UTAH (ABC4) – Despite what you may think about ‘The Black Menaces’ name, positions on issues, or their videos, they are tactfully engaged in something difficult to do in Utah’s current political, social, and cultural environment — speaking with strangers about things people disagree on.
The Black Menaces are a BYU-based social media account that’s starting to gain attention among TikTok users in and outside of Utah. With over 450 thousand followers on TikTok and other platforms, this coalition of university students of color draws attention to social and racial issues in a Utah-specific context using a very simple method, namely asking BYU students to talk.
ABC4 spoke with Nate Byrd, Kylee Shephard, and Sebastian Stewart-Johnson who form part of The Black Menaces team. They say “the whole idea of the page is to highlight the existence of disparities for members of marginalized groups at BYU and predominantly white institutions (PWIs).”
Commenting on the group’s name, Shephard mentioned that “people in history calling for civil rights have been called ‘menaces’,” and that they want to “retake the word” for something positive. Shephard explained the “Black” part of the group name by saying it’s “because we’re Black.”
The Black Menace’s TikTok videos seem unremarkable at first, but are profound in impact. Various representatives of the group ask BYU students succinct questions about their thoughts on issues including LGBTQIA rights, police violence against Black Americans, BYU honor code policies, and more. While this approach may sound overly confrontational, all the interviewers representing The Black Menaces engage their interview subjects with grace; they don’t seem interested in debate and always listen.
This interview method combined with BYU students’ apparent genuine responses makes for powerfully viral social media content. BYU students’ comments on controversial issues are frequently surprising, whether it’s due to what some perceive as veiled bigotry and racism or because of their surprisingly progressive viewpoints on an otherwise socially-conservative college campus.
Stewart-Johnson says that “BYU is isolating for Black students, because there is hardly any of us. We are treated like exotic creatures and homogenized with stereotypes students have about Black people. I have to fight every day to prove my own value.”
Shephard says that friendships and dating are especially difficult for BIPOC women at BYU.
When asked what they want Utahns to know about them, The Black Menaces told ABC4 that “racism, sexism, and homophobia are a form of separatism” and their goal is “to build a more inclusive community with safe spaces for everyone, which is new for Utah.”
They included that the LDS church and BYU “teach to love everyone, but not everyone does that. ‘Everyone’ includes Black people and LGBTQIA people and anybody who is different than you, or believes something different from you.”
Watching content created by The Black Menaces can make people uncomfortable. This discomfort, however, might do something to smooth over vast cultural and political division in Utah and the nation as a whole.
Bryd stated that the more uncomfortable conversations one has, the easier they become. In response to a question about The Black Menaces’ content making white audiences uncomfortable, Shephard says that “we have always felt uncomfortable walking on BYU campus.”
Finally, Stewart-Johnson mentioned that the future goals of The Black Menaces aren’t just to raise awareness on social media, but to “create a tangible community for everyone to freely express themselves.” He also mentioned the possibility of raising funds for future scholarships at BYU.