becoming a quality black woman, by monica @ transgriot.
12 Jan 2009 1 Comment
14 May 2008 Leave a comment
Everyone from Harold Bloom to George Will to Cornel West has publicly lamented the moral status of the hip-hop generation. Now it’s the ‘New Black Church’ insulting us — but why?
In a desperate attempt to fend off boredom, I found myself at home on a recent Saturday afternoon flipping through television channels in search of a diversion. After a few minutes, I stopped at one of the local public access stations, which was re-broadcasting a Sunday service from one of the area’s largest and most popular churches.
By the time I tuned in, a middle-aged preacher was nearing the climax of his sermon entitled “The Lost Generation.” “Kids growing up today don’t care about nothin’ and nobody,” he insisted while dabbing a silk handkerchief against his chin to save his Armani suit from his own sweat, “All they want to do is party and have fun.”
In spite of my instincts, I continued to listen as he enumerated the faults of the current generation of “hip-hoppers” who have apparently cornered the market on sin. “Hedonistic,” “selfish,” “materialistic,” and “lazy” were just a few of the labels that the preacher assigned to my generational cohorts. After a few minutes, I could no longer suffer his rhetorical assault and changed the channel.
Still, I continued to replay the comments in my mind throughout the ensuing week, struggling to figure out why I was so unsettled. After all, everyone from Harold Bloom to George Will to Cornel West to my own momma has publicly lamented the moral status of youth culture. Why would I care so much about a random preacher? After a few days of reflection, the answer hit me.
According to much of America’s ostensible moral leadership — both religious and secular — the hip-hop generation (those born between 1965 and 1984) is no longer in possession of the values, beliefs, and traditions that have sustained our predecessors. In its place, it is argued, stands a selfish and hedonistic individualism that prevents our moral and social development.
Unlike many of my peers, I can accept that analysis on its face, although I tend to resist the romantic version of the past in which it is often grounded. What troubled me, however, was that the stance was articulated by a preacher, who was representing the perspectives and interests of the “New Black Church.”
By “New Black Church,” I am referring to the current configuration of mainline black Christianity. The New Black Church, which has taken its current shape over the past two decades, is the progeny of civil rights-era movements, but can be distinguished by its increased materialism, questionable theology, and dubious politics.
While this description is certainly not exhaustive — the erasure of denominational boundaries and resurgence of neo-Pentecostalism (spirit-filled charismatic worship) are also critical features of the New Black Church — it speaks directly to the contradictions between the New Black Church’s own practices and its critiques of the hip-hop generation, which have been used to fuel the current moral panic.
As a full-fledged member of the hip-hop generation, the shibboleth of “keepin’ it real” that informs my worldview made it difficult for me to accept the preacher’s commentary, because I knew that it was coming from a profoundly hypocritical place. Who was he, or anyone from the New Black Church for that matter, to diss us for having strayed from the supposed path?
Of course, I am not suggesting that the truth-value of the New Black Church’s critiques is necessarily compromised by its own contradictions. To do so would not only be a logical fallacy, but also ignores the fact that Christian faith is grounded in the belief that flawed messengers can send right and exact messages.
Although the New Black Church’s claims to moral authority are certainly betrayed by these contradictions, the larger issue is about its role in replicating, reiterating, and resonating the same ideologies and practices that its critiques are intended to disrupt.
This suggests that the hip-hop generation is not as directionless as others would have us believe. Rather, we are following the flawed moral compass of the very people waging generational war against us.
Money Ain’t a Thing
Since the beginning of hip-hop’s “ice age,” circa 1994, showboating has been a linchpin of the culture. In today’s industry, no commercial rapper worth his salt appears in a video without the necessary accoutrements: shiny jewelry, expensive cars, designer clothes and large homes.
Hip-hop’s baller elite have even graduated to mainstream commerce, selling everything from sneakers to energy drinks. To be sure, such decadence lends legitimacy to claims of wanton materialism and consumerism among the hip-hop generation. Yet, a brief survey of the New Black Church’s leadership would yield a remarkably similar conclusion.
Hip-hop’s obsession with “flossing” and “stunting” (showing off) is matched only by the New Black Church’s flair for the ostentatious. Many of today’s superstar preachers are similarly lavish in their public appearances. For example, televangelist Creflo Dollar (real name!) drives a Bentley and owns a private jet worth $5 million. T.D. Jakes, the Russell Simmons of the New Black Church, owns several multimillion-dollar estates.
While this is certainly not a new phenomenon — preachers have been driving Cadillacs and wearing expensive clothes since the first amen corner was built — the stakes have grown considerably higher given the increased amount of revenue generated by the New Black Church. Best-selling books, tapes, seminars and mainstream films have all created new sources of wealth for today’s preachers by turning them into household names.
The most profitable project for the New Black Church has been the development of the “mega-church.” Founded on corporate business models, these super-sized sanctuaries draw tens of thousands of parishioners per week and hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Additionally, mega-churches create huge stages for superstar preachers to perform for their congregations, which include politicians, athletes, actors, and rappers.
Despite the remarkable wealth of mega-church congregations (or perhaps because of it), it is no surprise that the most bedazzling “Jesus pieces” in the building can often be found around the necks of the people giving the Sunday sermon.
Thou Shalt Not Be Poor
Few would argue that hip-hop’s hedonistic impulses aren’t at least partially rooted in the belief that financial prosperity is the ultimate measure of success. Given this market-driven logic, it is no wonder that hip-hop narratives abound with rags to riches stories that celebrate the individual over the collective and the material over the spiritual.
Artists such as Notorious B.I.G., who once rapped that “God meant me to drive a Bentley,” argue that their enormous wealth is a divine reward, or what Jay-Z has termed “pro-jetic justice” for their impoverished pasts. And where would they get such convoluted values? A look at the New Black Church, whose good news has been reduced to “God wants you to be rich,” provides a good answer.
Through their curious readings of Bible scriptures, depictions of Jesus as wealthy and belief that people are poor because they “ain’t living right,” the New Black Church reinforces the tired conservative argument that the problems of the disadvantaged are self-inflicted.
While gospels of prosperity have always been commonplace within the black religious tradition — leaders from Sweet Daddy Grace to Elijah Muhammad have, to varying degrees, promised wealth as a consequence of religious devotion — “name it and claim it” mantras have moved from the margins to the center of the New Black Church community.
Word-faith pastors no longer preach the virtues of struggle, sacrifice, or redemptive suffering, instead exhorting the poor to “get right” with God by accumulating capital for themselves. As word-faith preacher Creflo Dollar explains on his website, “When you find out how to live your life according to the word of God you will become a money magnet.”
Of course, becoming a money magnet requires the congregant to share their bounty with the church. Dollar tells his congregation, “God is not coming back to a church in debt. [T]hat would be against his word” (“Changing Your World,” 27 March, 2000). In other words, salvation comes with a price.
To ensure that the people pay it, many New Black Church pastors are beginning to ask their members to bring in tax returns to guarantee appropriate tithing. Others request that members submit their entire checks and allow the church to manage their finances in order to certify that they are appropriately sharing God’s grace with their spiritual shepherds. Can anyone say Suge Knight?
The connection between New Black Church theology and hip-hop’s materialism became no more apparent than when rapper Mase staged his 2004 comeback. As one of the pioneers of the shiny suit era, Mase was the poster child for hip-hop’s bling-bling agenda. Disillusioned with the immoral underside of the music industry after becoming born-again, Mase retired from music to devote his entire life to the ministry that he built and modeled after his mentor and pastor, Creflo Dollar.
After being called back to the game (by God or his accountant, depending on who you ask), Mase dropped the disappointing Welcome Back LP. While the album was devoid of profanity, violence and sex, it remained chock full of pro forma references to his wealth of money, cars, homes, and jewelry. Although it was a commercial flop, the album was celebrated by the gospel community for its “positive message,” which can be summed up by the final line to his verse on Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” remix: “I’m healed, I’m delivered, I’m rich. And it’s all because of Him.”
When the Wu-Tang Clan released the single “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me),” the song reflected the hip-hop generation’s developing profit-driven consciousness. It is this belief system that substantiates many critiques of the hip-hop generation with regard to its lack of political focus and activity. Despite the culture’s ability to galvanize millions of youth, American hip-hop has become increasingly divorced from concrete political action.
With the exception of the intriguing but shortsighted “Vote or Die” campaign, the hip-hop generation has failed to live up to its political potential and muster a legitimate large-scale movement in the interest of social justice. Of course, comparable claims can be made about the New Black Church, which has grown increasingly detached from politics except under very opportunistic circumstances.
Since the days of slavery, the black church has been a fecund site for political organization and mobilization. Although its politics have never been radical, particularly with regard to issues of gender and sexuality, the church has always been a counter-public space committed to spotlighting and allaying the worst forms of social misery.
Over the past few decades, however, the church has grown increasingly unresponsive to the social conditions of its members. With annual revenues skyrocketing but less than 10 percent of the nation’s black churches considered activist in nature, the New Black Church seems to have gained the whole world and lost its soul.
The development of the mega-church has created enormous possibilities for large-scale forms of social activism. Unfortunately, mega-church leadership often deliberately sidesteps controversial politics by not organizing rallies and marches or publicly supporting political candidates. Such moves, clearly done in order to avoid alienating particular segments of their congregations and losing revenue, are reminiscent of the notorious political coward Michael Jordan, who once refused to support a presidential candidate because both Democrats and Republicans buy his sneakers.
One of the more disappointing examples of the New Black Church’s profit-driven cowardice came in January 2005 when President George W. Bush spoke to the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, a mega-church in Maryland. Pastor John Jenkins, an affirmative action advocate, refused to publicly challenge the President’s stance on the subject because he considered it inappropriate to take a political stand against the President’s policy from the pulpit.
Bishop Eddie Long, who pastors a 25,000 member mega-church in Lithonia, Georgia, encourages his members to “forgive, forbear, and forget” racism on the grounds that “we’re already in the promised land” (Atlanta Journal & Constitution, 15 February 2005). By eliminating political protest from the church’s agenda, these leaders effectively strip the church of its transformative potential while enhancing their own earning capacity.
While some observers have attributed the New Black Church’s political passivity to the neo-Pentecostal focus on individual spiritual connectedness, the New Black Church has demonstrated that it is willing to join the political fray when the economic stakes are sufficiently high.
The best example of this came in light of the faith-based initiatives introduced by the Bush administration in 2000. In order to better position themselves to grab the money dangled in front of them, these churches have moved too close for comfort to white evangelicals on ostensible “moral issues,” while endorsing horrific public policy initiatives, such as privatization of Social Security and the No Child Left Behind Act.
This proved particularly disastrous during the 2004 elections, when President Bush wooed several mega-church leaders with extremely slippery faith-based funds, ultimately convincing them to support his successful re-election bid. At least “hip-hoppers” have sold on their own terms.
Don’t hate the playa
My point here is not to excuse the troubling condition of the hip-hop generation. Clearly, we have moral and ethical issues that must be resolved in order to approximate the level of service rendered by our forebears. I also do not intend to isolate or vilify the New Black Church, as they are not the first nor the only institution that fails to fully practice what it preaches.
Rather, I am responding to a pressing need to protect my generation from the feelings of moral alienation and historical exceptionalism that inevitably accompany the New Black Church’s self-righteous onslaught. Hopefully, this defense will inspire the type of self-criticism and humility necessary for social change.
24 Mar 2008 2 Comments
(christianity in particular)
is the idea that we (humans) do not deserve god’s favor. that we should be breaking our necks to ‘do the right thing’ and hope extra hard that it’s enough. i hate the idea that i could be doing everything i’ve been told to, and i could still manage to end up in hell just on the strength that i never deserved god’s favor in the first place. i never felt like that made sense, even as a little girl repeating gospel lyrics or sharing dogma with my classmates in christian school. deep down inside, i never ever ever believed that hell was real. i never understood — if we never deserved god’s favor in the first place, then why would god create humankind so we could scramble around trying to earn said undeserved favor? it made no sense to me, especially when there are constantly examples (fictionalized) of people who everyone thinks of as holy or as ‘good folk’ who end up in hell. i mean, when i was a kid we used to have a play every year at church called heaven or hell, where at the end we found out who got to see god’s face and who didn’t. at least once there was an upset, like someone who was the perfect portrait of holiness . . . but (as we’d be reminded at the time of her demise) played lottery with her tithe money. or something like that. something exaggerated and fucked up. leave it to the evangelicals to frighten you into salvation, right?
so i ignored that side of faith. the ‘please don’t smite me for the minor infractons, PLEASE’ side of it. it felt unnatural, like i wasn’t ever gonna win for all my attempts at holiness & righteousness. (i sense that this realization is that point at which most people become agnostics and/ or atheists, which i totally understand) and i knew i felt a presence (physically felt it) generated by the gathering of the faithful. i could not deny that feeling, that energy, that thread that seemed to tie me to complete strangers in that sanctuary. simply put, it was an overwhelming feeling of love. it’s the same feeling i get at a concert where everyone’s hype to see the performer(s) and the artist gives every bit of that energy back. it’s something that is very hard to explain, yet it’s unmistakable when you experience it. i always recognized that feeling as what people called the holy spirit, which in christianity is the energy/ force/ asé of the almighty.
so, if god can fill a room with her/ his presence, and can be witnessed by/ summoned by humans, how could we not deserve the favor of the very being which becomes most tangible/ palpable by our very doing? i never understood that. how could we not deserve love?
i suppose, though, that if you never really believed that god is love (all the time. that doesn’t change. the verse does not say “god is love on every third tuesday”) then you might see fit to proclaim yourself unworthy.
i never did. i never will. the very idea of it, to me, is preposterous. i don’t say this to suggest that ifá doesn’t encourage its practitioners to work at righteousness or maintaining good character. but, nowhere in any odu does it say anything to suggest that we’re just here to scramble and hope really hard that we make it to heaven. it’s where you go when you die. that’s it. when you take your last breath, your body remains here until decomposition and the part of you that came from orun goes back.
i actually don’t know how i ever could have fathomed anything else.
07 Sep 2007 1 Comment
i don’t know who all on earth might find themselves browsing this blog. & i know the language or the random rants about r. kelly might throw you off. you may even feel inclined to stop reading because i talk about sex freely & don’t have any trouble discussing my occasional toke. but if there’s any one thing you need to know about me, it’s that i do not think domestic abuse is acceptable or okay in any situation. it just isn’t. i’m not hearing that “he’s a good person” shit, i don’t care if “all she did was” hit you once. i don’t give a rat’s ass. it’s not okay. the idea that your abuser has any redeeming qualities, to me, is a damn joke. they nullify all of those things once they choose to put their hands on you, once they put forth any effort to control you by using violence. i do not believe that there’s any dialog to be had, there’s no reason to try to work it out. the first thing you need to do is get away. the second thing you need to do is stay away. if there’s a need to return to a home you share w/ the abuser, have someone escort you (preferably the police or other neutral party) & get your shit. don’t negotiate. don’t let the begging & pleading & all that other hot bullshit be part of the equation, if you can help it. get out, get away, stay gone. if there are children involved, of course it’s not that easy. but there are ways out. please don’t ever think there aren’t. please.
this post was inspired by juanita bynum’s interview with fox 5 atlanta regarding her having been attacked by her now-estranged husband, thomas weeks. she had a press conference the other day. i’m really kind of ecstatic that sis chose to announce that domestic violence in the church isn’t just about the church, but something that crosses boundaries. i’m thankful that she can say that unflinchingly. i hope that she’s genuine in her stance. i hope that she is really, fully okay with taking on the mantle of being an anti-domestic violence advocate. i really hope she’s sincere. she has so many ppl who buy her books and watch her on tv, etc. she is in a position to demonstrate positive things to so many folks.
i hope she does turn this around.
15 Jun 2007 4 Comments
why i’m not a christian.
i had to politely explain to them that my primary motivation is that christ’s teachings, though valuable from what i’ve gleaned, are no justification for me to worship him. he was a man. i don’t believe he was god’s son any less or more than i am god’s daughter. period. it’s not a gender thing. i’ve never felt comfortable referring to jesus as my savior. i was the queen of gospel choir in undergrad & high school, but more because i love singing. i wasn’t blaspheming; my faith in god is simply unshakable. however, singing “jesus is real” always feels like a conflict for me; the clark sisters’ “you brought the sunshine” is one of my absolute favorite gospel songs but i harmonize along w/ twinkie & them because i love that song. it’s kind of difficult to explain, but most of my girlfriends who’re non christians feel the same way. especially those of us who grew up worshiping in what’s considered the black american tradition. it’s a given. you love god with all your might and the time to really demonstrate it is sunday at church. give god the glory, praise, and honor; your blessings are yours because he gives them to you. there’s another component to that which i call the hurry up & wait factor but i’ll get into that another time.
i learned to show my faith when i was a child. you must claim god, you must tell the whole world that you worship jesus. i don’t know if it’s an actual bible verse (i haven’t read the book in ages & would like to dedicate actual focus to doing so) but i was constantly told by various church folk that if i were ashamed of christ, he’d be ashamed of me before his father. okay. so that, to my 11-year-old mind, was the ultimate guilt trip. i was fat, didn’t have some extravagant relaxed hairdo like my classmates, had ridiculous acne & was NOT tryna have anyone else be embarrassed by me. so i learned all the dogma & put up the front like nobody’s business. i was just waiting to feel jesus working in my life. i didn’t know that everything is a blessing, even when it’s not what i want. i was told that praying and waiting were the way to go. but i was a child. you know i prayed that god would exact revenge for me against all those rotten ass kids in my class who did me dirty. and by the time i was in 7th grade i couldn’t believe that any of my schoolmates (or administrators for that matter) at blair christian academy were actual followers of christ by virtue of the fact that 3 girls were kicked out of the high school for being pregnant by the time i was ready to enter eighth grade. then, when went back to public school i had begun to realize that i was a christian at a christian school because i didn’t know what else to be.
i felt it was necessary because that was the tone of the school, that was the culture, etc. we were not outright graded on how faithful we were, but there were always comments on my report cards about how i was growing in christ.
why did i have to grow in christ?
why couldn’t i just grow?
it upset me. i loved anita baker’s music and could not believe for one minute that god was gonna send me to hell for listening to secular music. i tried to shake myself of it. but i couldn’t. tlc’s first album was my favorite. i couldn’t live without sneaking to listen to the chronic, the u.m.c’s, or whatever was on the radio. when atliens came out, i couldn’t get to my radio fast enough. i was making pause tapes until i graduated from high school. if listening to michael jackson’s off the wall was a sin, then screw it. i’d have to answer to the lord for that.
i attended a quaker high school. the quaker ideals were much more realistic to me: the inner light, service to others, quiet reflective meditation. this was something i could really get with. but quakers weren’t the right kind of christians, so i could learn about quakerism allllllll i wanted to. i’d just be out of my mind to attempt to practice it in that house. i was on gospel choir. that was the jesus showcase, you hear me? quakerism wasn’t as christ intensive as many black folk like. so it wasn’t goin down.
my grandmother died when i was 2 weeks shy of my 18th birthday. i think that, at that exact moment i stopped believing in jesus altogether. it wasn’t about him taking her away from me; she had copd & was really gonna go anyway. i believed in jesus (or claimed i did) for her. she had to know i was bullshitting, though; who doesn’t know a child that they’ve essentially raised? at any rate, her funeral felt crazy to me. i felt god all around me but couldn’t call on jesus while i sat there and wondered why there was such a thing as an open casket funeral for anyone who’d been very ill. her skin was green, for crying out loud. i’m supposed to call on jesus when i know i’m finna have nightmares for months on end? nope. i had to tell my grandmother directly, “please get some rest, momzie. get some peace.” she hasn’t been in my dreams since. it’s been 9 years.
as i entered my anti-organized religion twenties, i became everything that that embodied a sinner. i drank, smoked weed, picked up a cigarette habit, had all kinds of sex, cursed a lot, stole, & took the lord’s name in vain almost nonstop. i felt good about my life. i never thought “coming to jesus” was gonna fix any of my problems. i knew it was incumbent upon me to make things right, to balance myself.
so as i began to do that, i found ifa. i haven’t looked back since. i love my religion. i feel great about it & nobody’s gonna change that. every day i learn a little bit more about the goodness of the universe.
maybe i’ll edit this for clarity/ cusswords & make my mom read it. so she can understand that i’m not turning my back on god or worshiping the devil. maybe.