“Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn.”
Aibileen shakes her head. “I used to believe in em. I don’t anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain’t.”…”Lines between black and white ain’t there neither. Some folks just made those up, long time ago.” The Help, Kathryn Stockett
The first African-American man I ever saw, other than on television, was a doorman at the Hotel Utah, now currently known as the Joseph Smith Building. He was in his seventies with silver hair and a wide smile. He seemed tall to me. He put his hands on his knees when he bent down to look in my face. I have a picture with me standing next to him, but I don’t know who took it or why.
The first polygamists I ever remember seeing, besides in family ancestor photos, were a bunch of children playing near a farmhouse. My Dad had gone there to help them with legal business and my sister, my brother, and I had accompanied him. I sat on their swingset, watching the group of dressed-alike children stare at me as long and hard as I was staring at them. I remember feeling uncomfortable in my capsleeves. A small girl, in a light blue dress walked toward me holding out a grey kitten. “Would you like to hold it?” she asked. I jumped off the swing and ran away.
There was a single African-American boy that came to my high school my Junior year. I would see him in the halls and wonder how he felt. He graduated that year. I never spoke to him.
Charleen pulled me into a beauty salon in downtown Florence, Italy. She was a Southern goddess and she didn’t mind telling that to everyone she met. Her hot pink fingernails and matching dress shone against her skin. She was the first black woman I had ever talked to. I was twenty. The Italian beauticians swarmed around her like butterflies, touching her hair. They had never felt a black woman’s hair before. I translated to Charlene, “They don’t know how to do your hair. They are afraid they might ruin it.” She snapped her fingers and told me to translate back.
I heard my parents talking about him. He had been shot right in his office. He hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve it. He was just a polygamist. His name was Allred.
Three years of being Rita’s visiting teacher and she never once let us in her house. Every month we would call, leave Ensigns, the Church News, cookies, or a letter. Eventually she started coming to Sacrament Meeting. She wore a dark pantsuit and would sit in the back. She would slip out before I could get to her. After eighteen months or so, she agreed to meet in our homes, never in hers. We became fast friends. A year after my companion and I moved away, we came back to be with Rita. We sat in the temple as her escorts. Her 48-year old black hand curled around mine.
He sat on my parents’ kitchen stool last Sunday, eating the remains of my Dad’s birthday feast. He is eighteen and living in the back room indefinitely while he takes missionary discussions. He’s from a polygamist family and the rules require him to not be at his home influencing his siblings with his decision to leave polygamy. He says that he has friends already married and he thinks he is too young. He’s from the group of Allred – the same man who’d been shot when I was young. His friends and family still live in fear of being jailed or shot. I’ve never talked to a polygamist. It’s my chance to ask questions other than the ones I’ve heard asked on Oprah.
“What are the doctrinal differences between you and Mormons, besides living polygamy?” I ask.
“Only two I can think of,” he answered confidently, “We believe in the Adam-God theory. We also believe that black people should not have gotten the priesthood because they’re Canaanites.”
“Canaanites?” I respond, confused.
“Yes. Descended from Cain.”
“Oh,” I mutter, shaking my head.
I think back to that very same morning in Relief Society. Kristy sits beside me. She adopted Milo who is now the same age as my boy. She has adopted her second African-American child – a baby girl she named Noelle. I ask to hold her and she is passed to me like an unwrapped present, swathed in pink, with a bow in her curly, dark hair. We play, smile at each other, she chews on my watch while I listen to the lesson about the Priesthood. “Through the keys of the priesthood, we can access all of the powers of heaven.” I hold her up and she dances lightly on my thighs.
We all have experiences that make us draw boundary lines. I’ve had to ask myself over and over where my lines are drawn and why. The lines have become more fluid over the years- sometimes invisible, sometimes deep. But I ask myself, “Should they exist at all?” What are your experiences that have given you insight into your own boundary lines?