Author Archives: Melody Sepehrar

Blackness As It Relates To Religion

As with all readings during this course, I believe that there is a common narrative thread that goes through all we have learned which is, namely, that religion for black people fills a role as it does for all people- to explain the situations and life experiences of those who have hardship and would like an explanation for the world around them. However, it is imperative to note the lack of uniformity in the ways in which black people (a group indefinable as a unit on its own) have turned to religion, or have not.  Contrary to the idea of a “black religion”, black people have struggled with the idea of religion and individual religions have divided off into sects of people who believe certain ideas over others. This is not to say that the religions of African American people are in a micro-cosm; far from it, the religions practiced by most African American people are influenced largely by the migrational patterns of others practicing different religions and the ways in which people reconciled new beliefs with their own. All in all, it is important to realize that a singular view of religion is never the correct way in which to analyze religious patterns of a group of people: just like all people, black Americans deserve the respect of individuality and dignity in any analysis of their lives.

11/14 – Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, and King

Doctor King’s sermon this week was very affecting in that his words resonated with his audience not only in a social sense, but in a religious sense. I chose to focus on this sermon as I believe that the spoken word, with its many fluctuations in pitch and volume can often be much more effective than words on a page. This is explicitly present in Dr. King’s sermon, as his experience with speeches and sermons given in the context of being a reverend allowed him to provide powerful and moving speeches just as he did in the context of something so personal and moving as religion.Doctor King’s sermon this week was very affecting in that his words resonated with his audience not only in a social sense, but in a religious sense. I chose to focus on this sermon as I believe that the spoken word, with its many fluctuations in pitch and volume can often be much more effective than words on a page. This is explicitly present in Dr. King’s sermon, as his experience with speeches and sermons given in the context of being a reverend allowed him to provide powerful and moving speeches just as he did in the context of something so personal and moving as religion.

The speech “But If Not” is particularly pertinent to this course, and the readings this week in particular, because it is obvious to see how King weaves his religion within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. King begins the speech as a pastor might- focusing first on the experiences of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, and how these biblical figures have inspired the idea of civil disobedience in the name of a higher power. Quickly thereafter, King relates this to the present struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, and the struggle of modern day civil disobedience. Both contexts share sensibilities– paraphrasing the reverend, they eschew one king in the service of The King. In the context of civil rights, it is rejecting the ideology of greater society for what one believes is true and right.

I would compare the emotional impact of this speech to that of Malcolm X, who also gave greatly impassioned speeches- but in a way which was wholly dissimilar to the didactic lessons of King.

 

10/31- Dear Mary:–

Though it was relatively short, the chapter which stood out to me most was that of Chapter 39- wherein two “sisters”, whether blood-related or religiously bound, write to each other, one having just moved North as part of the Great Migration. There are several points integral to understanding this document: the first being the already widening gap between the two-in the way that the sisters write (the writing of the Northern sister being more grammatically correct and with less spelling errors), the second being the measures put in place to recruit migrating black Americans to churches (the Northern sister having arrived “in time to attend one of the greatest revivals in the history of [her] life– over 500 people joined the church” (Sernett 366).), and the third being the ways in which the formerly tight-knit community is able to keep in contact after so many moves (repeated requests for the Southern sister to contact the Northern one when she moves imply that there may be a loss of contact if not- though the Southern sister is somehow able to keep in contact with previous community members who have moved North). What I think is vital to realize is the fact that history is so often told by people who come to power that perspectives of everyday people are indispensable. Oftentimes, those in (relative) power are far removed from the experiences of people who are affected by powerful peoples’ actions. In inspecting the experiences of those people whose lives were affected on a magnified lens, the events unfurling around them can be made more of a human issue.

 

Related image

A map of the patterns of migration!

10/11- j a r e n a

Jarena Lee. Everybody’s talking about her. And with good reason. Though I have written about her before, I feel that her perspective is particularly important  through her first hand account.  Jarena Lee. Everybody’s talking about her. And with good reason. Though I have written about her before, I feel that her perspective is particularly important  through her first hand account.

It immediately stood out to me that Jarena’s voice in the passage was not dialectal. Prior to this point, the only female voice found in Sernett was that of Sister Kelly. However, rather than butchering her own writing by adding dialectal tone, Lee has a more professional and educated feel to her writing. This, however, is an entirely unfair judgement on my part. Sister Kelly may have been equally educated, if not more, but simply misrepresented in order to fulfill a certain stereotype. However, I think it is important to note the role that the autobiographical nature of the resource has on the context of its meaning. Both women also emphasized the role of personal discovery of religion. The effects of religion on both Kelly and Lee seemed to have manifested physically, and with much excitement. This is in stark contrast to the relatively dull professions of faith from more modest but nonetheless devout male church members.

This made me consider a startling thought. Women in faith are not believed to be worthy of exhorting or preaching their beliefs, and their experiences with their own faiths are not treated to be as reliable or authentic as male church members simply due to their maleness. Thus, female worshippers are encouraged to preach and show support for their Lord in more spirited ways. No one would doubt a male churchgoer even if he was perfectly solemn in his professions of faith, but it seems to me that, comparatively, black female churchgoers have to work ‘twice as hard to get half as far’. Not to say that spirited preaching is not an excellent method. Far from it. Actually, wait. Here’s Ernestine Reems kicking butt and taking names.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f2aBDfEh6g

10/4- aaa(frica) STOOOP! i coulda dropped my rights as a citizen in the country in which i was born

In this week’s readings, none stood out to me so much as the words of Henry McNeal Turner, and his argument for emigrating to Africa. His perspective was one I had not really considered in the great argument from previous chapters for/against African emigration. A great deal of his argument was rooted in pessimism for the future of America. Honestly, he was right. Turner argues that “until we have black men in the seat of power, respected, honored, beloved, feared,hated and reverenced, our young men will never rise…” (Sernett 290). One might argue that, with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Turner’s prophesy was disproven. Though it would be lovely to believe it so, it seems this aspect of his ideas of America’s future still remains to be seen. Sure, Obama was elected president. But in his administration he was belittled and overruled and reviled by white members of our own government, to the point where party lines seemed to be a convenient excuse for putting America’s first black president back in his place.In this week’s readings, none stood out to me so much as the words of Henry McNeal Turner, and his argument for emigrating to Africa. His perspective was one I had not really considered in the great argument from previous chapters for/against African emigration. A great deal of his argument was rooted in pessimism for the future of America. Honestly, he was right. Turner argues that “until we have black men in the seat of power, respected, honored, beloved, feared,hated and reverenced, our young men will never rise…” (Sernett 290). One might argue that, with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Turner’s prophesy was disproven. Though it would be lovely to believe it so, it seems this aspect of his ideas of America’s future still remains to be seen. Sure, Obama was elected president. But in his administration he was belittled and overruled and reviled by white members of our own government, to the point where party lines seemed to be a convenient excuse for putting America’s first black president back in his place.

Turner’s argument also seems more reasonable and multifaceted than my initial impression of the ACS led me to believe. I thought that the ideals of the ACS were rooted in the idea that black Americans were not truly Americans (an idea I assumed was propagated by white Americans), and that the plan was to emigrate every black person “back” to Africa (regardless of their not really having been raised there). Turner’s points prove this impression otherwise, at least from his account of ACS’s ideals. In fact, Turner is comfortable in his status as an American, and wishes that his America recognized him as a true citizen, rather than second-class. He refutes the idea that #NotAllWhiteAmericans are bad, since even the pervasive idea that the North was “the good side” was a false narrative when considering how complicit the North was in the subjugation of black Americans. Turner also does not wish for all the black Americans to emigrate to Africa at once. It’s his idea that even a small amount of black Americans could start a viable civilization in Africa. The fact that he uses the example of emptying the penitentiaries to build a civilization really struck home for me, especially considering how pervasive the school-to-prison pipeline is to this day, and the fact that black Americans continue to be jailed at disproportionate rates compared to the relatively insignificant (and, in some cases, nonexistent) crimes they commit.

And now, in an occasion that I am unreasonably excited about, I will post a photo of Henry McNeal Turner.

That’s right. Not a painting or sketch. A PHOTOGRAPH.

9/26- Because You’re AMEZ-ing, Just The Way You Are

This week’s readings, more than anything, impressed upon me the fact that, when speaking of African-American religions and religious leaders, one can never be too specific. People are not uniform or easily described in broad strokes, and the differences in all four of the primary sources in this week’s reading easily fit that description. While I felt that the words of Richard Allen and Christopher Rush were less spirited, and, for me specifically, harder to follow, it was easy for me to relate to the words of Nathaniel Paul and Peter Williams, who, in my opinion, were more passionate and engaging. However, I try to acknowledge every bias that I might have in life, and having not been raised in a Christian community, I feel that my lack of familiarity with particular positions and traditions in certain Christian denominations might have caused me to get a bit lost in Allen and Rush’s writings. In fact, it was difficult for me to discern why the two denominations felt they had to be separate in the first place. Williams’s circumstance was a great deal more understandable to me, just based on historical context, as was Paul’s message.

However, out of curiosity, I decided to compare the mission statements of both the AME and AMEZ churches. Direct from their websites.

AME:

“The Mission of the AME Church is to minister to the social, spiritual, and physical development of all people…The ultimate purposes are…make available God’s biblical principles, spread Christ’s liberating gospel, and provide continuing programs which will enhance the entire social development of all people.”

AMEZ:

“The mission of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is to increase our love for God and to help meet the needs of humankind by “Loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with our entire mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Implicit in this statement is the belief that the church should have a positive relationship to humankind horizontally…we actualize this mission by praising God, by being obedient to the demands of the Gospel, by telling the story of God’s gracious acts in creating and redeeming the world, by inviting persons to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, and by serving as ministers of God’s liberating and reconciling grace.”

In my opinion, these mission statements aren’t different at all. This matches the sense I got from the readings, and from Christianity as a whole. The reasons for splits aren’t in the missions or core ideals of the denominations. It’s in the comfort of individual methods of administration. Again, as an outsider looking in, I could have a skewed view of this, but the necessity of differentiating one another seems wholly extraneous, since they both serve to meet the same goals.

9/19- Women in the Time of “Slaveholding Religion”

Though it is a topic that I know we will explore later in the course, the prevalence of women in the Harvey and Sernett chapters were especially striking to me this week. From black women who held prominent positions in African-American churches, to apathetic, well meaning, or even downright malicious white women, women continued to make their niches in the religious world, even despite the patriarchal tendencies of both the surrounding social and religious atmospheres.Though it is a topic that I know we will explore later in the course, the prevalence of women in the Harvey and Sernett chapters were especially striking to me this week. From black women who held prominent positions in African-American churches, to apathetic, well meaning, or even downright malicious white women, women continued to make their niches in the religious world, even despite the patriarchal tendencies of both the surrounding social and religious atmospheres.

In the Harvey reading, there was a distinct section devoted to the efforts of black women in the AME Church to gain leadership positions within the church. Though women like Jarena Lee, Julia Foote, and Amanda Smith felt “the call to preach the gospel” (Harvey 43), they were not allowed to do anything more than “exhort” their faith, rather than become ordained ministers. Despite being put down time and time again for not being educated enough, or being too spirited in their preachings, the women of the AME Church managed to challenge the ideals of the faith. It is, in my opinion, rather hypocritical that the male leaders of the church would base their church on “education, propriety, respectability, and decorum” (Harvey 43), and thus exclude women from ministry, while their oppressors would likely use the same language to keep black men from taking on leadership positions in white churches.

One of the most striking examples of women in the church was the primary source from Sister Kelly, an ex-slave. To hear how she realized her own faith was heart-warming as well as eye-opening, as her account describes the almost entirely different experiences slave women had, as well as female role models that were present in Kelly’s life. Kelly begins with the white woman who owned her for a time. Though she describes her as “the best white woman that ever broke bread”(Sernett 70), she also adds that “that wasn’t much, ’cause they all hated the po’ nigger” (Sernett 70). Extrapolating from this, though one might expect some sympathy from white women compared to white men, it seems that white women were equally cruel in their treatment of black people, especially slaves. A glimpse into the matriarchs of Kelly’s life are also found in her account; she briefly mentions an “Aunt July”, who affirms her religious inclinations and sends Sister Kelly onto the path of a believer.

Apart from these examples, there are few examples of women during this time with any real agency. Henry Bibb mentions a “poor white girl, who offered to teach a Sabbath School for the slaves” (Sernett 76), and whose school was quickly shut down, showing a possible attempt to aid slaves in religion and literacy. The women mentioned in future passages are little more than symbols– a girl is the impetus to turn Bibb to turn to some superstitious remedies; Nat Turner recollects the murder of several women without remorse; Frederick Douglass laments the whippings of women and uses these as examples of the cruelty of slaveowners.

An excellent resource which I found invaluable in my research of the intersectionality of gender, race, and religion was: A TRIPLE-TWINED RE-APPROPRIATION: WOMANIST THEOLOGY AND GENDERED-RACIAL PROTEST IN THE WRITINGS OF JARENA LEE, FRANCES E.W. HARPER, AND HARRIET JACOBS.

I think the caps really convey the urgency of the article, so I’m keeping them.

9/12- Back to the Future

I cannot, in truth, begin to dive into this week’s readings without comparing them to the wonderful article I read in the space between last week’s class and today. While reading how Hammon believes that “[God] has commanded us to obey, and we ought to do it cheerfully and freely” (Sernett 36), I could not help but draw parallels to the article written by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the October 2017 Issue of The Atlantic.

In his analysis of the election of Donald Trump, he relates several of his points to the myth of a disillusioned white working-class rallying together to vote for Trump. Why, Coates argues, is it not natural for black working-class voters to have turned to Trump as an alternative, people who have also suffered in an economic downturn? It is because of a racism that is only considered “incidental to his rise” (Coates). Coates divulges that “indeed, the panic of white slavery lives on in our politics today. Black workers suffer because it was and is our lot. But when white workers suffer, something in nature has gone awry.”

Parallels to the readings this week abound. In Raboteau’s reading, we see the flickers of recognizing African-Americans as human beings, however human beings who are enslaved, are shut down by white slaveowners who are terrified of the equivalency. They consider it an insult to regard these people as, well, people. And thus, the egalitarian nature of the Christianity they so feared passing to their slaves was perverted to ensure that Afro-Americans could never construe themselves as equals to Euro-Americans.

9/7- When “Morality” Meets Slavery

Dr. Francis Le Jau’s account of the conversion of the African-American slaves of Goose Creek parish might, to some modern white Christians, ring as evidence of Christianity’s tendency towards good. Clearly Le Jau does argue that there are “sensible and honest Negroe Slaves”(Sernett 27). Indiana University’s summary of The Carolina Chronicle of Dr. Francis LeJau, 1706–1717 even calls Le Jau a “keen and fair-minded man”. Furthermore, he even advocates for better treatment of slaves, saying that “[slaveowners’] Neglect is an habitual state of sin” (Sernett 31). Are these not the words of a man resentful of the treatment of his fellow man? Is white Puritanism independent of the sins of racism propagated by Euro-Americans at the time? Hardly.


The fact of the matter is that Le Jau does not see these slaves as humans. He even confides that he “[has] thought it most convenient not to urge too far that Indians and Negroes shou’d be indifferently admitted to learn to read” (Sernett 28). His sympathy toward the African-Americans in his parish is only that- pity. His benign neglect of the slaves’ plight of slavery, as Ralph Ellison says in the introduction to Invisible Man, “[translates] ‘Keep those Negroes running- but in their same old place’”. He feigns interest, concern. But in the end, Le Jau’s concerns are about as useful as the neglect shown by the slaveowners- misplaced and misleading. Sure, he will give the slaves hope of personhood- but in the end they must remember that they are still slaves.