By dopper0189, Black Kos, Managing Editor
Religion is one of the most important cultural markers that links Afro-Caribbean people to their African ancestors. Scattered over a 3,000 mile long archipelago, the Caribbean basin was from the 15th through 19th centuries, the site of an extended historical encounter between Europe, Africa, and the Americas with Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, and the Britain competing with each other for control of the Caribbean islands (as well as nearby Central and South American coasts).
Major European colonies in the Caribbean basin included Cuba, Grenada,Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, as well as mainland colonies such as Belize, Honduras, Suriname, French Guiana, and Guyana. In addition to enslaving the Native American populations, the colonizers brought Africans from Central and Western Africa as slaves to the region to provide labor on tobacco and sugar plantations and sought to convert them to Christianity.
The vast majority of people in the Caribbean are part of a “creole culture” an intersection of African, European, and Native American cultures. The religions I will explore in this diary are Afro-Caribbean in nature, forged by the powerful force of countless multitudes of Africa’s children forced to work on plantations “remixing” how their religion was and is practiced. Outside of the Caribbean ideas and stereotypes of Caribbean religions and its people run wild. When European (and later American) in the 1700’s began writing about the religion practiced around the Caribbean, their writing reflected their strong anti-African biases, their own ignorance of African culture, and their intolerance of non-Christian beliefs.
Today most Caribbean people consider themselves to be Christians (as well as large numbers of Muslims, Hindu, and Buddhist) this is true even in Haiti (the country with the strongest Afro-Caribbean religious tradition Vodou) and Cuba (where Santeria is very widely practiced). Until recently “cultured” Caribbean elites were taught to look down upon these native religions. But beginning in the 1960’s, a combination of independence movements and cultural awakenings lead Caribbean people to show renewed pride in their African origins, and with it their African derived religions.
Beginning with Columbus’ 1492 conquest, throughout the colonies of the Caribbean basin, Christian religions (such as the Anglican and Dutch Reformed churches or the national Catholic churches of France, Portugal, and Spain) became the state religions. Christian sects other than these state churches suffered persecution and non-Christian religions such as Islam, American Indian religions, and traditional African religions were actively suppressed. Nevertheless, some indigenous Caribbean and African populations resisted conversion and held onto their own religious beliefs while incorporating elements of Christianity. This process resulted in the creation of a variety of religious forms that incorporate elements from indigenous Caribbean beliefs and West and Central African religions, as well as institutional and popular forms of Christianity and even folk religious traditions practiced in Europe.
One example of this form of integration involves the role of Catholic saints in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions. In some instances, slaves from Africa would continue to worship their own spirits or deities, called lwa (also called Loa) by connecting them to Catholic saints, using the saints to hide the continuation of their religious practices in plain site. In other instances, Catholic saints were truly integrated into Afro-Caribbean religious traditions and given the status of lwa.
According to the US Census’ American Community Survey, as of 2016, about 4,000,000 people residing in the United States are direct Caribbean immigrants (Caribbean Immigrants in the United State) importantly this number excludes their children born in the US. Additionally according to PEW and additional 4.9 million Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin resided in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (remember this only a count of Puerto Ricans on the mainland), according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
The Afro-Caribbean population is most prominent in Miami, New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston. Of these, it is extremely difficult to determine how many actively practice Afro-Caribbean religions, also known as African Diasporic Religious Traditions. Furthermore, it is important to note that individuals who do not self-identify as Afro-Carribbean may practice African Diasporic Religious Traditions.
Although there are specific beliefs unique to each Afro-Caribbean religious tradition, they overwhelmingly share a common worldview. Afro-Caribbean religions generally teach that the Supreme Being and spirits are interdependent and do not live in a world apart from humanity (famously sung by Bob Marley as heaven is a place on Earth).
In Afro-Caribbean religions, the material and spiritual worlds are inseparable from one another. Humans and other natural objects are believed to be both natural and divine—participating in and influencing the spiritual world. As a result, a major focus of concern for many believers is how to access various kinds of spiritual power in order to wake up to one’s divinity in order to manifest one’s destiny and live with purpose.
Many of these religions accept the world as it is, though they believe that the world can be made better and that the situations of individual people and groups can be improved (religions with different overall philosophies include Rastafari and Revivalism, among others). Although most Afro-Caribbean religions believe in reincarnation, the emphasis is not on future lives but rather on personal and communal fulfillment in the present life. For their adherents, then, religion is the resource for dealing successfully with the physical, social, psychological, familial, spiritual, and financial obstacles they experience in life. These problems may be overcome through rituals that make use of the powers that are available in the natural world and in the various spirits they worship.
Major Afro-Caribbean traditions include Candomblé (many Caribbean slaves were brought from North East Brazil), Santeria, and Lukumi (collectively referred to as the Orisa or Orisha traditions), Palo Mayombe, , Vodoun, Rastafarianism, and Revivalism.
In the Afro-Caribbean religious groups with the strongest Christian influence, such as Revivalism and Rastafari, the Bible is a central sacred text. Rastafari in particular view the Bible as a sacred text that Christians in general and the colonizing European churches in particular have willfully misinterpreted and misunderstood in order to oppress and exploit people of African descent.
In these traditions the Bible also plays additional roles that are unknown to most North American Christians. For example, some Revivalist churches view the Bible not only as a source of doctrine, salvation, and divine revelation, but also as a book of magic, with the Books of Psalms and Revelation being especially potent sources of magical power for the person who knows how to use them correctly.
Some traditions also venerate the writings of key leaders. Rastafariani utilizes the writings of Marcus Garvey as sacred texts, while Caribbean Spiritists sometimes use the works of Spiritism’s French founder, Allan Kardec (aka Hyppolite Rivail), as sacred texts, including his Selected Prayers, Book of the Medium, and Book of Spirits.
Santería, Candomblé, Palo Mayombe, and Vodoun, although influenced by Catholicism and incorporating some Christian concepts and symbols, do not utilize the Bible as a sacred text. The most important sacred texts in these traditions are orally transmitted songs, stories, and prayers.
Although the particulars of practice vary among traditions, the main ways in which believers practice fall into a few broad categories. Many Afro-Caribbean religious traditions have no central religious authorities. However, some religions such as Ifa (from which Candomble, Santeria, and Lukumi originate) has a world spokesperson.
Historically, there has not been religious literature available for most Afro-Caribbean religious traditions because information was passed down orally. Over the last 40 years both scholars and practitioners have produced literature on Afro-Caribbean religious traditions that is widely available to others. Examples include African Religions: A Very Short Introduction by Jacob Olupona; Black Religion and Aesthetics: Religious Thought and Life in Africa and the African Diaspora by Anthony B. Pinn; and Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practice Rituals by Luisah Teish.
Because of their histories of persecution during the Colonial period and afterward, and because contemporary society and media continue to demonize them, there is a high level of secrecy around Afro-Caribbean beliefs and practices. Traditionally, only priests, other initiates, and active devotees in a tradition take part in rituals and worship.
The daily routines of members include devotions practiced at altars in their homes. Adherents pray before an altar dedicated to one or more of the deities they worship and leave offerings of flowers, incense, water, or alcoholic beverages, and occasionally small sacrificial animals consecrated by a priest.
Afro-Caribbean religious practitioners are often protective of their rituals, highlighting the need to offer privacy for prayer and ritual observances whenever possible, especially in the workplace. Employees may bring in special food, icons, candles, or natural objects (e.g., rocks, sticks, etc.), though it is unlikely “outsiders” will be aware of their hidden purpose. If an employee brings these devotional objects in for prayer, they will likely want that object for symbolic protection and will keep that object on their person or within their personal space.
Some Afro-Caribbean religious practitioners may want to engage in prayer rituals during the day. If available, quiet rooms or interfaith prayer rooms will be appropriate for many of these prayers. In traditions such as Candomble, Santeria, Palo Monte, and Vodoun observers may perform acts of libation by pouring small amounts of water in a bowl, plant, or outside in nature while speaking the names of deities or loves ones who are deceased. As a result, some practitioners may need to pray in the open air or find a space where they can perform acts of libation.
Divination, a ritual process of using ancient oracle systems to connect with the unseen or spiritual realm for guidance, is a core practice in Santería, Candomblé, and in some varieties of Palo Mayombe. The purpose of divination is to gain guidance that will help devotees become conscious, self-actualize and co-create their destiny with the Divine. Devotees approach priests with a problem, and divination allows the priest to diagnose its causes. Although Vodoun does not make use of divination techniques of this sort, initiation into the highest ranks of the Vodoun priesthood is believed to grant the power of clairvoyance.
While Santería, Candomblé, Palo Mayombe, and Vodoun are generally not congregational religions, there are certain traditions throughout the United States where it is common for priests and priestesses to lead spiritual communities which serve as places for worship on a regular basis. Some of these communities have open services, and offer occasional ceremonies that bring large numbers of worshipers together. In the United States, traditions such as Candomble, Santeria, and Lukumi – known collectively as Orisa (or Orisha) traditions – have spiritual communities referred to as iles (houses) that are led by priests and priestesses. Some of these communities have open services and/or annual celebrations in honor of orisha which are called bembes. Orisha are spirits and deities that act as intermediaries between the Supreme Being and human beings.
At typically religious services, the main activities are singing religious songs accompanied by drumming and dancing. In certain ceremonies the practices of singing, dancing, and drumming together call upon the religion’s deities and invite them to visit the ceremony by taking over the body of one or more of the priests. Once possession occurs, the deity is dressed in special clothes and interacts with worshipers before departing. These ceremonies usually end with a closing ritual followed by a communal meal, which is shared with the deities by placing food in front of their altars.
Healing constitutes a major focus of these religions. Whether a problem is social, psychological, or physical, devotees make use of herbal medicine, ritual healing, and counseling provided by their spiritual leaders. The healing process is meant to explore what an individual needs to align with physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and identify any blocks or obstacles to be addressed. In some traditions, problems may also be believed to be the result of malevolence (sometimes referred to as “sorcery”), and a portion of any healer’s work is dedicated to combating the effects of such malevolence.
Vodou (Voodou) is arguably both the most famous and most misunderstood Afro-Caribbean religion. Since Vodou emergence in the Caribbean during the era of the slave trade, the Haitian religion has been the subject of great controversy. As a result, Vodou has been suppressed, misinterpreted and misrepresented over many centuries, and the practitioners of Vodou have long been subjected to religious persecution because of this. Not surprisingly, mainstream media also portrays Vodou in manner that is problematic and lacks historical context.
Historians have long recognized that Vodou played an important ideological role during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). Yet, as incredulous as it may seem, there are those even today who argue that the ceremony at Bois Caiman, which sparked the Haitian Revolution, should be understood as a “deal made with Satan.” The most notable of these was the very influential religious leader Pat Robertson who made this claim in 2010 during one of his televised fundraisers. It is interesting to note, however, that the Haitian Catholic church has accepted Vodou for over thirty years.
Yet for many non-Haitians, the religion is something to be feared and is also to be seen as an explanation for all that has gone wrong in Haiti. While the views of Pat Robertson and other religious leaders such as Tom Barrett have been widely criticized, and their views can be easily dismissed by those who have studied the Haitian Revolution, their strong following guarantees that they have the power to influence perceptions about Vodou, Haiti, and Haitians.
After slaves started a massive revolt in 1791 on the island of St. Domingue, where present-day Haiti is, the assortment of beliefs and practices brought over from different parts of Western Africa coalesced into New Orleans voodoo. Both white and black residents of St. Domingue, also colonized by the French, fled to New Orleans which was attractive to them for its similar French heritage. Residents of St. Domingue already followed developed voodoo practices (in fact, an intense, well-attended voodoo ceremony inspired the slave revolt), and the refugees brought these traditions with them.
However, voodoo wouldn’t have penetrated into New Orleans culture as much as it did without the unifying force of the infamous Marie Laveau, who codified practices locally and gave the religion a beautiful but mysterious public face. Laveau is believed to have been the daughter of a white planter and a black Creole woman. For a while, she earned a living as a hairdresser, catering to a wealthy white clientele and learning their secrets through gossip, giving her insight into their affairs. Laveau bridged the world of white and black, with clients and followers of all walks of life who asked her to bring them luck, to cure ailments, to procure them their desired lovers, and to exact revenge on enemies. Another important figure of New Orleans voodoo was Dr. John, a dark-skinned, stately man with a tattooed face whose alleged powers brought him thousands of clients.
Voodoo both fascinated and repelled the white New Orleanians who came to watch the public rites that were held in Congo Square until 1857, where Armstrong Park is today. (More secretive, nocturnal rites were held elsewhere.) Rumors of spirit possessions, snake worship, zombies, and animal sacrifices scandalized them. But in private, they would consult voodoo priests and priestesses. Modern scholars argue that voodoo was a way for African-Americans to exert influence over the white ruling establishment, a manifestation of suppressed power.
Popular conceptions about Vodou have also been informed by the film industry. For decades, many Hollywood productions have capitalized on stereotypes about Vodou. While it is clear to any historian that these films and television episodes are highly inaccurate, for many, the distinction between historical fact and sensationalized Hollywood fabrications and exaggerations is not all that clear. For example, movies such as Live and Let Die (1973) from the James Bond series, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), and Child’s Play (1988), all present Vodou in a negative light, emphasizing zombies, possession and Vodou dolls, which in reality have very little to do with the religion. More recently, television shows such as True Blood and Bones have had Vodou featured prominently in their respective series. In such representations, Vodou is not represented as a spiritual practice but is instead depicted as an evil cult. Nor do such media productions emphasize the many similarities that Vodou shares with Christianity or its roots in Catholicism.
For hundreds of years Jamaicans have been prevented by law from practising Obeah, a belief system with similarities to Haiti's Voodoo. Until recently, the practice of Obeah was punishable by flogging or imprisonment, among other penalties. The government recently abolished such colonial-era punishments, prompting calls for a decriminalisation of Obeah to follow.
Obeah thrived during the era of slavery, but it virtually died out in urban centers, where over half the Jamaican population now lives. But It has survived in rural communities. Obeah's history is similar to that of Voodoo in Haiti and Santeria in Cuba. Enslaved Africans brought spiritual practices to the Caribbean that included folk healing and a belief in magic like powers for good and for evil.
Palo, also known as Las Reglas de Congo, is a religion with various denominations which developed in Cuba among Central African slaves and their descendants who originated in the Congo Basin. It is secondary to Lucumi ( also known as Santeria), among practitioners of African-derived religions in Cuba. Denominations often referred to as "branches" of Palo include Mayombe (or Mallombe), Monte, Briyumba (or Brillumba), and Kimbisa.
The Spanish word palo "stick" was applied to the religion in Cuba due to the use of wooden sticks in the preparation of altars, which were also called la Nganga, el caldero, nkisi or la prenda. Priests of Palo are known as Paleros, Tatas (men), Yayas (women) or Nganguleros. Initiates are known as ngueyos or pino nuevo.
Santería, Candomblé, Vodoun, and Palo Mayombe have no explicit, universal dietary restrictions, although some individuals may adopt dietary restrictions through practices of divination.
Many Rastafari eschew pork and salt and follow Ethiopian Jewish dietary laws (Beta Israel) as well as a modified vegan diet called ital (“I” is important in rasta chants and the word “vital”). The general principle of ital is that food should be eaten in its natural state. Thus, some Rastafari avoid food which is chemically modified or contains artificial additives (e.g., color and preservatives); strict interpretations prohibit foods produced using chemical pesticides and fertilizer. Most Rastafari avoid all red meat, many do not eat fish (or at least fish that are over 12 inches in length), and some are strict vegetarians. Some also avoid shellfish and alcohol consumption.
Santeria devotees who have been initiated into the priesthood of Obatala also avoid alcohol consumption. Some Afro-Christian churches also have fasting requirements.
Adherents of Afro-Christian churches also may ascribe healing properties to certain foods and may wish to maintain a diet that they believe provides spiritual balance. These dietary restrictions exist in Santería, Candomblé, Vodoun, and Palo Mayombe and stem from one’s relationships with the specific spirits or deities one serves. For example, in Santería, the orisha Oshún is believed to keep all her magic herbs and sacred objects inside a pumpkin; she is also associated with the patron saint of Cuba, La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Therefore, those who worship Oshún are barred from eating pumpkins, which are a special food reserved for the orisha. This dietary restriction is especially important on Oshún’s/La Virgen’s Feast Day, which falls on September 8.
If providing a meal for an individual who ascribes to an Afro-Caribbean tradition, find out whether the individual abstains from meat, fish, chemically modified foods, artificial additives, or other ritually significant foods. Some individuals will prefer to eat food they have prepared themselves, which should be accommodated in the event of a catered social gathering or meeting in the workplace.
Generally, there is no religious dress that is worn on a daily basis, although special outfits may accompany rituals. Some Afro-Caribbean individuals may choose to wear charms or amulets that are believed to ward off evil spirits. Santería and Candomblé devotees may, however, wear distinctive bead necklaces and bracelets (including ankle bracelets), which act as both a distinctive badge of membership and spiritual protection. In the Orisa traditions of Ifa, Lukumi, Santeria the distinctive bead necklaces are known as ilekes and the bracelets are known as ides. They symbolize that someone has gone through a specific ritual and offer spiritual protection. The color of the beads correlate to particular deities invoked during the ritual.
There is one instance during which both Santería and Candomblé require particular religious garb. During the period of a year or more following a novice’s initiation into the priesthood, the person is expected to dress entirely in white clothes and to wear head coverings (a hat for men or a white cloth tied around their head for women). Women may wear long white dresses, coats, jackets, and stockings that cover most of their bodies. Both men and women in this situation are viewed as especially vulnerable, and white is seen as a spiritually pure color that protects that vulnerability. It is important that people in this situation continue to be dressed only in white clothes and be allowed some form of white head covering if at all possible.
Among the Rastafari, most wear their hair in dreadlocks, in which the hair is worn in long, ropelike locks, as an expression of their faith (if invokes the imagery of a lion’s mane). Dreadlocks are associated closely with the practice of Rastafari, but are not universal among, or exclusive to, adherents of the Rastafari. Rastafari can actually shave all their head and facial hair to be in religious compliance (Nazarene Vow). Although few actually do this, because the term “bald head” often has a negative connotation among the Rastafari.
CALENDAR & HOLIDAYS
Since there are links between many Afro-Caribbean religious traditions and Catholic saints, many of these traditions celebrate saint dyas. However, these holidays differ somewhat by country, because some saints are the patron saints of particular countries and therefore holidays have both religious and nationalist significance. For example, the Catholic celebration of Our Lady of Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba, corresponds with the celebration and recognition of the Santería deity Oshún.
Some American holidays, like Halloween, have been treated in the same way. For many Vodoun worshippers in the United States, Halloween is an occasion for ceremonies directed at spirits associated with the dead and graveyards.
The more public celebrations on saints’ days tend to incorporate drumming, dancing and possession feasts while private observances related to an individual’s relationship to a particular deity are generally celebrated at home with sacrifices, offerings, and divination. Different people interpret offerings and sacrifies in different ways—for example, a sacrifice could include surrending or releasing a limiting view of a situation, and an offering could be a prayer, meditation or song.
MAJOR LIFE EVENTS
Birth: It is common for Afro-Caribbean mothers to have a great deal of support from older women in their families during childbirth. Traditionally, new mothers rest for anywhere from two weeks to 1½ months after childbirth. During this time, female relatives or neighbors help care for the mother and newborn. In addition, pregnant and postnatal women are thought to be especially vulnerable to supernaturally influenced health problems. Thus, many choose to stay inside and avoid strenuous activities. Amulets or charms may be placed around the baby’s wrist to ward off evil spirits. These rituals are not specific to Afro-Caribbean religious traditions and are common practices in Caribbean culture generally.
Death: Given the importance of extended family and faith communities, an Afro-Caribbean individual is likely to receive a large number of visitors near the end of life. If an Afro-Caribbean employee has an extended family member who is sick or nearing death, they may request time off to visit their loved one. Some employees may also need to travel to the Caribbean to attend a loved one’s funeral. In some Afro-Christian churches, this can include a wake lasting three or more days in addition to the funeral itself. Many families will delay a funeral for as long as two weeks to allow relatives to come from other countries. Afro-Caribbean employees may therefore need to take off about a week of work when a loved one has passed away.
Funeral Rites and Post Death Practices: There are extensive rituals in Afro-Caribbean religions surrounding death, many of which are not shared openly. One example of a private practice that has been made public is the Haitian Vodoun death ritual. Practitioners of Haitian Vodoun believe that the dead body can be separated from the various spiritual entities that animate it. Haitian Vodoun teaches that each human has both a gwo bonanj (big guardian angel) and a lwa (spirit). Shortly after death, the gwo bonanj must be removed from the person through the death ritual. During this ritual, the dead also speak to the living through spirit possession. The spirits of deceased ancestors often inquire about living family members, and raise problems that they are able to observe within the community.
This is only one of the many rituals that may take place post death. Many are unknown to those who are not initiates of the particular tradition.
Marriage: Marriage customs among Afro-Caribbeans are usually governed more by culture than by religious dictates. In many Afro-Caribbean cultures guests are invited to the wedding through word-of-mouth while handwritten notes are rare. One common aspect of Afro-Caribbean weddings is black cake, a cake made with dried fruit that has been soaked in rum.
People in Afro-Caribbean households generally choose who to marry, although parental approval, especially from the mother, is still valued. Afro-Caribbeans today are likely to marry at a later age than their parents did, and increasingly have smaller families with one or two children instead of larger families that include many children and extended family who play a prominent role in the family structure.
Practitioners of Santeria may have wedding ceremonies that include rituals, prayers, and offerings to orishas (spirits). Some practitioners of Santeria may be licensed by the state to perform marriages, but this is not common, and in most cases a couple has a civil ceremony or a Catholic ceremony in church.
In Haitian Vodoun, practitioners may choose to marry a spirit (lwa) instead of, or in addition to, another person. Marriages to spirits involve rituals such as singing, dancing, and praying in order to coax the spirit to materialize.
Divorce/Other Marriage-Related Practices:
Although legal marriages between two people are becoming increasingly common among Afro-Caribbean families, traditionally other marriage structures have been more common. These structures include common-law unions, where couples live together but are not legally married; visiting unions, where the wife lives in her parents’ house instead of her husband’s; and single parent families. In addition, Afro-Caribbean families are often matricentric (centered around the mother), and it is common for the maternal grandmother to play a prominent role in raising children.
Divorce is infrequent among Afro-Caribbean families, although it is not unusual for common-law unions to dissolve. This can lead to the practice of child-shifting, where children are sent to live with relatives because their parents have ended their relationship or started relationships with other people. Rastafarians are particularly opposed to divorce and remarriage, which are regarded as abominations to Jah (God).
Major Afro-Caribbean traditions include Candomblé, Palo Mayombe, Santería, Vodoun, spiritism, Rastafarianism, and Revivalism. Many of these traditions are strongly associated with a national identity—Candomble with Brazil, Vodoun with Haiti, Santeria and Palo Monte with Cuba, and Rastafarianism, Obeah, and Revivalism with Jamaica.
Though Santería, Candomblé, Vodoun, and Palo Mayombe are diverse and members can and do differentiate between varying forms of practice among them, there are no prominent, formalized divisions. However, some Afro-Christian churches have a history of conflict with Rastafarianism, and the Catholic Church has historically had conflicts with Santeria, Palo Monte, and Vodoun. These conflicts continue to influence practitioners of Afro-Caribbean religions today, and are part of the reason why these practitioners may choose to keep their faith private in the workplace. In addition, American pop culture has presented, and continues to present, followers of Afro-Caribbean religions in a derogatory light through negative stereotyping. This history may also contribute to Afro-Caribbean practitioners’ wish to be private about their religious beliefs and practices.
As Caribbean immigration to the United States continues to add the melting pot that is America, understanding the religions that originated there, goes along way to keeping America as a “welcoming culture”. The religious diversity of the Caribbean one of the world’s most diverse regions continues to add to the diversity of the world’s most diverse country the United States.
African Religions: A Very Short Introduction by Jacob Olupona
Black Religion and Aesthetics: Religious Thought and Life in Africa and the African Diaspora by Anthony B. Pinn
Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practice Rituals by Luisah Teish
- Ital Foods — Annemarie Troeder.
- Afro-Caribbean Religions: An Introduction to Their Historical, Cultural, and Sacred Traditions - Nathaniel Samuel Murrell
- Voodoo: Myths and Misconceptions
News round up by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous knows that even after emerging victorious in a crowded Maryland Democratic primary on Tuesday to crush Rushern Baker by more than 10 percentage points, he knows that he still has a fight on his hands.
That’s because the current governor of Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan, is shockingly beloved in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Hogan not only proudly boasts that he didn’t vote for Donald Trump, he is even being touted as the “Un-Trump Republican” by the Washington Post for his refusal to blindly go along with the dictator in chief just because he, too, is a Republican.
Hogan’s approval ratings hover around the 60s and topped out at 71 percent in January, according to the New York Times. And a Washington Post poll has Hogan ahead of Jealous in a hypothetical election by 12 points.
But Jealous knows that hypothetical words always get thrown before hypothetical punches. And he’s ready for a fight.
“You tell us beating Hogan is like beating Everest? Well, we just climbed K2,” Jealous said at a news conference Wednesday, referring to the world’s second-highest mountain. “If you can climb K2, you can climb Everest.”
Jealous has never held an elected office, but he’s not letting that stop him. And had he listened to pundits before entering the Democratic primary, he very well may have just withdrawn his name altogether.
A new study puts numbers behind what many Black folks already know: seeing Black people killed by the police is truly traumatic.
The study, “Police Killings And Their Spillover Effects On The Mental Health Of Black Americans: A Population-Based, Quasi-Experimental Study,” was published via the online version of medical journal The Lancet yesterday (June 21).
The researchers wanted to determine the “spillover” effects on the mental health of people not directly connected to the hundreds of Black Americans who die at the hands of law enforcement officers each year. To do that, they culled 2013, 2014 and 2015 data from the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which uses telephone surveys to assess the health of United States residents. They then examined the self-reported mental health data of Black people who were surveyed within three months of a day when a police officer killed an unarmed Black person in their state. That data was pulled from the Mapping Police Violence database.
Of the 103,710 Black people who responded, 49 percent of them were exposed to at least one police killing in their state. The researchers found that each death corresponded with an increase in poor mental health days for this group. This decrease in mental health was not observed in White respondents, and was only associated with unarmed Black victims.
“Having seen something so horrific and traumatic that happened to someone else, I’m reminded in a very painful and salient way that the deck might be stacked against me,” study co-author and assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania Atheendar S. Venkataramani told The New York Times with regard to how Black people may react to the killings. “It’s really about all the kinds of insidious ways that structural racism can make people sick.”
You remember, back in the day, when your mama would tell you some crucial information in order for you to live your best life, but you thought you were a whole-ass adult? So, you smiled and nodded when she spoke those hard truths, but let the words go in one ear and out the other? That was me, reading the words of Laverne Cox back in 2017. She was the mama serving some sorely needed tea to the LGBTQ community and I was the whole-ass adult who smiled and pretended to absorb her words.
As a black transgender woman, I have not always felt included in Pride, to be honest with you. I haven’t. The LGBTQ community has not always been the most welcoming to trans people and people of color. —Laverne Cox.
I knew she was right, but I had this knee-jerk reaction to deny it, or at the very least, separate myself from it, cuz “That’s those other queer white folks, but my queer white folks know better.”
Then the Philando Castile ruling happened.
I should preface this by saying that I live in the Twin Cities, in fact, Officer Jeronimo Yanez killed Philando Castile about 10 minutes away from my home. I know where that spot is. I’ve driven down that street before. If I still worked my retail job, I’d be driving down that street every day.
The ruling was on June 16, 2017; one week before Pride.
On June 20, Twin Cities’ Pride organizers decided that cops couldn’t walk in the parade as a sign of respect—because you know, black folks go to Pride, and a cop just got away with killing one of their own. They, of course, could still come to Pride, they just had to be in plainclothes. Two days later, Laverne came out and said what she said about racism (and transphobia, TBH) in the community. I was kinda feelin’ my city for its stance, though, so I mentally did that #NotAll thing.
It was not a good look for me. I can freely admit that now. Because on June 23, two days before my partner and I were planning to walk in the parade, a local paper announced that Twin Cities Pride organizers had decided to back down on their stance.
Hindsight is a bitch. I should’ve seen this coming—Laverne warned me, y’all.
Last September, transgender activist and model Munroe Bergdorf made headlines when her straight talk about racism cost her a coveted campaignwith L’Oreal. But Bergdorf hasn’t let the experience silence her; in fact, she’s allowed it to further fuel her openness about the myriad issues affecting black people, women and the queer and trans communities.
So when Bergdorf recently sat down with The Glow Up to discuss her new BBC documentary, What Makes a Woman, we expected her to give us the real on her journey through gender dysphoria and how she’s now leveraging her growing platform and activism. But we received so much more, as Bergdorf graciously took the time to educate us on how those of us who claim to be allies of the LGBTQIA+ community—and particularly, the trans community—can truly help save lives.
In a month when we proudly celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, Bergdorf’s words were a sobering reminder that for trans women of color, the battle against homophobia, toxic masculinity and violence wages on—and it’s literally a matter of life and death. Most important, her honesty was a reminder that until all of us are free to live without fear, none of us will be.
The European migrant crisis is ongoing — and its impact is being felt all over the world.
One unexpected place is Algeria, a country which has expelled 13,000 migrants over the past 14 months, leaving them stranded in the Sahara desert without food or water.
As the European Union shuts down trafficking routes and other European leaders enact policies to cut down migration, some sub-Saharan African migrants from countries including Libya, Mali, and Niger have ended up in bordering countries like Algeria.
Migrants — including pregnant women and children — are dropped off in the desert and forced to walk on foot to Niger, according to the Associated Press. They must endure harsh conditions, such as temperatures up to 118 degrees Fahrenheit, while heading to Niger, which lies on the southern border of Algeria; some migrants are even threatened at gunpoint. And the country doesn’t seem to have any plans for how to improve the situation.
“They bring you to the end of Algeria, to the end in the middle of the desert, and they show you that this is Niger,” Tamba Dennis, a Liberian who lived in Algeria on an expired work visa, told the AP. “If you can’t bring water, some people die on the road.”
Janet Kamara, a Liberian migrant, told the AP that she gave birth to a stillborn child and later had to bury her child in a shallow grave in the desert. Other migrants, who were originally from Niger, were forced back to their home country on cramped trucks and buses.
Some migrants have left their home countries and ended up in Algeria in search of work or in hope of eventually making it to Europe.
Their treatment has raised serious questions about human rights abuse in Algeria, though the country continues to deny criticism that deporting migrants and leaving them stranded in the Sahara is abusive. The European Union has said that they were aware of Algeria’s inhumane process but that “sovereign countries” are allowed to expel migrants as long as they adhere to international law.
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