A Letter from the Angry Black Woman in Your Pew
“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.”
17 thoughts on “A Letter from the Angry Black Woman in Your Pew”
I listened, now I need to figure out what I need to do to assist you and others. At the moment, Phil 4:8 and 1 Cor 13 to each and every person. Any suggestions?
Thank you for this letter. While I am not a black woman, I am a woman, and admit I have equalized our experiences in my mind. Until reading this, I never considered how much worse these issues are when you add racism to the equation. I apologize to you, for whatever that is worth. Thank you for the courage to speak about this in such a frank and truthful manner.
I definitely concur her inclusion of kiwi can be taken that way. Paragraph could use better clarity if that wasn’t her intention.
Transgender is a shifty subject by nature of its complicated discourse alone. I imagine trying to remain absolute on its wrongness while still speaking gracefully and accurately is a challenge, esp when any disagreement with modern pagan society can get you quickly labeled in with the Westboros. The pro LGBT is excellent at muddying the picture.
I hope though that your concerns aren’t progressing to reality when it comes to TGC. We definitely need to be clear and defined on the grounds of scripture and not bend. At the same time having almost a libertarian approach to American culture.
And Thanks for your cordial comments and conversation. I appreciate it.
Thomas W, thank you for your kind reply to my comments. I may have been too harsh on my critique of the Gospel Coalition on this particular issue, since after I posted, I noticed one or two relevant articles that they ran this week, and they have run similar relevant articles in the past.
I am still, however, concerned about a lack of clarity that occasionally surfaces on issues such as transgenderism. Ms. Campbell’s statement in her article here is a case in point. You note that she mentions R. Kelly, but she is, I believe, citing his name as an abuser rather than a victim. Kiwi Herring, on the other hand, is among a list of black women victims of violence. So, it seems Ms. Campbell is making a statement about Kiwi’s gender identity. That controversial issue has little to do with the tragedy of Kiwi’s death (which is the main focus of Ms. Campbell’s article), but it is still an issue with immense theological implications that warrants more clarity. And that leads to my concern about the Christian (in some cases Reformed) blogosphere. There have been subtle shifts in language that may signal a much, much larger theological shift; when leaders use or implicitly approve of such language, it leaves laypeople like me doubting where our churches truly stand.
All that said, I realize this is a digression from the main points of Ms. Campbell’s heartfelt article; I am grateful that she and the hosts of The Witness have allowed me to comment anyway. I am also grateful for your considered thoughts.
I think the common ground here is that Kiwi shouldn’t be mistreated for his choices/differences. I didn’t take Ms. Cambell’s paragraph on the matter as a statement of sexual identity, considering it bounces to R Kelly and back again.
It’s quite possible to fully disagree with transgenderism while still refraining from prejudice or in the case of Kiwi possible excessive force. I can’t find any articles since the incident last year, so no telling what the truth was in the matter.
A quick search at TGC for “gender” relays over 10,000 articles. For “transgender” almost 1000. I haven’t read enough of them to draw a conclusion as you have on their merit, but at least they are approaching the subject and appear to be definitive against it while promoting appropriate ways in which to respond to it.
THANK YOU for writing this post.
I am glad that the article closed with reference to Christ, our true hope. And the comments here are interesting. But, I would caution one previous commenter, Terri Carmouche, about making statements that express open racial prejudice against whites. Such statements encourage racism and work against all those who, over the centuries, have sacrificed their lives to end racial hatred. Indeed, such comments-by seeking to silence someone merely because of their skin color-work more on the side of racism than against. I assume that is not what Ms. Carmouche meant to do when replying to Scott Roney. And, of course, if Mr. Roney merely intended to stir up trouble with his comment, that is also problematic.
As it turns out, though, whether his motives were good or bad, Mr. Roney raises an intriguing question. Does Ms. Campbell’s indication that Kiwi Herring was a woman indicate that the Reformed Christian world now embraces the ideologies of transgenderism and/or homosexuality? That is quite a shift from previous stances of denominations such as the PCA. I know this is no longer an exclusively Reformed website, but PCA pastors generally appear to wholeheartedly approve of the content here. Without detracting from the distressing tragedy of Kiwi Williams’ death, identifying Kiwi as a woman is a shift in theology that warrants more discussion. So, unless I hear further clarification in the wider blogosphere, I can only assume that the PCA, along with other Reformed evangelical denominations, now accepts transgender and, presumably, homosexual philosophies. I adhere to a more traditional, and, I believe, biblical view of sexuality, but I have grown disgusted with the way many in the Reformed world beat around the bush on controversial issues. It is high time that Reformed pastors quit straddling the fence and declare what they do, and do not, believe about matters of race, gender, and sexual orientation. I might disagree with them, but I would have a better appreciation of their honesty, which is, in my mind at least,, currently in doubt. We are way past the point of the platitudes and vagaries that I find on websites like the Gospel Coalition.
“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.”
I think many of us in the church would appreciate direction on what exactly this looks like going forward. What are the ways in which the local church, individuals, and communities can impact this for the better?
What programs, individuals, churches, etc are ministering in these areas, and how are they doing them on the practical scale that’s been effective?
Your article does an excellent job of pacing the frustration, anger, and disappointment others have and have experienced not simply for women but when that is compounded by others factors like race. Prejudice which is common to fallen man abounds from the devaluations we place on any difference we find (sex, color, race, weight, kids, politics, theology, etc) all the way down the pipe to worse things that result in abuse, rape, violence, etc.
But there is opportunity here to lead others on what good things are happening, what they are doing that’s effective, and how to go about that so that the church especially has a greater awareness of how to respond and how to implement changes. And since you have experience directly in working with domestic violence and abuse, there’s no person better to light a path for others, as I think that lack of direction is more the issue when it comes to our perception of church silence.
To use another example like abuse and sexism. Why is there a perception of silence on sex trafficking when every Christian we could ask would agree its horrible? I think there are several reasons for this that relate:
1. Most everyone esp Christians agree that these are unacceptable and bad.
2. Many are not equipped, do not have the skill set, etc to participate directly in combating these areas.
3. Many issues like domestic violence, sex trafficking, etc rely on police/prosecutor response actions due to the criminality and potential for violence involved. Thus, what is the active role for the Church other than as cheerleader?
4. Many issues like these are out of sight, out of mind for those who haven’t been directly or closely affected by them.
5. People who have experienced these atrocities don’t often like to talk about them, for a variety of reasons.
I don’t mean those as excuses, but as perhaps the reality. I would contend that the lack of response isn’t so much a lack of care or an intent to devalue, or that there aren’t enough christian men (even white conservatives) concerned about this to make a difference. I think for the reasons above there is a large inability to respond and a lack of clarity on what effective response looks like. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of other competing ministries and important areas that one can be directly involved in. It’s easier to work at the soup kitchen than it is to be in the middle of domestic violence disputes.
As far as sexism in the church goes, this will change when at least a coupe of things happen. 1. Pastors and leadership not only speak to this on a consistent basis as they have other issues like racism, but provide leadership and clarity forward. 2. When we (men and women) take the time and courage to confront our brothers (and occasionally sisters) in accordance with the path laid out in Scripture for conflict resolution with your offending sibling. Though my perception is limited, I think this is a major area we and the church all struggle with (esp in an era of social media), and because we don’t confront these things on the individual and community level, it fosters prevailing norms in the end or worse.
Thank you for a great article on this issue. .
So you hate and blame conservatives. I get it. But you’re also admitting that it’s not conservatives that are abusing and killing black women and girls.
Yep! Regarding the last two sentences…
Precisely, one of the problems. Why is it necessary for a white person, especially male to come through and offer correction or unsolicited advice. Did you EVEN read the article and the concerns therein. Come Lord Jesus…
I think it would be better for us to take this opportunity to quietly listen, rather than volunteer our criticisms
Scott M Roney
Great post, I loved the quotes from the hymn at the end. I would be curious to hear if you have any more concrete ideas regarding steps the Church can take to address this.
One criticism: Kiwi Herring was not a woman. His death was tragic, and possibly criminal, but just because a man emasculates himself, shoots up with hormones and puts on a dress, does not make him a woman.
Amazing piece. Thank you for writing this.
Awesome article. My only critique is that black women make less than 7% (not 13% which includes black men) of the US population. It is hard as a devoted Christian and black woman to be continually ignored and silenced by conservatives. They want our donations and help for other people’s but not for our own empowerment and healing.
Thank you for this post.