Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Uh, no. We aren't all alike

Some years ago while watching a documentary on PBS, I suddenly became offended. As I watched a scene depicting black people in worship, it occurred to me that every representation I’d seen on TV of black folk in church involved hand clapping, a shouting minister, several Amens and a soulful, yet inarticulate, sound expressing the affirmative that consist of the word “well” drawn out to about seven syllables. While I know several people who do worship this way, some in my own though not immediate family, I do not myself worship this way.

I was raised in an Episcopal church (not AME, just plain old Episcopal) which is very much like a Catholic service except there’s no third party arbitration byway of a priest. An Episcopalian’s sins are strictly between himself and God. An Episcopal priest is there to tell you what page of the hymnal to turn to and to give you something to think about without scaring you to death. My earliest memories include being swathed in sandalwood incense and being soothed by the dulcet tones of Gregorian chanting. This is in complete contrast with the experience I had when I spent the summer with my favorite cousin in Pennsylvania. Her parents were Baptists and going to church there was, for me, like viewing a disturbing thriller. I was on the edge of my seat. I watched wide-eyed the stirring delivery of the reverend as he inflamed the congregation and moved them to “get the Holy Ghost.” I remember watching in fascination as women dressed in white, like nurses complete with those little folded triangle hats that nurses don’t wear anymore, came to the aid of the overwhelmed by fanning them with cardboard faces of Jesus. It was truly theatrical, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one particular form of worship is better than the next – in fact, I don’t go to church at all anymore. I don’t even consider myself a Christian (more on this in a minute). What I am trying to say is not all black people worship the same way. As I watched that documentary, it planted the seed for this blog. My people, black people, African Americans are a varied and heterogenous group. We aren’t all the same. We have different upbringings, different life experiences, different religions (I made up my own belief system), different political views. We don’t all like Tyler Perry movies though it might be safe to say we all do love Tyler Perry and his amazing story.

With this blog, I hope that more people will come to appreciate the many facets of the African American community. I encourage you to send me your questions and I will do my best to answer them honestly and in good humor or to get indignant if I need to. So consider this your place to find out all you ever wanted to know about black people but were afraid to ask.


  1. Love it. And I love Tyler Perry. Add him to the list of Stuff White People Like ;)

  2. Rock on, Gay. Keep it up, and I think you've got something here. Congrats!

    P.S. Do black people "rock on"?


  3. Awesome blog! Thanks for sharing!

    BTW - I visited a friend's southern Baptist (mostly white congregation) church that was very similar to your experience at your cousin's.

    And recently someone critiqued negatively one of our student's designs because there was a guitar in it, and implied that "black kids don't listen to rock," even though black youth picked the image!

  4. This is awesome. Good on you girl. Is there a way to subscribe to this? I wouldn't want to miss a single post.

    First question - do black people have racism within their own community? I know that whites, tend to snub white trash, is there a similar dynamic?

  5. You know what, Gay? I think we Jews have many of the same issues. I really enjoyed this!

  6. Great post! Reminds me of Gustavo Arellano's "Ask A Mexican." Wish I'd thought of that, though I'm not sure I'm Mexican enough to speak for all of "us"... which brings me back to your well-illustrated point. We all identify with some sort of culture, whether through race, ethnicity, religion, language, the country of our ancestors, the country we live in, or the mini-cultures of cities, neighborhoods and families. Yet whatever cultures we belong to, we remain individuals. "Cada persona es un mundo." (Every person is a world.)

    I love the images you share. If I fainted dead away, and woke to an image of Jesus fluttering before my eyes, I think I'd faint again... or look around for David Lynch and a camera.

    Can't wait to see your next post!

    Check out my blog, too...
    Girls Trek Too

  7. Why do black women love purple?

  8. I didn't know you had a master's degree! I used to look up to you.

  9. Thanks for all the kind comments. Please keep coming back and tell all your friends.

  10. Thanks, Kate. I'll address racism/bigotry in a post in the near-future. This is another hot topic.

  11. Just thought you'd like to see some of the comments I've received on my personal email.

    From a neighbor:

    All I can say is interesting. I'm sure many people will respond with questions about Black people. However, how will you answer them if they have a question about the Baptist church? Since we are all not the ssame, no one peerson can answer for us all. I am a Christian and go to church every Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. (other days may be thrown in there occasionally, I am very active) I was raised in a Baptist church and am used to the Praise and Worship there as it is called. Believe me it is real. How do you make up your own belief system? If you ever believed in God?

    Here's my reply:

    As I mentioned, I have been to Baptist churches, many, many times. It was a part of my childhood every summer and I still have friends who are Baptist and I sometimes visit their churches on special occasions. So I do know quite a bit about it. I never said I didn't believe in a higher power. I make up my own belief system based on ethics and using people like Christ and the Buddha as my examples. And while I choose to attempt to walk in their ways, I just choose not to worship them.

  12. From one of my Denver salsa dancing buddies:

    Loved your blog! I think both white and black people will appreciate this, especially us white folk.

  13. From a former boss, friend and "sister from another mother (and father)"

    I like it Gay. I bet you’ll end up on a bunch of radio shows and hit the talk show circuit. Very good idea.

  14. From Carol P:

    Hey Gay! Well done -- I really like it. Passionately well written as always! I tried to be the "first friend" to join but I couldn't get it to work...I'll have to try it from home.

  15. From another former boss and friend:

    I love your blog! You are a very good writer, my Dear!

  16. Yet another former boss and friend. Geez. Didn't realize I had so many :-)

    very interesting first blog.

  17. I was raised in a Pentecostal church and recall as a child how deeply disturbed I was whenever people who fall out of pews, chanting and screaming in a "language" neither I, nor anyone else it appeared, understood.

    I visited that church again about 3 years ago and I was still disturbed by the drama. I sat watching a cousin-in-law get in the "spirit" and found it difficult to reconcile that this was the same person who is facing charges after attacking someone with a machete. Really, dude....

    I caught my own spirit and left....

  18. Hello my Beautiful Black Sista' Gay. Hope all is well with you and yours.
    I feel your vibe. There is more to our Beautiful Black Race than just the letters that spell out the words we're labeled as. Our Beautiful People are from Africa and have been molded to bring a positive light to America. From the slaves that built the roads, bridges and buildings to those who learned Strength, Respect and self-esteem through the hiden angel that we held inside of our images as we slaved. Those Angels were let out into our churches where we learned to shake our hips rhythumatically, with the smooth touch of
    Funkearzalogy, carrying ourselves with the virus known as "Jahknewitshoodblik'dis" and the only steering wheel we had was our own drive as "ONE". "Yaw'll kin loosen yaw seat belts wen we ridin," but lets be smart "Lets tighten them when it's time to represent me/you as "ONE".
    Very Impressed with your Blog and look forward to hearing more from you Gay.

    Much Love, Honor and Respect
    To all of my Beautiful Black Sista's and Strong Black Brotha's.

    (ATTENTION: Those words were created once I loosened my seatbelt. lol)