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BIPOC Lecture Series Brings New Perspectives to BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts

Guest speaker Melissa Inouye outlined potential steps in the quest for anti-racism


Photo credit: Mossi Watene

As part of its Black Lives Initiative, the Theatre and Media Arts department hosted its first in a series of virtual seminars with distinguished BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) guest speakers. The lecture, held via Zoom on September 24, was titled "A Latter-Day Saint Theology of Anti-Racism" by Dr. Melissa Inouye.

Inouye, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, earned her PhD in East Asian languages and civilizations from Harvard. She also works as a historian at the Church History department in Salt Lake City. The scholar, author and mother of four spoke from her perspective as a fourth-generation Chinese-Japanese American and a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Inouye delivered her lecture from a hospital room in Murray, Utah, where she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. She stressed the need to press forward with life's obligations whatever the circumstances, saying simply, "Life doesn't happen in a vacuum." Inouye went on to use her own experience as an example of the need for empathy in life, stating that her physician is also a cancer patient, making him a more effective healer because of his experience. "The best healers know what it's like to be sick," she said.

"Racism is a part of my story," Inouye said, explaining that she has not only been the victim of racism, but at times has been guilty of it as well. "We must recognize that we bear the moral and cultural blinders of our society." She emphasized that every individual carries his or her own biases based on the circumstances in which they were raised.

Addressing issues specific to Utah culture, Inouye believes that most instances of racism are borne more from ignorance than from maliciousness. The first step is to recognize the gaps in our understanding, then actively work to learn and change. Even minor biases, she said, are like tumors that will grow and spread if not addressed.

Citing examples of past racism within the Church, Inouye acknowledged a sometimes uncomfortable history while also advocating a reason for hope: the doctrine of forgiveness. This key tenet of LDS theology underscores our capacity for change and asserts that mistakes are necessary for personal growth. The certainty of human imperfection is countered by the potential for improvement.

To conclude, Inouye encouraged every individual to ask two important questions: First: What lack I yet? "Each of us can do a better job of loving our neighbors, of developing our talents and capacities," she said. "We must figure out what those talents are and then use them to take action."

The second question, she said, is: Who will feed my sheep? We can visit new places and seek new perspectives by reaching out to those different from ourselves. "We must decide to leave our comfort zone to initiate change in ourselves and others," said Inouye. "We must enter the discomfort zone."