The ugly specter of racism has reared its head in ways that cannot be ignored. Shocking deaths, protests–both peaceful and violent, and countless stories of cruelty and oppression have dominated the news. It takes a significant story to edge a pandemic out of the spotlight. For weeks I have scrolled through scores of social media posts on the subject of racism. Some of them impassioned rants, some attempting to educate the white, privileged population, and others offering constructive ways to show support to Black business owners.
I have also spent hours trying to identify what my personal responsibility is in all of this. Though I don’t have all the answers, three separate stories keep floating to the top of the turmoil in my mind. At first glance, they seem unrelated to current events, but they have helped me identify where my path to combating racism must begin:
Popcorn would not be popping on the apricot tree anymore. After years of producing beautiful fruit, our apricot tree suddenly gave up the ghost. On a Saturday morning in mid-April, years ago, my husband decided it was time to cut the tree down and pull up the stump, which is no small task with a mature tree. Brad recruited our nineteen-year-old daughter to assist him on the job. They began with a chainsaw, cutting off individual branches, then they cut each branch into smaller pieces, reserving the thicker chunks for firewood.
My only involvement with the tree removal was to interrupt my indoor chores periodically and step outside to take a few pictures of the process. Once the branches were off the tree trunk and cleared out of the way it was time to bring in the big guns: a forklift.
The next time I stepped out to take a photo, the stump had been wrenched from the ground, and I gasped as I got a full view of the roots. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Though I’d enjoyed the lovely blossoms on the apricot tree each spring, I’d never given a thought to what lay beneath the surface.
Here is an excerpt of a letter I once wrote to my father:
“Dear Papa, June 2013
For Father’s Day, I’d like to share a life lesson you once taught me. Certainly, there are hundreds more, but this is one of the earliest from my memories:
When we first moved to our house in Logan and had a yard to take care of, you assigned me the thrilling task of dandelion removal. “How difficult can it be?” I thought. “You just find anything that looks yellow and yank.” I spent ten whole minutes wandering around the yard, casually pulling at the stems until there wasn’t a fluffy yellow flower in sight. Mission accomplished.
You were surprised to find me back in the house so soon, claiming to be finished with my chore, and invited me to return to the yard with you for an inspection of my work. Upon discovering that I had successfully removed the dandelion heads and stems but left the rest of the plants in the ground, you proceeded to give me my first real lesson about roots and weeds. You also produced a dandelion fork for me, demonstrating how it was possible, and highly desirable, to remove the entire root system of each weed. At the ripe old age of nine, the only thing this information meant to me was that I would have to do way more work. I had been satisfied with getting rid of whatever showed from the surface.
It’s funny how some lessons marinate in your subconscious mind and their full meaning hits you decades later. I hate to confess how much of my life has been spent spiritually tugging at surface weeds, keeping up appearances. Thankfully, somewhere along the way, I remembered the striking symbol of your lesson on roots. For [many years now] I have concentrated more of my efforts on identifying the weeds in my life and making a serious effort to “root this wicked spirit out of my breast.” The surface weeding was so much easier, but the lengthy process of deep digging and inviting the Savior to pull at the roots with me till every trace has been removed is the most satisfying work I have accomplished. I can tell I’m going to be at this task for years to come, but I don’t dread it like I used to. Thanks for teaching me how to really weed.
Happy Father’s Day Dad!”
In one of the most poignant moments of The Book of Mormon, an old Lamanite King–ruler of a wild, ferocious, and blood-thirsty people–is taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. He responds by asking, “What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast…?” Aaron, the Nephite missionary teaching the king, instructs him to repent. “And…the king did bow down before the Lord upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth and cried mightily, saying: O God…wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee…” (Alma 22:15,17-18 emphasis added)
I cannot read this account without tears. The crusty, arrogant Lamanite king is pricked in his heart. He is honest enough to acknowledge that there is wickedness inside him. And he–who never bowed down to anyone–is humble enough to “prostrate himself upon the earth” and ask God to pull up the evil by the roots.
An invitation for self-examination
The mental images from these three stories–the serious root system of our apricot tree, my father digging up dandelion roots with a weeding fork, and a powerful king begging God to root the evil out of his heart–have all worked on me over the past several weeks. I can only be part of the solution to racial issues if I am brave enough to delve beneath the surface–to search my heart–and honestly acknowledge any roots of ugliness I may find. Then I must have the humility to beg for God’s help in eradicating anything that prevents me from loving others without reserve. As with my apricot tree, we never know exactly what’s beneath the surface until we start digging.
This is a perfect time for self-examination. Studying the fifth chapter of Alma this month has been more meaningful than ever in light of current racial tensions. Alma provides us with nearly fifty questions to ask ourselves–a deep self-examination for those who claim to be serious about living the gospel of Jesus Christ. A couple of these questions are particularly pertinent right now: “Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another?” (Alma 5:30,54)
It takes courage to ask ourselves the hard questions, but we take the first step on the path to positive change when we accept Alma’s invitation for self-examination. Once we have–with the Savior’s help–rooted out of our own heart any un-Christian attitudes toward our fellow humans, we will be ready to figure out our next step on the path toward true racial harmony.