Spirituality is a cornerstone of Black life in America. People often interpret this as the Black church but I would disagree. Such a notion is limiting and exclusive. I believe that the crux of this notion is that Black people are a spiritual people. THAT is part of our culture. What religion or denomination is unimportant. What is significant is that we are a people who have always reached for the knowledge of what lies beyond what the 5 senses can understand. We have always acknowledged that there is more to be known and more that is experienced.
The Church is a thing in Black culture. In superficial discussions it is limited to notions of theology and of morality. The Church, for Black people, is something greater than that. It is a legacy. It is an anchor. it is a compass. The Church represents for Black people a symbol of rightness; a symbol of equality; a symbol of rest.
With the history that Black people have with America there is a prevailing themes of struggle. Constant struggle to be seen, to be heard, to be recognized and to be considered. Historically there were few places – even after emancipation – where Black people could feel equal to non-Black people. Even when it comes to other People of Color Black people are often illustrated as less than. Latinos have fairer skin and the potential for better hair, Asians have the potential for being prized for their superior intellect. Western cultures are prized for their exotic nature. But Black people are always painted in common colors of inferiority. So the Black church gave a space where intellect, consciousness and progressive thought could be appreciated (even if only amongst themselves). This is demonstrated by the common colloquialism that Black preachers endear upon one another: “Doc.” The term is short for doctor and to be referenced in such a way is to bestow respect for the knowledge and leadership. This is why Black preachers are able to reach a level of acclaim equivalent to celebrity. Because in this space a Black person receives that kind of honor from his own community. And it is an honor.But the fact that this honor can be received in this space is because it was not offered anywhere else.
One of the things that has been lost to younger generations is the significance of church. Usually it is viewed in the context of morality or theology where one has to chose to commit to or deny it. Contemporary notions of religion and spirituality make this commitment difficult for many. We can see the flaws within it and its negative impacts have been too well documented to make such a commitment freely. But I submit to you that what the Black church stands for in the Black community has much less to do with with theology as it does with philosophy. The Black church represents an enduring of the sense of community and the ever elusive goal of rest. There is nothing any Black person in America wants more than to rest from the constant struggle. The constant analyzing of situations, the constant strategizing of decision making. On any given day a Black has had to struggle with the choice of how to speak, how to dress, how to wear their hair, what truths to speak out on, who to befriend, who to marry, what places to go, how to act and the list goes on. The burden of maintaining of this level of thought even in the most simple of situations degrades one’s quality of living. Even to the point of wanting any way of that hamster wheel. This is where we enter the realm of excess and apathy. Many choose to redirect their energy to something controllable or, at least, something predictable. It doesn’t matter if the result is “good” or “bad.” What’s important as that the outcome was the direct result of their own choices instead of some path that is chosen or created for them. Enter Black Rage.
It is the level of thought, analysis and strategy required for everyday living as a Black person in America that incites rage.
The truth that Baldwin is espousing in his quote is that the one guaranteed result of such a life that Black people in America are reduced to is rage. How could one not be angry to have to give 2 or 3 times the effort of a non-Black people only to receive the same results. After a lifetime of exertion and harnessed rage, what would one want more than peace and rest. And for so many that peace, that rest is only found in brief moments of spirituality where one can truly transcend the struggle and just be the human being that they were created.
So regardless of the religion, spirituality in the Black community symbolizes a reprieve from that struggle of constant analysis and strategy. It symbolizes a return to use living; a luxury most Black people are not afforded. Our every action and every decision is a politicized decision that in a number of contexts can mean life or death; success or failure. That kind of degrading pressure will lead any soul to seek out solace anywhere they can find it and to commit themselves to it, if for no other reason that the momentary state of peace that it offers. So no matter the belief or theology or philosophy and how that agrees or conflicts with that of the Black church. The Black church can be appreciated for mental, emotional and psychological sanctuary that it has and continues to provide for the masses of Black folks who need some rest (however temporary). And for Black people it is an integral part of who we are historically and will always be one of those things that only we can understand in depth.
I’m not saying; I’m just saying,
An Angry Black Man