• Becca McCulloch

Why I'm Asking you NOT to See Book of Mormon Musical (and why you will anyway)

The inset comments come from an article titled, Privilege is inhumane and appropriation is one of its strongest weapons, by PL Thomas of Fuman University. He'd almost certainly object to my use of his article in this instance because 1) I'm white and 2) I'm educated. Those two facts mean that I eat privilege for breakfast while maniacally laughing at the downtrodden and couldn't possible understand any piece of the pain of bias, prejudice or inequity.

Except...I belong to a religious minority. I'm not Muslim - that would make me progressively cool - no, I'm so much less important than that. I'm Mormon.

A minority is defined as any group that makes up less than half of the whole. With 10 million members out of 6 billion humans on earth, Mormons are definitely a minority. In the US, most Mormons are white, but more than half of all Mormons are non-white (Did you know that? Only 10% of Mormons live in Utah, which is lily white, and the church leadership is mostly made of Utahans, which impacts perception of the church). Being white in the US does have its privileges, so once we were allowed back into the US, we've done okay for ourselves. But that's not always true. And I can tell you that sometimes it SUCKS to be a minority.

For example, I worked at Children's Hospital Los Angeles for a decade. Around year seven, when my reputation was well-established, a coworker saw me coming out of the Mormon church in our town. On Monday, he chose to confront me in front of a client because he was appalled that I would bring my "darkness" into a clinic of sick children. I stood in shocked silence while he shouted at me that Joseph Smith was a liar who raped women.

Do you know whose record got blighted that day? Not my coworker. Mine. I was written up and disciplined because I "made inappropriate religious comments at work." As my Jewish supervisor said, "You have to expect a few lumps if you join a cult."

A cult. That's what my coworkers believed of me after working alongside me for many years. Life only got worse as the gay marriage debates heated up. Every day, people made me defend my faith. I was banned from working with gay youth and dismissed from a volunteer clinic where I'd worked for almost a decade. I had to request an independent review of my master's project because my professors kept forcing me to rewrite it and threatened not to let me graduate after I stood up and suggested that maybe there was truth on both sides of the gay marriage debate and blanket labeling of all religious people as bigots was unfair. Maybe my whiteness buys me some privilege, but belonging to the Mormon church introduced me to the awful things people do in the name of prejudice.

And the Book of Mormon musical is a work of prejudice.

So, as a Mormon, I'm asking you NOT to watch Book of Mormon musical. It's offensive to those of us inside the culture. It's also an egregious example of cultural appropriation. The writers are NOT Mormons and have admitted that they wanted to point out ridiculous pieces of Mormon culture and "how naive" Mormons are.

I admit I have not seen the entire musical. A friend had a recording and begged me to watch. I love musicals and wanted to be "open-minded" - the best peer pressure trick in the book, by the way - so I sat down. I read the synopsis and listened to the opening number.

And then I walked out.

I never spoke to those friends again. I couldn't stomach that they would ask me to sit down while my faith and life experience were openly mocked in the most vile, cruel and vicious ways. From the use of profanity my culture finds deeply offensive to the perversion of our missionary program and insistence on our hypocrisy, everything about this musical is repulsive to those of us inside the culture.

Of course, my ex-Mormon friends call it brilliant. But if you want to know if something is offensive, ask people inside that culture - not the ones who now live and vie for approval in your own culture.

"...cultural appropriation must always be resisted because the U.S. is a capitalistic and materialistic society in which each person’s dignity and the humanity of that person are inextricably tied to any identifiable group with which they are connected."

I don't really think you'll listen to me. I've discussed my feelings about this musical with every friend outside the church that I've had since its premiere. To date, not a single one has cared about me enough to stay away. They roll their eyes. They think I'm being "sensitive" and say they're surprised that I don't have a sense of humor about things. My Mormon-ness is not part of my humanity to them. It's this "other" thing, like preferring Wal-Mart to Target. So it doesn't need to be protected or valued.

And everyone tells me it's so funny. Their laughter trumps my experience. It trumps my humanity.

"...One key point in this debate, however, is understanding the basic human response to cultural appropriation among marginalized and oppressed groups. For those marginalized groups to cling to and defend their culture is a human response to the inhumanity of privilege."

So, I know you'll go and see this musical. I know you'll reject my proposition that the musical is an instance of cultural appropriation. I know you probably don't care that much about Mormons or what hurts their feelings.

But the next time you get worked up about some white person who isn't "woke" to Black Lives Matter, I hope you'll remember yourself laughing during Book of Mormon musical and maybe you'll recognize that being "woke" is not a generic state of mind - but a willful choice to care about a person in pain when that pain doesn't impact you - and may be considered a moral good to some in your social circle.

"...the only truly progressive response...is to listen to those who resist cultural appropriation (and all inequity), to accept that resistance, and then to offer their privilege in solidarity to end the injustice—not to shout over or offer yet another bitter “yes, but.”"

So thanks to Mr. Thomas for the use of his article. I apologize for not being one of the intended groups you wrote about. Maybe you should expand your definition. Heaven knows, it would be nice to have someone care about my people, too.


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