Leaving Jesus: Women of Color Beyond Faith

Mandisa Thomas

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The 24-hour prayer sessions are the true test of a warrior for Jesus.  They require Herculean stamina, the patience of Job, the rigor of elite marathon runners hitting the wall in a fiery sweat pit at high altitude, primed for God’s finish line. In many small storefront Pentecostal churches these “pray-a-thons” are women’s spaces; hubs of music, food, caregiving, and intense witnessing.  My student Stacy Castro* is a bass player in her Pentecostal church’s band.  She is also the pastor’s daughter and a regular participant in the pray-a-thons, a mainstay in some evangelical congregations. Much of her weekends are focused on church activities. And though she is an intelligent gifted speaker, up until her participation in the Women’s Leadership Project she thought little about pursuing college and wanted to go to cosmetology school.  Stacy’s aspirations are not atypical of students at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.  In a community that is dominated by churches of every stripe only a small minority go on to four year colleges and universities.

Over the past decade, Pentecostal congregations have burgeoned in urban communities nationwide, as Pentecostalism has exploded amongst American Latinos disgruntled by rigid Catholic hierarchies, alienating racial politics, and sexual abuse scandals.  The gendered appeal of Pentecostalism is highlighted in a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey which concludes that, “Latino religious polarization may be influenced by a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population, with men moving toward no religion and women toward more conservative religious traditions and practices. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61%) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58%). Italics added.”[i]

In my book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, I argued that the literature on secularism and gender does not capture the experiences of women of color negotiating racism, sexism, and poverty in historically religious communities.  The relative dearth of secular humanist and freethought traditions amongst women of color cannot be separated from the broader context of white supremacy, gender politics, and racial segregation.  Harlem Renaissance-era writers Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston are generally acknowledged as pioneering twentieth century black women freethinkers.  Yet what few women’s freethought histories there are celebrate the political influence of prominent nineteenth century white women non-believers, [Read more...]

The Prison of Black Patriarchal Masculinity

By Derrick L. McMahon, Jr.

As a black man living in the United States, I know all too well the prison that Black Patriarchal Masculinity can be. Growing up, the cell that I was placed in was small and rigid, a place for conformity rather than creativity. My masculinity was policed at almost every turn. My wrists were too limp I was told. My walk was not boyish enough I was told. And my interests were in all the wrong places: dolls and balls as opposed to just dolls.

What brings me to the topic of black patriarchal masculinity is a chance encounter I had the opportunity to witness. A black male was walking by and I overheard a young Hispanic girl, no more than 12 years old, remark that he “walked like a girl.” As I heard the young girl utter that the black man “walked like a girl,” something in my mind went off. I began to think about what black masculinity was in the society I live in. What about the black man walking by made the young girl feel he was crossing some threshold of masculine acceptability? What had made a young girl, a Hispanic one at that, recognize something in that black man that went against whatever she had been taught in her own community and society?

The prevailing narrative of black masculinity in this society seems to be predicated on a few things. Black men are to be full of rage and always apt to commit violent crimes. We’re supposed to be hyper masculine and hyper sexual; willing to fuck anything and be the carrier of superhuman sexual abilities. Also, due to our race, it seems, we are supposed to embody an idealized version of masculinity. Both the dominant culture and many blacks themselves have internalized this false notion of black men embodying a “true” definition of masculinity.

There seems to be an endless barrage of black men depicted in the media as fitting into the narrow narratives constructed around black masculinity. Incidents of crime are reported on frequently, remarking on the latest black man to kill, maim, or rape someone. Sports and music provide the perfect backdrop for introducing the narrative that black males are hyper masculine and hyper sexual. Videos by popular artists populate mass media wherein black men brag about their sexual prowess and their heightened masculinity. The black man is conditioned to believe that he embodies the very best of patriarchal masculinity, and that this is a virtue.

That an eleven year old girl could recognize a random black man as embodying something that she had been taught to pinpoint, to see as an anomaly, was striking to me. It is a testament to the fact that our children are being conditioned from a very early age to police the gender of themselves and others. What business does an eleven year old need with policing gender? Adolescence is, and should be, a time of much experimentation and exploration, not the site of rigidity and policing. That this young girl was a member of a different racial group indicates that patriarchal black masculinity is being communicated to other communities. It’s not unusual to meet someone of another group who is surprised or disappointed that a particular black man does not embody a particular masculine ideal. When I tell people that I don’t play football or basketball, and that I don’t have a bad chick by my side, they seem let down. I’ve destroyed some illusion of black masculinity and manhood that they had harbored.

Masculinity, in my opinion, should be a site for creativity and diversity. No black man should be forced into a prison of rigidity by a society expecting his masculinity to be one dimensional and one note. As a black man who is an advocate of feminism, I know that I have a responsibility to make my masculinity a site of resistance. I make sure that my thoughts and actions promote a view of black masculinity that is rooted in a respect for femininity, and anchored in a multifaceted harbor.

It is imperative for black men to fight for our right to be free of the prison of black patriarchal masculinity. We are more than rage, anger, violence, and sexual conquest. Our masculinity, much like we are, is and has always been diverse. We must make room in our cell for a diverse black masculinity.

The future of black masculinity lies in its ability to break free of the prison cell it has been forced to reside in. Black masculinity must seek out a wide open field where diversity and creativity is celebrated and fostered. We must resist those who insist on our singularity as black men. The prison cell that is patriarchal masculinity must no longer be the site where black masculinity resides.

Derrick L. McMahon Jr. has a Bachelor of Science in History from Florida A&M University. His blog is the antiintellect