This article originally appeared on LDS Living in June 2020. An updated version ran in the January/February 2021 issue of LDS Living magazine. This article has been updated to match that version.
Editor's note: Born in Nigeria and raised in London, Lola Ogunbote is a lawyer-turned-soccer coach who has learned how to prioritize joy in life. Ogunbote was featured in an All In podcast on February 26, 2020, where she talked about seeking our acceptance from God and celebrating each individual for the many things that make them who they are. The British spellings used throughout this article have been included to retain her voice.
The death of George Floyd last year was a traumatic event that forced me to reflect on my own past experiences with police enforcement and racism, reopening old wounds and forcing me to discover others I didn’t even realise were there. The pain and hurt cut me open in ways I didn’t know were possible. On a social level, Mr. Floyd’s death led to discussions on issues such as patriotism, police brutality, white privilege, and a wide range of related topics with those around me. On a spiritual level, it left me questioning the worth of my soul in the world and to God.
Tragically, racism is a reality for many of us. It is a plague that, as members of a covenant community, “requires more from us than comfortable obliviousness to the realities of our neighbour’s lives.”1
I was raised in the United Kingdom to immigrant parents who relocated from Nigeria in the early 1980s during a time when black people were the victims of racist violence perpetrated by extremist groups. As a child, I witnessed several altercations involving my mother who was subjected to abhorrent racial slurs. I remember being called the N-word in secondary school. I was told by a teacher that being a lawyer wasn’t for people that “looked like me” (I qualified several years later).
As an adult, the racism I experience now appears in much less aggressive forms. I am told I am pretty for a Black girl. I am told by well-meaning people that I “speak excellent English,” or that I “don’t sound Black at all.” At church, people have asked me: “Can I touch your hair?” while at other times there is no polite request. I have been tailgated by shop assistants in luxury stores who remind me about the price of expensive items before I’ve asked about them or even tried them on. Whilst living in China, I regularly read job ads that specified: “Whites only, Blacks should not apply.” The rest is perhaps too soul-destroying to share and would detract from the purpose of this article. However, it is important to emphasise that these overt expressions of discrimination have significant long-lasting psychological effects that sometimes take longer to realise. This is because we often doubt the validity of our experience or make excuses for the subtle racism, opting instead to excuse the behaviour because people "just don’t know any better."3
Yet, it is only when an issue like racism is brought firmly into our consciousness, or directly impacts us or those we care about, that we are forced to confront it—even if it’s uncomfortable. Some, in blissful naivety, maintain that they don’t even “see colour,” which is close to impossible. Others don’t even want to talk about race, insisting “we are all the same.”
Whilst these intentions may all be inherently good (and in God’s eyes we truly are all equal), the uncomfortable reality is that “choosing” whether or not to talk about racism is a luxury many families, specifically those of colour, simply do not have.4 Therefore, we cannot all afford to stay silent. Every voice raised against racism is needed because it helps to chip away at its power.5
In the ongoing social awakening that’s occurring, many are soul-searching and asking, “How can I use my voice? How can I support my brother or sister in Christ? What can I do?” I have personally been touched by the many voices of friends and family, who in their own uncomfortable reality, have said, “Lola, how can I support you?” These people in my life are motivated by their genuine Christlike love for me, pausing “to help and lift another.”6 And in the past year, I have needed some serious lifting.
For me, the weeks following George Floyd's death last year were more than a hashtag moment. Indescribable wounds were sliced open, suppressed memories resurfaced, anger burned within. I wept and threw my hands toward heaven in pain and despair, wondering, “O God, where art thou?”7 I realise that He will not descend from his throne to silence my agony. But I know that “the Lord does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another person that He meets our needs.”8
The reference to “another person” is you and me. Rather casually, I’ve used the term “brother” and “sister” each Sunday without sincere thought. A mature understanding of these divine titles reinforces that we are all God’s children, and as such, we are all equal and have the same access to His saving grace.9
John 13:34 commands us to “love one another; as I have loved you.” It is this unconditional love and full acceptance from the Lord that has seen me through my personal clouds of darkness and continuing encounters with racism.
I recently read in a magazine that people would rather be understood than loved. I haven’t decided which category I fall into, but surely it is true that “the way to increase our love for someone is to listen with patience and respect. . . . How can we claim to bear one another’s burdens if we don’t listen to, or even know what those burdens are?” 10
Susan Evans McCloud penned the words to hymn #220, “Lord, I Would Follow Thee.” In her preparation, she recalls pondering, “How do I know what [others] are going through? . . . What is happening inside, what burdens they are struggling to bear, do not show in their faces.”11
Pause to help and lift another / Finding strength beyond my own
And later, in verse two:
Who am I to judge another / When I walk imperfectly? / In the quiet heart is hidden / Sorrow that the eye can’t see
Verse three also states the following:
I would be my brother’s keeper; / I would learn the healer’s art. / To the wounded and the weary / I would show a gentle heart.
To help you on your journey of “build[ing] bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation, ”12 I have compiled a reading list of what I personally feel are useful materials on racism. The intent is to provide a better understanding of race-related issues that several of our brothers and sisters worldwide are burdened with. The materials on this list are not intended to guilt, shame, pressure, or even change minds—rather, my hope is that they will soften hearts and provide space for self-reflection. If necessary, I hope they will also refine attitudes and behaviours whilst prompting honest, engaging dialogue in our homes, at church, and within our social circles. If, after careful consideration, you decide that change is required, just do it. And remember—change takes commitment.
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo
- This is written from the perspective of an Italian American professor, who outlines her views on why it is difficult for white people to talk about race. It provides a thoughtful guide on self-analysis and social improvement.
- How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
- This is written from the perspective of an American writer and historian. He argues that being antiracist requires an active and consistent stance against racism. Should you enjoy this read, you may want to check out his other book titled, Stamped: From The Beginning, which discusses the history of racism in America.
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson
- This book was recently made into a film with the same title. I enjoyed this because it is written by a lawyer, and so I felt a professional connection. The author is an American and a Harvard Law School graduate who chose to represent underprivileged clients in the southern United States. Bryan Stevenson also co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative.
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- The provocative title of this book is hard to ignore, but we Brits don’t mince our words! I included this because it talks about racism from a UK perspective, dismantling beliefs that racism is purely a US problem. Naturally, I connected with it because it focuses on my homeland. The author is a British columnist.
In your journey of understanding, you may consider reaching out to relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and church members who are from different racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Should this option appeal to you, it is important to actively listen and understand with love. Remember to take a tailored, individualistic approach. Tread sensitively—think about how you would feel if you were asked to keep reliving a traumatic event in your life, let alone a series of traumatic events. Prayerfully consider how to approach those in your circle so that you can truly “mourn with those that mourn.”
If you are approached and asked questions about your encounters with racism, please do not use the opportunity to belittle or demean. It takes tremendous effort to pluck up the courage to enquire about something so personal. Although you absolutely reserve the right to decline the invitation to share thoughts and feelings on this topic, please do so in a considerate manner.
The truth is that all of us have said, done, or heard racist things and will probably continue to because of the world we live in. We need to view President Nelson’s invitation to foster respect for every human soul, to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding, and to work together for peace and love—a message that was an answer to my silent prayers—not as a personal affront to our moral values, but rather as an opportunity to turn towards God and experience a change of heart.
Let’s seek to be less passive and more aggressive in this fight against racism. When future injustice occurs, when indignation burns within, when your confidence in humanity seems shattered due to the evil acts of others around us, let us still rise up! And more importantly, let us look up to Him who created us perfectly in His image.
Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Sarah Hamilton-Jiang, a true soul sister who is always available and willing to provide her invaluable guidance and perspective.
Lead Image: Lola Ogunbote smiles for a photo in front of the London England Temple.
- J. Spencer Fluhman, “Harmony won't come until we recognize racism as the problem,” Deseret News, 1 Jun. 2020
- Andrew Solender, “‘George Floyd More Google Searched Than ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘Donald Trump’ in the Last Week,’” Forbes, 3 Jun. 2020
- Dania Kamal Aryf, “‘Your English is so Good!’ and Other Racist Microaggressions,” 11 Jun. 2020
- “How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism,” Parent Toolkit, NBC News Learn
- Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1 Jun. 2017
- “Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” Hymns, no. 220
- D&C 121:1
- President Spencer W. Kimball, “Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1974
- Katie Lambert, “2 Beautiful Reasons Latter-day Saints Call Each Other ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister,’” LDS Living, 1 Nov. 2018.
- “Willing to Mourn With Those That Mourn,” GospelDoctrine.com
- Susan Evans McCloud, “The writing of ‘Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” Deseret News, 10 Mar. 2020
- “President Nelson Shares Social Post about Racism and Calls for Respect for Human Dignity,” Church Newsroom, 1 Jun. 2020