other recent racial controversies, W. Paul Reeve's book is a timely study of how humans racialize other humans and deny communities the right to construct their own identity. Its bold, fresh take far exceeds any minor quibbles I might try and summon in false pursuit of a balanced review. It is nothing short of marvelous, and it has my highest recommendation. It will shape how we think about Mormonism and racial identity for decades."--Journal of Mormon History
About the Author
W. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah. He is the author of Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes and the co-editor of Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia and Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore.
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I need to start this with a disclaimer that I’m a Mormon. Not only a Mormon, but a “Utah Mormon,” who has family members in the LDS/Mormon Church going back to 1830, the year that religion was founded. So that may bias my reading of this book. I’m also a history teacher, and I think that the history of the Mormons as a religion, as a culture, and as builders of a secular “kingdom” in the Western United States in the 19th Century is one of the most interesting and compelling stories in American history. Even then, I’ve never considered the story of the Mormons to be that of an entirely different race.
W. Paul Reeve, Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah, makes the claim that Mormons were indeed seen as a different race by 19th Century Americans, and that this idea shaped interactions between Mormons and “Gentiles” (church members’ term for outsiders) for the better part of a century. This racialization contributed to the Mormons being forced from homes in Missouri and Illinois, and was part of the impetus for their settling of the Great Basin—pretty much as far away as they could get from other (protestant, white) Americans.
This racializing of the Mormons is particularly odd considering the current notion that all Mormons are as white (or fake-tan) as Mitt Romney, or as bland and white bread as my own family ancestry, mostly English, Danish and Scottish. I’m super damn white. But by 19th Century standards, I’d be considered a separate race…which at the time would also mean that I had limited rights. Reeve points to an arc in Mormondom that starts with Mormons being considered as white (as “normal”) as other Americans, but then becoming more and more conflated with various races and traditions, and being forced to prove their whiteness. This racialization goes beyond skin color and into outright deformity, including claims that Mormons had tails and horns. Seriously. Horns. As Mormons were forced to prove their equality with other Americans, they seemed to overshoot the mark, denying rights to African Americans, moving away from perceived alliances with Native Americans, and other races. By the 1950s, they were finally considered as white as other Americans…but by that point, the tides were turning. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and within a few decades, the Mormons’ denial of priesthood rites to blacks was seen as racist as their own treatment had been a century before.
Reeve has written a masterpiece that lays out the thinking of nineteenth century Americans, using a political cartoon showing a “Mormon Elder-Berry” holding hands with his offspring from multiple wives, each a different race. He uses this as the framework for the book, with chapters on African Americans, Native Americans, Oriental, and other races. He points out that other newcomers to the United States, like Irish and Italians, were also considered “other,” but were generally adopted into the body as Americans within a generation. Mormons were still a separate race.
Using letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, and remarkable political cartoons, Reeve gives us the historical evidence. It ends up being a fascinating look at how Americans constructed the very concept of “race.” How did they decide who was in, how did they decide who was out? How long would it take a group of people to be considered an American?
Most poignant, and most troubling, are the chapters about the evolution of the Mormon policy, and eventual beliefs, regarding African Americans. In the earliest years of the church, there were black members in congregations, they held the priesthood, they had access to “saving” ordinances. Over the course of a few decades, all of that changed. Reeve gives us the evidence explaining when and how and why it happened, and the fallout that lasted for a century. When you have a hundred years of a policy that discriminates against a race, is it any wonder that the modern LDS Church is still trying to get over that hurdle of racism? The priesthood ban based on race was lifted in 1978, but still, nearly forty years later, it’s an issue. This book explains why, and in a concluding chapter “From Not White to Too White: The Continuing Contest over the Mormon Body,” Reeve gets into 21st Century issues that are still bubbling to the surface.
Some scholarly books are just written for other historians to read. This is one that is still academic, but is able to be read and (I think) enjoyed by those who are interested in the topic. Reeve has a conversational style, with enough irony and humor to take some of the sting out of what is at times a very controversial book. Especially for those of us who are Mormon, and who are confronted with the racism of our ancestors or our religious peers. Besides enjoying the information found in the book, I enjoyed reading the book.
This was a readable, well-researched, fascinating look at an American-born religious group that has an intriguing history. If you’re interested in race, religion, history, or the overlap of all three, this is a must-read.
The framing device and structure are questionable but mostly work - my biggest complaint is that the content on Native American-LDS relations seems lacking. While the section on black-LDS relations covers considerable ground from Mormonism's founding to the present day, the depiction of Native American relationships are relegated to 19th century Mormon history. Expanding these sections to cover, for example, President Kimball's outreach towards Native Americans would push the book firmly into five-star territory.
All in all and excellent and respectful summary.
Enter W. Paul Reeve, author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Reeve is a historian and professor at the University of Utah, where he specializes in Utah history, [Page 192]Mormon history and the history of the American West; in other words, he is qualified to write about the issues of race as it relates to the LDS Church. Recently, Reeve was also appointed the first Mormon Studies professor at the University of Utah,2 so we can expect more books on the history of blacks and the LDS Church in the coming years as Reeve continues his research. Additional reviews of Reeve’s book have come from eminent LDS and non-LDS historians, such as Patrick Q. Mason, Richard Lyman Bushman, and Alexandra Griffin.
The subtitle of the book almost seems like an oxymoron: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Isn’t the problem with Mormons that they are too white? After all, at the recent press conference introducing Russell M. Nelson as the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a newspaper reporter raised the point that “the Church leadership is still white, male, American.”3 In addition, in the recent Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, all the original missionaries are Americans. There has not yet been an African-American General Authority of the LDS Church. How in the world could the LDS Church “struggle for whiteness”? It seems to be an area in which whites already flourish and even dominate.
Reeve, preempting these responses, says the following in the introduction to his book:
This book argues that one of those transitions was racial: from not securely white in the nineteenth century to too white by the twenty-first century. Being white equaled access to political, social, and economic power: all aspects of citizenship in which outsiders sought to limit or prevent Mormon participation. … The process was never linear and most often involved both [Page 193]sides talking past each other. Yet, Mormons in the nineteenth century recognized their suspect racial position. (3)
This remark is fascinating in and of itself. Most of us (including me) assumed that Mormons were disliked primarily because of their religion, and that is true to a point. However, if Reeve is correct — and it seems he is — the main reason for the marginalization was that Mormons were not seen as being white at all; they were thought of as having formed a new, inferior race.
The cover photo of Reeve’s book comes from an April 1904 picture in Life magazine. A person named Elder Berry (who looks suspiciously like Joseph F. Smith, the Church’s president when the magazine cover first appeared) is shown holding hands with eight of his children. The caption underneath the picture reads: “Mormon Elder-berry — Out with His Six Year-Olds, Who Take After Their Mothers.”4 Of the eight children, five are white, one is black, one is Asian, and the other is Indian. This picture was an attempt to show that Mormons embraced interracial marriage and hence were also thereby in a state of “racial decline.”
Reeve, using this picture as a framework for his book, dedicates one chapter to the four white children, two chapters to the Indian child, four to the black child, and one chapter to the Asian child. He notes that just as in real life, not all children receive equal attention in his book (11).
The chapters on the white children (14‒51) shows that while the children are from parts of the world notably white, early critics of the Church saw them as nonwhite because the children were mixed among the other races and because Utah — distant as it was from the eastern cities — was cut off from white-culture society. This was not seen as a joke; medical doctors submitted this thesis to peer-reviewed journals, and their papers were published (16‒20). While there was pushback as to whether a race of people could be created in a short amount of time, the general consensus was that Mormons were something close to white but not fully white. As Reeve had noted earlier (6), only white people were fit to rule and lead in that time, so this was taken as evidence that the Mormons were not fit to be in the United States or to be leaders of American territories.
The two chapters on Indians (52‒105) show that while the relations between Mormons and their Indian neighbors were largely cordial, the problem of racial regression remained because Mormons were encouraged to marry and did marry Indians. Given that this was the era just after the age of Andrew Jackson, the public had an unfavorable view of Indians, and by association the view of Mormons declined as they intermarried with [Page 194]them. Furthermore, since the Book of Mormon claims (according to the critics of that time) that the American continent belonged rightfully to the Indians, this led to understandable tension (55‒74).
The chapters on blacks cover three main topics: the Church’s attitude toward slavery, its attitude toward miscegenation, and the origins of the priesthood ban. Reeve notes that for the most part of his life (after a statement in 1836) Joseph Smith was consistently against slavery and was open to the idea of blacks living among whites, a radical view during that time (126‒27). He also proposed that profits from the sale of public lands could be used to pay slave owners for their freed slaves (127). However, Smith was consistently against miscegenation, though the Church had no official policy about the matter during his lifetime (127). It is also well documented that Smith was aware of several black people being ordained to the priesthood and had no qualms about it (106, 126).
During the administration of Brigham Young, things began to change. At the outset, Young generally had the same outlook as Smith: he was against slavery and had no problems with blacks being ordained to the priesthood. In a remark he made to William McCary during an unofficial Church trial, he remarked that Walker Lewis, a black barber, was “one of the best elders” (131). In 1852 he formally announced the priesthood ban before the Utah legislature (rather than in a Church gathering), justifying it by saying that blacks were descendants of Cain and were cursed in regard to the priesthood (144‒46), a theme that would recur until the ban was lifted in 1978.
Reeve concludes the book by saying that Mormons have gone from being described as not white at all to too white by the time Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012 (269‒72). This does seem to be the case, but if Reeve is correct, it did not have to be that way. Mormons could have been seen as the most progressive Church when it came to matters of race. Instead, it chose to retrench and thereby became seen as one of the most regressive and is paying the consequences in the modern day and age. To be sure, many members of the Church are not white, and the Church is growing most rapidly in nonwhite areas (Africa and Asia, for example). But the afterglow of a checkered racial past remains visible. Only time will correct it.
One of the most important books in Mormon history in the last 50 years is undoubtedly Richard Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith. Why? It helps readers understand Mormonism and Joseph Smith as well as they can be understood and therefore better grasp the community of the Saints that flowed from the divine, special revelations to Joseph as [Page 195]prophet, seer, and revelator. Rough Stone Rolling,5 coupled with the publication of the Joseph Smith Papers, assists the Saints in doing this. However, given that race is such a fascinating issue in and of itself and the fact that the issue of race in relationship to many things is not well understood by the Latter-day Saints, Professor Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color adds significantly to understanding the cultural milieu in which the Church was founded as well as understanding one of the more controversial aspects of the Church’s subsequent history. Reeve has written a truly commendable book that should be in the library of every member of the LDS Church.