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.