We Talked to BYU’s Black Menaces

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S1: How many black friends do you have at BYU?

S2: Honestly, none.

S3: Hi, I’m Rachel Hampton.

S4: And I’m Madison, Malone Pritchard. You’re listening to. I see. Why am I?

S3: In case you missed it.

S4: Slate’s podcast about Internet culture.

S3: And we have taken another road trip back to Utah.

S4: Baby. Beep, beep, beep.

S3: Madison is driving cause I can’t drive.

S4: That means you have the ox caught. Honestly, this seems right.

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S3: Yes. Yes. We will be playing a lot of Jasmine Sullivan.

S4: So we’re back in Utah because surprise, surprise, we’re getting back into one of our favorite topics on the show, the church of the Latter day Saints. We’re talking Mormons.

S3: I don’t really know how this became a main character on the show, but Henry the eighth is also a main character on the show, so it kind of makes sense.

S4: Makes perfect sense. The tick tock algorithm is the answer you’re looking for.

S3: Yeah, yeah. Speaking in a tick tock algorithm, we’re talking about the black menaces. A group of black students at Brigham Young University who have been absolutely taking over my for you page over the last few weeks.

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S4: Mine, too. So the menaces, like Rachel said, are a student group on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, and they wander the campus grounds, doing person on the street interviews with students and faculty, asking questions that might be considered taboo in the church of the Latter day Saints. So we’re talking things like, Do you support gay marriage? Would you call yourself a feminist? My personal favorite. How many black friends do you have?

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S3: Yeah. Picture Billy on the street, but a lot less screaming.

S4: The menaces are absolutely blowing up on TikTok right now in a way that Billy Eichner wishes. Their biggest video is from March 23rd. It has over 18 million views and their account collectively has over 21 million likes. They’re well over half a million followers. It’s a real impressive blow up for an account that only appeared on the Tik-Tok scene in February.

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S3: And was such a niche topic, which is BYU and the Church of Latter Day Saints, which, despite its looming presence on our show, is a very small section of the population.

S4: But looming presence, Rachel, means that time we talked about up the alleged sex act you can Google or that time we tracked down the guy who runs the Brigham Young University Virginity Club Instagram account or just the fact in general that a TikTok 100% thinks I’m an ex Mormon, which is actually how I first found the genesis.

S3: Ooh. Yeah. What was the first video that came across your fip?

S4: This is embarrassing because you would think my answer would be one of the videos about them asking about gay marriage or gay rights or queer students being like, you know, the first video I saw was quite literally the first video the genesis ever posted.

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S3: Wow. A day one fan.

S4: I got in on the ground floor. It’s the most BYU specific of their videos, I would say, because it’s just a reaction video to a member of the church saying some racist, really racist stuff.

S5: And then the blacks didn’t get the priesthood until 1978. What’s up with that brother Wilcox? What? Brigham Young was a church for prejudice. That’s the bare minimum. So maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Then maybe instead of saying, why did the blacks have to wait until 1978? Maybe what we should be asking is, why did the whites stoke? Wow. Well.

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S1: I’m sorry.

S4: It was impossible to watch and not want to watch 17 more of their videos.

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S3: The first one I got was them asking BYU students how long they think it takes on average to get married at BYU.

S2: Okay. How long do you think people date at BYU before they get married?

S5: It’s worth two months off.

S2: We heard it from the people themselves, like three months probably at like the most at most.

S3: And I obviously was hooked because that is a short amount of time to decide. You want to declare your life to someone else.

S4: We also want to take a moment to shout out a bunch of listeners who reached out and asked us to cover the black masses. Specifically, Ruth gets the special distinction of being first. Who asked us when we were going to cover the black masses while Ruth The answer is today.

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S3: That’s right. Because after the break, we will be back with the miniseries themselves. We’ve got them on the.

S4: Show and we can’t wait for you to hear what they have to say. It’s so good. All right. And we are back with the black menaces. Well, at least two of them. Please welcome Nate Byrd and Rachel Weaver. Hi, Rachel.

S1: Hi. Thanks for having us.

S4: And hello, Nate.

S6: Hey, how’s it going? Glad to be on the podcast.

S3: We are so excited you’re here. So I guess our first question is, who are the black menaces?

S1: So the black menaces. We are a group of black students at Brigham Young University, and we are all just friends. And we met through the Black Student Union on campus. And I’ll let me kind of explain how we decided to make the TikTok account.

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S6: Yes. So the TikTok account came in response to some comments that were made by a faculty member here on campus. And BYU is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints or the Mormon Church, if you will. And Brad Wilcox is the name of the faculty member. He’s also a leader in the church, one of the higher ups. He made some comments that were racist, sexist and xenophobic. And so we took the part that was racist and we said, we’ve got to do something about this. And we decided to make a reaction video. And then after that, the rest was history. We started gaining a lot of traction and now we have a whole bunch of followers.

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S3: Kajal Describe a typical black man is TikTok video for us.

S6: Yeah. So basically what we do is we, we come up with a question, you know, usually regarding a social issue or political issue and we’ll ask BYU students what their thoughts are on that issue. You know, just a yes or no question a lot of times.

S2: So do you think white privilege exists?

S6: Yeah, I’d say so.

S1: Do you think you have white privilege?

S6: Yeah, in some ways, for sure.

S2: Well, library.

S5: Yeah. I feel like. I don’t know, like.

S1: And most of the questions have to do with black people or other bipoc communities or queer students or really any issue that we feel is addressing a marginalized group on BYU campus or just something that is more taboo in Utah or the culture of the Church of Jesus Christ.

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S4: How does it feel when you walk up to a student and put that microphone in their face? Put us in your shoes, what’s going through your head?

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S6: So honestly, I’ll be truthful. It feels a little I feel kind of more powerful. And BYU is often a very draining place for marginalized groups. But when I’m with other people who are like me, it just feels that much better. And so when I’m walking with one or two or all four of the, you know, all four the other black ministers, and we’re just like proudly looking for someone to talk to. It’s actually a lot of fun. So when we’re able to to, you know, ask somebody a question and just kind of watch their reaction as the gears start turning. And it’s pretty satisfying because a lot of times the students that we talked to have they have the privilege to where they’ve never had to think about these things. And these are issues that we have to think about or deal with on a daily basis. So being able to kickstart that process and them is, is pretty good, pretty wonderful.

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S1: Yeah, I the only thing I’d add is sometimes it’s a little scary, at least for me as a black woman, especially like approaching white men, it can be a little intimidating when asking racially charged questions. I don’t know. Sometimes for me, I just don’t know what they’re going to say and I don’t know how bold they will be. But that’s kind of I’m on my end as a woman, kind of intersectionality there.

S3: But yeah, definitely that makes a lot of sense. That actually dovetails perfectly into our next question, which is what is it like to kind of hear answers from your peers that essentially boil down to them not believing that certain marginalized groups deserve to be treated equally or like deserve rights?

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S6: The thing with BYU is we already know how people think because a lot of us, you know, we’ve been here for a long time, so we already know that these attitudes exist. This is just the first time that it’s ever been called in for a case, so to speak. So it’s not necessarily shocking to I think we’re more surprised when we get answers that are supportive or affirmative because, you know, we kind of when we ask people these questions, we kind of expect to get wild answers. We kind of expect people to say things that are out of pocket. So, you know, it’s always more surprising when we get something nice instead.

S4: It seems watching these videos like there’s a common refrain among students who answer you. They tell you, Oh, I can’t speak to that, or I need to do more research. I feel as a line you guys get a lot. Do you think they’re actually doing research or do you think that’s just cover for. I don’t want to tell you how I feel because I know it’s wrong.

S1: I genuinely do not believe a lot of them are researching. I think some of them might be thinking deeper after the videos go viral maybe. And they see themselves, which is kind of our purpose, right, is to challenge people’s beliefs and to help people. We don’t want to challenge people to the point where there’s no redemption. Right. Like we can all change and grow and. Become better people. But I just don’t necessarily know that that’s happening right away. I think maybe the what the Internet kind of shows them where they’re at encourages that that change maybe sooner than they would have wanted.

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S3: You all have this incredible ability when you’re asking these questions and listening to these answers to keep a like wildly straight face. Meanwhile, I’m on my phone just like, Oh, my God.

S5: The question is, do you think the black people deserve reparations?

S2: I think that they definitely don’t deserve what was under them in the past. I think that they do in some ways get a lot of reparation, like you can get scholarships and stuff for that type of thing. I think that we kind of need to move past like equaling out everybody and just trying to like learn how to love each other rather than like, oh no, we need to get even or oh, now we need to like oppress other people because we were oppressed or like. So I think that we just need to like.

S3: How do you do that? How are you not reacting in real time as you’re hearing these answers?

S1: Well, so here’s the thing. I really don’t have a poker face. So when you see me on the camera, most times I’m looking like this. Mm hmm. You know, I’m making about face because I really do have a poker face. But, I mean, we try to hold it in. Also, this is not the first time we’ve heard some of these things from people. This is more so the first time it’s been documented. And also, we know that if we do not have a poker face, people will shift what they say. If they see you looking at them like, wow, really? They know, then they’ll kind of change up a little bit what they say. But if you kind of just hold a straight face, they’ll really expose themselves. And also, I want to add that we don’t encourage dragging of the people in our videos because these are still people. And although what they think might not be correct, they still can change and grow. And I hope they do. A lot of people in our community were grew up very sheltered. It’s one thing if they’re exposed and continue to choose bigotry, but sometimes this might have been the first time where someone has asked them this question and this is the first time they’re formulating a response out. And we’re just trying to show like the reality of what people think. Not necessarily like condemn people. And and we’re trying to encourage people the end of the day to do better. And that can only happen if they are learning and growing, which is what we’re doing.

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S4: I’m assuming that everyone you film consents to being filmed prior to being on camera. I’m curious, do you often get rebuffed? Do you walk up to students and they say, Absolutely not.

S6: I say it’s probably about maybe 70, 30, 80, 20. Most people will say yes. But, you know, every time we ask, we’ll always get one or two no’s. For the most part, people don’t rebuff us, but when they do, they’re just not comfortable being on camera. They don’t want to be sound.

S1: Or I’m on my way to class stage in.

S6: Life.

S1: And sometimes we have to encourage people to say no, which I think just falls into the LDS Mormon nice way or whatever, that they don’t ever want to say no. And so sometimes we can physically tell that someone does not want to be filmed, they don’t want to answer the question or they’re very apprehensive, but they see us anyway and we’re like, You can say, No, you don’t have to film you. But they kind of it takes us kind of saying it once or twice, sometimes three times, for them to actually be like, Oh, I can walk away. We’re like, Yeah, we’re not forcing you. So I think that’s kind of funny.

S3: But yeah, it is. It’s also very nice of ya.

S4: Well, we’re obviously having a great time talking with you too, but we have to take a quick break. We’ll be back with more menaces in just a minute. Just wanted to take a moment to shout out anybody who is listening to our show for the very first time if you’re a new listener. Hi. Hello. Welcome. We are so glad that you are here. In case you missed it, our show comes out twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so be sure to listen back to last Wednesday’s episode all about challenges on Tik Tok and the excellent Abbott Elementary. If you’re not watching, please let us tell you why you should be watching. And we are back. I actually have a question because a lot of the videos I’ve watched, your Piers, will invoke doctrine from the church as to why they stand by their beliefs. Are you two members of the Church of Latter day Saints?

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S1: We both are.

S4: How does that feel?

S6: Well, say what? I could be more honest with that question after I graduate in two weeks. But it’s definitely interesting. There’s a lot to reconcile. You kind of have to do a lot of doctrinal gymnastics to pick out the parts that are good and leave behind the parts that are just flat out wrong. You know, there’s a lot of good things about the church, just like there’s good things in every church. But there’s also a lot of racism. There’s a lot of homophobia, there’s a lot of sexism, xenophobia. And it’s unfortunate. And so it’s it’s difficult navigating that, especially what being a black member of the church, because in the black community, there’s already a huge reputation of the church being racist, you know, because it is. And so, you know, you have you kind of have to deal with navigating the church, but then also navigating being a member of the church and a black person amongst black people who don’t understand that perspective. So it’s definitely interesting.

S1: Yeah, I too can speak more freely when I graduate at the end of the summer. But yeah, I think the only thing that I to Anita said is member of the church or not. I refuse to use doctrine as a reason to defend bigotry and a reason to justify exclusion and to justify denying people of their humanness.

S4: What has the administrative response been like to the black ministers? We reached out but did not receive a comment.

S6: We actually haven’t gotten any any response from the university so far. They’ve been very silent. So we don’t know what the official stance is. I mean, I know that they know who we are.

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S3: Is it surprising that you haven’t heard from administration?

S1: Honestly, yes and no. Yes. In the sense of BYU and the church that our school is sponsored by does not like to be painted in a negative light on the Internet, on social media, in news articles. So it’s surprising in that sense, because normally they try to control the narrative, but also it’s not surprising because they have no idea what to do. I know the lawyers are squirming every day, trying to figure out what they can do to stop us because they and they just don’t have any power with us having to talk.

S3: Have you been surprised by the larger online response? I mean, there’s so many people outside of the Church of Latter Day Saints just watching this content and seeing BYU really for the first time. Have you been surprised by how much has blown up outside of y’all’s community?

S6: Absolutely. We you know, we definitely weren’t expecting to get this much traction. You know, 630,000 followers in two months. We were not expecting that at all. And then, you know, for for our audience to be so wide as well, that’s been surprising. But it’s also been a great blessing because we’ve been doing the work at BYU for a very long time. But this is the first time that we’ve been able to actually take that work on to a wider scale and actually have more of a platform for change because the university doesn’t do much to help us. And so being able to actually have a platform that we can take action by ourselves has been really, really nice.

S4: What is your biggest hit thus far? The TOK with the most views or reach or engagement, however you would measure that.

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S1: Our first video asking people if they support gay marriage by far.

S6: Do you support gay marriage? Yeah. Does it?

S5: No. Okay. That’s it?

S2: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’d say so. Okay. Sweet. But I wouldn’t say that I, like, encourage it, but I definitely don’t judge people who do or who.

S1: But I feel like that video skyrocketed us in a way that we did not even anticipate. When we got a million likes on it, we were like a million likes. We, we that was very unexpected from us. And I feel like that’s when our count really took off. So like that’s been that, that by far was like the most popular video and like part two of that as well has been extremely popular.

S6: I think the first video is what is probably almost at 20 million views now.

S3: That is so many.

S1: Yeah.

S3: What do you kind of hope the impact of these videos is? Is it to push administration is is to push the student body? It’s it’s some combination of both.

S1: Our church and BYU very rarely makes changes unless there’s pressure from the outside. Big changes like racial things, things like that. Then they’re kind of like, well, we have no choice. We need to kind of move forward. And so we’ve for all like needs. We’ve been putting in the work for years, man need have been here and it’s been here longer than I have and we’ve been trying to do things for such a long time and nothing has come of it. And this feels like we’re on the cusp of adding the right amount of pressure to get some real policy change at BYU, to help Bipoc students be more comfortable, to have more resources, and also to help queer students in terms of accessibility or just ability to hold hands on campus.

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S3: You all seem. Very conscious of the way that the people you’re interviewing are being perceived on the Internet, making sure they’re not getting hate. And I’m curious whether there any video of Yahoo! Film that you felt like you couldn’t post?

S6: The one that really hurt me was when we were filming. I’m the one where we asked people, is a trans woman? A woman is a trans men a man? And some of the responses that we got were that they actually, like, hurt my heart a little bit. But as far as feeling like we couldn’t post it, I would say no.

S3: Rachel, what about you? What’s one that you’ve heard recently that really just stuck with you and not in a good way?

S1: This was a reason. This was one of our, like, earlier videos. But when we had gone around and asked people about blacks and the priesthood and the temple band, we asked people they thought it was from God. And a lot of people kind of like, I don’t know, I’m not sure. Which really was just their way of saying they felt uncomfortable saying yes. But this one man said to us, my initial response is yes. And then proceeds to say why he believes that God wouldn’t have not wanted me, a black woman, to not go into the temple that our church believes is needed to live with God again, which is like the purpose that we believe is being here. So like for him to if you’re a member of the church and you believe that God would want that and support that, and then say it to my face, look at me eye to eye. That was pretty jarring for me because I just had never heard someone say it with that affirmation to my face.

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S3: Hmm. Yeah. I can’t imagine how. I mean, jarring is the perfect word for it. I can’t imagine how jarring that must have been.

S4: That must have been really difficult to hear. Let’s take things in a lighter direction. Do you guys feel like campus celebrities.

S1: At this point? Yes. Yes. Too much? A little bit. I’m going to be honest. Like everywhere. Okay. So before black minutes, people would stare at us. We’re point 4% of a population shout out. And I do have awesome hair, if I do say so myself. So I never knew if you were showing me because I’m black, because of my hair. But now we get more stares. And I think it’s because of black ministers. And like, when we’re out, when I’m out, like, even not on cameras, like in Utah County, in Salt Lake. People go, Are you from black men? This is just because I’m pretty recognizable. And it’s it’s entertaining. I mean, I always joke with him whenever we’re out doing stuff, we always see is one or two people who notice me at least one more.

S6: And the other day, I was at Texas Roadhouse with my wife. And, you know, I was just sitting in a little booth in the corner and the waiter was like, Hey, are you on Tik Tok? And he recognized us. And then somebody else came from their table on the other side of the restaurant, like, Hey, we just want to say we love your videos, you know? And yeah, pretty much every day somebody will recognize us. And some people are fine with it. They’ll just say, Hey, we love your videos, and I hope people will just kind of stare at you and make you weird. But it takes some getting used to for sure.

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S1: I had someone in a car one time, like two times, and they were in vehicles that raised the window down. Hey, aren’t you, like, around, like black? Yes. Yes.

S3: Why not? How are you from the passenger side of the best friend, right? Right.

S4: Exactly.

S1: I mean.

S4: You know, just for scale, wouldn’t you say how tiny of a fraction of the population the black students on campus are? How big is the BYU student body?

S6: There are 30,000 undergraduates and there are 400, roughly 400 black students.

S3: Wow. I mean, I guess our last wrap up question is, what’s your favorite reaction you’ve gotten so far?

S1: I think I love the one of my this is a fun day when we found the bisexual. Would you date someone who was a bisexual and we met a gay student through there and someone else who was bisexual? And so that was really fun because like we just chatted with them for like 30 minutes after our video and just like made a new friend. And I just love when I meet really cool people through doing our videos. Like we just meet really cool people. So I think that’s my favorite thing is just like meeting awesome people afterwards.

S6: I would say for me, I think probably my favorite one is one of our very first videos where we just went around and asked other members of the Blackstone Union, Hey, what’s your favorite thing about BYU? And their response was, pretty much all of them was like, Oh, the black people, us, you know, the BSU. So that was a lot of fun because that really is one of the best parts about being here, is the community that we’ve been able to build together. Mm hmm.

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S3: All right. I think that is all the questions we have for you all. Thank you so much for taking the time.

S1: Well, thanks for having us.

S6: It was a pleasure to be on the podcast.

S4: But once again, that was Rachel Weaver and Nate. Bird from BYU is the black menaces. You can find them on Tik-Tok at Black Menaces. They’re on Instagram by the same name, and they also have a patriarch on the Menace Society. Go forth and follow. You’re welcome. All right. That’s the show. We will be back in your feed on Wednesday, so please subscribe. It is the best way to make sure you never miss an episode. Consider leaving us a rating and review in Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Tell your friends about us. Tell your college classmates about us. Walk up to them just, you know, shove a microphone in their face and ask them what they think of. Ask, Why am I? You can also follow us on Twitter. We are at see my my underscore pod or there’s always email. ICYMI at Slate.com we love hearing from you guys.

S3: I see why mass produced by me Rachel Hampton, Mannesmann, Kircher and Daniel Schrader were edited by Allegra Frank, and Lisa montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcast See Online.

S4: Or in Provo, Utah.