The religious construction of race and Gender, ‘white Jesus’ and the Journey to spiritualism and self.
A personal account.
“If we were made in his image then call us by our names,
Most intellects do not believe in god, but the fear us just the same”
-Erykah Badu, On & On
Oh religion religion.
Religion and spirituality are topics I plan to discuss on numerous occasions during the BlackBritishConcerned journey. Both play a large part in black identity, both in the continent of Africa and in the African diaspora. Christmas is not long away, and with Jesus being “the reason for the season”, I wanted to provide some insight into my thoughts on God and religion .
I spent most of my childhood in the Christian church, and I loved it. I loved the people. It shaped me, what I valued and what I did not, and I learnt a vast amount from the experiences I had there. The biggest lesson being the importance of God, being connected to God and the acknowledgement of a higher power than myself. Ironically, one of the only parts of church that I did not take with me into my adult life at all was the religion.
Some will have read that last sentence twice. To some, religion and God are the same thing. Are the two synonymous? Yes, of course, but the same? Well not to me.
The quote in the title is one I became familiar with through a post I saw on social media, and it is a quote that I fell in love with instantly. It struck a chord with me so much so that I could not shake it. However as much as I desired to purchase the t-shirt I initially saw the quote printed on, I was hesitant. As quickly as I had added the purchase to my online shopping cart, I removed it again.
This decision was probably determined by the fact that I am aware of the quote’s sharp dichotomy to the European featured, male version of Jesus as a form of God that we have all become so accustomed to in the black community, and I was not sure how it would be received when worn. As much as I enjoy partaking in dialogue that engages with both spirituality and religion, when the identity of God is introduced into the conversation, unless you are ready for the onslaught of verbal criticism, being told you “lack faith”, or have come armed with your ‘let’s agree to disagree’ mindset, it just isn’t worth it.
Despite the fact that in many black christian churches, women win in the male to female congregational ratio almost everytime; I consider the westernisation and patriarchal personification of God within Christianity to have placed my black womanhood in a quandry. According to christianity, God is not female, and he was certainly NOT black, and in short, I was not down with any of it.
The lack of logic in the paradigm of religion and accepting the uncertainty of my place within it, all for the sake of a regimented connection to an idea of God that I did not resonate with anyway, made me uncomfortable. The idea of professing that the only type of connection to God available to me was through devotion to a male, European looking (or at best racially ambiguous) deity, had a racially and gender based hierarchal congruence to the white (and black) patriarchy that I already found myself living within every day in white western society.In a world in which all parts of identity are tugged and pulled to meet standards and respect social guidelines, I could not ‘fall in a row’ with my spirituality as well. It belonged to me, and it needed to be free.
I found that the issue I had wasn’t that God is not personified as a black female in particular; But that God is personified at all. It was the encapsulation of it all.
I resonate with the idea that God is everything that we see and God is as individual as the person beholding God. I believe that God must be found within self before experienced in any sort of outward expression. I am more interested in the active search for fulfilment in self and the God within us all, rather than in searching for validation in fulfilling someone’s, or something else’s idea of how we should experience a relationship as hand-crafted as ours with a higher being.
The phrase, “God is with you, God is within you, God is you”, took on a life engulfing meaning that I could live by. Living and feeling well, remaining present, grateful and always on the search for better were all things that I could feel, that I felt apart of.
For the first time ever, I felt that I was on my way to really knowing God, for myself. In an unregulated and uninterrupted way.