During the early days of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time watching LDS influencers interact on their various social media channels. With nowhere to go and nothing to do as the world screeched to a halt, I found myself immersed deeply in the #ldsinfluencer hashtag on Instagram seeking like-minded individuals who shared both truthfulness along with relatable and optimistic messages.
Maybe, I was searching for something. A part of me believes that I was seeking to find connectivity in a church that despite their best efforts doesn’t quite reflect my blackness back to me. Still, I remained optimistic that somewhere…somehow, I would find community.
I had long dubbed myself an anti-influencer. I didn’t share the bubblegum messages of peace, love, and charity. I didn’t push my followers with content about following the prophet. I didn’t stick to the surface-level script most influencers have that diminishes their real-life problems into the categories of “punishment versus unworthiness”.
Instead, I spoke about the hard things. I shared the good and bad parts of my journey and how being a member had impacted my ability to remain resilient in the storm. I testified that as much as the gospel had changed my life, there were temporal aspects from my pre-baptism life I held onto. I didn’t make cute sappy messages where I used my “church voice” to appear as though I had the answers to life’s problems. I was me…sassily expressing myself and sharing my own take on living the gospel life while preserving my true self.
I had first noticed the shift in my followers following the death of George Floyd. Like other black Latter Day Saints, I awaited some sort of message to soothe pained hearts from the church. When no response came, I took inspiration from a returned missionary and started to talk about the experiences I had while visiting friends in Utah.
My follower count which had been steadily growing started to decline. No longer was I seen as the “agreeable” black woman but I had somehow in the opinions of many politicized my page. Without outwardly expressing their disdain, I had been asked to “turn my blackness off” for the sake of likes, follows, and engagement.
I just couldn’t do that.
Engagement with my posts hit an all-time low. Even while still churning out content, I was seeing how these “surface messages” seemed to prosper over my own. Things deteriorated further when I placed more emphasis on speaking about the topic of mental health. While mine was deteriorating following my bout with Covid-19, I decided to speak openly about my own struggles dealing with anxiety and depression.
The hub of “friends” from the community was silent. My message fell on deaf ears as my follower count decreased even more. Five hundred followers by then decided that I was no longer their cup of tea and vamoosed for the nearest exit.
I stopped posting on my Instagram page, feeling the hypocrisy of the LDS influencer space. I started to open my eyes to how performative it all seemed. There was no message of support or a true sense of community.
Instead, I realized that in a gospel of perfection, the color of my skin often excludes me from the narratives that I might experience struggles. When white friends posted about their challenges with their lives and mental health hardships, they were immediately flacked with support and care.
I, on the other hand, was expected to endure.
I realized that the culture which surrounds church members excludes BIPOC from ever experiencing difficulty. We are expected to be hard, tough and endure every difficulty that comes our way so we will be deemed the “Golden covert”.
After losing my grandmother in 2018 and sharing my experiences with the grief that consumed me, a follower kindly reminded me that I should focus on the good and just focus on producing content. In her words, “I knew where my grandmother was going and I should just try to return to normal as quickly as possible”. It mattered very little that I was in pain. In her eyes, I was simply meant to fake it for the sake of being a good member. I was expected to sit down, shut up, focus on the Spirit and go back to life as normal.
After these encounters, my wheels fell off. I decided to live life away from the hashtags and the performative captions. I decided to focus my energy on my other writing projects and began writing the hard-hitting content for my Exponent articles. In my mind, if my black voice had no power…if it contributed nothing to the conversation then I would simply remove myself from the narrative that failed to provide me with the community I needed.
A weight has been lifted off my shoulders as I find comfort in having these hard conversations in spaces where my voice adds value instead of living in a faith-based fear that my words will be misinterpreted and misconstrued.
I’m much more aware of the energy of spaces that allow me to use my voice as a woman of color. I am protective of the spaces that accept me as I am and don’t ask me to change what makes me uniquely me for the sake of fitting in with the model example of what makes a good member of the church.
I’d like to think there’s a community for black women in church spaces. I’d like to believe that somehow, we break glass ceilings with our words and in speaking out about the disparities that exist in our church culture. Our voices and opinions add spice and flavor to a church that might not project our blackness back to us but allow us to feel as though we do add value to the conversations that surround us.
I hold on to the hope that one day our voices won’t be silent. I pray for the day we add value instead of being seen as less agreeable if our opinions differ from the major. That day will come.