More than once in my career, I have been told by colleagues that they had me wrong. They had assumed, because of my religion, that I had unkind feelings toward racial minorities. After observing me in various settings, however, they had concluded that their initial assumption was unfair.
These moments are always bittersweet. On the one hand, I am pleased to have gained some measure of approval, even if I have not consciously sought it. On the other hand, I wonder how many other people never get past the initial assumption. When I was an undergraduate, a marketing professor told me that Proctor & Gamble assumed that every customer complaint was representative of six (or was it eight?) other unhappy customers. Similarly, I assume that for every person who admits to having this initial negative opinion of me based my religion, many more people simply harbor the opinion without ever giving it expression. Moreover, I fear that some people will not take the time to disabuse themselves of this unfair assumption or, even worse, will find confirmation for their opinion in some errant word or action on my part. I am starting at a deficit, and it can be tough to climb out.
My concern is not simply about wanting to be perceived a someone who is fairminded, but about being able to function effectively as a teacher and colleague. If, for example, I am asked to lead the law school’s hiring committee (not merely a hypothetical), will my efforts be viewed as an honest search for the best candidate, or will the search be tainted by doubts about my views on race?
Let me be right upfront about this: I am raising this issue for the most selfish reasons. While I can sympathize with black members of the Church, who feel personal pain about the history of the Church on this issue and who desire to have the Church do something more to acknowledge that pain, I also have begun to feel that this is important for me in a different, though still personal, way. Although I joined the Church after the revelation regarding blacks and the Priesthood in 1979, I am still connected to that history. In the minds of some of my non-member colleagues, I am a racist by association. You may fault them for making such assumptions, but I think that it is not only common, but understandable. While I cannot pretend to know the right course of action, I have come to feel that something more — perhaps a new proclamation of some sort — would be very welcome.