I remember growing up with my great-grandmother and witnessing her involvement in our neighborhood church. Holidays or special occasions, such as children performing a scripted account of a story from the Bible or prominent visitors from a nearby church always prompted a certain dress code. The pastor of the church, along with his dutiful wife would instruct the ladies of the congregation to wear specific colors, hats, shoes etc. My great-grandmother was considered a "mother" of the church. She was granted prominence and her voice would be heard on important issues(clothing and food oriented. Not the direction of the church). She was allowed to sit on the first row with all of the other "mothers" of the church. They were seen as the beacon of what a dutiful woman ought to be. The "mothers" would be together with their prayer cloth over their legs with their huge hats and listening to the very bombastic pastor. The same kind of role was instituted at another church we attended before I left Charlotte, North Carolina. Victory Christian Center also showed deference to older women and touted them as the pinnacle of dutiful women. Strong and sacrificial. Obedient and loyal.
The younger women of both churches were encouraged to prepare themselves for "god fearing men". They were cautioned against the "evils" of pre-marital sex and a strong emphasis was placed on purity or in today's crude terms, "low mileage". She's supposed to wait until she is married to engage in sex because she is only supposed to be with ONE man. That is her reward for obeying and following the destiny god has set out for her. The woman's value was determined by 2 things; her loyalty to her church & to the man who "picked her". The young men were told to gain experience. They were given license by specific members of the church to use "other women" in preparation for the good woman god was going to send their way. Any woman who didn't obey and in any way strayed away from the divine path was deemed unclean and slutty. She was relegated to the bottom of the social church class and was greeted with gossip, sneering, cold shoulders and name-calling. Breaking from the ranks was a rare event and when done the woman would become a target. Sermons would be dedicated to call out her specific behavior. I don't know what happened to the 2 women who were called out(not specifically by name, but due to the gossip we all knew), but I hope they were not broken by the shabby treatment of mean-spirited, intolerant religionists.
The view of a loyal black woman is still preached about and demanded by black men right now. I'm an atheist. I'm a black male who is not afraid to say it. I know I am afforded a lot more room when it comes to criticizing religion than that of black women. I am rarely asked if I attend church. The assumption is I don't have to attend, but my blackness indicates that on some level I do believe in a higher power. Black women who are agnostics/atheists/free thinkers are not afforded the same kind of latitude. Take the two following questions; Do you go to church? Which church do you attend? The first question can be answered simply by an affirmative or a negation and is typically asked only of black men. The second question is far more nuanced and is aimed specifically at black women. The first assumption is based on the integral connection between femininity, blackness and their duty to maintain their place in the church. The question has already been answered for the black woman. She's supposed to say "yes....". That is her role and her duty. Once she provides a church name, she has done her job and automatically receives praise and smiles. If she does not attend church and does not believe, then the questioner will attempt to employ the Socratic method to all aspects of her life.
The way she wears her hair, clothes, the type of profession she has, education(type of degree), and so forth will be up for debate and not just in a private setting. Her entire existence and value will be for all to comment. Her body will become a moral playing field for men who seek to "put her in her rightful place". They will create legislation and public policy to restrict her rights/choices as an autonomous human being. She will be deemed untrustworthy, reckless, selfish and so on, for exercising her personal liberty. She has violated the 11th commandment; Thou shalt attend church and believe in God. She is not allowed to pursue her own interests unless it coincides with the will of men. She is not allowed to not have children. (another way in which she is valued) She must toil at home with the kids(be fruitful and multiply, but damn a job!) while the man brings home the bacon, which she is expected to cook. Failure to fall into line is social suicide. More men will target her and privately witness to her about how good god is and how they ought to re-think their decision. However in public these men must maintain the non-believing black woman is an infidel, while privately trying to tame her into the docile character they want her to be. She is not afforded the immediate and indefinite line of social credit offered to black women that provide a church name to the aforementioned second question. She is a blight on the ass of humanity and she must be stopped. Something is off about her and she is too strong and too independent.
The last perspective is offered for a few reasons. First, black female atheists/agnostics/freethinkers have a different set of supposed expectations in which to deal with and overcome. Second, their value and existence is placed in a narrow set of ideals that's not befitting of someone who's autonomous. Many black men uphold what I stated in the previous talk and probably employ other methods which I didn't mention. I don't know them all. Third, I am tired of the churches, the applications of religious dogma, and the ideas of a god(s) defining black women. I'm tired of black men who use their religion and power to keep them down. Churches continue to herd black women toward sub-par men and goals. As long as he believes in god, he's good. It does not matter if he is terrible with money, treats you like shit, has no goals, no desire to work, etc. He believes and that's enough. What he lacks, the black woman is supposed to pick up the slack. That is the view of a slave and perpetuated by people who wish to keep black women in a mental prison and thereby giving them full access to her body. I am happy to see more black women come out boldly and substantively against the rhetoric offered by churches, the dehumanizing aspect of religion and define themselves for themselves and not to please some sorry ass piece of shit man, who only respects her as long as she does what she's told, puts him first, and only pursues her interests and long as he agrees.