I was as they say raised in the church. We started going after my mother, sister and I moved to our small, upper middle class, mainly white town. I had spent the first 7 years of my life in the Bronx surrounded by various shades of brown and black. I played with kids who were mixed like me. There were no strange looks or questions. I woke up and went to sleep with the sounds of the city in my ear. You could be easily entertained just by simply looking out your window. If I was well behaved, I could sit next to my grandmother in the front of our building and listen to her talking with her friends. They would cackle, suck teetch and talk in low whispers over the latest news. After my parents split up, we left the city and headed for New Jersey. We ended up in a sleepy town where no one seemed to make any noise. It was a place where the ice cream truck did not visit and the night was terrifying because of the silence.
It turned out the only other black family on our side of town was my sister’s pre-school teacher. Her family invited us to the church that would soon become our own. They also became a vital part of our lives with her parents becoming our godparents. That was important for two little girls whose family seemed and was so far away. All of the isolation and awkwardness I felt in school, the probing eyes, the constant questions (What are you? Do you speak English?)evaporated when I came to church. The brown faces that greeted me there made me feel safe. It took some time to become accustomed to the stillness and spurts of boundless energy but there was a lovely rhythm to it. Other than the library, church was where I felt safe. Our family became active. I continued to go throughtout my teens and early adulthood. I was married there. When my husband and I suffered a miscarriage at six months, our church family mourned with us. When our daughter made her way into the world, our joy was theirs. It was home and I assumed it was where I would always be. I thought I would be one of those sisters who would have been there for 50 plus years. As I type these words, I am smiling because I have good memories. Even now.
I no longer go to church. I have not lost my faith. I am not an atheist. I am not in a crisis. So why would I walk away from all that history, support, and safety? The question I have been asking myself is what am I getting in exchange for those things? What must I willingly or at the very least, quietly acquiesce to, lay down, ignore in order to have access to those things? Are they really worth it?
Is that feeling of community worth the sick feeling I have when I hear yet another preacher explain if only “these young girls would stop sleeping with every Tom, Dick, and Harry and having all these babies” our community would be so much better? Do the smiles and warm hugs hold their value when I hear that our young men need to take back their place as the head of the family, stop letting their pants drag – along with the dignity of the race -, that we don’t need psychiatrists, psychologists, and pills. If we only would pray harder and believe more fervently, we could get out of that valley. The fellowship that is real to me, something that I savor, that grace that stretches over the bad times, it pops with a loud bang when I hear gays, lesbians, trans, and queer brothers and sisters disparaged even as I know, the ushers know, the diaconate, hell the pastor knows the person who is hitting that note on the organ that helps him to find their rhthym during a sermon, is in fact one of those who are inviting hell and damnation. Is all that really worth keeping?
Sometimes I feel like those women who are posed the question, “How can you listen to music that calls you a “bitch” and “hoe”?” They respond, “They’re not talking about me.” Technically, the preacher is not talking to me. I am an educated, heterosexual, married mother. If I do not fit in those categories, then why do I feel so much rage, hurt and frustration? It is precisly because of my position that I am afforded acceptance. I am keenly aware that despite my privilege – education, skin, hair, class, being able bodied which allow me not to have to experience certain things – I am still a black woman and generally the person standing in the pulpit is not. Since they don’t know and/or choose not to educate themselves on the realities of our different experiences, they can’t know no matter how well a black woman is dressed, how crisply we may enuciate, how lovely our locs, no matter how smooth our edges, we are still black and female and thus vulnerable. From the pulpit, there is no talk of how domestic violence, sexual abuse, colorism, racism and all the other -isms affect black women and inform our “choices”. Our existence feels like a constant check to see if our slip is showing. The prevailing message no matter where we go is that it’s on us. We are the ones who have to contort ourselves to fit someone else’s idea of happy. It is also not lost on me that while it may seem that our brothers are the winners in the patriarchy games, the constant policing on what it means to be an appropriate example of a heterosexual, respectable and uplifting black male is just as detrimental.
This has been a rough year for black women. It seemed like the attacks were constant and each one was more vicious than the last. It was exhausting to yet again to put up the defenses, to stiffen your spine, to sign yet another petition to stop some bullshit. I need, like everyone needs, a safe space to lay down those burdens, to scream and cry, to gather strength, to gain wisdom so that I can go back out there. I just need one space where I don’t have to fight. I need that space so that I can love stronger and more fiercely than before. I deserve better. My children deserve better. Black women, men and children deserve better.
I am committed to finding a safe, intellectual, and thought provoking spiritual space. I am committed to finding a place that not only respects the uniqueness of my experience but also those whose realities may not reflect my own. Until I find that place, I will continue to pray, commune with nature, and give thanks for those who came before. I will sing and dance for no reason at all. I admit to being nervous about where the journey will take me but I will savor every stop I make. I am full of joy, hope and faith that our family will end up exactly where we belong.