God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church

God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church

God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church

God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church


Blackness, as a concept, is extremely fluid: it can refer to cultural and ethnic identity, socio-political status, an aesthetic and embodied way of being, a social and political consciousness, or a diasporic kinship. It is used as a description of skin color ranging from the palest cream to the richest chocolate; as a marker of enslavement, marginalization, criminality, filth, or evil; or as a symbol of pride, beauty, elegance, strength, and depth. Despite the fact that it is elusive and difficult to define, blackness serves as one of the most potent and unifying domains of identity.

God and Blackness offers an ethnographic study of blackness as it is understood within a specific community--that of the First Afrikan Church, a middle-class Afrocentric congregation in Atlanta, Georgia. Drawing on nearly two years of participant observation and in-depth interviews, Andrea C. Abrams examines how this community has employed Afrocentrism and Black theology as a means of negotiating the unreconciled natures of thoughts and ideals that are part of being both black and American. Specifically, Abrams examines the ways in which First Afrikan's construction of community is influenced by shared understandings of blackness, and probes the means through which individuals negotiate the tensions created by competing constructions of their black identity. Although Afrocentrism operates as the focal point of this discussion, the book examines questions of political identity, religious expression and gender dynamics through the lens of a unique black church.


Eleven O’clock Service

First Afrikan Presbyterian Church is a standard triangle-faced red brick building surrounded by a parking lot, a few acres of grass, and several trees. Located in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta, the church is adjacent to several subdivisions and is the religious home of a predominantly African American and middle class population. As I walk up the four steps to the front doors, two smiling-faced gentlemen greet me, one of whom says how nice I look this morning and both of whom seem genuinely glad that I have come to worship at their church this fine summer day. I return their greetings, and, entering the narthex, I see a table upon which rests the announcements for the week, fliers for events throughout the community. and sign-up sheets for one of the Bible study classes offered on Wednesday. Over the door leading into the sanctuary is a black, white, and red banner that reads, “Invest in the First Afrikan Way.”

The church has a modest-sized sanctuary with twenty-six pews comfortably seating approximately five hundred people. In the front is the wooden pulpit, a two-tiered choir loft, and, off to the side, a small ensemble of pianist, drummer, trumpeter, and saxophonist. As they . . .

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