#bookaweek2015 God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church

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I picked this book up from the NYU Press booth at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference this year. I was excited to read about the exploration of an Afrocentric church in Atlanta. More importantly, I believe that this text is a dissertation turned book. With my graduate school eye, I wanted to explore this text for style and message as I begin my own academic writing journey.

This book is based upon two years of ethnographic research done in an Afrocentric church in Atlanta. Stylistically, the book was unfulfilling. In a captivating ethnographic text, I am looking to really be engrossed in the people or the experience. I feel the text lacked the rich description I needed to either feel that I was truly experience events in the church or beginning to understand the people who chose to attend the church. Thinking back to some of the enthralling ethnographic books I have read (Subtractive Schooling, Mothers United) captured my attention by providing such deep and thorough context that I really wanted to understand the situation and/or experience better. It seems that Abrams had such a wide participant pool that she did not focus on a particular aspect of the church congregation. Perhaps it would have been interesting to just write about the women she interviewed, just the elders, just the men, just the leadership…. I am not sure, but there were too many subjects to really feel connected to any of them throughout the book.

I am intended to explore discourse as it relates to the development and implementation of Black male achievement policies. Abrams mentions discourses in the church as important to her study. There were some elucidations on discursive practices in the church that may be useful to me in my own research. For example, on page 92 Abrams quotes Reverend Lomax, one of the leaders in the church:

“For Coleman, the similarity between African and black American language ways is not just the retention of certain aspects of vocabulary and syntax but also in “the way people continue to say things. The wan in which it [speech] is ritualized, the way phrases have a particular tun to them, have a particular rhythm to them. All these things are evidence for me of the ways language is retained through spirit of through energy.”

In this chapter, entitled “Who I am and Whose I am” the author explores how congregants of the church internalize the Afrocentric church, God, and their identification with racial and/or ethnic markers such as Blackness or Africanness.

I think it is very interesting how the author approached the concept of class. The church labels itself as middle class and Abrams even uses middle class int he title of the book. However, the author does not spend much time parsing out the complex relationship race and class have with one another outside of the perceptions of class as detailed by her interviews. She uses a parallel to Zaccheus in the Bible to elaborate on how the church embodies and understands “middle class” values. I would have liked the author to theorize this in greater length to contribute to the knowledge that ties together race, religion and class.

The most interesting chapter was entitled “Eve’s Positionality” which focused on gender dynamics in the church. (I cannot recall the author spending any time on discussing marriage or non heterosexual relationships at all.) The author uses this chapter to outline feminist, womanist, and black liberation theology. Ultimately, Abrams found that the men were more assertive about their womanist positions than the women in the church who understood sexism, oppression, and equity but were hesitant to accept any labels such as feminist or womanist.

It was a decent read, but I don’t find myself recommending it to anyone!

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