When I was a little girl growing up on the small Caribbean Island of Barbados, I always wondered what it would be like to be invisible.
As a tomboy growing up with a group of boys, I soon fell in love with wrestling. One of my favourite wrestlers John Cena’s tagline was “You can’t see me!” and in my little childhood brain I ate it up. Among friends at school, we would wave our hands and do our best John Cena impression before erupting into naive laughter.
Still, I didn’t truly discover what invisibility meant until I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Among a congregation of predominately Afro-Caribbean members, it was impossible to feel excluded. With fondness each Sunday, we connected our culture with the faith that had been restored in our hearts at our baptisms. The simplistic beauty of the gospel was all around us even if we lived the gospel differently. One could hear it in our prayers or in the way we sang with vigour in our voices. And at times, you could hear it in our disagreements and contentions.
Two years into my conversion, I visited friends in Utah following the death of my grandmother. At first, I believed in the magic of the gospel. I believed that having so much in common would make me just as visible as any other person. In my eyes, I thought that being a member would protect me from just being seen as some “convert from a place no-one knows”.
As time passed, I saw it as I became more vocal about mental health and the impact racism plays in the lives of persons of colour in the church.
I like to take myself back to Utah memories often. Not as a way to feel sorry for myself but to make peace with the valid feelings felt there.
One such memory occurred during Sacrament Meeting when a talk on family history excluded me from the narrative as everyone around me found their family members using Family Search in a jiffy. Although I’ve made peace that my life looks vastly different than most who have been members all their lives, as a woman of colour, such experiences make me wonder if there is room in the inn for persons of colour or are we simply residing in a space where we will be constantly invisible?
I remember fondly as I screamed with excitement as I was one of the only persons of colour speaking at a women’s conference a few months ago. I loved every moment of speaking and sharing nuggets of faith and resilience yet as I look back now, I see so few faces that look like mine in such forums. I see little to no representation that pushes women of colour to the forefront.
The Utah trip soon ended but the feelings of invisibility lingered long after I landed back home. I saw it as my voice as one of the few black LDS faith-based Instagram bloggers began to wane as persons preferred me to stay in my place instead of sharing new ways of seeing the gospel.
Instead, you find us sprinkled in like an afterthought…drowning in seas of whiteness.
Still, I’d like to think we’re slowly tottering along like a toddler learning to walk. We’ve seen a General Authority who is African American. We’ve seen his unconventional yet uplifting approach to speaking and sharing the gospel. I fondly seek his voice when Brother Johnson speaks during General Conference. For once, it finally feels like persons of colour especially black Latter-Day Saints have some voice and can feel somewhat involved in the gospel that seems to be made for everyone else other than them.
My views aren’t monolith. I believe that someone out there believes that we’re doing enough within the church and in our associated circles to fulfil the diversity quota. Some may even direct me back to how diverse our last General Conference back in April was.
And to that, I say that we need more.
We need more glass ceilings being broken .
We need more faces and voices and stories that aren’t cookie cutter.
We need more more amplification for those accented voices that tell deep and spiritually uplifting stories in their own ways.
Because if this gospel and church is for everyone…it’s time we see more faces that reflect that we are truly a worldwide church.