Nephite Racism

To preface, I don’t think the Book of Mormon is historical, but I still find a lot of meaning in it. The fact of the matter is that The Book of Mormon IS racist, but it tells a profound story for us white folks.

To start, the “Lamanite curse” is originally found in 1st Nephi 1:57-58 (LDS 1st Nephi 2:23-24) when God introduces the curse. It says:

57 For, behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed, except they shall rebel against me also. 58 If it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge to thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.

This verse tells us that the Lamanite curse is that they won’t be able to overpower the Nephites. However, this curse is invalidated if the Nephites are wicked. There is no mention of race. Lehi mentions the curse again in 2nd Nephi 1: 36-37 (LDS 2nd Nephi 1: 21-22), but again there is no mention of race. The third time that the Lamanite curse is mentioned is the first time that Nephi directly talks about it in 2nd Nephi 4: 33-41 (LDS 2nd Nephi 5: 21-25). Nephi doesn’t hold anything back as to how much hatred he harbors for his brothers, and skin color is one of the things he lists as to why he hates them. From here on out the Lamanite curse is associated with skin color. Nephi started this tradition of racism.

The Nephites, for hundreds of years, divided themselves from the Lamanites with the belief that their skin color made them superior. Despite this racism leading to war, poverty, and enslavement, the Nephites refused to give up their tradition of racism or even acknowledge that it was a problem. They never stop to think about exactly why the Lamanites are able to overpower them so many times, despite being told that shouldn’t be the case.

Many people think that the climax of The Book of Mormon is when Christ comes, but its not; the climax is in 4th Nephi. After Christ comes the Promised Land undergoes a reconstruction era. They are able to rebuild civilization more mindfully since they have Christ’s teachings. The Lamanites and Nephites start by not engaging in wars and treating everyone the right way. Then they ensure that all the poor are taken care of and no one is enslaved. Then they start physically rebuilding all of their cities. Then, the climax of the entire Book of Mormon comes at 4th Nephi 1: 17-21 (LDS 4th Nephi 1: 15-18) which says:

17 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land because of the love of God which dwelt in the hearts of the people. 18 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness. 19 And surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. 20 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of “ites”; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. 21 And how blessed were they, for the Lord blessed them in all their doings; even they were blessed and prospered until a hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.

This is the one time in the entire Book of Mormon where everyone lives in total peace. The Nephites have overcome their racism and no longer think they’re superior. They work towards making amends by ensuring that the Lamanites are taken care of. The love that the Lamanites and Nephites come to share for each other becomes so intense that they don’t even make distinctions as Lamanites and Nephites anymore; they’re just one people.

However, as time goes on the pride cycle emerges again and the Nephites re-adopt their racist ideology. This hate-fueled racism ends up becoming so intense that the Nephites eventually engage in a war that ensures their own total annihilation.

I am of the opinion that when Nephi associated the Lamanite curse with a darker skin color he broke the 3rd commandment (Don’t speak for God). Nephi is weaponizing his prophetic calling and using God to justify hatefully marginalizing people based on their skin color. The Nephites couldn’t see how their racism was a problem, despite it having permeated every facet of their culture. However, as the readers we can see how glaringly obvious Nephite racism is and how it would never come from a love-based god. We as readers are able to easily and rightfully deplore this white supremacy.

Since I don’t think the Book of Mormon is historical, I am free to interpret it in any way I see fit. I like to think the Nephites are an allegory for us white folks. The “curse” is an allegory for how we white folks have often used God to justify horrific things. The Nephite racism is an allegory for racism that many white folks harbor(ed) for people of color.

The Book of Mormon presents 2 endings: We acknowledge, overcome, and put away our racist traditions and try to make amends for the pain and damage we have caused OR we let hate fuel us so much that we end up destroying ourselves.

The Book of Mormon was written 200 years ago when racially-based chattel enslavement was still very legal. We have taken steps since that time, but have we taken enough? If we as white people learned anything from the protests last year the answer should be a resounding NO. We need to acknowledge that this racism is still within our culture. We need to seek to eradicate white supremacy from our institutions, such as legislation and police forces. We need to start thinking about how we as white folks can try to make amends for all the pain and damage we have caused to our family and friends. After we have abolished that racism and white supremacy and have made amends, I pray one day we’re able to live in total peace.