Part 1: Introduction to Series: Taking Stock and Measuring Up

It’s not black history month or Martin Luther King, Jr. day, but that’s the thing about truth and wisdom, they endure beyond designated holidays or observances. In 1963, Dr. King wrote these words:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

This statement is from the chapter, On Being a Good Neighbor, in King’s book, “Strength to Love,” a collection of sermons, essays, and other meditative reflections. It is part of a Socratic sequence in which he presses black Christians to release their concerns for comfort, safety, reputation, and status, and venture into the often-tumultuous waters of the fight for change and justice. Black Christian women face the same choice: Will we allow our communities to further deteriorate because we are hesitant or flat out unwilling to speak Truth to color—starting with ourselves? Our measure lies in what we do now that we are faced with a doubled-down barrage of challenge and controversy.

Black citizens are being brutalized and killed with impunity by fellow citizens and by those sworn to protect and serve. Teachers and school administrators are railroading black children into a corrupt and unjust justice system through disciplinary policies that target them. Black health is compromised by disparate access, diagnosis, and treatment. Black women are beaten and killed by those with whom they bear children, share meals and share beds. As caretakers and guardians of our families, we are weakened by unhealthy load-bearing that renders us prime candidates for depression and other mental or emotional problems.

Faced with this stark cultural landscape, it is incumbent upon black women to assess our situation and see where we stand. For black Christian women, this assessment must include an examination of our faith against biblical truth and standards; for we surely cannot and will not stand successfully in challenge if our foundation is weakened by beliefs and behaviors that do not reflect biblical fidelity. Consequently we won’t be prepared to be ambassadors who bring health, hope, and transformation in policy, education, family, criminal justice, or other arenas of society. This series attempts to make these assessments and offers suggestions for a path ahead.

One exploration of where we stand has already been undertaken. In March of this year, the Black Women’s Roundtable—the “civic engagement network” of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation—released a special report, “Black Women in the United States, 2014: Progress and Challenges.” The report evaluates the state of black women by highlighting data on health, education, workforce participation, economic standing, political engagement, and exposure to violence. Notably the report reflects and confirms the two-steps-forward-one-step-back dynamic in which we seem stuck, showing progress in some areas, inertia in others. High school diploma and college degree attainment are up but haven’t translated into better or higher-paying jobs. We have the highest level of workforce participation but still are concentrated in the lowest-paying, lowest-skilled employment tiers. Black women have had the highest rate of electoral participation in the last two elections but have not seen that loyalty rewarded with political attention or policy gains.

An evaluation that focuses on these types of socioeconomic indicators is not a bad place to start as we take stock of our lives. It points us to areas of outcome stagnation and policy resistance as we plan how to move forward, but it fails to address other critical measures of our wellbeing. The plan for this series is to fill in gaps left by this and similar reports by digging beneath the surface of the numbers and deconstructing our apparent spiritual dissonance: studies indicate we are probably the most devoutly religious of any demographic, but our lives don’t reflect the transformation and power typically associated with such devotion. I’ll examine the status of our media; families and other relationships; sex and sexuality, mental and emotional health and its connection to our physical health; and the intersection of our actual lived experiences and biblical constructs.

To get a sense of the context of this project, check out my Sisters and Citizens series:

Part 1: An Interview with Melissa Harris-Perry 

Part 2: An Open Letter to Black Christian Women 

Part 3: Called to Contend

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