Ronell Hugh has spent his career in marketing working for recognizable businesses like Adobe, HP, Microsoft, and Walmart. But on this week’s episode of All In, Hugh spoke of approaching the prophet’s call to abandon attitude and actions of prejudice from the perspective of a marketer—someone who observes psychology and why people do what they do—as well as a Black Latter-day Saint. He believes that while we were not present in the past, we do have the ability to take the driver’s seat moving forward and to choose which attitudes and actions we will move forward with.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones: I wonder for you when our Prophet talks about rooting out racism, what does that look like in action? I know when we get into statistics, it can begin to feel really overwhelming. But what would you say we as individuals can do to do that in our individual lives?
Ronell Hugh: You know, I think it was President Oaks who made the statement to root out racism, right? And then President Nelson then talked about how can we abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice. And I think those two statements to me are so important to consider. You know, one of the things that I like to do actually hit me over the summer when I was thinking about this and continue to be asked to speak on this topic, I actually really thought about, what is the prophet?
Do we believe him to be a prophet, right? Now, first and foremost, I think a lot of us and you probably know this, and probably have heard this before, but a prophet, for me is somebody who can inspire us and be inspiring to the world. A prophet isn’t just somebody for members of the Church, right? So this call is for everyone. And then the second thing was, what does it mean, to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice?
Like, what does that really mean? You know, I’m a marketer by trade. So I spent a lot of time researching and understanding people, it’s really the psychology of people that I really get fascinated with, like why they do what they do, right? And so when I think about this topic, that idea of like, our attitudes, and it’s something I went on this journey around. You know, we have this longstanding attitude that roots in religious backing.
And it wasn’t just the Church, you could do a lot of evidence that points to like Brigham Young. And it’s not where I want to send us because it’s not really the focus. But even preceding Brigham Young, you know, there were Portuguese, there were Spaniards who had this idea of this curse of Cain. That’s like basing how we treat other people on what had been formalized then and has carried on throughout Europe and then brought to America as something that we can stand on, that creates an attitude, creates a perspective, you know.
And typically what I’ve done with this, I’ve tried this now multiple times, and I’ll get an audience and say, “If you hear this, if this is the attitude, what action does it create?” And it’s fascinating to me because I hear comments like, “If this idea of a curse of Cain,” or, you know, Bruce R. McConkie said they were less valiant in the preexistence, speaking of Black people, if you have those attitudes, what does that create?
And people would say, it makes you think of those individuals as inferior—less than. They’re not important to your Heavenly Father, which is not true. Right? And along with that, it makes me think, and I always tell people, it’s like, if you think about this, it really does shift then what the real focus of the Article of Faith #2 is, right?
Which Article of Faith #2 talks about how we can’t be judged for others’ transgressions, right. So it is fascinating to think about it like hey, here we are making the statement and so I always start there, because you have to really adjust your attitudes, those same attitudes that were more religious or spiritual in nature within use in secular ways to do things that we know were harmful, and it’s one of the things that I think is so important around this. We have to recognize that, and it is the repentance process. You have to recognize when a wrong has been done. And it doesn’t mean I’m holding anybody to blame and say, we have to recognize it. None of us were there when this happened, especially in America. But I believe fully that we all own where we go from here. And it starts by understanding these attitudes that have become pervasive in a lot of the ways that we live sometimes. And then when you think about rooting our racism? How do we pull those out? How do we see anew, right?
And then what do we do then going forward? And when we see things that aren’t right, are we willing to be vocal about it? Are we willing to stand up in settings where it may be really uncomfortable to say, “Hey, what you’re saying here is not right,” or “What you’re doing here in a business setting is not right”? Or, my brother shared, which is painful for me to hear, in his ward somebody actually got up in Church and talked about how inferior Black people were, and said, that was truth from God, you know?
Morgan Jones: Unreal.
Ronell Hugh: And so this is a member of our faith getting up and so that’s an attitude. And so there’s so much work that has to be done there. And I think a lot of us, as members of the Church, don’t even know our past. It’s not blame for me, it’s not a blame thing. I’m not blaming anybody, you know, you can, if you study history, and you study–if you like to do that–you will see, you know, especially here in the United States, there’s so much you can find, but then it’s like progress, progress is moving forward.
And one thing I often tell people is I use this analogy of a car, and I ask people, where do you sit in the car? Are you a driver or a passenger? Passengers are passive, they don’t have to pay attention, they don’t have to actually be involved at all right? They don’t have to care where you’re going. A driver, hopefully—cross our fingers—we see all types of drivers out there, but drivers have to be attentive, they have to understand the direction you’re going.
And on this topic, it’s like are you a driver or passenger? And what does that mean to be a driver? Are drivers interested in other people, they care about other people? Because that’s the secondary commandment to love thy neighbor and to love thy neighbor, what does that look like for me on this topic? Well, how often do we go and spend time with people who aren’t like us?
We’re conditioned to spend a lot of time with people who maybe believe the same things or act like we do or have the same interests, but do we have exposure to people who aren’t like us? Do we spend time with them? Just being around whatever that may be, culture, ethnicity, groups, gender—it doesn’t matter.
The second part of that is in having a dialogue. Do we have dialogue, not debate and debunk? Do we have conversation or dialogue to debate and debunk? Or what we really should be doing, we should be having dialogue to actually listen and learn. It’s listening and learning from each other. And that listening and learning is more about interest level, curiosity, right? Hopefully creating in us a deeper understanding which is the third item that I like to say, is the third item is create a better understanding.
Now that understanding may not change any of our core beliefs. But I believe that understanding helps us to understand individuals or cultures or people in a deeper, more intimate way, which at the end of the day, is this idea that all of this—so exposure, dialogue, and understanding leads to us to be able to embrace each other. I ultimately believe that’s what Heavenly Father wants. I believe that’s what our Savior taught us when He was here on this earth. He went around embracing people.