The Most American Religion
Mormons spent 200 years assimilating to a certain national ideal—only to find their country in an identity crisis, McKay Coppins wrote in the January/February issue. What will the third century of the faith look like?
I’m a devout Episcopalian, but I spent many years dealing with an incomprehensible and not very subtle anti-Mormon bias. After I was named Mitt Romney’s chief of staff, in 2002, a church leader asked me how I could work for a heretic. And then there was so much anti-Mormonism on the presidential-campaign trail.
One of my earliest best friends was a Latter-day Saint, so Mormonism has never been a weird religion to me. Now, thanks to the Romneys and others, I love so much about the Church and how my LDS friends live their lives. I was truly moved by your writing. Defending Mormonism has been part of my own spiritual journey.
Your personal recollections felt familiar to me as an American Jew. I feel blessed to have friends who belong to the Mormon Church. In my current role, I see hate all the time, but the bias against Mormons has always bothered me, in part because the community is so gracious and generous toward others.
For those reasons, I made it a point to reach out to the Church when I started as CEO at the Anti-Defamation League. In 2019 I spent three days in Salt Lake City as a guest of the Church. I used the visit to press the Church and elected officials to support a new hate-crimes bill that would protect Utah’s LGBTQ community. The trip ended on a positive note when the Church announced it would do just that.
I am certain that our communities would benefit from more engagement in the years ahead.
CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League
New York, N.Y.
Thank you for your frankness about our faith and the beauty and flaws that exist within our culture and history. Reading your article made me reflect on who I am and the decisions I have made for my family, faith, and career. I also struggle with the history of polygamy, the priesthood and temple ban for Black people, and the impact of our doctrine on LGBTQ members. This internal wrestle continues, but your article provided a sense of peace and comfort that I really needed.
I appreciate the perspective from one “born in the covenant” about a religion that is often skewered by outsiders. But the assertion that the Church moved toward a message of kindness and acceptance of its LGBTQ brothers and sisters after 2008 ignores some of the most exclusionary and hateful messaging from a modern Church in America. Your readers are owed the full historical picture when considering the LDS Church and its significant impact on American history and culture.
I haven’t been an active LDS member for more than 40 years. I belong to a large family, and none of them, including my late father, has ever tried to persuade me to go back. My personal sticking point was that the Church pretty much wants all women to live just one life: that of wife and mom. I have never had the slightest desire to become either. Your article, though, sums up the reasons for the Church’s success, and its appeal to so many. You’ve done a great service here for members and nonmembers alike.
Salt Lake City, Utah
The Making of a Model Minority
Indian Americans rarely consider what they have in common with other nonwhite Americans, Arun Venugopal argued (January/February).
I came to this country in 1980. Over the past 40 years, many Americans looking at our GPAs, our GRE scores, and our salaries have told me, “Indians are smart.” And many Indians have believed this. But we know (as Venugopal points out) that we are an unrepresentative sample. I came, like many people, from one of the Indian Institutes of Technology, which seemed purpose-built to send students abroad for graduate study. Most of us never went back. We married, had children, and sponsored our parents so that they could come and babysit.
And then, assimilation. We came from the power class of English-speaking middle-class Hindus. In America we assumed that our natural place was in the power class, with white Americans. There was no recognition that we were beneficiaries of protest and struggle by other minorities. We clung to white America’s stereotypes of race. We sneered at Black Americans and feared them. Others—Native Americans, Latino Americans—were not part of our consciousness at all.
No question, we are a model minority. Our community’s success has been primarily the success of people who came here in the ’70s and ’80s. Their children to some extent have imbibed their values. But once this model “bulge” passes through the system, will we still be a model minority? I seriously doubt it. We will look more and more like the rest of America.
Little Falls, N.J.
Venugopal writes, “My parents never had to give me ‘the talk’ that many Black teenagers receive.” But just because Venugopal did not have this talk, or something similar, does not mean other Indian families do not. My family will matter-of-factly remind my brother not to wear his hood and to be extra polite if approached by a police officer while driving. My mother and aunts tell their sons not to grow their beard too long for fear of being seen as threatening. I think it is fair to say that the second-generation Indian Americans who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s had a different set of circumstances than those who grew up post-9/11.
Venugopal has begun a conversation by offering his family’s story in the larger context of Indian American history. We need more stories like this, with more nuanced experiences, to detangle and debunk the flawed “model minority” myth.
I appreciate Arun Venugopal’s argument. However, his analysis neglects two crucial issues.Venugopal’s summary of the immigration of educated, upper-caste Indians to America ignores the parallel history of South Asian immigrants who joined the American working class. Families such as my own include engineers and doctors on one side, and taxi and bus drivers on the other. Both of these classes typically shirk the possibility of social alliance with Black Americans.
The “divide and rule” principle that Venugopal suggests may have guided affluent Indian Americans to align with white social groups doesn’t explain the resistance of their working-class brethren to allying with struggling Black Americans. Therein lies a second overlooked issue: colorism, an insidious form of racism among South Asians. The subcontinental social psyche has yet to heal from the damages of colonialism; aspirations for “fair and lovely” skin are rampant.
There are, still, some Indian American immigrants daring enough to confront and overcome the cultural barrier of colorism. (Shyamala Gopalan Harris, the mother of our current vice president, was one such critical thinker.) But in large part, the onus will be on our children and their children—those willing to abandon their comfortable berths in America’s modern racial hierarchy—to reckon with colorism and leave it behind.
Behind the Cover
The challenges of pandemic schooling have been widespread, but the burden of remote learning has fallen most heavily on public-school families. Caitlin Flanagan’s cover story this month contrasts that reality with the angst of the affluent parents who spend tens of thousands of dollars on private-school tuition. Flanagan argues that Americans have allowed public schools to fail while private schools shuttle students into the Ivy League. Our rendering of a school desk hammered from gold depicts this obscene inequality. The seat has been transformed into a throne, reserved for the rich.
Arsh Raziuddin, Associate Art Director
The print version of “How Civilization Broke Our Brains” (January/February) used an incorrect subtitle for the American edition of James Suzman’s book. The full title of that edition is Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots. We regret the error. A caption in “Tom Stoppard’s Double Life” (March) misidentified Stoppard’s location in the accompanying photograph. Stoppard is pictured in London.