Theater of Forgiveness ll Hafizah Geter

As a child, though I could never quite name the offenses of white people, I could sense the wounds they had left all over the Black people who surrounded me. The wounds were in the lilt of Black women’s voices, in the stiffened swagger of our men; it was there in the sometimes ragged ways my boy cousins would be disciplined. And I knew this work of forgiving had somehow left bruises on my aunts so deep it made their skin shine. In church, we prayed and forgave white people like our prayers were the only thing between them, heaven, and damnation.It’s left me wondering: Does forgiveness take advantage of my people?***

Being Black in America means having a historical relationship to forgiveness. If the law of Audre Lorde holds true and “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Christian forgiveness was never designed to tackle white supremacy, only pardon it. Christianity emerged from our slave masters. We were forbidden to read, but could pray. In the face of this new, white god, our ancestors looked for solace and hope. Slaves were entitled to nothing, not even their anger. Performing forgiveness became a crucial aspect of slaves’ lives. They held forgiveness in their mouths as both salve and armor. But if Christianity is the master’s tool, then surely white supremacy is its house and the Christian ideal of forgiveness will never be able to address, dismantle, or truly forgive white supremacy. So what happens when the performance of Black forgiveness gets repeated through several generations until it becomes ritualized and transformed into tradition?How, in the 21st century, do we escape the theatre of forgiveness?

If the law of Audre Lorde holds true and ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,’

Christian forgiveness was never designed to tackle white supremacy, only pardon it.I am trying to trace the trickle-down effect of suppressing Black rage through forgiveness in my family. How my enslaved ancestors must have chewed on their rage like cud until it was unrecognizable enough to be called forgiveness. How that rage tumbled through our bloodstream, generation after generation. How it made our men mean and our women the only thing America would possibly let them get away with breaking. How our women raised other people’s children by themselves, and arrived home too tired or too shattered to save their daughters from the grown men they themselves loved. How rage has sent us imploding.

How rage grips my father’s people, turning our men into tripwires until both our traumas and our resilience are passed down from generation to generation. Over and over, I see how white supremacy and altered expectations of justice have forever molded the Black American side of my family.***In 1990, I was standing in Aunt Sarah’s basement, her linoleum floor corners peeling beneath the damp, dim light, her basement a ghostly type of cold. Being in Aunt Sarah’s basement often felt like being in a bunker. It always smelled wet like old snow resisting thaw, the ceiling low enough to give a tall man a backache. Thin layers of dust glimmered beneath the Morse code of flickering fluorescent lights, gripping the wood lacquer of the entertainment console.Aunt Sarah’s basement was filled with board games and decks of cards that neighborhood children would often come by to play with. Monopoly? Too vast in its pieces. The tiny colored discs of Connect Four? Too loud in their dropping clinks. Being 6, I trusted myself enough to accurately consider risk, weigh all options. It was simple, though. These games were not for me. Aunt Sarah and I both knew it. The contract between Aunt Sarah and me consisted of only two agreements: I would remain silent and invisible in her house.I knew the danger of the wrong game.I don’t know how cruelty finds us, but cruelty I incited in my Aunt. It seemed that every little thing I did set her off. I the flint, she the firecracker. If I spoke, her eyes would beat me like a switch pulled from a backyard tree. If Aunt Sarah wanted to teach me anything in this world, it would be my place.Easter breaks, when we were released from our Catholic school uniforms into the ether of our lives for two weeks, my parents would load my sister and me in the car and drive to Dayton to drop us off at my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Rodge’s.

On those trips, I’d sit in the back, the synthetic velvet curtains of our Dodge Caravan windows splayed open as I considered escape routes, what it would take to disappear, anxiously rubbing my fingers against the curtain’s grain.Throughout our childhood, these drives from Akron to Dayton were a regular occurrence. My father’s mother and both his sisters lived there. Strife and the years my grandmother spent trying to get her children out of Alabama had banded the four of them together like cement. During my father’s and aunts’ youths, the extended family and community around them had been filled with men who found relief in the bruises they left on women, who . . .

Source: Theater of Forgiveness  

Hafizah Geter | Longreads | November 2018 

America’s Reproductive Slaves

“The effort to block birth control and abortion is not about religion nor about politicians pandering to a right-wing base, nor is it a result of prudery, nor is it to punish women for having sex,” Jenny Brown writes in her book “Birth Strike: Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work.” “It is about the labor of bearing and rearing children: who will do it and who will pay for it.”

Source: America’s Reproductive Slaves

Atlah Church Is Classified As A Hate Group. It’s Able To Run A School Anyway. | HuffPost

“Manning isn’t just an outrageous character, perfect fodder for a satirical late-night show and click-baity internet headlines. He also runs a K-12 private school at the church, the two units of which are called Great Tomorrow’s USA Elementary/Middle and Atlah High School. His persona there is anything but an entertaining spectacle. Around the same time Manning was gaining notoriety for his dangerous rhetoric, he locked a teenage boy named Sharif Hassan in the church’s basement, according to Hassan and several other congregants and students from that time. For three full school days in 2011, a church leader would take Hassan to the pitch-black basement in the morning, locking the door and leaving him there for eight hours. Hassan, then 17 and a junior at Atlah High School, sat on a grimy bench in total darkness. His lungs filled with dirty air from the nearby boiler. Bugs and rodents crawled around him. Each passing minute felt heavy and lingering, and each hour felt like it dragged on for days.”

Source: Atlah Church Is Classified As A Hate Group. It’s Able To Run A School Anyway. | HuffPost

Civil War massacre launched reparations debate – The Washington Post

Civil War massacre launched reparations debate

A group of “contrabands,” between 1861-1865. A stereograph showing a group of seven African American men, former slaves, dressed in old Union uniforms standing in front of a wagon and shack. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)By Gillian Brockell September 11, 2014On a rainy night in early 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arrived in Savannah, Ga. — which the Union had captured weeks earlier — with a question: What should become of newly free black people? It was a question that many in power had been asking for some time. What was different this time was to whom the question was posed: the newly free black people themselves.It was a visit born of a massacre about a month before, and it launched a debate that continues to this day.The issue of where these people should go had dogged Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, too, as he marched through Georgia in the fall of 1864. Sherman had expected to pick up able-bodied black men to assist his troops (but not to join them; Sherman would not allow that). An unintended consequence of his scorched-earth policy was that all manner of freed slaves — including women, children and the elderly — abandoned the plantations and fell in behind him.More than 10,000 black refugees followed Sherman’s March to the Sea. That many mouths to feed would have proved challenging for a well-stocked force, but for an army that survived by foraging, it was nearly impossible. James Connolly, a 21-year-old major in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry (and future congressman), wrote that the refugee camps were so numerous that they often ringed the camps of the corps. The “contrabands,” as they were called, regularly wandered into Union camps to beg for food. And as Sherman’s force approached the sandy and less fertile Georgia coast, it became even more difficult to accommodate them.There was one corps, however, the refugees seemed to avoid: the 14th Corps, led by a brigadier general with a most unlikely name: Jefferson Davis. Davis — derisively called “General Reb” not only for having the same name as the Confederate president but also for his hatred of black people — had become notorious two years earlier when he shot dead a superior officer, Maj. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson, during an argument at a hotel. He escaped punishment only because the military couldn’t afford to lose an experienced field commander.Davis blamed the 600 or so black refugees following his unit for slowing down his 14,000 men in the closing weeks of the march. But from other accounts, it seems that the problem was the relentless winter rain. “At one time an officer counted 24 wagons sunk to their beds in mud,” writes Jim Miles in “To the Sea: A History and Tour Guide of Sherman’s March.” “He witnessed several mules sink out of sight.”Speed was vital. Davis knew that Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry was hot on their heels.For several days in early December, Davis drove the 14th Corps nearly nonstop, resting for two or three hours a night. One soldier reported falling asleep in the middle of “a fearfully hard march” and found himself in lock step upon jerking awake. Little more than coffee sustained them.On the night of Dec. 8, the corps arrived at the western bank of Ebenezer Creek. The bridge had been destroyed, in anticipation of their arrival, and the frigid waters had swollen to 10 feet deep and 165 feet wide. Scouts from Wheeler’s cavalry harassed Union troops in the rear.A pontoon bridge was in place by midnight, and Davis ordered the corps to cross the creek in silence and under the cover of darkness. According to Miles, a single Confederate cannon could have destroyed the bridge and stopped the entire corps, then only 18 miles from Savannah.But in this tenuous artery, Davis saw an opportunity.“On the pretence that there was likely to be fighting in front, the negroes were told not to go upon the pontoon-bridge until all the troops and wagons were over: a guard was detailed to enforce the order,” recalled Col. Charles Kerr of the 16th Illinois Cavalry in a speech 20 years after the incident. “As soon as we were over the creek, orders were given to the engineers to take up the pontoons and not let a negro cross. . . . I sat upon my horse then and witnessed a scene the like of which I pray my eyes may never see again.”Just before sunrise, the refugees cried out as their escape route was pulled away from them. Moments later, Wheeler’s scouts rode up from behind and opened fire. Hundreds of refugees rushed forward into the icy current. Several Union soldiers on the eastern bank tried to help, pushing logs out to the few refugees still swimming.Some of the refugees were crushed under the weight of the stampede. Most slipped under the water and drowned. Those who remained onshore were either shot or captured and re-enslaved.And when Wheeler’s men began shooting across the creek, the Union soldiers helping the black people were ordered to rej

Source: Civil War massacre launched reparations debate – The Washington Post

White Supremacy Has Always Been Mainstream ::: The Boston Reivew

White Supremacy Has Always Been Mainstream

STEPHEN KANTROWITZ

Image: Library of Congress

The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition
Linda Gordon
Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy
Elizabeth Gillespie McRae
Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America
Kathleen Belew

 

White supremacy is a language of unease. It does not describe racial domination so much as worry about it.

White supremacy connotes many grim and terrifying things, including inequality, exclusion, injustice, and state and vigilante violence. Like whiteness itself, white supremacy arose from the world of Atlantic slavery but survived its demise. Yet while the structures are old, the term “white supremacy” is not. Although it first appeared in British abolitionist critiques and U.S. proslavery defenses in the first half of the nineteenth century, it only became commonplace—and notably not as a pejorative—in U.S. whites’ post-emancipation calls for a racial order that would reinstitute slavery’s political and economic guarantees.

White supremacy has always been hard work. Because of this, it is possible to imagine that someday there will be no one willing to perform the labor.

White supremacy’s opponents evoke it to condemn. Its proponents use it to summon up a vision of a racially ordered society, to rally political forces behind that vision, to establish laws and institutions that affirm it, and finally to render it natural and normal. But the very fact that the phrase requires speaking means that something has gone awry. If the hierarchy of races were real, it would easily have survived slave emancipation. Instead, that hierarchy must be constantly asserted and enforced, lest the white race be overwhelmed, overcome, and extinguished. White supremacy is organized around a dread of its own demise, and with it the white race.

This inherent instability has produced a welter of fears, fantasies, and imperatives, from racial purity to race war. It has also made “white supremacy” a call to action. Indeed, the effort to transform the phrase from a slogan into a fact has been a massive social and political project, involving the witting and unwitting labor of many millions of people. White supremacy has always been hard work.

But because it is work, it is possible to imagine that someday there will be no one willing to perform the labor. And sometime between the march from Selma to Montgomery and the election of Barack Obama, many Americans allowed themselves to believe something of the kind: that white supremacy’s advocates, having lost their long war, were giving up.

The violent manifestations of white supremacy over the past several years—from Dylann Roof’s murders in Charleston, through Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency—unwound that hope. No better illustration exists for white supremacy’s return to the cultural center than Charlottesville’s 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, in which emblems of the Klan, the Third Reich, and the Confederacy jostled with more esoteric banners and names, together representing a century’s worth of white supremacist politicking. By the time the sirens died out, it should have been clear that Dylann Roof was no “lone wolf,” but the legitimate offspring of a reemergent social movement.

Yet even as white supremacy appeared suddenly to be everywhere in U.S. life, many—and not just on the right—denied its existence. Trump’s refusal to criticize even neo-Nazis was treated as a uniquely craven act of “norm-breaking,” not as a predictable extension of decades of coded and not-so-coded racist appeals. In the rush to catch Trump out, what has been omitted from media reporting is the long history of indulging white supremacist ideology and expression. Consider how long Pat “Blood and Soil” Buchanan served as a respectable voice of the political and journalistic right, winning four states in the 1996 Republican primaries and later playing Rachel Maddow’s curmudgeonly uncle on MSNBC—all in spite of his longstanding support for white ethnonationalism. Or remember the PBS NewsHour profile of Trump supporter Grace Tilly that failed to note her neo-Nazi tattoos. The network’s post-backlash editor’s note treated Tilly’s claim that her tattoos were religious, not racist, as worthy of debate, as though an enormous “88”—code for “Heil Hitler”—paired with a bullseye cross, another white supremacy symbol, left room for uncertainty. The myth that white supremacy is a marginal political phenomenon has proved so durable that many people find it easier to deny its overt expression than confront a more troubling reality: “very fine people”—and not just fathers, husbands, and sons, but mothers, wives, and daughters as well—have always been central to the work of advancing white supremacist causes.

“Very fine people”—and not just fathers, husbands, and sons, but mothers, wives, and daughters as well—have always been central to the work of white supremacy.

Three recent books explore the twentieth-century history of this political project. In Linda Gordon’s thoughtful reconsideration of the 1920s Klan, we watch shameless grifters deploy racial hierarchy and exclusion to forge the largest social movement of the early twentieth century. In Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s revelatory exploration of mid-century white women’s segregationist work, we see how the inheritors of that vision learned to speak in new languages, muted enough to pass in a society increasingly hostile to white supremacy but unmistakable to partisans as a continuation of the long struggle against racial equality. In Kathleen Belew’s groundbreaking account of the White Power movement from the mid-1970s to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, it becomes clear how a post–civil rights generation of white supremacist organizers positioned themselves as victims of an overbearing state, even as they nurtured Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof, and the dream of race war.

These works do not claim to provide a comprehensive account of twentieth-century white supremacy; such a project would also have to probe (as other scholars have) the forces of labor and capital, and—as only Belew does here—the relationship of domestic ideologies and practices to their imperial histories. But read together and through one another, these works provide a sobering crash course in the power, diversity, and persistence of white supremacist ideas and politics.

Across the long twentieth century, white supremacist activists nurtured an exclusionary racial nationalism. They envisioned a nation safely in the hands of its “rightful” owners, redeemed from misrule by “unfit” peoples, and made great again. Although their work relied extensively on white women’s organizational and ideological labors, they posited a world of white patriarchal families in which men spoke and fought while women sustained and reproduced. Responding to successive challenges, these activists developed new languages and new coalitions, but they remained consistently suspicious (at a minimum) of political authority that they could not directly control. Partly for this reason, they usually saw electoral politics as a critical arena of struggle, and they rarely abandoned it. Across the century, this ideological and organizational landscape has been home to hustlers, activists, and insurgents playing distinct but often complementary roles. White supremacy has always been at once a political movement, an armed struggle, and a long con.

Gordon’s Second Coming of the KKK shows how a white supremacist and nativist movement reset the boundaries of political discourse, clarified that the nation existed in the image and service of a particular kind of American, and took control of governments from school boards to Congress to give those imperatives life. Klansmen nurtured a politics of resentment against both “elites” who looked down on them and the immigrants, blacks, and radicals who seemed to challenge their world.

To many of its white contemporaries, the KKK of the 1920s was a respectable organization that promised to restore white Protestants to their proper place of authority.

The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in the 1860s by former Confederate soldiers and for a few years became the spear and symbol of the war against Reconstruction. This first Klan was actively suppressed by legal and military action in the early 1870s, and the campaigns of racial terror and political intimidation that finally overthrew Reconstruction were largely conducted under other names. The second Klan was founded in 1915 by William Joseph Simmons in response to that year’s blockbuster film, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which reworked memories of the Reconstruction-era KKK into a mythos of white male chivalry combatting black sexual barbarism. Beginning in 1919, the Klan exploded in size and power as organizers channeled the era’s powerful currents of nativism and violent white supremacy through the heroic image and visual style of the film’s Klansmen. They coupled the anti-black rhetoric of the Reconstruction-era Klan with a pervasive hostility toward non-Protestant immigrants and what Simmons derided as their anti-American propensities for “Bolshevism, Socialism, Syndicalism, I.W.W.ism.” Gordon encourages us to understand that, to many of its white American contemporaries, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was an “ordinary and respectable” organization that promised to restore white Protestants, mainly of the lower middle and skilled working classes, to their proper place of authority in U.S. cultural and political life. She reminds us that many of the Klan’s hobbyhorses—anti-black racism, antisemitism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism; censoriousness about sex and alcohol; support for eugenics; and narrow-minded nationalism—reflected broad and sometimes hegemonic aspects of 1920s U.S. culture.

Gordon also asks us to understand the movement as producing, not just reflecting, social concerns. The Klan channeled preexisting hatred of racial inferiors and haughty elites, but it also ginned up those expressions and provided new outlets for them. Conspiracy thinking was central to Klan rhetoric and ideology. Everywhere lurked sinister forces that sought to take over the U.S. government and subvert the country’s way of life. Indeed, those forces might already have taken power. Jews, Catholics, Bolsheviks, and African Americans were always about to swamp “true Americans” with rising birthrates; take control of U.S. police forces and public schools; undermine cherished values with sex, alcohol, or pornography; and oppress real Americans from the safety of powerful, distant institutions.

Such conspiracy talk effectively transformed grievances and insecurities into well-defined targets that local Klans could then organize against. In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, the Klan took up the cause of fighting illegal liquor trafficking in a neighborhood populated by Italians, blacks, and Jews. There and elsewhere, the Klan infiltrated or worked alongside police departments. Beatings, whippings, cross-burning, death threats, and fatal shootings marked the outer edge of the Klan’s activities, but in some locales—Dayton, Ohio; Williamson County, Illinois; large swaths of Oklahoma—assaults were common and condoned.

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A Black Feminist Comment on The Sisterhood, The Black Church, Ratchetness and Geist l The Feminist Wire

A Black Feminist Comment on The Sisterhood, The Black Church, Ratchetness and Geist

January 28, 2013

By 

Unknown-1There’s been much talk about TLC’s new show The Sisterhood, a reality show about the lives and struggles of Ivy Couch, Domonique Scott, Christina Murray, DeLana Rutherford, and Tara Lewis, five pastor’s wives in the Atlanta area.  While some critics are threatening to boycott the show, and others are framing it as evidence of black [male] preachers loosing their way (which I guess is synonymous with the Black Church loosing its way, but that’s another issue), millions of others, myself included, a former “first lady” and black feminist scholar of religion, race and media, are flocking faithfully to the television screen on Tuesday nights with popcorn and bottled water in hand.

And let me be clear: like many, I’m “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of the operative mediation of the global racist and sexist imagination through black women’s corporeal realities.  I’m tired of mass mediated notions of “black womanhood” being both the adjective and the noun that modifies and constricts space, time and meanings. I’m tired of black women consistently serving as—through both overdetermination and consent—televisual artifacts for establishing white, black and other “normalcy.”  And yes, I’m sick and tired of black women functioning as cultural mediums for soothing primal fears, representational tropes for suckling the collective fascination with black female sexuality, and work horses for demonstrating a mastery of unscrupulousness and otherness.  I’m tired.

SisterhoodAnd yet, I’m also admittedly drawn in to this show and others like it, week after week.  Like so many others before them, Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, Tara and many other reality TV women, inspire all kinds of repulsions, attractions and anxieties.  However, they also satiate [some of] our ratchet taste buds.  Can we have a moment of honesty?  The Sisterhood is a hit show.  And this isn’t because no one’s watching it.

So what’s the draw?  The Sisterhood creates a conflict between public politics, private realities and personal taste.  However, this war between the emperors’ coat of high culture and the everydayness of his nakedness is nothing new.  This ongoing juxtaposition highlights the ever increasing tensions between the “cultured” and the “ratchet;” the former drawing attention to so-called taste, tact, refinement, civilization and genius, and the latter calling attention to the so-called vulgar.  While the former is purported to arise out of the Geist – the intellectual inclinations – of our times, the latter is purported to spring forth from the worst of black culture.  However, what better communicates the spirit of the time than the ratchet?  And no, I don’t mean the ways that ratchet gets deployed to project a collage of derogatory meanings onto black women’s bodies.  I’m referring to the ways that ratchetness often undergirds the ricocheting of raw emotions and missiles of unfiltered truths.

The-SisterhoodTo uncritically bash The Sisterhood is to toe the expected party line.  To demonize the show is not only an attempt to maintain a position of moral superiority, but an assay to construct and limit meaning for the audience—an audience that may in fact connect with the human qualities of the ratchetness therein.  And trust me, I get the critiques regarding black female representations in media.  This needs to be called out everyday all day—but not while asphyxiating black women’s complex identities with mythological notions of black women’s heroic genius.  In short, binary oppositions don’t work.  They set up “us” versus “them” politics, which are both totalizing and reductive.  I think a better suggestion might be to think about the heroic qualities of black women’s genius, that is if you buy this argument, as at times being a bit ratchet. Identities and tastes shift in shades of grey, not monochrome.  That said, we don’t need another schemata.  And we damn sure don’t need another exceptionalist social fiction to cancel out our complex subjectivities, which can neither be packaged nor wholesaled, by the way.

images-3The Sisterhood isn’t “hurting the church image…[or] giving God a bad name.” Religious people have already done that.  Neither is it “abominable and offensive to the Christian/African American communities.”  I can think of a few other things, all ending with “isms” or “phobia,” to fit that bill.  And finally, it’s not evidence of black [male] preachers or the historical Black Church loosing its way–I haven’t even mentioned how the eve/gender politics here are troubling at best.  And to be sure, I’m not saying wether the Black Church or the black [male] preacher has lost their way or not.  That’s an entirely different conversation.  For starters, I think I’d first need to know what the “way” once was or imagined to be.  And truly, The Sisterhood isn’t even a representation of the Black Church.  As far as I can see, there are only two wives from historical black churches (hold this thought) on the series–whose church would likely define themselves in such a way, Ivy and Domonique.

The Sisterhood is evidence of our obsession with brown women’s lives and our pornotropic desire to lift their curtains and see everything.  In addition, it’s evidence of the fluidity between religion and culture, and the myriad ways that each cross-pollinates the other, thus broadening, limiting and confusing all kinds of meanings.  An example of this is the construction of the “first lady” concept for the show, a Black Church conception structured in both politics of respectability and patriarchal dominance, aimed at constructing alternative identities–distinct from the hypersexual/sexual savage trope–for black women, particularly during the early twentieth century.  As with the FLOTUS, it’s a title of respect for wives in religious contexts that are often theo-socially hostile to women in general.  With regard to black women, there’s a long history here apropos race, gender, sex, sexuality, respectability and wifehood.  However, I’ll save the politics of race, ladyhood and wifedom for another day.

images(Side note: background, I’d be interested to see how the “first lady” title operates for Christina, a Dominican woman married to a black new wave evangelical pastor, and DeLana, a white southern woman who, akin to her co-pastor husband, seems to fancy all things “plantation” (27:56 mark) and soft Christian rock.  I’d be even more interested in seeing how this works for Tara, a black body builder married to a Jewish Christian former pastor, both of whom appear to be working with a different set of gender politics.  But this, again, is another story.)

images-1

Ultimately, The Sisterhood is evidence of not only our obsession with brown women’s lives, the constant interpolation of religion in culture and vice versa and the static nature of meanings in our society, but our very own and ever expanding frailties, contradictions and complexities as human beings.  These women represent the thorny nature of our inner selves, particularly when situated in hostile, novel, and/or uncomfortable environments.  Sure.  Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara aren’t really sisterly (or are they?) and they argue like the women in the Basketball Wives and Real Housewives franchise.  But wouldn’t you if pimping your story on reality television somehow became a necessity, or if you found yourself in the midst of a group of others who were geographically, theologically, racially, economically, politically, contextually, and socially different than you?  Would you not have differences of opinions and take up, forcefully at that, different positonalities?  Seriously.  Are we above drama and contradictions?  Have we never been pushed to the edge to the point where we want to or choose to take it there?  Are our lives without mistakes, conflict, struggles, pain, stresses and moments of dehumanization?  Show me a person devoid of these realities and I’ll show you a straight up liar.  Yes.  That simple.

UnknownThe bottom line for me is this: these women are human.  They are women with problems from autonomous churches that differ, at minimum, theologically.  And like it or not, for Christians and others, theology shapes how people understand themselves in the world. Yes, it shapes both Tara’s unyielding “prayerbush” (s/o to Birgitta Johnson) at the 37:18 mark of the 4th episode and Domonique’s ongoing quest to live out and within her own truth.

Consciously or not, theology re-appropriates politics and ways of seeing by constructing a veil that recolours reality with simultaneous taken for granted notions of truth, hope, transcendence, capitalism, injustice and intolerance.  Moreover, the “first lady” position often serves as a protective shield against disagreement.  That is, Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara are likely used to participating in discourses where their politics and ways of seeing go unchallenged, especially within their congregations.

images-2But what happens when removed from that context?  Basically, shit goes awry—just as it would with any other group of strangers with different theo-political-socio-cultural-historical backgrounds and value systems.  My favorite on the show is Domonique. Not simply because she keeps it all the way real and clearly isn’t afraid to get it poppin with her co-stars, but because her struggle between the politics of respectability, the structures of dominance that frame her sexual past, and her quest for financial independence and selfhood are real.

Wherever we land in terms of this show being good or bad or something in between, it’s pretty significant to see a reality TV show centered on people of faith who are flawed with real issues.  Perhaps we might interpret The Sisterhood  not as an “abomination,” but as an imperfect, yet useful intervention–for the Black Church, black popular culture and black folk living in various communities.  These ladies disrupt the monolithic image of the puritanical (and irrational) religious person on one hand, and the exemplary religious heroic genius on the other.  These tropes are death-dealing.  No one can live them…or live up to them.  Let’s face it, we are messy inter-subjective beings with troubles, longings, complications, and inconsistencies–just like Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara.

And this is why we watch—and yes, with popcorn and bottled water in tow.  Because, unlike the black [male] mega church prosperity gospel preacher constantly being shoved down our throats (pun intended) as the symbol of black churches U.S.A, these folks—these women, are trying to make it and make sense of their messy lives—just like us.  And hey, like so many others in academe, the Black Church and without, they want to do it on TV.  That said, perhaps we’ve all lost our way.

 Dr. Tamura Lomax is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice. She was guest in our “Black Women in the Prism” series

11-13 Lomax

The Universe Bends Towards Justice l A talk by Obery M. Hendricks Jr., the Author

First Corinthians Baptist Church, Sanctuary Auditorium

A talk by Obery M. Hendricks Jr. on his new book, The Universe Bends Towards Justice. It includes essays on the gap between the spirituality of the church and of Jesus; the ways in which contemporary gospel music sensationalize today’s churches into social and political irrelevance; and how the economic policies espoused by the religious right betray the same biblical tradition they claim to hold dear.

Obery M. Hendricks Jr.  is a Visiting Scholar in Religion and African American Studies at Columbia and author of The Politics of Jesus.

Watch Here

Co-sponsored with Institute for Research in African-American Studies.

Presented by KineticsLive.com