God and Blackness

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

Andrea C. Abrams
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 195
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  • Book Info
    God and Blackness
    Book Description:

    Blackness, as a concept, is extremely fluid: it can refer to cultural and ethnic identity, socio-political status, an aesthetic and embodied way of being, a social and political consciousness, or a diasporic kinship. It is used as a description of skin color ranging from the palest cream to the richest chocolate; as a marker of enslavement, marginalization, criminality, filth, or evil; or as a symbol of pride, beauty, elegance, strength, and depth. Despite the fact that it is elusive and difficult to define, blackness serves as one of the most potent and unifying domains of identity.God and Blacknessoffers an ethnographic study of blackness as it is understood within a specific community - that of the First Afrikan Church, a middle-class Afrocentric congregation in Atlanta, Georgia. Drawing on nearly two years of participant observation and in-depth interviews, Andrea C. Abrams examines how this community has employed Afrocentrism and Black theology as a means of negotiating the unreconciled natures of thoughts and ideals that are part of being both black and American. Specifically, Abrams examines the ways in which First Afrikan's construction of community is influenced by shared understandings of blackness, and probes the means through which individuals negotiate the tensions created by competing constructions of their black identity. Although Afrocentrism operates as the focal point of this discussion, the book examines questions of political identity, religious expression and gender dynamics through the lens of a unique black church.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0525-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Sunday Morning: Anthropology of a Church
    (pp. 1-24)

    First Afrikan Presbyterian Church is a standard triangle-faced red brick building surrounded by a parking lot, a few acres of grass, and several trees. Located in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta, the church is adjacent to several subdivisions and is the religious home of a predominantly African American and middle class population. As I walk up the four steps to the front doors, two smiling-faced gentlemen greet me, one of whom says how nice I look this morning and both of whom seem genuinely glad that I have come to worship at their church this fine summer day. I return...

  5. 1 The First Afrikan Way: Method and Context
    (pp. 25-42)

    The term “Afrocentrism” was coined by the academic Molefi Kete Asante, who defines it as a “frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person. The Afrocentric approach seeks in every situation the appropriate centrality of the African person” (1991: 171). Afrocentric scholars of history, literature, sociology, psychology, and other disciplines have attempted to make African intellectual inquiry the center of understanding for persons of African descent.

    Although strongly associated with Asante, Afrocentrism has deeper roots than his articulation, as it extends back to nineteenth-century African American intellectuals such as Martin R. Delany, Carter G....

  6. 2 Situating the Self: Becoming Afrikan in America
    (pp. 43-70)

    I met with Carmen at one of the grocery stores in Lithonia. In her thirties, with creamy deep brown skin and short cropped reddish brown hair, Carmen worked as a quality-control manager for a chain of markets. Amid the din of clanging shopping carts, chattering children, and announcements concerning frozen peas, we talked about what Afrocentrism meant to her.

    “All right,” I asked, “do you consider yourself to be Afrocentric?”

    “Well, up until about four weeks ago, no,” responded Carmen.

    “Why is that?” I inquired.

    “Because I really didn’t identify with anything, to be honest with you. I mean, I...

  7. 3 “Who I Am and Whose I Am”: Race and Religion
    (pp. 71-108)

    I met with Hamida one morning for breakfast. Fifty-six years old, she is a tall, slender woman with high cheek bones and a quiet attractiveness. On this morning, she wore gold-wire-rimmed glasses and was dressed in a roomy black caftan emblazoned with a golden and swirling African design. As we spoke about First Afrikan’s assertion that many Bible stories took place in Africa. Hamida explained,

    It’s actually one of the most appealing things I found about the church. And I say that, because throughout the time I had spent in church as a young person, not once did it ever...

  8. 4 Ebony Affluence: Afrocentric Middle Classness
    (pp. 109-138)

    One Sunday, Reverend Lomax preached on the biblical character Zacchaeus and drew some compelling parallels between him and the membership of First Afrikan. The scripture for his sermon was taken from Luke 19:1–10, which is about Zacchaeus, an avaricious tax collector who, owing to his short stature, was obliged to climb a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus as he passed through town. Jesus beckoned Zacchaeus from the tree and announced that he would dine at Zacchaeus’s home, much to the consternation of those from whom Zacchaeus had collected taxes:

    With my mind’s eye, I see Zacchaeus as...

  9. 5 Eve’s Positionality: Afrocentric and Womanist Ideologies
    (pp. 139-168)

    I first became interested in the relationship between Afrocentrism and gendered dynamics at First Afrikan during one of my earliest visits. It was October 2003 and the pastor’s birthday. During the meet-and-greet portion of the service, he stood at the front of the church shaking hands and hugging members of the congregation. Reverend Lomax was flanked by two tall women, each wearing a black pantsuit decorated with conch shells and with their locks arranged in elegant twists and loops upon their heads. The women stood on either side of the pastor, giving the distinct impression of being his woman warrior...

  10. Conclusion: The Benediction: Ashe Ashe Ashe O
    (pp. 169-178)

    A community is a group of people with common values who perceive themselves in some respect as distinct and who have a sense of social cohesion. At First Afrikan Presbyterian Church, community is based on the congregation’s shared Christianity, Afrocentrism, middle class status, and blackness. The ideological tenets of their Afrocentric Christianity provide answers to the ontological questions, What are my origins? Who are my people? and What should be the values and practices that shape my life? Significantly, the intersection of race with class as well as varied interpretations of Afrocentrism provides multiple answers to each of these questions....

    (pp. 179-184)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 185-186)
    (pp. 187-187)