Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated about different cultures from around the world. I always wanted to know the why behind everything. For example, in elementary school, during our weekly library time, I would always check out those books that were like encyclopedias for a specific culture or ethnic group. As I grew older, my curiosity grew as well. One question that always comes to mind is the perception and treatment of Blacks, globally, in regards to our spirituality and religion.
Both topics are complex and taboo. But in the Black community, they have always found a place on the table, somewhere between the cornbread and sweet potato pie. I have always identified as a Christian but then I discovered the thin line between religion and relationship in high school. Religion is defined as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. That thin line I mentioned before becomes blurred especially as we become adults and navigate life for ourselves. But as a Black Christian man striving to connect to his ancestors, it can be mistaken for sinister things such as idolatry.
Let’s take a quick trip to Chinatown within Center City of Philadelphia, I want to show y’all something. Chinatown within itself is diverse in regards to dialects, regional backgrounds, and in some cases, their faith. Regardless of their belief, part of their culture is to honor the ancestors. This may look like an altar of some sort with a bible (or other religious reading material), candles, water, fruit (occasionally), antiques, and photos.
American society has normalized this for other cultures but those of African descent are considered as partakers in idolatry and witchcraft when we try to connect with our roots. Without roots, a tree cannot stand or bear fruit. Everyone else has been given a pass to celebrate who and how they choose to.
I recall having a conversation with a fellow Christian who happens to be a white male and he began to chastise people for the way they worshipped and even referred to them as pagans. His statement reflected the hundreds of years of oppression that white men used to strip our ancestors of their cultural identity. In return, they then took the culture stolen from us and demonized it in the media through books, music, and movies. I know that is why it was so hard for me to break free from the American culture of religion.
As a melaninated millennial, I have been working hard to encourage the next generation to embrace their cultural heritage and to celebrate our differences. When will we start to take pride in the one of the few traits we have left from those before us.
To my fellow educators, especially those who identify as Christian, don’t allow your religious ideologies be a barrier between you and the Black students in your class. Create a space for them to ask questions about their cultural rights and how to embrace their ancestors.
As we enter into 2021, let’s understand that just because something is different and not the norm does not mean it is necessarily evil or bad. Do your research and you will find that many of these practices are older than Christianity itself.
Defeat the double standards among races. religion, and cultures, it will help our community in a significant way by providing an opportunity for the next generations to learn who they truly are.