Unfinished Business: Black Women, the Black Church and the Struggle to Thrive in America
- Keri Day
13 days and counting till this baby’s due date!
… So, all bets are off. Could be any moment. In the meantime, I have some more good reading. Currently, I’ve been working on Keri Day’s Unfinished Business: Black Women, the Black Church and the Struggle to Thrive in America.
The book takes a critical look at societal marginalization of black women, and explores how the black church may be either a helpful partner in their liberation, or complicit in their exploitation.
Day opens with an illustration that has stuck with me for days. She describes an episode of 20/20 with Diane Sawyer, where the poverty of Appalachian Kentucky is explored in vivid detail. Toothless children, drug abuse, short life spans, lack of education and even lack of basic infrastructure and services typify the area Sawyer calls the “forgotten and hidden America.” Sawyer goes on to discuss the historical and cyclical problems that perpetuate this extreme and longstanding poverty.
Sawyer used structural explanations of poverty when describing the rural, impoverished white people of Appalachia, and I immediately thought of the man insidious cultural representations of black poverty in America. Sawyer’s portrayal was a stark contrast to the ways in which black poverty in America has tended to be associated with personal irresponsibility. (1)
From there, Day moves to discuss the all-to-familiar cultural portrayals of poor blacks in America, with men depicted as “thugs” and criminals, and women as “welfare queens.” (2) Unfinished Business delves particularly into the plight of women, and identifies ways in which the contemporary economic environment in America (which Day calls “Advanced Capitalism”) is particularly exploitive, commodifying human labor and even aspects of humanity itself. The myth of the free market suggests that everyone has an equal opportunity through hard work.
America’s advanced capitalism is imbued with neo-liberal political meanings… that engender oppressive outcomes for poor persons within America, especially for black women, the focus on this book. It is the selfish political interests of the wealthy that usually guide economic practices within the United States, and the rich get richer and the poor grow poorer.
Early on, Day begins to build a case for how the black church must critically address its strategies for helping the poor, and more aggressively and prophetically critique aspects of capitalism that creep into black life, and black religious life in particular. The hyper-consumerist strategies within the ministries of Bishop T.D. Jakes are offered as an example of this subtle and “spiritually-consecrated” enterprise. Instead, the church must engage in redemptive re-identification of what is “valuable” and precious, who deserves dignity, and how to help black women transcend the value-identifiers of capitalism.
More to come…