Bigotry against Mormons apparently acceptable in Utah
Here is the response of a Utahn commenting on a Salt Lake Tribune online blog concerning HBO's attempt in its series "Big Love" to increase its revenues by publicly insulting the religious sensitivity of a minority religion: "Anything that gets the LDS "church's magical Mormon underwear in a twist is all right with me!!"
I write for a regional newspaper in Iowa. During the last election campaign, I suggested that Mitt Romney lost the Iowa caucus to Mike Huckabee primarily due to anti-Mormon bigotry. A reader argued that my opinion had no credence because I was a lay leader in the LDS Church. The writer was either suggesting that I knew exactly what I was talking about and was therefore credible, or that I shouldn't be believed because I was a Mormon, which implies that the writer was a bigot.
This person didn't realize his logical error because once bigotry has become normative within a culture, people come to believe that their biases are not only acceptable, but universal.
This year, I began reading the online version of The Salt Lake Tribune. My experience has been both eye-opening and troubling. First I noticed that The Tribune has a permanent "polygamy" tab on its Web site. Interesting, but I assumed it was just the titillating bait that most online sites have for catching the voyeuristic.
However, after a few weeks of reading messages to the posted blogs, it became apparent that there was a darker side. It is obvious to an outsider that Utah, or at least Salt Lake City, has within itself a deeply held culture of bigotry. A bigotry so ingrained in the cultural norm that the readers posting comments to the newspaper's blogs, apparently believing they are freethinking and ironic, are saying things online that would never be allowed into print if written about other groups.
The Tribune and Utah bloggers seem unaware of this.
I noticed that after Utah and BYU athletic events, many bloggers simply use the occasion to display anti-Mormon hatred that had little relevance to the actual game.
After a recent BYU loss, readers wrote items such as: "The Angel Moroni must have been taking a smoke break to allow this to have happened!"
"On the bright side, Coug fans ... at least you'll have your whole Saturday to gamble, drink and hit the strip clubs before you go to church tomorrow."
A common assertion is that "BYU is the most hated team in America." This is an irrational but characteristic statement of those who think like bigots.
I can assure you that most people care very little about college sports, and even less about BYU sports. But one of the defining characteristics of prejudice is the belief that others hold the same bias as the bigot. During the segregation era in the South, many whites simply assumed that all "right-thinking" people held the same prejudices against blacks as they did.
Another common theme that shows up in Utah blogs is the claim that BYU fans and players are arrogant. This may or may not be true, but having lived in Ohio for a time, I can attest that Ohio State fans are very similar. They are very proud of their school and identify with the teams, but that is simply attributed to the nature of sports.
Marginalized groups, however, are supposed to know their place. They should never get uppity. I can remember how shocked I was as a young man in the rural South at the actions of an adult black couple. Both they and I were going through a door into a business at the same time. It was apparently unacceptable that they should hinder my entrance in any way. They stood back against a wall and looked at the ground until this white boy entered the store.
Mormons are not Amish, they are not blacks in the Jim Crow South, and they have no obligation to meet the standards set by others who despise them for their religious beliefs. There is, however, an obligation to treat the religious beliefs of well-meaning people with restraint and respect.
Dennis Clayson is a professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and a columnist for the Waterloo Courier.