Category Archives: religion

Quoted: Six Tips for Discussing Muslim Women during Ramadan

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Good post today over at Muslimah Media Watch:

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!

For many years now, Muslimah Media Watch has worked hard to problematize, counter, question and critique depictions of Muslim women in a variety of media outlets, as a way to provide new perspectives to looking at the “Muslim woman problem” (starting by questioning this statement).

Since Ramadan 2013 has arrived, I would like to first wish you all a wonderful and blessed month. During this month, I am hoping my fellow MMW writers will have a break from horrid portrayals of Muslim women both in many mainstream media sources and in some Muslim communities. With Muslims immersed in the spiritual and cultural practices of Ramadan and everything else that is happening in the world (from sexual attacks on female protestors in Egypt to halal nail polish and Iranian officials refusing to recognize Elham Ashgari’s swimming record), I think it is important to reconsider the ways in which we speak about Muslim women.

So, I have come up with some suggestions, along the lines of Ramadan resolutions – that I would like other people to follow.

Tip #3: Acknowledge race, culture and privilege.

It may come as a surprise, but Muslim women are not a monolithic group that can be easily lumped into one category. The mainstream media is well-known for extrapolating their assumptions on Muslim women based on countries with “bad” reputations like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Yet, we do the same within Muslim communities. We preach equality but point at other Muslim groups when there is something we do not like (female circumcision anyone?)I belong to a predominantly Arab Muslim community where black abayas and hijabs are expected, the Arabic language is praised and pushed on everyone else, and Arab standards of beauty apply. There is little acknowledgement of South Asian and African communities, and racism prevails.  [light]-skinned Arab women rank first in beauty lists, followed by white converts.

We talk about racial equality in the mosque, but the reality is completely different, as explored by Amina in a recent post. So, this Ramadan we should be looking at our own biases and privileges.

Read more…

 

Image Credit: diloz on Flickr

The Evolution Of Hula: Traditional, Contemporary, And Hotel

By Guest Contributor Sarah Neal, cross-posted from Sociological Images

Earlier on SocImages, Lisa Wade drew attention to the tourism industry’s commodification of Polynesian women and their dancing. She mentioned, briefly, how the hula was made more tourist-friendly (what most tourists see when they attend one of the many hotel-based luaus throughout the islands is not traditional hula).  In this post, I want to offer more details on the history and the differences between the tourist and the traditional hula.

First, Wade states that, while female dancers take center stage for tourists, the traditional hula was “mostly” a men’s dance.  While it has not been determined for certain if women were ever proscribed from performing the hula during the time of the Ali’i (chiefs), it seems unlikely that women would have been prevented from performing the hula when the deity associated with the hula is Pele, a goddess. Furthermore, there is evidence that women were performing the dance at the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i.

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Queering The Faith: Why The Church Is—And Always Has Been—Our Home, Too

By Guest Contributor Helen McDonald; originally published at Elixher

When I was a child, it seemed as though everyone was hellbent on telling me where, as a Black person and as a woman, I did not belong. I did not belong on athletic teams because I am of the “fairer” sex. I did not belong in the school district’s “gifted and talented” programs because Black kids aren’t “smart enough” to be distinguished scholars. Like my other Black sisters, I have had to fight for inclusion in various gendered and racialized spaces. However, there was always one space no one could deny me access: the Church.

The Black Church is a revolutionary realm. It is where we, as a community, took a religion violently imposed on us by means of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism, and turned it into a beautiful, spiritual experience. In fact, many modern Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist and other Protestant church rituals are still informed by our Afro-Diasporic roots. “Rituals in African American Christian churches include call-and-response interactions between the congregation and preacher, calls for parishioners to approach the altar to embrace Christ, the laying on of hands and personal communion with the Holy Spirit,” explains Jocelyn Prince in “The Role of Ritual in the African American Church and Theatre.” Our praise honors our heritage by preserving many of the traditions inherent to our Afro-Diasporic communities.

Moreover, the Black Church, while obviously imperfect and still patriarchal, has rejected—in practice—the idea that womyn must remain silent and learn quietly. Black womyn essentially have built Black churches for centuries. Even when forced to occupy background positions, we control the Church. The pastor moves the congregation to its feet, but no one defies the Church Mothers. We are the cornerstones of many congregations, the ones who cook for church dinners, who raise the future leaders of the church, who are quite often the most passionate about our faith. As Black womyn, we have often found ourselves relying on the spiritual to cope with the violence of reality. Bruises paint our knees black and blue from nights kneeling in supplication. Our hands are the first to hold our siblings in Christ when they need prayer. Our voices linger in the sanctuary, whispering songs of victory, even after the pews have long been empty.

And yet, it seems as though the Church is the last place for queer people, and many members of the LGBTQ community opt to distance themselves from God or from homophobic congregations. I have spoken to a number of queer Black womyn who agree that, in spite of the religiously grounded homophobia, it is not so easy to cut off ties from our sacred spaces. Frequently, our unique relationship becomes a divisive factor in the big, white-dominated queer community that insists that if the Church isn’t playing nice, we simply should not go. But, how can we leave one of the few spaces where we historically have been granted authority and agency?

I don’t think that the problem is the Black Church, but rather the way the Black Church has adopted white supremacist principles. Describing the historical relationship between the Black Church and gay people, writer and feminist bell hooks defends, “It is no accident that the most ‘out’ of [Jim Crow era] gay people were often singers and musicians who first made their debut in the [Black] Church. Just as the Church can and often does provide a platform encouraging the denigration and [ostracism] of homosexuals, a liberatory House of God can alternatively be the place where all are made welcome—all are recognized as worthy.” The Black Church is not inherently homophobic, but rather, an extension of our communities wherein we are allowed to be equals even when mainstream society maintains that we are inferiors. hooks further elucidates, “In some small segregated Black communities, the Church was a safe house, providing both shelter and sanctuary for anyone looked upon as different or deviant, and that included gay believers.”

If anything, we queer Black womyn cannot give up on the Black Church. The Black Church has lost sight of its roots, but if we leave our home, who will remain to remind our siblings in faith that we belong? We need to know our history and to teach those who worship alongside us about the love that has been embedded in our spirituality. The cornerstone bears the weight of the structure and, if we are truly the cornerstones of the Black Church, we retain the power to influence whom our spiritual families accept. Through us, the Church can return back to its roots of communal love and reception.

When I first began my process of coming out to myself–and to other people–I knew that one of the hardest parts of my journey would be the inevitable God-hates-gays sermon. I spent many tearful nights asking God why He let me be this way if He loved me. But the Sunday evening when a white visiting preacher screamed, “Someone here is living in sin—homosexuality, adultery, promiscuity—and this person will die tonight,” I felt a sense of peace that reassured me that I was not condemned. You see, in the midst of my spiritual-sexual identity warfare, I happened to stumble across a promise that spoke to my femininity, my Blackness, and my queerness. “God is in the mist of her, she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Psalms 46:5). God is in the midst of us, and with patience, perseverance, faith and love, I believe we beautiful, queer Black womyn can be in the midst of the Church once again.

Helen McDonald is a 20-something college student living off of bad cooking, social justice and a lil snark. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog revolutionaryrainbows.tumblr.com and is a contributing writer at BloodyShrubbery.com.

Table for Two: Kumaré, Or How A Guru Is Born Out Of Orientalism

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Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid with featured guest, Sikivu Hutchinson, author of “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars”

Tami: Kumaré follows a filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi, who transforms himself into a fake guru to explore the concepts of blind religious faith and devotion to spiritual figures. It is interesting that Vikram and his assistants–all American-born and -raised–adopted accents in the subterfuge, playing off the magical brown person/foreigner trope.

Andrea: Would he be believable if he didn’t take on the accent?

Sikivu: Channeling the authentic brown magical mystery tour exotic (and I’m thinking specifically here of the sixties cult of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi legitimized in the West by mega-celebs like the Beatles) wouldn’t be complete without the right “Orientalist” lilt.

Tami: There are plenty of American religious/spiritual figures who inspire a devotion similar to that demonstrated by Kumaré’s followers. But I also think his race and faux accent provided a short cut of sorts.

Andrea: And I think that shortcut allowed the subterfuge to be more successful. Deepak Chopra wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have his accent.

Tami: …or if he were named Bob Henderson. It’s the otherness that adds credibility.

Andrea: Great minds, sis! That’s why I see some white people adopt “exotic” names when they become gurus or get deep into yoga.

Sikivu: Yes, and the drooling idolatry of Kumaré’s mostly-white female acolytes underscores this—I know a number of lib/progressive white women who have adopted trendy “yogic”  names to buttress their devoutness and confer them with the Eastern mystic equivalent of “street” cred.

Tami: This ties into the biased belief that brown people (and I say that meaning all brown peoples–black folks, Native Americans, etc.) are inherently plugged into something

Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi

Jersey-born filmmaker Vikram Gandhi outside of his Kumare costume

beyond the physical world…some magic. And that “magic” can be positioned positively or negatively, but it is part of the mantle of “other.” By adopting guru “drag,” the filmmaker successfully plugs into that idea. A brown guy with short hair and a clean-shaven face in jeans and a button down, may be too Americanized (read: normal) to work his magical mojo.

We went to see this awful movie, The Last Exorcism II, and at some point (of course) the protag goes to visit a black roots woman in New Orleans. I commented to my husband about the character’s vaguely African headwrap and her exaggerated accent. But the viewer would likely not have accepted that part if she had a Queen Bey lace-front and sounded like a black Brooklynite or had my Midwestern twang. We like our magical brown people unassimilated.

Sikivu:  And the noble savage sexuality of Kumaré goes hand-in-hand with the way the film trots out and parodies the West’s eternal fascination with the Magical Negro/Indian/Asian (take your pick) other.  The blond woman gushing in her living room about how Kumaré has “touched her life” looks practically orgasmic.  So much of this guru shtick is tied up with the charade of liberating the repressed uptight “rationalist” white folk from their shackles a la Norman Mailer’s “White Negro” paradigm pimping “black soul” as antidote to all that ails the modern white man.  A brilliant send-up on this theme is “The Couple in a Cage,” by Guillermo Gomez Pena and Coco Fusco—they mounted a performance piece where they pretended to be indigenous primitives displayed in their “native habitat” for the delectation of mostly white museum-goers seeking authentic savage artifacts.  While there was no overtly religious element to it, the Western impulse to gain validation through the body/essence and “shamanic” wisdom of the other is similar.

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An Open Letter to Tyler Perry

By Guest Contributor Chris MacDonald-Dennis

Image via www.atoast2wealth.com.

Image via www.atoast2wealth.com.

Mr. Perry,

I had promised myself months ago that I would not comment on your movies anymore because it was only serving to raise my blood pressure.  Like the Serenity Prayer says, I was going to accept the things I cannot change.  It worked for a while, too.  But then you released Temptation, and I had to say something.

For years, I have believed that Black folks deserve better than you. I realize that this can be seen as patronizing.  You see, I am not Black.  Some may say that I do not have a right to comment on you and Black communities. I would actually agree with them. I may have my opinions about your “artistry” and the impact of your movies on Black communities but that is an intra-community discussion for Black folks to have. This will certainly not stop me from holding my opinions and sometimes sharing them; however, I do believe that it is Black folks who need to begin that particular conversation.

However, this time you decided to talk about my community: those of us living with HIV/AIDS.

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Google’s Cesar Chavez Tribute Draws Fools Out One Day Early

By Arturo R. García

Google’s front page display for March 31 honoring civil rights leader Cesar Chavez

A deeply religious man who worked tirelessly to help the less fortunate was publicly acknowledged by Google on Easter Sunday. And a bunch of self-described Christians had a problem with this.

I’m referring, of course, to César Chávez.
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Family, Race, Religion: The US Is Becoming More Diverse

By Guest Contributor Philip N. Cohen, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

Trying to summarize a few historical trends for the last half century, I thought of framing them in terms of diversity.

Diversity is often an unsatisfying concept, used to describe hierarchical inequality as mere difference. But inequality is a form of diversity–a kind of difference. And further, not all social diversity is inequality. When people belong to categories and the categories are not ranked hierarchically (or you’re not interested in the ranking for whatever reason), the concept of diversity is useful.

There are various ways of constructing a diversity index, but I use the one sometimes called the Blau index, which is easy to calculate and has a nice interpretation: the probability that two randomly selected individuals are from different groups.

Example: Religion

Take religion. According to the 2001 census of India, this was the religious breakdown of the population:

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Diversity is calculated by summing the squares of the proportions in each category, and subtracting the sum from 1. So in India in 2001, if you picked two people at random, you had a 1/3 chance of getting people with different religions (as measured by the census).

Is .33 a lot of religious diversity? Not really, it turns out. I was surprised to read on the cover of this book by a Harvard professor that the United States is “the world’s most religiously diverse nation.” When I flipped through the book, though, I was disappointed to see it doesn’t actually talk much about other countries, and does not seem to offer the systematic comparison necessary to make such a claim.

With our diversity index, it’s not hard to compare religious diversity across 52 countries using data from World Values Survey, with this result:

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The U.S. is quite diverse–.66–but a number of countries rank higher.

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Code-Red Homophobia: Homelessness, HIV, and Black Religiosity

By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published at Feminist Wire

(Excerpt from the forthcoming book Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels)
For the past several months, Crenshaw Boulevard, in predominantly black South Los Angeles, has featured a series BLACK_GAYS_FOR_JUSTICEof striking billboards condemning homophobia and its role in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  The billboards are the work of the black gay activist group In the Meantime Men, headed by Jeffrey King. Sounding a “code red alarm” on the raging HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans, King said, “The staggering rates of increased teen suicides in the last five years, and the uncontrollable increase of teen homelessness in America have awakened our senses to the damaging effects of homophobia in the Black community.  Every year, thousands of Black LGBT people are displaced from their homes, families, churches, and communities due to their sexuality, gender, gender identity, and gender expression. This has resulted in a mass influx of homeless youth on the streets of Los Angeles and other cities throughout the nation.”  [King will be a panelist at the upcoming “Confronting Homophobia in the Black Church” roundtable hosted by Black Skeptics Los Angeles at Zion Hill Baptist Church on February 27th]  With African Americans comprising the majority of new HIV cases in the U.S., the epidemic has devastated black communities nationwide.  Yet the refusal of mainstream black America to seriously confront how homophobia and black religiosity drive homelessness and HIV only deepens the killing fields.