Jason Palmer, "Sacred White Places of Color: Peruvians Temple Mormonism"

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There are white spaces. There are spaces of color. There are spaces where “Racism Takes Place” (Lipsitz 2011, title). But can there be white spaces of color? It is hard to imagine a space on the globe whiter than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint’s newest edifice: The Arequipa, Peru Temple. Not only is Arequipa known as La Cuidad Blanca (the white city), every last detail of Arequipa’s newly dedicated Mormon temple is as white as it can be, from the belt- buckles of its brown-skinned workers, to the covers of the iPads used to show its sacred training videos. Mormon temple whiteness is not unique to Arequipa, it is part of the church’s modular dispersion system designed to replicate in the rest of the world the whiteness of the original Utah temples; temples that achieved their whiteness through overt anti-blackness. In newly Mormonized sites like Arequipa, however, “white” the pigment is not supposed to evoke “white” the race. Nevertheless “white” the symbology becomes inextricable from “white” the sensibility, which tends to become conflated with “white” the race as space becomes holy place. In this process, holiness fuses with whiteness. What can such whiteness possibly mean when it is forged, deposited, and inhabited by racialized people who do not get to receive the “wages” (Du Bois 1998) of whiteness? Exploring this question through my interviews with Anglo temple construction site managers in Arequipa and my experiences worshiping with Peruvian temple patrons in Utah, my paper analyses sacred, white place-making in spaces of color.

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February 5, 2020 - 3:51am

Critical Commentary

Jason Palmer is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He has been with the anthropology department for almost six years and has yet to achieve a grant, a job, an award or a publication, but for some reason he still fancies himself an anthropologist of Christianity, race, kinship, and migration. His work explores Peruvian Mormon kin formation and sacred place- making in the zone of migration between Peru and Utah.