Let me preface this article by unequivocally stating that this is not an attack on Christians. To paraphrase Dr. Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, but they never forget how you made them feel.” So, it is only in the spirit of intellectual debate and historical examination — not Jesus bashing — that I ask the following question:
Are Black Christians the new “house Negroes?”
After re-listening to ancestor Malcolm X’s (El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) electric and enlightening message “The House Negro and The Field Negro” (watch below) and having various discussions on the topic, I have become increasingly convinced that the answer to that question is yes. The only differentiating detail is that the new house does not belong to the plantation owner but the opulent “House of the Lord.”
With roots that reach back to Asa Philip Randolph and Butterfly McQueen, questioning the legitimacy of God is nothing new in Black America; and in recent years, there has been a substantial rise in Black atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and agnostics. These are people who bravely question the institution of religion and the examples of violence, sexism, and homophobia that can found within the pages of the Bible (as well as the Qu’ran).
Freethinkers are those who understand that God cannot be defined, nor confined, by Christianity, which is overwhelmingly the default religion of African Americans whose ancestors were brought over on slave ships. Africans, quiet as it’s kept, have a rich spiritual history that was cunningly — and forcibly — suppressed by missionaries. As Desmond Tutu famously said:
When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.
African Americans have evolved into the most-devout Christian segment of American society; yet, we are the most economically fractured and unhealthy. We face higher infant and maternal mortality rates, we are profiled and executed without due process; yet, we continue to “worship” the most, indoctrinating our children as faithfully as our ancestors were indoctrinated before us.
HIV/AIDS ravages our communities more than any other segment of society. According to Avert.org:
Over 230,000 African Americans have died of AIDS nearly 40 percent of total deaths – and of the more than 1 million people living with HIV in the United States of America today, almost half are Black. The estimated lifetime risk of becoming infected with HIV is 1 in 16 for black males, and 1 in 30 for black females. According to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, African Americans “comprise the greatest proportion of HIV/AIDS cases across many transmission categories, including among women, heterosexual men, injection drug users, and infants.
It is now the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 25 to 34, and we are more than 21 times as likely to die from the disease than white women. Tragically, the factors that control these numbers are poverty, STIs and the disproportionate incarceration of African-American men.
Yet, where is the Black church in this war?
Many Black churches preach abstinence over safety and refuse to endorse the use of contraceptives, while supporting conservatives on policies such as the disintegration of Planned Parenthood, which provides life-saving and preventative treatment for people of color. Conservatives successfully blur the lines between church and state, wreaking havoc in the Black community based on nothing more than religious conjecture — and many in Black America shout hallelujah right beside them.
Anybody else smell “house Negroes?”
There is a condescension, an arrogance that wafts from the pews these days. To quote brother Malcolm again, “I hate to say this about us; but, it’s true.” There are kind-hearted Christian people who are not overjoyed with the suffering of their fellow Black and Brown people; yet, many still take comfort in the fact that their religion keeps them safe from the plight of “the field negroes.”
Zora Neale Hurston, another great freethinker, once said that she did not “expect God to single [her] out and grant [her] advantages over [her] fellow men.” I am in complete agreement; dwelling in the House of the Lord does not grant Christians any more favor or prestige than the next person.
Everyone has the right to think, and as more people continue to question what they’ve been trained to believe, the number of Black Freethinkers will continue to rise. We owe it to ourselves not to let the wroght iron gates of religion separate us from a common goal, and, in this country, that remains equality and dignity under the law. As Whitney Young, Jr. famously said:
We might have come over on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.
“House negroes” are desperately needed in the fields of Black America. Only time will tell if they answer the call.