Becoming a Transitional Character (with Dr. Christopher Jones)
Have you ever heard of Marie Kondo? She’s a Japanese professional organizer known for her method of only keeping what “sparks joy” in her life. We can follow her example by becoming a transitional character—someone who breaks cycles of negativity and embraces joyful practices. In this episode, we talk with BYU professor Christopher Jones about what it means to be a transitional character, and how we can spark joy in our own family histories.
In today's episode, we'll be talking about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As most of us know, this was a very dark time in our history. And we'll mention those who died or suffered abuse because of enslavers. And for those who have enslaved ancestry, we just want to let you know that we see you. We love you, and we're sending all of our healing towards you, whether or not you listen to this episode today.
If you've been here for a minute, you know that family history comes with a lot of baggage.
Yes, it can be messy. It can be a lot to unpack. And when I think of unpacking, and organizing, I think of Marie Kondo.
Do you know her?
Yeah, I've heard about her, but tell me more.
Well, she's someone who's a great example of organizing and cleaning things up. And that's exactly what we need to do in our family histories.
You're listening to the Love Your Lineage podcast by LDS Living. A multifaceted shame-free approach to family history. I'm Michelle.
And I'm Miya. And we want to help you find your space and claim your place in your family history story.
Miya, have you ever heard that phrase "sparking joy"?
Who does that come from?
That comes from famous Japanese organizing consultant, author, and TV show host, Marie Kondo. She talks about when you are going through your items in your home, you hold it to your chest, and if it sparks this joy in you, then you keep it, right?
And if it doesn't, you think it and release it
And then you release it. Exactly. And you know, that brings me to family history.
What does Marie Kondo have to do with family history, Miya? Come on.
Well, there's a lot of things we have to unpack and learn to organize or try to process and compartmentalize in our family histories.
So that's where transitioning comes in, and these transitional characters. Well, we don't have Marie Kondo on the show today, but we have someone just as good. Professor Christopher Jones is with us today. Hi!
Professor Jones, you teach at BYU and you specialize in religion, race and family in the 18th century. Is that correct?
And just like Marie Kondo is good at decluttering homes, Professor Jones is just as good at helping us to declutter and unpack history. And today, family history. So if you could tell us a little bit about yourself. And then also, do you have any cleaning tips?
Yeah, so by way of introduction, in addition to my professional research and writing, I'm a husband and a father of four children,
The cutest children ever, like, oh my gosh.
Pretty adorable, which helps them get away with all sorts of stuff. We live in South Jordan here in Utah, and we've been back in Utah for about six years. I'm originally from suburban Dallas, Texas. My wife grew up kind of all over in San Francisco and Chicago, Mexico City, and for most of her childhood, in suburban New Jersey, just outside of New York City. We met while we were both students at BYU. Lived in Virginia and then Philadelphia before returning here to Utah, where I've been teaching at BYU. I teach in the history department and the family history program at BYU, which has allowed me to bring together my own professional research interest in religion, race and slavery in the 18th and 19th century.
That's intense stuff.
It is intense stuff, but it's also allowed me to connect it with some of my own family history. And I'm excited to talk to you guys about that today. As far as cleaning tips go, this is something we have been talking with our children a lot about lately. While there are times where we need to deep clean, set aside several hours or days to focus on a specific task at our home, it's also important to do daily chores and kind of smaller, making beds tidying up, putting clothes away, sweeping, vacuuming, that sort of thing. And both are essential to maintaining a clean home.
That's great. Are your kids actually doing it?
That's hit or miss.
But kids, if you hear this, we know you got it in you. You can do this. Yes. And my children too.
All right. Thank you so much again, Dr. Jones, for being with us today. And for our audience listening, we are so excited to talk about transitional characters. And I want to emphasize how transitional characters, becoming one, being one and inviting others in our journey of family history to become one can help us organize the mess in our family history. So thank you so much for being here. We really are so thankful for you.
Thank you both. And that feeling is more than mutual. I'm honored to be invited here today. And I've learned so much from both of you about family history and helping me think about it in more expansive ways.
So Christopher, you told us a little bit about yourself like professionally and family, but would you mind going into a little of your family history and like maybe what got you into your profession?
Yeah, absolutely. So I grew up in a Latter-day Saint home. I was born in Salt Lake City, but moved as a young child to Dallas, Texas and grew up there with my family. I was raised on stories of my Latter-day Saint pioneer ancestors, and they served important leadership positions. I grew up really proud of those ancestors. When I was 19 years old and a freshman at BYU, I received my own mission call to Tempe, Arizona. And it was an exciting thing for me, because it was my great great, great grandfather, Daniel W. Jones, who was among the first Latter-day Saint missionaries called by Brigham Young to go and preach the gospel in what is now Arizona. So that was a really neat thing
Yeah, that's really neat
Gave meaning to it. But it also introduced me to some of the complexities of family history and the stories that I had been raised on. The first area that I served in as a young missionary was two old mining communities, Globe and Miami, Arizona. Spelled like Miami, but pronounced my-am-uh and they will get you. That's how you know whether somebody is actually familiar with it or not. But it borders the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. And so my companion I will responsible for visiting the reservation regularly, for teaching Apache investigators, as well as a handful of Navajo investigators. Sharing the gospel that I had been raised with sharing the scriptures that I had grown up reading, trying to communicate with these people and share with them what I felt and knew to be true presented me with difficulties that I don't think I'd experienced before because of their own life experiences, because of their own cultural upbringing and experiences dealing with things like poverty and racism, living on a reservation, things that didn't ever really encountered, I had never encountered before. I thought quite a bit at the time about my own ancestor, who in his missionary work down in what is now Mesa, Arizona, had encountered indigenous people there, and had faced some of those same, I don't want to call them difficulties or challenges, but same experiences that I was confronting at the time. And it made me think about his experience in new ways. It made me think about the communities that he helped found there. And the indigenous people that were displaced as a result of that, the indigenous people that were sometimes forced from their ancestral homes as a result of that. And it made me more aware or sort of brought to mind a more complicated family history than I think I had been raised on our grown up understanding. But just generally, that missionary experience got me really interested in history, in Latter-day Saint history, in American religious history, and the history of the American West. So when I returned to BYU after serving my mission, I changed my major from political science to history, and I ended up completing a bachelor's degree and then a master's degree in history.
Thank you so much for sharing about your family history. And we're gonna go into that more, but we're starting a new segment today, which we would love your help with. It's called, "let's learn new concepts with me and Michelle." So we have some new concepts that maybe you're not familiar with. So one word that we've said is "transitional character." And what does that even mean? So I don't know if y'all saw the new Disney short, that's out. It's called "Far From the Tree" and it's about this little family of raccoons. That is like a perfect example of transitional characters. Christopher, would it be okay if I asked you to read this quote about it?
Yeah, absolutely. So this quote is from Carlfred Broderick, a marriage and family scholar at the University of Southern California. He says "Those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment, and who somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children, they break the mold."
Perfect. So Christopher, could you break down that in more simple terms, what a transitional character is?
I can try to define this in more simple terms. Transitional character is one who is, I think first and foremost, aware of their family history, and all of its complexity, they understand both the good and the bad that they've inherited, whether socially or genetically, and they are attempting to break the chain or break the cycle of abuse or emotional distress, or addiction or a number of other things. And so that what they pass on to their children, and hopefully what their children then pass on to their children, represents something better. We're gonna move towards a better and a brighter future.
I love that, that was so good.
That was beautiful. Wow.
Now that we've gone over the concept of what a transitional character is, one of my first questions that came to my mind was, Why is there any need to transition in the first place? And why does that have anything to do with family history? Like, a lot of us were like, this is our family history, like, these are our traditions. Why would we want to transition away from that?
One of the things that first comes to mind in thinking about transitioning is there's this innate desire within me, and I believe in the entire human race to heal and to feel good, to have happiness, to have joy in their lives. And in a lot of ways, when we look at our family history, we may have inherited some things that either have robbed us of joy or of happiness, sparking that joy in our lives, or have prevented us from experiencing those things. And so, for me, at least, the transition is to experience that for myself, that happiness that I'm seeking for, but then also to help make that possible for my family, and for future generations.
That's awesome. And I know all of you if you've listened to any past episodes, I'm obsessed with Miya, she's the best. And one of the things she recently taught me was that like, part of growing as a person and becoming healthy and making new healthy habits is self-awareness. And I think that's the first step in "Why do I even need to transition?" Is that self-awareness to be like, hey, this doesn't spark joy for me, or hey, actually, maybe this is damaging, like, maybe there needs to be a transition here.
Yeah. And that kind of reminds me of your experience, Christopher, on your mission, how you had a moment where you experienced self-awareness of what you have inherited, what your family experience has been, and possibly how it's affected other people, right? And for me, I've had that experience too. And I feel like those experiences come in waves in my life. It hasn't just been one grand moment. And I hope our audience understands that too, is never just a "boom!", like a tsunami that comes to you and knocks you over and you're like, "I'm ready to change everything." No, it comes in waves, just like self-awareness, you grow into that. Just like life, we're constantly unfolding things in our lives. Life is constantly revealing itself to us. And as I've done that, I feel like we are constantly seeing ourselves more clearly, right? The mirror in front of us is becoming less foggy. And as we do that work, it helps to clear things a little bit better, so that we can see ourselves as we truly are, and our families. And it's not to look at ourselves and hate ourselves or hate what has come before us. It's more so to offer the healing and the grace that God intends for all of us to have. For all of his children, not just those who have who are here now.
Do you know what that makes me think of? The movie "Shrek" where he's like, "Ogres are like onions." And I was like, people are like onions! Family history are like onions. It's layers, baby.
Mm-hmm. All layers.
This is important, because when we talk about our ancestors' shortcomings, their flaws, whatever those things might be, I think it's important to recognize we're not trying to boil down who they were to just those flaws, right?
And we're not trying to cancel them.
Exactly. That's exactly right. We're trying to understand them as complicated, complex human beings. Every bit as multi-dimensional as we ourselves are, right? I invite students in my Intro to Family History class to think about who they were 10 years ago, when most of them were 10 or 11, or 12 years old, and to compare it to who they are now as college students, and how much they've changed in that 10 years. How their career aspirations or life aspirations or plans have changed, how their interests have expanded or contracted in various ways. And it's important to understand that our ancestors were not static individuals defined by a single thing that they did, or one bad thing that they experienced, but are complex, complicated human beings who changed over the course of their life. And that's neither to absolve them of their sins and shortcomings, nor is it though to reduce them to those sins and shortcomings. It's attempting to approach them as complicated, complex human beings. I have one of my favorite books here. Can I can I share a quote?
Yes, please. We'd love it.
This from Margaret Bendroth's book, "The Spiritual Practice of Remembering" and Margaret Bendroth is not a Latter-day Saint. She's a devoted and devout Christian woman. She formerly served as the, or worked rather, as the librarian and archivist at the Congregational Archives in Massachusetts. She's a trained historian. She's a brilliant scholar, but also a very sensitive one. And she wrote this book, "The Spiritual Practice of Remembering", that is about so much more than family history, but it's also intimately about family history. And in her conclusion, she says, "For all of our worries about divine providence and God's will, the really hard part about history is accepting the humaneness of the past and its people. Just as there are no one-dimensional heroes and villains in real life today, there were none 200 or 2000 years ago. All of us live somewhere between fear and hope, sharing the precariousness. of life on planet Earth. But we learned to understand our situation within different cultural ground rules and different physical limits. Our ancestors are, on the one hand terribly alien to us, yet we are also profoundly connected to them. They confront us with the full span of human diversity in beautiful, frustrating and challenging ways. We do not need to excuse them from the various sins and omissions, treating them as if they came from some wildly exotic civilization. We have the right and the responsibility to disagree and complain and rail against them within the framework of our common tradition. That extended argument constantly unfolding across both space and time. Even though they do not literally talk back, it is still possible to learn to hear their voices clearly." I return to that regularly, I assign that every semester in my class. And I always elicit kind of the most profound responses from students. It forces them to wrestle with these things.
So that's what I was going to ask. How is it received? Because I feel like right now, where we are right now, addressing anything negative that even within history, like our forefathers or something, it is seen as canceling them or betraying them or vilifying them. And it's like, that's kind of part of what the conversation I want to have today. How can we point to these things and say, "Hey, this is not great for me now. It's not something I value." without vilifying history or our ancestors?
I guess what I have to say on this is I don't know that I have any really clear-cut easy answers.
And that's fair, because this is complex. Remember, we talked about complex.
But I think it's crucially important to come to understand individuals in all of their messiness and in all of their complexity. Joseph Smith once remarked that more or less you can't worship a God that you do not understand. You cannot worship a God that you do not know. And while we don't worship our ancestors, we're encouraged and counseled to have our hearts drawn to them. We're counseled and commanded to fulfill the spirit of Elijah and the promise of Malachi in the Old Testament that was repeated to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni in 1823. And that is that the hearts of the fathers shall turn to the children, and the hearts of the children shall be turned to their fathers, and the consequences if we don't are pretty dire, right? And we interpret this, and rightfully so, as having to do with family history, work, and temple ordinances. But I'm convinced it's something more, and I don't fully understand what that is.
But I do think transitional characters has something to do with that heart-turning.
I do. I don't know how I could turn my heart to my ancestors if I refuse, or I'm unable to come to know them as the complex, complicated humans that they were. And the worlds in which they lived.
That's deep. I love it. Thank you.
That makes me emotional. Well, 'cause like, I recently have had people that become ancestors in my family, so. And learning about their lives, having, learning these new things about them that I didn't know, it's it's harbored some really hard feelings, and a lot of frustration and anger, because the consequences have been dire. They have caused a lot of pain in my family, but just thinking of it that way. Yeah, the heart-turning, you really can't experience that if you don't truly understand or hold space, or just allow that complexity to exist. And I think what makes it so hard is because I see that complexity in myself too. But then it also gives me this charge to, like, a transitional character, what can I do about this now? I personally have a lot of privilege and being able to do things now for myself. And I acknowledge that maybe not everybody who listens to this will have these privileges that I have to or that we have. But I truly believe that there's power in all of us to do even just the smallest change in our lives.
Smallest transition, yeah.
It can happen, I would hope so that it does for all of us.
And I think this is a really good time to mention, though, there are varying forms of abuse within our family. While we're encouraging you to hold space for people in that complexity, we don't ever want anyone to feel that we're saying to hold space for an abuser, or someone that's hurt you. Like you have every right to disconnect yourself and protect yourself and your future family from anyone that is causing you any sort of harm or abuse or trauma. So I just want to make that clear and, and point that out.
I wanted to ask myself, Michelle, and Christopher, what are some examples in your lives how you have been a transitional character? And what has that done for you and your family today?
So I'm just kind of thinking about this. And I'm like, I think addiction is a thing that many branches of my family tree have struggled with. Much of my family has struggled with alcoholism. I was talking to my children about what is alcohol and why we don't drink alcohol. And I said, in our family, we have a sickness called alcoholism. And it's something that if we drink alcohol, it's it's harder for us to stop. And it can really ruin our lives. And I shared with them about family members that have died early because of liver disease because of alcoholism, mistakes that they've made, how they, you know, sometimes when people are intoxicated, they become abusive, or can drive drunk and hurt people. I've talked to my kids about that. And so, like, addiction to substances or food that's just not in a healthy way, I want to approach the things in my life in a healthy joyful way, and not have them coping mechanisms. I have learned that I gotta be responsible and build up new coping mechanisms that I don't even know about or don't even know where to get started. And that's one thing for me personally, where therapy has been so helpful to be like, Okay, here's a problem, what's a healthy, productive way for you to cope with it. And hopefully share that with my kids, you know?
Beautiful, wow. I'm Polynesian. I'm not just Polynesian, I have a mixed ancestry as well. And in looking at pictures of my family, it's apparent that our body shapes are not necessarily considered top-tier in beauty standards.
What you see in magazines.
Yeah, and a lot of beauty standards that we see today. And I have inherited that kind of body, too. And growing up, I remember not really loving my body, because my environment didn't necessarily promote learning to love yourself and appreciate who you were. And as I say that, I had a memory in, I believe it was kindergarten, where I was asked to draw a picture of myself. And instead of grabbing a brown crayon, I grabbed a white one, because I saw a lot of other girls who weren't melanated, like me, and who had blonde hair, and I wanted to look just like them. And that's what I saw on TV as well. And I don't really remember hearing women who look like me, or who were from my culture, saying that they love themselves, they love their body, that they appreciate it, and that they use it as an instrument rather than just an ornament, right? And so, I struggled a lot with my body image. And I remember when I got accepted to BYU, so out here in Utah, to come to school, it was a culture shock for me to the point where I thought that the only way I could fit in and survive was to assimilate. And so I did everything I could, in unhealthy ways to lose weight, to change my hair color, to change my fashion, and what I believed would help me to fit into what the norm would be. And, man, it was a psychological roller coaster going through that. And even though I lost the weight, even though my skin was a little lighter, or my hair was a little lighter too, it still didn't fill the void that I had about body image issues. And so it wasn't until I had this experience where after getting married, I gave birth to our little boy, that I finally realized that while my body really is amazing, and that I should love it and appreciate it, because it did have this ability to bring life into the world. I really started realizing, hmm, maybe this idea that I was taught or neglected of being taught to love myself, I wanted to change that because I was tired of not loving myself, I was tired of hating the way I looked, and tired of holding myself back, too. So that's all to say, too, I mean, I'm still going through this journey of learning to love myself still. But now when I look in the mirror, I see my ancestresses is in me. And I see evidence of them in my shoulders, right? My shoulders are very broad, and I used to hate them. But now I realize like no, these shoulders could paddle across the Pacific Ocean to take my family from point A to point B, and it could carry a baby, it can hold my family and protect them as well as my legs. I have really thick legs and my calves are like massive, but you know, those legs can they can help me to move, they can help me to walk miles if I needed to, to make sure my family has food, to make sure that they're safe. So I see evidences of my family all over me and now I'm so proud of it. I used to not be proud of it, but now I can't help but be proud because it was because of them that I exist now. And so I'm so thankful for that.
I wonder, do you feel like any of your ancestresses who maybe hated their body, by you right now saying, "I see you. I love you and my body" like that's also giving them permission to let go of any body image issues they may have had and just love themselves? I don't know, when you were sharing that, that was a thought I had. I was like, oh, Miya, that's so beautiful.
Yeah. Well, thank you. And you know, that's, as you said that, I'm tearing up, because that's all I would hope for, right? That this work that I'm doing would release them of those kinds of fears or pain that they experienced because they didn't necessarily appreciate their bodies, or they were taught not to.
And I would hope too that what I do made them feel seen, because I know how powerful it is for me to feel seen, and to be heard. And so yes, that grace, I hope would transcend to more than just, again, just me, but to them, too.
It's like intergenerational trauma. There's also intergenerational healing, and we can never forget that part of the conversation where the trauma happens, but also the healing happens, and we in the present can not only affect the future, but we affect the past.
Well, Professor Jones, Christopher, is there something in your family that you were transitioning away from or working on or?
I know, I know.
It feels like a lot sometimes. And maybe I can answer this by picking up on a thread that I mentioned earlier. So in telling you about myself and introducing some of my professional research interest to you, I told you that I completed a bachelor's degree in a master's degree at BYU. And after graduating in 2009, I moved with my my wife, Karen, to Williamsburg, Virginia. And I started a PhD program in history at the College of William and Mary in 2011. So this was year two of my program. I was taking a graduate seminar on slavery and the slave trade. And so I had become interested in issues of race and slavery, and especially religion's intersection with them. And while I was taking this graduate seminar on slavery and the slave trade, about 10 years ago, a little more than that, we had a bit assigned to visit a website, slavevoyages.org. At the time, it contained what was called, or what is called, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which is a detailed account of every single known voyage that transported enslaved, captive Africans from their homes in West Africa and West Central Africa, to the Americas, to Latin America, to Portuguese, Brazil, to the United States, to British North America, to the French Caribbean. And so you have this massive database about 50 years in the making. And it includes details about every single one of those voyages. It tells you who owned the ship, where it was harbored, where in West Africa, or West Central Africa, they purchased the enslaved individuals, and then where those enslaved individuals were disembarked. It records how many enslaved individuals embarked, and then how many disembarked. And what you learned quickly is that dozens, if not hundreds, died on every single one of those trans-Atlantic slave voyages. About 12 million are captured and sold into slavery and about 10 million disembark in the Americas. So while I was reading and researching on this Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, a memory came to mind, a memory from about a couple of decades earlier, when my mom told a younger me, a 10 or 11-year-old me, about one of my ancestors. I couldn't remember the time, it was a great great grandfather or a four-times great-grandfather, it turns out, it's a five-times great-grandfather. And she told me, in a way, a story about this great grandfather, this ancestor that was different than the other stories that I was raised on. Instead of celebratory tones, this one was shared in kind of hushed whispers. And she told me that this ancestor had captained trans-Atlantic slaving voyages, that he was a slaving ship captain. And so, armed with that memory, I plugged my ancestor's name into this database. And sure enough, within seconds popped up results of three trans-Atlantic slaving voyages that he captained, taking him from his home in Liverpool, England, to Bonny, a prominent slave-trading port in West Africa, and then disembarking in Kingston, Jamaica. The three ships captained by my ancestor transported more than 1000 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean. My reaction was one of shock, of surprise, of disgust, of trying to process this and not quite knowing how, but it was also one of surprise and excitement, and I want to be clear in what I mean by that. It doesn't mean that I was excited to discover that my ancestor was guilty of something that I view as a pretty heinous sin, but rather that it made the history that I was studying in graduate school, as I was pursuing a career as a professional historian, more immediate. In that moment, it seemed to collapse the 200 years of historical distance that separated me from him. And it made me think about what I was studying in more deeply and intimate and personal ways. That this wasn't something that I could dismiss as happening long ago, that had no effect on me or the world in which I lived. It was something that my ancestor did, it was something that he actively participated in. I didn't immediately know what to do with this information. I kind of set it aside, I shared it with my parents, whose reaction was fairly similar to mine. And after, I was hired at BYU after I graduated from William and Mary with my doctorate in 2016, and was hired at BYU to teach history. I was one day over in the Special Collections, the university archives there. And I was looking at some materials and I came across a photocopy that Special Collections had in their archives. That was the logbook of the slave ship Iris captained by George Cannon, my five-time great-grandfather. So just maybe one important note of clarification here. My ancestor George Cannon, it should not be confused with George Q. Cannon, who is a prominent 19th-century Latter-day Saint church leader, served in the First Presidency, and actually founded George Cannon & Sons publishing company that later became Deseret Book publishing company. And so I sat down, and over the course of multiple weeks, I transcribed, or began transcribing, that document. And it's not the most exciting thing in the world. Most days, it simply records what the weather is, land that they saw, with occasional mentions of the enslaved individuals that they purchased and transported, including the deaths of a handful of unnamed African slaves. The following semester, I was teaching a course on slavery and the slave trade, of course, that I regularly teach at BYU, and I've asked students in that class, I've assigned them to help me transcribe that document. And then to research the people and places and ships and individuals that are mentioned therein in an effort to better understand slavery and the slave trade. And, somewhat to my surprise, and somewhat not to my surprise at all, more than one of my students has now found out that their own ancestor, George Cannon, was a slave trader, from being assigned to do this. And one of my students, a really brilliant, young history major, is planning to write her Honors thesis at BYU on George Cannon, the slave trader, now, as well. I wish that I had neat, tidy conclusions to draw from this. I don't know what else to say at this point, other than I think this is the first step in serving as a transitional character, away from an ancestral inheritance of slave trading, of slave ownership, of presumably repulsive, repulsive, racist assumptions and ideas that were carried by those ancestors into one that is more racially aware, that is more racially sensitive, and that strives to root out racism individually and collectively, throughout society.
Christopher, I so much respect and appreciate your vulnerability here. I think a lot of people find out about bad moral choices that our ancestors have made, and we are filled with a deep sense of shame that somehow that's connected to us. And I love how you were vulnerable, and you share that and your family, and to process that. And I want to thank you for coming on here, and I know that a lot of our listeners can resonate with the story that you shared with us.
Yes, Christopher, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I've been weeping this whole time you've been talking because, like Michelle said, I know how much your story and your experience is gonna resonate with a lot of people, and hopefully help with them in their journey to being these transitional characters, right? To help bring about the healing that they so desperately need today, and for our ancestors in the past, too. I was so moved, too, especially by what you're doing now. How you are living and moving in result of what you learned about your ancestors. Especially about rooting out racism. President Oaks mentioned that, in conference, about how we all as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to root out racism. And then President Nelson, our Prophet, has also talked about how we need to lead out in
We need to lead out in abandoning racism. And so, your example is so good, and so needed for not just me today, but for everybody. And so thank you again, yes, for being vulnerable and for being authentic and this, and we just appreciate you so much.
And I love Miya, I think like, you know, President Nelson and President Oaks calling to root out, lead out, and abandoning this racial prejudice that might have been passed down from family members. that in that calling, he is calling us to be transitional characters, not only in the church and as individuals, but in our communities. And that is something that is so powerful. But as you were talking it made me think, you know, Miya and I, as multiracial people, we have talked a lot about how some of our European ancestors might not have looked kindly on us because of racial prejudices, and how painful that is, as someone who wants to connect, to know that they maybe held these prejudices and I know that you are a father of multiracial children. And if you wouldn't mind, I would love to hear how you and your wife are going to teach this, if you've taught it with them, or like, how was it approached? Or, yeah, I would love to know more about your thoughts.
Yeah, thank you. So just, just as a, maybe a point of clarification for listeners, my wife Karen is the daughter and granddaughter of Salvadoran immigrants and refugees that fled the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. She was born in San Francisco shortly after her mother came to the United States from El Salvador. And we have made this a point of emphasis with our children from a very young age. With a last name like Jones, they might be mistaken for having sole European ancestry. They're white-assumed, although each of them have very Spanish first names: Joaquin and Sophia and Oscar and Paloma. And we gave them those names, in part, so that they would understand and appreciate their Hispanic heritage, to embrace their identity as Latino and Latina. But we've also made it a point of emphasis to not shy away from their paternal ancestry about my ancestors, and that includes a lot of wonderful stories that I was raised on. They have certainly learned about their Latter-day Saint pioneer ancestors, about their ancestors who came to what is now the United States hundreds of years before it became an independent nation. But they're also aware that some of their ancestors were implicated in slavery, were implicated in the slave trade. They're aware that some of their more recent ancestors held and assumed certain things about, or certain prejudices, towards people of different races and ethnicities, or people of different nationalities, but also may have also held sexist, or homophobic or other prejudices. And so we've tried to create an atmosphere in our home where we can talk openly about those difficult subjects in age-appropriate ways. We don't want to overwhelm them, but in a way that they can understand that they themselves are complicated, multifaceted individuals with complicated, multifaceted ancestry. And that within our home, within our family, we're trying to create an atmosphere of openness where they can ask hard questions, and where we can be prepared with answers, whether they be simple answers or difficult ones. And sometimes I've had to answer them with "That's a really good question, and I'm not quite sure how to answer that. Maybe we can read this book together to try and understand better, maybe we can watch this television program to understand that a little bit better." Again, I don't have easy answers to what I think are really complicated questions that we're addressing here regarding transitional characters, and the complexities of family history. But the first step, it seems to me, is to acknowledge and understand who our ancestors were, and the good and the bad, and everything in between, really clearly good or bad things that they did. And only when we start with an effort to come to know them, by turning our hearts to them, can we begin this transition process that we've been talking about.
Thank you so much. I feel like in family history, when we come upon an ancestor who was a bad actor, or who did something that doesn't really fall in line with our values, I've seen two responses. One is that there's so much shame and you want to kind of not even acknowledge that ancestor because you feel so ashamed and that it does reflect on you as a person, or you be like, "What do my ancestors choices have to do with me? Why should I feel like I should be held accountable for anything that they've done?" Like, what are your thoughts on on those?
Yeah, that is a great question. I understand both of those impulses. And I've certainly felt them myself.
Yeah, me too.
I don't feel responsible for one of my ancestors enslaving somebody else. I didn't do that. I do feel compelled to acknowledge that that injustice occurred. And I do believe that it's important for me to acknowledge and then reflect on the legacies of that act, or their actions. We sometimes think about, for example, racism, as being limited to having explicitly negative or derogatory thoughts, or beliefs or assumptions about somebody of a different racial identity. But racism is an ism. It includes both individual attitudes and actions, which we can start with abandoning immediately. But it also includes larger systemic issues. It includes the institutions that we belong to, and that we interact with in society on a daily basis. It includes institutions that are rooted in history itself, I sometimes tell my students that history's happened, and simply ignoring it doesn't make it go away. I am opposed to exploited labor. I utilize technology and wear clothing daily that is the product of exploited labor systems. And so in me thinking about me being myself being a transitional character, these are the sorts of realities that I have to confront. And I have no doubt that generations that follow me will need to transition away from my own hypocritical actions or shortcomings.
And I hope they do.
I hope they do, too.
I hope our descendants see us in our, in our complexity and our flaws and be like, "I sure love Great Grandma, Michelle, but I think I'm gonna do this in a healthier way."
"She had this blind spot, she missed this, she was so good on these fronts, but—", right? "Bless Great Grandma Miya, who taught me to be proud of my body and its strength and its power and all that it can do, but she kind of missed this, and so I want to take that in a new direction." We as a society, sometimes like to quote Martin Luther King, Junior's quote, "The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice", right? And it has this idea that things are always getting better. And I think there's an element of at least aspirational truth there. I think history is a little bit more complicated than that. But what that means is, it doesn't stop with our generation. The future generations have to continue to bend and mold that arc towards justice further.
So before we leave, I want just one more question to ask all of us. And as we have become self-aware, as we are transitioning, are we, as we are acknowledging things that we need to transition away from, has it been worth it? I mean, it's been really hard, like when you brought up those, those slave records, there are so many people within family history, like, "Family history, I am doing it!" and they go to do it, and then they come up against these records, which we're so grateful that they exist, but then it's like an immediate gut punch. And they're like, "What is happening? I thought family history was all positive. I thought I was gonna feel great and receive all these blessings. Why do I feel like someone just punched me in the gut?" And it's like, there's also trauma in those records. And like, so many people are like, is it worth it? Is it worth it to face the ghosts of the past? Is it worth it to try to transition? And I want to know, real talk here, like, both of you, like, has transitioning been worth it? And I'll start. For me, myself, transitioning and going to therapy and acknowledging the harms of the past has been really painful. But a lot of things in my, my family history, the intentions were really good, but I can see over time, the impact was not in line with our family values. And for me, one of the most powerful tools I have against these negative, traumatic, harmful things happening again, is to know about them. And now I feel like I'm calling it out. I'm pointing out what it is. I'm trying not to vilify. I'm trying to give complexity to my ancestors. But by acknowledging the mistakes they made, by teaching my children about the mistakes they made, specifically with alcohol, I really hope that that is going to prevent future generations from having problems with addiction. And so for me, that hope is has been worth all of the trial and effort. And I think it's not just a one-time thing, it's a lifetime thing I'm going to be working towards.
And I will say the same for myself, that it is a lifetime work. I'm making myself a transitional character part of my character, somebody that I can't erase, something that will never leave me. Once it came out, it's like, "Yeah, you're there. You're going to be with me and this is how I'm going to live now. It's now part of my moral being and existence." And like you said, Michelle, for me, it has been totally worth it. Why? Because the one word that comes to mind is love. I feel with my example of body image, this overwhelming sense of love has propelled me forward in ways that I can never have imagined beforehand. Especially with, you know, not limiting myself, with allowing myself to go and do things that I want to do or experience. But more importantly, it's allowed me to have a heart that has much more room to love other people. I feel like my being has grown so much more and given me even more power to do good and deep down, that's all I've ever wanted to do. And I know that is in me, because that's what my family believes in. They've always passed on histories of trying to do the right thing. And now I'm living that legacy. I'm a living legacy of this. And because I stepped into this
You're a new ancestor.
I am a new ancestor. I've fully stepped into this, at least in this time and space, but it'll just keep expanding. And I will too. So yes, the answer is yes, it is absolutely worth it.
I love your focus on on love there, Miya, and having that be central. I often tell my students that one of the benefits of studying history is that it will make them a more empathetic person. Because they're forced to confront people in the foreign world of the past on their own terms, to understand the times in which they lived and how they shaped or limited the options available to those historical actors. And my hope is that empathy translates into the world in which they live now. That they're able to become more empathetic with those that are different from them, that they may be more empathetic with those in their own family, and certainly that there'll be more empathetic with their loved ones and their families. And I've certainly seen that in my own life, studying history and family history. There's a lot of work to do, but it has forced me and conditioned me to extend more grace to those that I encounter on a daily basis. People who may look different from me or act different from me or believe things different from me, it's made me pause to think about them in more loving and charitable ways.
All this conversation about unpacking, as well as transitioning and changing, it brings me back to the One who has been, and still is the best transitional character for all of us. Through all time, or all space, and all eternity, is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So when He came to this earth, and He lived as a mortal--well, have mortal half god--He was here to make important things happen. And He did exactly that. And He fulfilled his mission of being the One who changed everything for all people. I think about the strength that He had to endure the uncomfortableness, the trauma, the shame that comes to all human beings in every place of the world. And it was because of Him and because of what He's done that it's possible for us to have those changes and to transition in our lives. He made that possible. And I truly believe that in transitioning ourselves, that we bring about and unlock this healing, and that potential to be transformed to better people, better families, better societies, better nations and better worlds, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ. All things are possible because of Him. And I would hope that future generations will continue to unlock, to unfold and unpack the blessings that are made available because of Jesus Christ.
Miya, I love that. Jesus Christ was an amazing transitional character. I mean, He pushed against toxic ways that people were interacting with each other. And He taught us that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. And I am so grateful for His teachings, and especially those two, because that's how I can weigh my coping mechanisms. That's how I can weigh traumas or new habits I'd want to gain, is by, like, are these things in my life going to help me to fall in line with these commandments of loving my neighbor of having a close relationship with God, or are these are these habits and these coping mechanisms destructive and taking me away from that? And I love the show "The Chosen", it's a historical drama about the life of Jesus Christ. And in it, every episode, He's transitioning from something. He's trying to show the Apostles how to transition away from different aspects of their lives, before they met Him, or different cultural things. And I just love that you brought that up, Miya, because He is truly the ultimate transitional character.
And if you want to learn how to be a better transitional character, I can't think you have a better place to start than in the scriptures, and all these stories about Jesus Christ. So with that, we're so thankful again for Dr. Jones, Christopher Jones, for coming today to speak to us about what it means to be a transitional character. And how all of us can do this, and how we can do it together, and bring about the healing that has always been intended for us, for our posterity, and for our ancestors.
And I just want to remind y'all, this is a podcast about family history, and we just majorly unpack this box to show you what, what we mean "a multifaceted approach to family history." This is it. And I think so many of us didn't realize all of the beauty and complexity and blessings that are in true family history work when we look at it from multi-perspectives. So I'm so glad you're here, and thank you so much, Professor Christopher Jones. We've loved having you, we're so grateful for your friendship in our lives, and thanks.
Thank you both.
Thank you for joining us for this episode of Love Your Lineage. You can find all the references and full transcript for this episode in our show notes at ldsliving.com/loveyourlineage. And if you love this episode, please leave us a review or a rating.
This episode was hosted by me, Michelle, and Miya. It was produced and edited by Erica Free and Katie Lambert, and mixed by Mix at 6 Studios. Thank you for being with us today, and we hope you feel empowered to love your lineage and embrace your authentic family history story.