I thought it was interesting how Jones stated in his chapter that there is no black church “in the conventional understanding of the term.” He talks about who there are black congregations and black branches of churches, but no definitive singular black church. I thought this was a point that was really important to bing up because most of the readings we have done this semester refer to a black church like there is a single entity of black religion. However, this obviously is not the case, and it is an important distinction to make. It would be irresponsible to talk about the black church as a whole without fully understanding what that really implies, and what the reality of “the black church” is. As Jones says, “there are denominations, composed of congregations of black persons and under their control, and there are countless free standing congregations, but there is no one entity that can be called the black church.” Jones touches on a point here that no one else really has, which I think is strange because of how significant it is.
I thought this week’s reading was very interesting. I liked the part where he says that “you cannot teach the ‘heavens’ to a society that has not yet been formed in the earth.” He states that for people to comprehend religion, they must first have a solid society and foundation on the earth. He goes on to compare the Bilalian people to Adam and Eve in that they had no basis for their society, and thus needy help establishing their earthly lives before contemplating their spiritual lives. This logic makes sense, but I’m not sure about the comparison to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were the first two people on earth and had no society or concept of life at all. While the Bilalian people during this time certainly did not have as solid of a society as many other peoples, they at least had a very basic foundation for society and life, making the two situations actually very different.
I thought that the readings this week were really interesting. The only experience I’ve had at all with Santoria is when they mention it in the movie The Hot Chick. I was also really interested to read about voodoo because the only place I’ve seen that is in the beginning of the movie Lilo and Stitch. I was a little bit unsure when the chapter about Santoria was talking about all the numbers. The chapter said, “Shango recognizes the numbers 4 and 6. Numerologists add 4 and 6 to make 10, and then add 1 and 0 to make 1.” I was very confused by this. How does Shango only recognize the numbers 4 and 6? Do other numbers not exist, or are these numbers special for some reason? Why do numerologists add them together to make ten? What is the point of that? Also, couldn’t anyone add 4 and 6 together to make 10? Why mention numerologists? Why do the numerologists add 1 and 0 to make 1? What does that mean? Why those particular numbers? I was just very confused by that section. I thought that it was very interesting to read about the other rituals and ideas of the religion, however.
In Chapter 53 of Sernett, Joseph H. Jackson recounts a speech that was given at the Annual Address of 1962. This speech declares that the “American Negro today faces the greatest crisis of his history since the days of reconstruction.” The speaker goes on to say that since segregation has been abolished, the African American community is in danger of falling apart. He says that a desire to integrate will cause African Americans to lose their sense of community and “racial togetherness.” I don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment. Integration, while obviously a positive policy that allowed African Americans to become equal members of society, is not a policy that I believe would cause African Americans to lose their sense of community. I can’t think of any large scale examples of integration causing an African American community to fall apart. African Americans still had the bonds of their history and the mistreatment that they had overcome, and still had to overcome. Even though segregation was abolished, African Americans still faced racism and mistreatment from many white members of society, which still continues to this day. They were also bonded through their culture and religion, which I don’t believe that many would just abandon in an attempt to integrate. Though there may be some who might do this, I don’t believe that it would happen on a large scale, and certainly not on a large enough scale that an entire community could be disbanded.
Chapter 50 of the Sernett reading was very interesting to me. I wanted to have more information about Father Divine and how he came to have such a passionate following. He’s obviously a very moving speaker, but the same could be said about many pastors or priests who did not procure their own followings. The text mentioned that people began to believe that he was God incarnate when a judge who sentenced him for disturbing the peace died unexpectedly of a heart attack. However, this is not so outlandish that it would be likely to be seen as anything more than a coincidence. I would be interested to know if he had promoted himself as God before this incident, and what kind of religious doctrine he put forth for his followers to abide by.
One of the parts of the African Methodist Episcopal Council of Bishops’ Address on the Great Migration (Chapter 38) that I found really interesting was the section called “Evils to be Avoided.” This section talked about how newcomers to an area will be exploited by the people who already live there. The Bishops say that the newcomers will get lost in “leisure and idleness” and this will lead them to being taken advantage of. They warn against going to a new city because they say that it will end in a new “form of bondage.” I think this is a really interesting argument because the “new city” that the Bishops are talking about is the North, where many of the African Americans are moving during the Great Migration. However, I don’t know that this argument holds much weight because it seems to me that the North would be safer for and more welcoming of African Americans. Not to say that everyone up North is going to be welcoming; that’s of course not true. But in terms of degree, the North is likely to be a better, safer place for African Americans to live during that time period than the South. I think that a more valid argument would be to point out the importance of maintaining and growing an African American religious community in the South, where such a community could do a lot of good for the African Americans living there.
Washington begins his famous “Atlanta Compromise Speech” by emphasizing the size of the African American population in the South. He then goes on to a metaphor about people on a boat who were dying of thirst until a friendly boat told them to cast their bucket down into the water and they drew up fresh water from the Amazon. I’m not sure about the use of this metaphor. I feel that Washington telling African Americans to try to put down roots and find success where they are is unnecessary. His energy would’ve been better spent on a metaphor encouraging Southern whites to be more accepting and accommodating. However, I do see that he may be using the metaphor to convey to the mostly white audience that African Americans were willing to put in effort to coexist peacefully.
A few paragraphs later, Washington talks about how people need to learn to dignify the labor based jobs that were mainly done by African Americans. He says that tilling a field needs to be seen with the same level of respect as writing a poem. I think this is really interesting to put in his speech because the idea he’s trying to convey is that once the different “classes” of jobs are equalized, then the people who do the different jobs will be seen as equal as well. This is a concept that is still relevant today with the way that immigrants who work in labor-based jobs are viewed. The jobs are still not seen as equal to white collar jobs, so the people doing them aren’t seen as equal. Overall, I thought Washington’s speech was very successful. He used a lot of rhetoric that seems different from what other people were saying at the time. I felt that his speech really toned down how extremely white Southerners needed to change their views on African Americans in order to make a real advance towards equality. However, I believe he did this intentionally to sort of ease them into the concept of equality. There’s also the fact that he was an African American speaking to a gathering of mostly white men, so he may just have been keeping it slightly subtle in order to make sure that they aren’t resentful of what he’s saying and that they take his sentiments into consideration.
Chapter 29 of the Sernett reading, about Amanda Smith, related to a topic that I find very interesting. Smith talked about her experience as a traveling evangelist. She told stories about her experiences with other churches that she visited and people she encountered, whether positively or negatively. Although many of the experiences she described were positive, there were a few that upset her. She talked about going to an African American church service to hear another woman preach and being asked to sing. After the service, a strange woman asked who invited her and demanded that she leave. Another time, she was talking to a group of African American men about going to the General Conference to get ordained. The men scoffed at her and said that they would fight against women being allowed to be ordained. This reminds me of a concept that I learned about in an English class last semester known as “idealization of the victim.” Basically, this concept states that people tend to believe that victims of oppression or stereotyping will be less likely to oppress or stereotype other groups of people because they know the folly and unfairness of that and how it feels to be oppressed. While this is sometimes true, it is not always the case. In my English class we read a book called Maus, which was a true story narrated by a man whose father had survived the Holocaust. Obviously, as a Jew, his father was very much oppressed and stereotyped. He suffered incredible abuse at the hands of the Nazis simply because he belonged to a certain religious group. Yet in the States, years after the Holocaust, his father refused to stop for an African American hitchhiker. The narrator tried to rationalize his father’s decision by saying that stopping for hitchhikers in general can be dangerous, but his father replied that he would’ve stopped if the man hadn’t been black. Despite being the victim of unfair profiling, the narrator’s father unabashedly acted in the same way towards a different minority group. It’s even more shocking to me that Smith had similar experiences with people in the same oppressed group as her, whether it be the woman demanding she leave the church (presumably for being of a different religion) or the men treating her differently because she is a female.
One element of the readings this week that particularly interested me was in Chapter 27 of the Sernett reading. William Wells Brown mentions that one young woman he talked to had told him that it wasn’t until she’d had a “shouting spell” in church that her Sisters believed she had “the Witness”. When he questioned her, she admitted that she had shouted not because she’d had some great religious realization, but because she wanted the Sisters to stop bothering her about it. This sort of strange peer pressure situation makes me wonder about the legitimacy of the Sisters. Did they actually feel something, a connection to God or some higher power when they shouted in church? Or did they all end up somehow being drawn into this situation because they wanted to fit in with the others in the church, or because they wanted to believe that behaving this way would bring them into closer contact with a higher being? Of course, there’s no way to know. It’s completely plausible that this shouting truly did cause them to experience a “Witness”, and that the girl Brown talked to was an exception. This phenomenon is just so interesting to me because it can be applied to many different aspects of our lives. It reminds me of freshman year, when a hypnotist came to perform a few nights before school started. He asked for volunteers to come up on stage and proceeded to hypnotize them and make them do all sorts of crazy things. As someone sitting in the audience, I definitely thought it looked pretty real. However, my friend was one of the people the hypnotist had chosen and he said that he’d had complete control over himself and had gone along with the hypnotist for the sake of the show. However, I heard from other people that some others who had been onstage had said they actually were hypnotized. There’s no way to know for sure, really. Maybe it was different for everyone, or maybe the people who said that they were really hypnotized were just going along with it, even after the show was over. This kind of group mentality just fascinates me, whether is be people in a (possibly) legitimate hypnotist show, or a woman behaving in a certain way just to fit in with the Sisters at her church.
I am hungry.