A group of TikTok creators at Brigham Young University, a predominantly Mormon college, call themselves the Black Menaces — even if those watching simply see them as doing god’s work.
In one of their first videos, Rachel Weaver, who is Black, asks a white BYU student if he believes that God approved the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banning Black people from joining the priesthood until 1978.
“My gut feeling tells me yes,” the college student answers. “I don’t know why he did it. I know that he did do it. He instructed the prophets to lift the ban when they were told to lift it.”
The answer surprised Weaver, one of the five members of the Black Menaces, a group of Black BYU students who spoke to BuzzFeed News about their biting videos in which they ask peers culturally relevant questions and then post their answers on TikTok.
“It was just shocking that he said it to my face as a Black person,” Weaver, a senior, told BuzzFeed News. “Yes, this came from God. God wanted you to not be able to enter in the temple, which is where we believe we make promises to God that are important for you to live with God again one day. If you believe this is essential for every person, and you believe that inherently I wasn’t supposed to have that because I was Black and you said that to me? Wow.”
Since launching in February, the Black Menaces have taken on a person-on-the-street format, where the students — Weaver, Nathanael Byrd, Kylee Shepherd, Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, and Kennethia Dorsey — film themselves going up to BYU students and asking them questions ranging from how they feel about Black people entering the priesthood to their thoughts on gay students being able to openly date on campus. The account has racked up more than 700,000 followers and even inspired parody videos. “Oof, that is a tough one,” one creator jokes in a TikTok, pretending to be a BYU student asked if they support gay rights.
The idea for the Black Menaces came after Brad Wilcox, a BYU professor and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader, told a congregation in Alpine that church members often ask him why Black men weren’t allowed into the priesthood for over 150 years. His response: People are asking the wrong questions.
The comment was met with backlash and Wilcox soon apologized. The very next day, the Black Menaces uploaded their first TikTok, where they stand in front of a green screen listening to Wilcox, until he says “whites,” which is when they stop listening and walk away. “The whites?” one says, exasperated, in the video.
The video quickly went viral, getting more than 2 million views. The group started making more and more content, testing BYU students to see if they could identify a picture of Rosa Parks, questioning men on whether they would marry someone who didn’t want to stay at home with the kids, and, in their most popular TikTok with more than 12 million views, asking students if they had any Black friends.
BYU, a four-year university owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a reputation for being white and conservative. Students are banned from dating members of the same sex. According to BYU’s own stats, only 1% of students are Black. When senior Byrd arrived on campus four years ago, he said he attempted to change himself to better fit in with his white peers.
“I tried to make myself look less scary,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I tried to tell a lot of jokes … make jokes that might be considered racially problematic just to make it seem like, Hey, I’m the fun Black guy that you can talk to. I’m not scary. Just trying to make white people more comfortable around me.”
Shepherd, a junior, said she got a “wake-up call” that her Blackness was an issue in her first year after she told friends she couldn’t make it to the movies because she wanted to go to a Black Student Union meeting. A friend replied, “Can you just not be Black for a day?” Shepherd told BuzzFeed News.
And getting to know their peers through quick Q&As on camera has made them aware of how openly some BYU students will declare their opinions on whether gay marriage should be legal or if they’d marry a woman who wanted a job.
“People at BYU are so bold and so willing to say something that they know is not OK to the world maybe, and they’re always willing to say it no matter what,” sophomore Stewart-Johnson told BuzzFeed News.
The Black Menaces haven’t heard from the school in any official manner, Byrd said, noting that some professors are supportive. Sometimes, however, the students in the videos will contact the Black Menaces afterward and ask them to take the video down. The Black Menaces said they have everyone’s consent with filming and uploading, so usually if someone wants the video taken down, it’s because they’re getting backlash on their opinion.
“Once it’s up, it’s up,” Byrd said. “They chose to say that. They agreed to be on camera and so it’s out there for the world to see. A lot of times they’re just mad because they got exposed and realized what they said was wrong. We’re certainly not taking anything down for anyone.”
After particularly intense interviews, Stewart-Johnson said the group will make jokes with each other to cope. But he said that for every person who voices their “problematic thinking,” he’s met another person whose values align with his own — and that perhaps, oddly enough, it’s made him more comfortable on campus because he now knows there are like-minded people around.
Dorsey, a junior, agreed.
“It’s been nice to have people come up to us because it helps me realize numbers-wise that there’s actually more people wanting to work toward change,” she told BuzzFeed News.