Jun 8, 2022 - News

BYU's Black Menaces are expanding across the country

BYU students are shown being interviewed in screengrabs of Black Menaces TikTok videos

Screengrabs show the Black Menaces’ questions as they interview BYU students about race and inclusivity.

The Black Menaces, BYU's gut check-turned-TikTok sensation, are taking on other predominately white institutions (PWIs).

What's happening: The Black Menaces announced in late May that chapters are launching at other campuses.

  • "We've been getting [direct messages] from a lot of people, like, 'We want to be Black Menaces, too,'" group member Sebastian James told Axios.
  • Videos from the other campuses will appear alongside the BYU videos on the Menaces' TikTok, which has nearly 712,000 followers and almost 26 million likes.

Details: The first video from San Francisco State University was posted May 26, with students being asked whether white people should wear Black hairstyles "like locks, box braids, or durags" (most said "no," with one reluctant "maybe").

  • Other chapters preparing to launch this summer are Texas Christian University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Clemson.
  • There are preliminary plans to add Baylor and the University of Connecticut in the fall, James said.

Why it matters: By taking their questions to campuses unaffiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Black Menaces' videos may show that students at BYU are in fact way behind their peers in racial literacy.

  • Or they could show that PWIs in general have a lot of work to do.

Zoom out: There's a recurring debate within Mormonism: Are the faith's culture and institutions exceptionally racist?

  • Until 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned Black members from sacred temple rites such as sealings, which members believe are necessary to rejoin their families after death.
  • In a report last year, BYU students and alumni said many of their most hurtful experiences with racism occurred in the school's required religious classes.
  • Yes, but: As many church members (including some Black members who are asked to explain their faith) have pointed out, racism is not just a Mormon thing, even if the faith's particular injuries are one-of-a-kind.

What they're saying: "I think the only difference at BYU is that people feel like they're backed by God, which makes them bolder," James said.

  • "Other people may feel the same way, but not have that same type of community environment around them, where everybody is part of the same religion, so you can use that as a super 'true foundation' for [racism.]"
  • Other Black Menaces have said it's extra painful when racism takes on a religious tone at the school because it makes Latter-day Saint students of color feel excluded from their own faith community.

Yes, and: The volume of interest from other schools shows a yearning for racial justice that extends far beyond Mormonism.

  • James said he hopes the new chapters' videos will challenge attitudes that "if you're from certain places, you magically passed this test that you're accepting of everybody. 'Great, you're from California!' Or, 'You're from New York! You must be perfect!'"
  • Racism, he said, is "so embedded in our society that you may want to be welcoming to everybody, but you at the same time may still perpetuate racism and the harmful effects of discrimination to other groups of people."

The bottom line: James said he hopes expanding will show that the Black Menaces aren't "just here to attack BYU or the Mormon Church."

  • "We just happen to go to BYU, and we have our experiences here," James said. "We don't want to let other places point … at BYU. No. We're coming for you, too."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

No stories could be found

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more