Excerpt from Chapter 9
... The term "womanist theology" came into use following the 1979 publication of an article by Jacquelyn Grant. The article "Black Theology and the Black Woman" questioned Black theology’s most fundamental claim. How could black theology consider itself a theology dedicated to the liberation of black people, if it remained silent in the face of unrelenting oppression of African American women? Grant also challenged white women’s theological stance with regard to racism, but her major goal was to declare a protest against the sexism and chauvinism of the Black theology movement. Grant argued that, due to the chauvinism of African American men in the discipline of theology, black women had been rendered invisible. Grant asserted that Black men dare not speak for Black women!
Linda Moody argues that womanism emerges out of the experience of Black women in the United States. Born of the need to create a space for African American women to reflect theologically and ethically on concerns relevant to them, it is distinct from Black male theology, white feminist theology, and third-world theologies of liberation. ...
First generation womanist Katie G. Cannon’s 1985 article, "The Emergence of a Black Feminist Consciousness," was the first written text to use the term manist, using Alice Walker’s term to identify Black feminist consciousness as womanist consciousness. ... Cannon’s utilization of the term womanism offered an accessible category by which African American women who were feminist could envision a hermeneutical space to produce critical literature and commentary. Womanism centers on the experience of African American women survivors of the Diaspora living in the United States. Womanist theology also places itself in solidarity with women of all racial and ethnic origins who suffer oppression. It opposes all forms of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination based on physical disability and caste.
What exactly does it mean to be a womanist? Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Garden defines womanist in four distinct ways. First, womanist is "from womanish." This means a Black Feminist of color acting grown-up, being responsible and in charge. Second, a "womanist" is "a woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually." In this part of the definition, Walker indicates that womanists are committed to "survival and wholeness of an entire people, male and female."
The third aspect of womanism, as defined by Walker, includes a love of life, music, dance and the spirit. Womanists are committed to "the folk" without sacrificing their own sense of self. Finally, Walker declares that "womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender." Here she emphasizes the notion that womanists have their own unique style, values and commitments while at the same time having some relationship to white feminists.
Walker’s definition of womanist has deeply influenced the work of Black women theologians. Delores Williams’s reflections on Alice Walker’s definition of womanism will clarify what womanist theory, theology and ethics is about and point to the evolution of womanist methodology.
Womanist consciousness is informed by the guidance and counsel that mothers offer their daughters, as suggested in Walker’s examples of the mother to daughter wisdom. Noting problems with some Black men’s preference for light-skinned women, William’s notes that womanist consciousness is anti-colorist. Womanist consciousness names poor Black folk as the locus of its values. Womanist consciousness values women as leaders in the African American community. Womanist consciousness demonstrates a concern for survival and for the building and maintenance of community. Womanism is concerned about the whole human community. Womanists are reminded to love themselves, "regardless." African American women should not bear more than their share of the burden for justice and must be concerned for their own well-being. ...
Excerpt from Chapter 12
... Reconciliation aims toward making that which has been wounded or fractured, whole again. The wholeness encompasses body and spirit. A theological notion of reconciliation is eschatological in tone, salvific in theme. Both endings and beginnings are held within such a notion. In this chapter, I will begin to develop a womanist construction of reconciliation in its social and theological contexts.
Womanist theology is by and for black women, particularly in the United States, and presents a unique view that is distinctive from and informed by black theology and feminist theology. Womanist theology has been developing since the 1980s, as black women realized that they were rendered invisible even as their bodies were on the firing lines. This is not news: the historical realities of black women’s race, gender, and class oppressions inform the shocking normality of any one woman’s body serving as protection. The single story of the black woman using her body as protection holds two historical rhythms of womanist reconciliation, in the contrasting rhythms of Ida B. Wells and the figure of Mammy.
The first rhythm is that of Ida B. Wells in the 1890s, working to end the horrors of lynching. Black men and some black women were lynched throughout the South; this was a form of social control following the Emancipation of the enslaved Africans as black people were kept in place with fear, intimidation, and death. Within the black community’s tradition of activist black women, Wells used words and political savvy to fight for an end to these horrendous acts. Yet, Wells, like other black women activists, had to behave strictly within the constraints of Victorian definitions of a woman. In this way, Wells could secure the social protection and approbation offered to women while avoiding public censure. ...
The second rhythm is heard in the continued expectation that black women will gladly give "service." Mammy is a figure that represents a grotesque caricature of what caring means for African American women. The mammy happily cared for a white family’s needs, ahead of those of her own family’s. "Perhaps the most cynical aspect of the relationship that the black mammy was responsible for orienting white children into the oppressive culture designed to keep the black mammy system in place." ... These two rhythms open to the exploration of the question: What is a womanist theological construction of reconciliation?
In the past few years, as research on African American women’s spirituality has grown, I have begun to consider the relationship of spirituality to healing practices and to salvation. While most theologies name reconciliation as involved in salvation, African American women enact a theology of reconciliation. Healing, making the wounded whole, becomes intimately related to reconciliation and salvation in African American women’s epistemological frameworks.
Healing, both personally and communally, is a theme that will run throughout the essay. The theme of reconciliation recurred often in interviews I conducted with several members of the Detroit Metropolitan Black Women’s Health Project (hereinafter referred to as DMBWHP). The ways that the members connect concepts of health with healing and spirituality with wholeness show how reconciliation is enacted in black women’s lives. The power of these women’s words underscores the rich spirituality and the refrain of healing that infuse the lives of black people.
This chapter will first consider the social contexts, such as the DMBWHP. Next the theological contexts, especially those that inform womanist theology, will be discussed. Black women’s holistic spirituality is discussed and becomes the linking consideration for the last section, the movement toward a womanist statement of reconciliation. ...