“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” – Malcolm X

I’ve struggled with writing this post—partly because anger isn’t received well by conservative circles, especially if you’re a woman…more so if you’re a black woman. Maybe the over-policing myself on how to write this article is precisely why I should write this article.

I’ve sat around for the past few hours trying to figure out how I can write the respectable black woman equivalency to Beth Moore’s recent open letter and on the experiences of black women and girls in light of #MuteRKelly and #TimesUp.

Unfortunately, the experiences of black women and girls cannot fit into an open letter palatable to be read over your morning cup of coffee.

A Missing Community

I’ve danced around with how to politely and eloquently write about the neglect and perpetuation of racialized sexism, or misogynoir, to a predominantly conservative audience.

But there’s nothing conservative about the murder of Charleena Lyles or the rape of Recy Taylor. There’s nothing conservative about the abuse of Chikesia Clemons or about the nearly 20-year long accusations against singer, R.Kelly – whose victims have almost exclusively been black girls and women. There’s nothing conservative about the alarming rates of maternal mortality among black women. There’s nothing conservative about the murder of Kiwi Herring or about Cyntoia Brown’s ongoing fight with the justice system.

The stories are only a small percentage of the racialized physical and sexual violence. Talking about these stories isn’t the difficult part. I could easily write about Bill Cosby, R.Kelly, Nas, Fabolous, and other prominent men who have taken advantage of, abused, and exploited black women and girls.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, black women remain disrespected, unprotected, and neglected. My issue is when our experiences are neglected and unaddressed in the Church.

In the midst of black Christians in conservative and evangelical spaces relentlessly calling for racial reconciliation, and in the midst of the era of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #ChurchToo, I wonder: where is our community when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable?

Black women are twice as likely to be murdered by a spouse and four times more likely to be killed by an abusive partner though we only make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population.

The hashtag and protest #MuteRKelly is not significant because it has the backing of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp. The awareness around this protest is significant because violence against black women and girls is often swept under the rug.

Where is the Church in the midst of these conversations?

She’s God’s Image Bearer

If you place the importance of a woman or girl based on her relation to you and not her inherent dignity as an image bearer of God, then you do not truly value women like you think you do.

“I understand the plight of women because I have a wife/daughter/mother.”

“I would never do X because I have a wife/daughter/mother.”

“I can’t believe rape and abuse happen – that could’ve been my wife/daughter/mother.”

Are you following now?

What if you were drawn to seeking justice for black women and girls, not because you’re married to one or raising one, but simply because we are God’s image bearers? What if you were drawn to seeking justice, not as a result of your relationship in covenant marriage, but out of a desire for covenant community?

Black Women and #ChurchToo

The Church has been a place of refuge for black Americans for generations and black women account for approximately 70% of black congregations. So it is particularly disturbing when the sins of our culture rest comfortably in our churches.

I appreciate women like Beth Moore and her courage to write about her experiences of sexism within traditional, conservative Christian spaces. However, I wonder whether the voices and experiences of women and girls whose views, lifestyles, and beliefs look less like Beth Moore (read: white, middle-class, conservative) would be heard, let alone believed.

The Church is in a special place to address and work to prevent sexual violence against black women and girls. However, I’m unsure that we’re ready to get to work if the only voices we listen to sound most like our own set of conservative values. There’s nothing conservative about violence against other humans, whether explicit violence or accepting norms and beliefs that perpetuate such violence.

Since slavery, perceived inherent hypersexuality of black women has placed us in tragic positions. We are objectified, fetishized, and robbed of inherent human dignity. This dehumanization of black women is not always explicit or as vile as physical violence and certainly occurs just as much in Christian spaces.

On the “Gender Apartheid” episode of Truth’s Table, the hosts talked about their experiences of racialized sexism within Christian spaces. These experiences included hypersexualizing of their bodies, caution around communication with married men, and having to prove themselves through their credentials. The episode received incredible backlash, much of which further exposed and solidified the racialized sexism discussed in the episode. It revealed that not even the experiences of three black Christian women with multiple degrees and years of vocational ministry between them can critique sexism in Christian spaces.

Ekemini Uwan writes, “Hypervisibility maps onto black women with regard to the commodification of their bodies, stereotypes about hypersexuality, mannerisms, speech and the infamous ‘angry black woman’ trope. These false notions that fuel the hypervisibility black women experience also create the precondition for invisibility, which is a form of exile.”

These false notions are some of the reasons why violence against black women and girls is often ignored and condoned. These false notions are some of the reasons why this violence occurs often without repercussions (and why the conviction of former Oklahoma City officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, was an incredible decision given a legal system that rarely works in favor of black women).

These false notions are some of the reasons why unchecked covert and overt racism and sexism continue to pervade Christian spaces. Black women and girls who are left invisible and dehumanized in Christian spaces are all the more vulnerable outside of the Church.

Physically Neglected but Spiritually Known

Black women and girls cannot choose which part of our identity to fight for. We cannot separate our identity and focus on bits and pieces of many issues. We can’t sit around while men in our communities and churches justify, perpetuate, or remain silent about our pain.

Addressing the levels of male privilege, sexism, and racism must begin in our communities. The change must begin in our churches.

Christians must be at the forefront of addressing egregious acts of violence committed against the most vulnerable. And while I believe this should have happened long before #MeToo and #TimesUp, I hope the Church takes advantage of the momentum around these movements and the sharing of critical resources that could change an environment so set on diminishing the inherent dignity of women and girls.

Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, has repeatedly said the movement is not merely about stories of trauma. It is a movement about resilience and solidarity. Many of us are aware that violence occurs at alarming rates against black women and girls. What will the Church do to end the silence and promote healing and resilience among those most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected?

Will the Church see black women and girls as the “least of these” instead of the “strong black woman” who can dust herself off and take on the world? That caricature is an excuse to overlook our hurt. We do feel pain. And if anyone should speak up and defend us, it should be the body of Christ.

This is not a time for performative theological discussions that do not result in action. We do not need a conference, panel discussion, or one-time awareness training about gender-based violence. If our conferences, panels, and pulpits are cultivating a culture that mirrors the broader society and diminishes the value of black women and girls through racism and sexism, we have a much deeper heart issue.

Awareness and acknowledgment is only a small fraction of the work that needs to be done to adequately and redemptively address violence against women and girls.

On Solid Rock

I won’t end this with a statement about how I still have hope in conservative evangelical spaces and their affirmation of my existence and value as a black woman. I don’t. Jesus says the world will know us by our love for one another. When Christian traditions have turned their backs, afflicted violence, or remained silent on pervasive issues affecting black women and girls, I start to question their love.

We black women have already been given an identity, purpose, and dignity in Christ. I’m not waiting for conservative, evangelical spaces to finally “get it” or find value in black women and girls, let alone seek justice for us.

Christ is the only source of my black girl joy.

Christ is the only source of my black girl courage.

And Christ is the only source that gives this black girl unwavering hope.

As the old song says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness/I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

The name that calls me human.

The name that calls me woman.

The name that loved me enough to save me, when all others have turned their backs.

“…On Christ the Solid Rock I stand/all other ground is sinking sand/all other ground is sinking sand.”

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