Category Archives: Racialigious

Off and Running Toward My Own Identity [Racialigious]

by Guest Contributor Collier Meyerson, originally published at Be’Chol Lashon

Collier, thinking

When I first saw Off and Running I was immediately taken, but then again, my own personal investment in the film’s subject matter was considerable. Like Avery, I’m an adopted Jew of color from New York City. I see only dualities in my maturation, which has been a series of racially charged incidents quelled by moments of encouragement by people and institutions that worked together in a bizarre alchemy to create me.

As a young child my parents sat me down and explained it was important for me to find a faith of which to be a part. I grew up in the predominantly liberal and Jewish bastion of New York City called the Upper West side and at the ripe age of 9, it was Judaism that I felt most connected to; it was what I knew best. I began to attend a Schul after school where we were taught stories from the Bible, Yiddish and about our history and culture. I liked the friends I made and the stories I heard at Schul. The formation of my Jewish identity at that age was informed by Schul where there were transnationally adopted Jews to my right and left and by my neighborhood where I felt my family the apotheosis of what the 21st century family looked like. At 9 years old, I thought being bi-racial and Jewish was a magical marriage of identities.

At 13 years old, in the planning stages of my Bat Mitzvah, my Hebrew School teacher called a meeting at his home to discuss details. He opened his door to see me, my father who is an Ashkenazi Jew and my black mother. Upon seeing my family, without asking, he regrettably informed us that the synagogue, would not allow me to perform the right of passage in their temple because my mother wasn’t a Jew. My wily mother, coyly and smarmily responded “oh, but her mother is Jewish.”

Yes, it turns out my biological mother is a white Ashkenazi Jew.

And with these words, my Hebrew school teacher, as though I was caught in the Woody Allen version of my own life as a film, threw his hands into the air and exclaimed “it’s Bashert [it’s destiny] then! You’ll have your Bat Mitzvah in the Temple!” In that moment I felt a definitive rage. I wanted desperately to be a part of the Upper West Side’s most exclusive and popular clique, Judaism, but felt what would prove to be an indelible stake in this idea of blackness, something pitted against Jewishness. And so there it was, in the home of my Hebrew School teacher that the two were separated, like oil and water.

I was Black and Jewish but I couldn’t be both, I couldn’t be a Black Jew. Continue reading

A Sin And A Shame: Soul Voyeurism* And Harlem “Gospel Tours” [Racialigious]

By Guest Contributor Fiqah, originally published at Possum Stew

Some background:  for most of my adult life, I have been a fugitive from religion, the monotheistic “Big Three”, anyway. (Sorry, any faith doctrine that includes an interventionist, anthropomorphic, masculine god/godhead is prolly gonna earn some side-eye from me.)  Because my sociopolitical views and general life philosophy are widely regarded as “radical,” the decision to not participate in often conservative organized religion was a sensible and organic one.  The Bébé Fiqah trauma that led to my adult decision to be an unrepentant heathen/sinner/whateverthehell is all a very loooooong story that nobody wants to hear, so I’ll sum up by saying that until recently outside of weddings, baptisms, mitzvahs, and funerals, Grown-Up Fiqah rarely darkened the doorstep of any house of worship.

However, when one of my elderly neighbors, a  very dapper Georgia born-and-bred gentleman, invited me to come to his Southern Baptist church here in Harlem last fall, I accepted.  I was going through a particularly difficult time emotionally, and while the choir was sorta weak (sorry, I’m Southern, and we have standards for this kinda thing), I found the service overall to be very spiritually uplifting and healing. I was delighted by the sermon, as well as the inclusive spirit of the congregation. (”All are welcome”  is the credo of just about every Southern Baptist church, but in many places, certain”children of God” - non-Christians, LGBTIQ people - are most emphatically NOT welcomed.)  I decided that maybe dropping in to Church every now and again wouldn’t be so terrible.

This morning, I attended services at another Southern Baptist church here in Harlem with my buddy J. who never misses a Sunday.  In spite of the late summer swelter, I happily donned my Sunday best, pearls and good heels and headed  on over to Church.  In retrospect, I should have said some kinda prayer asking for patience and composure before I stepped out of the door. Because what awaited me at church would have tested even the most forgiving soul.

You see, J. and I were seated in one of the balcony pews, along with several Italian tourists. European and Asian tour groups and buses are a common sight on Sundays in Harlem.  As annoying and ubiquitous as they are, for the most part, church tourists are ignorable.  Well, this group must have been especially rude, because several members of the group spent much of the service talking. Talking. In spite of being shot admonishing looks by several parishioners and being approached by one of the ushers, the conversation, though lowered to murmuring, continued.  The only time it seemed to stop was when the choir led the church in a song, when the tourists watched the choir and the other attendees with that peculiar mixture of fascination, fear and envy that White people in spaces of color often seem to have. As they watched us, my friend and I watched them, swaying all wrong, clapping off beat and basically turning what was a joyful but sacred experience into a spectacle for their entertainment.

I did my very best to remain silent and non-responsive. And I was good. I really was.

Until devotional.

I had just bowed my head, closed my eyes, and was just about to connect one-on-One with the Lord…when the cell phone of the woman sitting behind me went off.

And she answered.

“Oh, I don’t even believe THIS shit!” I said. J.’s eyes flew open, and she covered her startled gasp with her hand.

Continue reading

Religious Major: Undeclared [Racialigious]

by Latoya Peterson

“What do you mean you don’t know what Easter is?”

I appraised Best Boy with all the understated annoyance I could muster at the ripe old age of fifteen.

“Again,” I said with an eye roll, “not raised with a religion.  And all that comes out around Easter time is new patent leather shoes, dyed eggs, and ham.”

He would not drop the subject.

“How do you not know what Easter is?”

“Did the Rugrats make a special about it? Then no, I don’t know.”

Since I had opened up the lines of fire, he launched his own smart ass attack.

“How do you not go to church, anyway? What kind of black person are you?”

His words struck me deeply, and from time to time I’ve revisited that short conversation and wondered about his motivations and beliefs.  This is not a new idea, but one I am starting to hear more and more often:

What kind of black person am I, if I grew up without a religion? Continue reading

The Surface of Buddhism: Is Buddhism the anti-Islam? [Racialigious]

by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) Atlasien

The similarities are fascinating. Buddhism and Islam in the United States are both minority religions with roughly the same number of adherents. Providing an exact demographic breakdown is impossible, and the issue of demographic study is controversial for both religions.

Here’s a good link to Muslim demographics in the U.S. It’s “good” not because I know anything about the site’s objectivity, but because it outlines the difficulties of achieving anything near an accurate count, and it lists multiple poll sources. There are somewhere between 1 and 7 million Muslims in the United States. In terms of ethnicity, about a quarter to a third of them are African-American, a quarter to a third are South Asian, a quarter are Arab and the rest are a mixed bag that includes a sprinkling of American-born white people and European immigrants.

Here’s a link for Buddhists that focuses on a recent controversial poll and does some great data-crunching. There are somewhere between 1 and 5 million Buddhists in the United States. As arunlikhati mentions in the above link, the 2008 Pew Forum Report has a demographic breakdown that’s horrendously inaccurate. They left out Hawaii, and the survey was conducted entirely in English or Spanish. That would be like providing a demographic breakdown of Catholicism by skipping Texas and asking questions only in English and Vietnamese. It’s completely nuts! Unfortunately, since “Pew” has such a strong brand name, the results of this study are going to be floating around for a while.

The Pew poll underrepresents the number of Asian-American Buddhists. A better estimate is that Asian-Americans represent somewhere from 60-90% of all Buddhists. The rest are composed predominantly of white people, plus a mixed bag with small numbers of African-Americans, Latinos and others. Different Asian-American groups that are well-represented in the US are going to have very different breakdowns. Vietnamese- and Cambodian-Americans will have high levels of Buddhism, Japanese-Americans will be medium, Chinese-Americans are all over the map while Korean-Americans are predominantly Christian.

Unlike Judaism and Hinduism, both Islam and Buddhism are religions with explicitly universal application and a strong history of proselytizing. There are strands within or associated with Judaism and Hinduism that do advance universal claims, but I think it’s safe to say that most adherents don’t claim universality as a goal. As a natural but somewhat paradoxical consequence of this universality, Islam and Buddhism have huge internal divides around race, ethnicity, class, immigration and convert status.

Continue reading

The Dead, River Spirits, & a Magic Hat [Racialigious]

by Guest Contributor Alex Felipe originally published at AlexFelipe.com

Filipinos don’t celebrate Halloween, they instead have a day dedicated to the dead on 1 November, the Araw ng mga Patay [Day of the Dead]. It’s a holiday that is the perfect metaphor for Philippine spirituality: an imported Catholic holiday that hints at an animist past.

Having grown up in Canada I only just recently learned about this tradition, and I experienced my first Araw ng mga Patay only last year. I went to go visit my grandfathers graves, they had both died during the 90s and been brought back to the Phils.

The holiday is an odd one seen through the lens of a Filipino raised in Canada. Families head out to the cemetery to clean the tombs of relatives, bring food, flowers, light candles, and pray. But more or less it just seems like a day where everyone decides to have a family picnic—a picnic that just so happens to be in an insanely crowded cemetery.

It’s an odd sight to be honest. Drunk men playing cards on grave markers next to a family singing karaoke on a portable machine next to parents praying the rosary for a recently deceased child.

Strangely enough, it’s a generally mirthful holiday. There are fast food tents set up in the cemetery just for that day: McDonalds, Jollibee, Greenwich Pizza, Ando’s Chicken, and more—all in the middle of a cemetery.

To my foreign influenced eyes, this holiday seems light and fun; a nice way to remember the past, but in the Phils—despite how casual the atmosphere is—there is a real fear that to not pay respect at the grave of a family member would have severe repercussions from the spirit world.

It’s moments like these that really help remind me of our people’s animist past, and the very real connection to the spirit world that doesn’t exist here in Canada. Continue reading

The Surface of Buddhism: Introduction

by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) Atlasien

The “religion” tag at Racialicious pulls up pieces that are almost entirely focused on Islam. There’s not much coverage of other minority religions yet. I’m pointing this out not to blame — after all, to be published in Racialicious, you have to submit pieces in the first place — but rather to open up the topic for thoughtful discussion, and explain my motivation for writing about Buddhism here.

I can think of several reasons for the number of Islam-related pieces right off the top of my head: the prevalence of Islamophobia and the racialization of Muslims. There’s no corresponding “Buddhophobia”. A white Buddhist is rarely regarded as a freak of nature. Instead of being hated and feared, symbols of my religion are commonly sold in the Home & Garden section of chain stores! Buddhism appears to be eminently compatible with modern American society.

But if you look closely, you’ll see some ripples on the surface…

The overall aim of this series is to discuss how issues of race and ethnicity intersect with the image and reality of Buddhism in the United States. It’s a huge topic so I’ll try to make it more manageable by establishing what this series won’t do. After I provide a very brief historical introduction to Buddhism, I won’t go much deeper into teachings or philosophy, especially since I’m ignorant about so much of it beyond the basics and have zero qualifications as that kind of teacher. I’m going to stick to the surface, to superficial perceptions, stereotypes, illusions, skin color… although what’s on the surface usually connects to other issues which go very, very deep.

I’m going to be discussing a lot of generalizations about different religions. I’ll try to be as sensitive as possible and differentiate my own fairly neutral views. I might offend various kinds of believers, but once I get farther along, I think that the most passionate objections are going to come from other Buddhists. Contrary to popular belief, we’re a fractious bunch. I’ll try to steel myself.

My own background in Buddhism is rather unique. I was half born into it, half converted.

Continue reading

Racialigious? [Series Introduction - Racialigious]

by Latoya Peterson

I’ve been fascinated by religion most of my life.

This is probably because I wasn’t raised with one.

When I say this, people – particularly other black people – tend to hear what I say and interpret it as “lapsed Christian.” As in, a girl who used to go to church and doesn’t go anymore.

Before the age of 21, I can count how many times I’ve been to church on one hand. With fingers left over. All my knowledge of Christianity comes from what my friends tell me and pop culture. And my knowledge of Judaism. And atheism. And any other religious belief system or lack thereof.

So, over time, I think I came to like listening to stories about religion and why people choose their specific belief systems. It’s interesting to listen to the reason for belief (or non-belief) and the battles to fight misconceptions. It’s even more interesting when analyzing the effect of race, gender, and class on religious practice and religious perception.

In launching Racialigious, we hope to explore where race (among other things) intersects with religious practice and belief.

Submissions welcome.