As far back as I can remember, there was always a God-fearing, Bible-professing black woman in my midst. A woman who prayed for provision when resources were scarce, touched your forehead to declare healing over your body, bowed down in submissive repentance before her Maker and saw potential in others that no one else seemed to see. A black woman who believed so strongly in God that her faith shamed you out of your own disbelief.
Many of the women in my life were single mothers. Some had lost their husbands to illness or had never been married. But there were many who had chased their men out of the house for being abusers, drunks, cheaters or “good for nothings.” No matter who was or wasn’t lying beside them at night, God’s footprints were firmly rooted in the foundation of their homes.
Reading The Washington Post’s recent article on the importance of faith in black women’s lives, I connected with the stories of women
whose spiritual journey seemed to mirror my own. They confirmed what my worldview illustrates: Black women are some of the most religious folks you’ll meet in America.
The Post article found that many black women feel connected to their ancestors who endured the brutality of slavery by transcending the natural world through a belief in a supernatural one. Similarly, as an Eritrean American woman, I feel spiritually connected to the Eritrean men and women who died fighting a 30-year war for my homeland’s independence.
But we aren’t limited to the history books as we go in search of a connection to “the saints.”
I was raised in working-class, urban communities, yet educated in elite, predominately white schools and I’ve always struggled to reconcile my complex identity. A sense of belonging — especially as an immigrant — is hard to come by when you’re experiencing life through multiple lenses and come home daily to a reality that is different than the one you just left. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered the glue that would bond the fragmented pieces of who I am: my Christian faith.
For the black women whom were always in my surroundings, their faith walks had very little to do with church. Going to Sunday worship to hear a pastor preach or a priest perform rituals wasn’t as important as knowing that God was with them every second of the day. In their eyes, as in my own today, God was everywhere — the doctor who medicated, the employer who paid, the teacher who taught lessons and the comforter who healed. These were the women who shaped who I am today.
I can’t say why so many of us believe and believe so strongly. It’s astounding to think that black women can bury bullet-filled sons, accept collect calls from imprisoned lovers and medicate HIV-infected bodies and still hold claim that God is not only real, but that God loves unconditionally. Through faith, we find the power to stop asking why and how, as the article points out, and shift our focus to what we have to be grateful for.
Living in a society that constantly perpetuates negative perceptions of us via media and pop culture, I’m proud of those black women who know that self-worth can never be dictated by public perception. I’m proud of us who assert that we’re never alone because God stands with us. And I’m especially proud of us for believing and living out our faith, regardless of whether or not it is popular to do so.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder/ editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter: @RahielT.