‘Authentic Blackness’ as Christian, Speciesist, and Heteronormative: Brief Thoughts on Being a Non-Christian Black Woman
Dr. Amie Breeze Harper, 2013
Unlike most Black folk I know, I was not raised in a household that subscribed to any particular religious beliefs. My parents were basically agnostic, but my parents were always open to my twin and I exploring religious philosophies. Many members of my extended family are or were Jehovah’s Witnesses or Baptists. One of my aunts gave my brother and I the gift of Watchtower subscription, a magazine dedicated to Jehovah’s Witness faith, when we were children. I found the stories and lessons both entertaining and confusing. However, for me, it just didn’t feel like the right path.
I remember I was at a family event one year. I was in my early 20s. My father was talking to one of my male family members who is a Jehovah’s Witness. Somehow, they started talking about animals. “Paul” (I’m just calling my male family member that to protect his identity) told my dad his interpretation of the Bible when it came to non-human animals: “God says we have dominion over them, so that means we can eat them.” My dad just shook his head and laughed to himself that one could interpret ‘dominion’ as ‘domination’ so they didn’t have to acknowledge and/or admit that non-human animals feel and suffer. That they can lie to themselves that animal are not sentient and can used for any human desire. Suffice to say, “Paul” simply didn’t care, because that is what his Bible said, case closed.
I also have the feeling that when I tell most Black folk that I am not Christian, that my Blackness and loyalties are questioned. The other week, I received a private email from a ‘fan’ who seemed very disappointed that I did not even talk about the importance of Christianity and healing in Black communities during the Sistah Vegan conference…and she also suggested that my new social fiction novel Scars marginalized ‘regular’ Black Christian straight girls like her (since the main character is a Black lesbian). You can go here http://sistahvegan.com/2013/10/21/the-black-queer-experience-is-not-our-experience-breeze-harpers-new-social-fiction-novel/ to read the post about her reaction to Scars .
Even though I do know that blackness is not a monolith, Black folk in the USA are stereotyped to be all Christian and heteronormative. This fan’s email got me thinking about how much not being raised as Christian– or with any form of organized religion– has deeply impacted my interactions with those [Black] people who can’t fathom a type of authentic Blackness WITIHOUT it being connected to Christianity, speciesism, and heteronormativity. My practice of Zen Buddhism often confuses Black folk.
Do you have a religious faith or not? How has having a religious faith (or not) impacted your sense of animal compassion and/or vegan philosophy? Did you grow up in a household in which religion was used to justify/rationalize the eating of animals (as well as perhaps other oppressions, such as racism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, or ableism)?