Huffpost Black Voices

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Edward Wyckoff Williams Headshot

Race Matters: Mormonism, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the 2012 Presidential Race

Posted: Updated:
American Bridge 21st Century
American Bridge 21st Century

I believe in freedom of religion. I believe in being politically correct. What I do not believe in are double standards.

To that end, Mitt Romney must answer for having been 32 years old, and the member of an organization that explicitly excluded African Americans.

Frank Rich, the Award-winning journalist, recently explored the personal influence of Romney's Mormon faith and its political significance in his presidential run.

In a New York Magazine piece entitled, "Who in God's Name Is Mitt Romney?", Rich interviews long-term acquaintances of the former governor, one of whom is quoted as saying, "None of us had any idea who this guy was."

Rich explores the idea that Romney's personal persona -- which has long been described as being impersonal at best, and disingenuous at worst, may well be due to the fact he has not been free to discuss the matter most important to his heart: namely, his Mormon faith.

In 2007, the debate over President Obama's religion was a mirror with two faces.

Some believed Obama's brief time as a child in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country, coupled with the stamp of his father's brown skin, was sufficient evidence to question his religious beliefs.

In a post-9/11 environment, in which Muslims have been unfairly framed as terrorists, just by virtue of their faith, Republicans and the Fox News propaganda machine, effectively engaged in fear-mongering to cast Obama as 'other' and 'un-American'. That campaign aggressively continued for three years, and was fuelled by the Birther movement.

Birtherism received a strange level of mainstream legitimacy via ambassadors like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and, yes, House Speaker John Boehner. In answer to David Gregory's call on NBC's Meet the Press to denounce birtherism, Boehner said, "It's not my job" to tell people what to believe. "The president says he's a Christian and I take him at his word".

Dog whistlers, carnival barkers and their empathizers, united to cast a shadow of doubt onto the nation's first African-American president.

The irony is that much of this religious McCarthyism began during the primary campaign fight.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in the tradition of thousands of African-American ministers, was quoted with language that understandably was harsh to many white Americans. But that language is commonplace in the pulpits of some black churches.


Slavery existed for centuries. Jim Crow was real for 100 years. Lynchings were viewed through eyes of people who are only 60 years old today. Legalized discrimination was the law of this great land, and that is the exceptional America into which Wright, and my own parents, were born.

For men and women of Wright's generation, as President Obama so eloquently stated in his famous "Race Speech", "the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and bitterness of those years."

In a community -- as in most -- where tradition is defined by religion, the intersection of the two is inevitable. Then-senator Obama was criticized and called to answer. Was he a secret Muslim? Or an angry black Christian?

But in 2012, as Romney marches steadily toward the GOP nomination, American media abandons any critique of his affiliation with a notoriously discriminatory Mormon Church.

This is the worst of double standards. A politically correct environment, using Article VI of the Constitution that calls for "no religious test", as a convenient excuse -- means the conversation must be muted completely or framed in a politically acceptable context.

That's fine. I'm game.

When JFK -- our first Catholic president -- ran for office, the press questioned whether his loyalty would be to the Pope in Rome. When Joe Lieberman was selected as Al Gore's running mate, the international media wondered if his Jewish heritage could influence U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. When President Obama won the White House, a conservative movement organized in the name of "taking their country back," questioning his faith and heritage.

Is Mitt Romney, now, or ever been a racist? Did he openly disagree with the Mormon policy to exclude black people of the global African Diaspora? How did he handle prejudice in his family and church, both as a young man and as an adult?

It is important to note, that the Mormon Church only ever officially allowed blacks in the year 1978: more than a decade after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. An adult Mitt Romney, well into his 30's, loyally served in a religious organization that explicitly excluded people on the basis of race, and whose fundamental teachings aggressively preached racist ideologies.

Political correctness has its place; but we can agree to have our own opinions, not our own facts.

When Mitt Romney proudly accepted an endorsement from Donald Trump, who wittingly orchestrated media, lies and innuendo to cast doubt on President Obama's nationality and legitimacy, was that acceptable? When Newt Gingrich suggested that 'inner-city' kids have no work ethic, is that 'wrong' or simply the status quo of modern conservatism? Will Ron Paul ever be called to tasks for his explicitly racist newsletters? Can Rick Santorum simply be excused for being "blah"?

There is a burgeoning culture of silence that allows wildly inappropriate dogma to go unchecked, but only as it pertains to the GOP. And herein lies the point about Mormonism, its role in Romney's life and its history of racism: if President Obama was forced to answer for every tangential acquaintance, Romney cannot be given a pass.

If Rev. Wright's church exclusively denied membership to white-Americans, would the Republican Party have ignored that fact? Or, as in Romney's case, completely disregarded it under the guise of religious acceptance and political correctness?

In a political environment which excuses a neo-conservative movement that uses race-baiting tactics in order to win votes -- and does so by omission, distraction and hyperbole -- it is time to discuss Romney's past and his Mormonism in the cinematic and optic terms of black and white.