Book Launch on 9/11

Yesterday, my book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, ***officially*** dropped.

Of course, I’ve been looking forward to this day for months, years even. And though the book has been shipping from the University of North Carolina Press (and from that “everything store” on the Internet) for more than a month now, it feels quite amazing–and more than a bit scary–to have it formally enter the world.

Though my wife and I split a split of champagne last night, it was a strange to celebrate anything in the U.S. yesterday. (Here’s my requisite, “where were you on 9/11,” story–it’s short. I was in Paris for my junior semester abroad. The closest thing I came to knowing someone well who was directly involved was an old high school girlfriend who had just completed an internship in one of the towers and a college buddy who was in New York studying skyscrapers, and was scheduled to visit the towers that day. There was a woman in my program in Paris whose dad died at the Pentagon. I think of her every 9/11).

Of course, most Mormons know–along with most students of the American West–that America’s first 9/11 was in some ways a Mormon one: the Mountain Meadows Massacre. On September 11, 1857, in a picturesque clearing along the Old Spanish Trail in central Utah, a militia of Mormon settlers massacred some 120 men, women, and children who belonged to a party of Arkansans bound for California. The Mormon perpetrators had intended on making the attack look like it had been carried out by Paiute Indians. They had armed a group of Paiutes. And some of the militia purportedly dressed as Indians. Yet, according to eye-witness accounts, “white men did most of the killing.”

The massacre didn’t make it into my book, though perhaps it should have. The feigned attempt at laying blame for the vicious slaughter on Indians fits well into the book’s thesis: that race is constructed historically and on paper before it’s written onto flesh and bone bodies of people (since they controlled the means of production of history–the written word, the print press–the Mormon perpetrators had the means to blame the Indians because they produced the written records from which the tragedy was initially narrated).

The history of Mountain Meadows is as complicated and contested as it gets in Mormon history (my first entry into the Mormon studies world was offering a formal response to the seminal history of the events, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, when two of the book’s co-authors the late (and beloved) Ron Walker and Glen Leonard, came to Harvard to discuss the book in 2008. Fortunately, I was to naïve to know what I was getting into or I would have been petrified to say anything at all).  But at its source and in its aftermath–and in this it shares to some degree elements of 9/11/01 and the events that followed it–Mountain Meadows is an intersectional history: a fatal mix of religious zealotry, nationalism, colonialism,  and xenophobia.

For both of these 9/11s, I pray that we keep our thoughts on the innocence lost and the innocents killed. In their memories, let’s turn ignorance and hate into knowledge and love.


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