Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Political Corrections

Recently my wife (who shall remain nameless) went down to D.C. to interview with a prestigious, left-of-center, non-profit organization (which shall also remain nameless). This place has made its name almost synonomous with equal-rights and anti-discrimination. The position Ms. X (my wife) interviewed for was quite possibly her dream job--in fact, I think her exact words were: "I'd run naked through the streets for this job." (As a sidenote, Mr. X may not allow Ms. X to do any such thing.)

Thankfully for me, nudity may not be necessary because the interview went almost perfectly. I insert the 'almost' because one of the three interviewers metaphorically scratched his head at the fact that my wife is Mormon - given away by the inevitable Bachelor of Arts from BYU that sits atop her resume. Now I don't have a recording of the exact exchange, but according to Ms. X, this guy implied that a Mormon might not be up to the task. He spoke as if an LDS person couldn't even spell 'civil rights,' let alone fight for them. Always on her toes, Ms. X noted that because Mormons are a religious minority, and an often stereotyped one at that, she'd be a perfect candidate for the position. Ms. X - 1, Unnamed Non-Profit Organization - 0.

A few days later, I told this story to a friend who isn't LDS and his response puzzled me. He mentioned that the umbrella of political correctness these days shields just about every minority group from excessive stereotyping except, for some reason, Mormons.

I, personally, haven't noticed too much negative stereotyping of Mormons among mainstream culture, but maybe I'm oblivious. What do you people think? Does my friends comment make sense to any of you?


At 7/05/2005 05:01:00 PM,

Yes, it makes sense. Witness the recent linkage of Mormons as a cult w/Scientolgy over the whole Cruise coverage.

However, it makes more sense as a pre-emptive strike by liberals to keep Mitt Romney and/or any other Mormon out of nationwide political office.  

Posted by lyle stamps

At 7/05/2005 10:20:00 PM,

I think your friend is kind of right.

I think a better definition would say it is more consistent and constant rather than excessive. Living in a predominately conservative Baptist area, I completely understand where your friend is coming from.

When the following words come up around here:
Joe Smith
"Our Bible"
Those guys on bikes with white shirts and ties
(forgive me if I've left out a few of your favorites

The information that they(non-mormons) have to share is always the same, well for at least 24 years that I can verify-they must be mormon, know a mormon or previously participated in the faith.

I like to believe that I do my part in setting the record straight when people have questions or misconceptions. My question is, Is our religion the last chapter in the "Faith's of the World" handbook?

I said that I kind of agree, because I believe the consistency is begining to thin out-very slowly, but it's happening. I know we will always have our sterotypes, now it's becoming less of an issue than it was, say 5 years ago.

I don't think we're are as far outside the umbrella as your friend thinks, we just didn't get under as fast when it started raining. 

Posted by Isaac

At 7/06/2005 12:28:00 PM,

Did she get the job? 

Posted by Ben

At 7/06/2005 12:40:00 PM,

It's been about a week and I still haven't (sniffle, sniffle) heard back from them. I'm trying to convince myself that it's because they're so busy lobbying for a minority replacement for Justice O'Conner.

At 7/06/2005 03:28:00 PM,

Ms. X,
I'm puzzled that an "equal-rights" and "anti-discriminatory" agency (according to "Chris") would blatantly address your religious affiliation as a potential factor in your hiring - especially for a job in the legal department. Go figure.

Maybe we should discuss the ethics of changing the name of your university for jobs that won't be able to get past it :)

In any case, "Mr. D" and "Miss K" are pulling for you.

At 7/06/2005 05:50:00 PM,

I've had job offers withdrawn twice over religion, once by a firm who felt they just couldn't risk an LDS hire at the stage they were in, once by a firm that had gone through some real problems with a religious difference.

Hope you are ok, not to mention, my favorite response to wrong questions "I guess your asking a question that is 'off the books' means I've gotten the job. Let me ..."

Which I'd never say, but it is tempting to think. ;)

Best wishes.

At 7/06/2005 06:06:00 PM,

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/07/2005 01:13:00 AM,

J******, if things don't work out, that is a heart-break. My heart is already pre-emptively broken as it is.

(Oops, now I have blown your cover ala Bob Novak and Miller & Cooper--so I might as well reveal my source. It was Professor Cutler's Modern American Lit class at BYU about 20 days after I came home from my mission.)

Your retort scores a 9 out of 10 in my book: the only thing additional you could have done, I think, would be to spice your sweetly intoned reply with a few choice expletives.

I too have been discriminated against for being LDS. The only catch was that the discriminator was (and at least nominally is still) LDS also. He said going to BYU and having worked for another Mormon he knew made me look "really *Mormon*--What's with all the Mormon stuff on your resume? How are you going to work with people who think you are nuts to be a Mormon?"

With your situation, I think it comes down to traditional, backwards high-minded sophistication. Mormons are quaint for being so dedicated to something unpopular. With my situation of a self-discriminating Mormon, I think the guy is just an idiot.

At 7/07/2005 01:57:00 AM,

My wife and I had a similar experience when we joined the Peace Corps, getting grilled pretty heavily in a way that I doubt a secular candidate or one from a mainstream religion would recieve. The woman who interviewed us seemed to doubt that we could refrain from proselytizing and that I could treat women with respect. We sort of got a kick out of educating her - you don't get out of the upper east side much, do you? I wanted to say.

When we completed our training in Bolivia we were first assigned to work on a reforestation project (I am a forester, and my wife has a natural resources degree), but our in-country host agency (a Catholic charity) made it clear they didn't want any Mormons. In that case persuasion didn't work and we had to accept a different assignment.


Posted by Jason

At 7/17/2005 11:53:00 PM,

I've definitely seen this kind of discrimination before. A friend of mine at school got denied a grant she applied for to study the way that faith based organizations affect AIDS work in Africa. She saw a memo that she wasn't supposed to have seen which said that the reason that she had been denied the grant was because they believed that her being Mormon would make it impossible for her to be objective about analyzing the work of other faith based organizations.

Other Mormons in religious studies departments at Yale who I know keep their church membership under wraps for the same reason. For any "real" religious studies PhD, religious studies ought be no more than anthropology; actively practicing a faith is seen as destroying one's objectivity.

Maybe if we all just put the tagline "and I'm gay" at the end of our resumes, we could seek legal action if a potential employer discriminated against us...

--JD Payne

At 8/03/2005 03:11:00 AM,

It's illegal to discriminate based on religion. If they didn't hire your wife due to her 'mormoness' they should be brought to court.


At 9/02/2005 09:18:00 AM,

Allegedly "positive" stereotypes of a minority group can be as damaging as negative stereotypes. This is the whole concept behind the "model minority discourse" theory. There is a good article from dialogue that seeks to apply model minority discourse analysis to Mormons in the Media. In the article, Chen and Yorgason assert, “‘Model minority discourse’ encompasses a complex set of ways to create meaning. It glorifies certain culturally dominant values and practices. And it positions a group of people as representatives of but not full participants in, the social life of the majority.” (108); and again that "In model minority discourse, success is profoundly ambiguous. Since success comes through seemingly exemplary actions; journalists imply Americans ought to admire and emulate Mormons. But because Mormons do not truly belong to mainstream society, according to this discourse, threatening signals of too much minority success appear in spite of ‘positive’ focus on LDS success.” (112).

One interesting facet of model minority discourse is its propensity to justify past wrongs against the minority, i.e. "well sure we shot and killed Mormons and kicked them out of several states until they had to flee to the West... but it was good for them! they developed such wonderful self-sufficiency values when we did and NOW look how successful they are!". The same type of discourse has been used to describe Chinese Americans, who suffered significantly in the 1800s but are now a "model minority".

Anyway, some interesting things to think about when you read articles about Mormons... They will begin by emphasizing our successes, but end by reminding the reader about our "otherness" as well.

Chiung Hwang Chen and Ethan Yorgason, “‘Those Amazing Mormons’: The Media’s Construtction of Latter-day Saints as a Model Minority”. Dialogue 

Posted by Sheldon




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