Religion in Black America has always been a trigger button, but with the tide of consciousness rising again, and in this current age of social media, a lot of conversations are surfacing. Now days people are more curious than ever. Black folks in the U. S. are usually a split between two religions. Most practice some form of Islam or Christianity. A lot of people say “Christianity is a white man’s religion” and some say that Islam is the “black man’s true religion.” Some folks will even go the length of saying that black people who are Christians are still slaves and brainwashed. Please walk with me as I attempt to deconstruct this theory, so that it may be broken forever.

First, Christianity is not a white man’s religion, nor is Islam a black man’s religion (I know religion is bigger than race but lets frame the conversation). They both are Middle Eastern and Palestinian in origin. More than likely neither of these were the religion of our ancestors. Both of these religions have extremely checkered pasts against Black/African people. The facts of Islam are lesser known but googling the Arab slave trade would be a nice start to learning more about this topic. Neither religions are indigenous to Black/African folks from a historical perspective. For example if Islam is the original religion of the black man than why does the black man take on an Arabic name so often or learn a Quran whose original text is written in Arabic? If Christianity is a white man’s religion, why is the language of the Bible originally written in Aramaic and Hebrew, with the New Testament later being written in Greek with thoughts and theology adopted from the ground work laid by the original text? If either of these religions are the black man’s original religion, then why wouldn’t their text originally be written in Bantu, Umbundu, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Mandika, or even Wolof if they were truly original to our ancestors?

The reality is, most slaves came from the Congo/Kongo, Nigeria, Angola, and Senegambia (they weren’t separate at this point). By the time slaves started to come over by the masses most of these countries in Africa were already colonized, so it is very possible that your ancestors came to America already practicing some form of Islam or Christianity. Christianity and Islam are not indigenous to any of those countries. Unless your ancestors were from further north, say around Ethiopia or Egypt, than there is a small possibility that they would indigenously practice some form of Christianity or Islam.

The reason why I am posing this question, is to try to address the identity in some way, shape, or form because we have yet to really do that. What most brothers and sisters really want to know is what religion did their ancestors practice before coming to America? We want to know what the root of our religion was before colonization, and before the white man told us what to believe in. Many of us believe that are ancestors were coerced and influenced to covert and that the decision was not their own.

The fact is, some were forced, and some just genuinely converted for on their own accord. Some African Americans chose their religion out of rebellion, the same way a lot of brothers and sisters were raised Christian and later in life chose Islam instead. On a smaller scale think about those who were raised Pentecostal and realized later that they wanted to be C.O.G.I.C.

It is important to note, that we did not just become able to make decisions and change our minds today. Even in talking to people from Africa, one thing I realized is a lot of the Africans I’ve spoke to, do not see religion the same way that African Americans do. A lot of them don’t feel the need to have these HUGE absolutes in their spiritual lives.

They (your ancestors) combined a little bit of this with a little bit of that and took a pinch from over there and sprinkled it on top of that. From this method our ancestors gave birth to some of the richest cultures around today. The Gullah culture birthed out of the Gulf coast, or what I refer to it as the Gullah coast is a great example. That TV show Gullah Gullah Island that you watched growing up was dropping more knowledge into your spirit than you knew.

Hip-Hop is even a result of mixed influences, as it is a fusion of multiple elements that our ancestors brought to the table. Kool Herc and African Bombaata are some extremely conscious dudes that combined a lot of practices from back home into hip-hop culture that is still relevant today. Terms like Griots, Cypher, the Toast, have their roots in Afro-Cuban, Jamaican, and African culture. Hip-Hop was created by taking some of this, adding some of that, and spinning it together with your own twist on it. But I digress.

Now to answer the big question, what religion did your ancestors practice before coming to America and before colonization? What was our spiritual origins before the white missionaries from Portugal, France, and everywhere in between got grips on our mental? Not to disappoint you, but it’s impossible to answer. Not because Africa isn’t culturally and religiously rich, but because of the exact opposite. It’s impossible to answer this question because Africa is extremely rich and diverse; overflowing with religion, language, and culture. Some of the previously mentioned countries have more than 1,000 native religions and numerous  native languages inside of their respective countries. That makes it difficult to navigate genetic records and  pinpoint WHERE in Africa your ancestors came from. Many of us have not yet determined exactly when we came to America. Many of our ancestors were still getting off the boat in the 1800’s and some even in the early 1900’s. This sad reality makes it impossible for one to say with certainty which indigenous religion our ancestors practiced. The best you could do is pick the one that the majority of the people there practiced. The only answer that makes sense to me would be for one to look within his/herself and to the skies above to find what we connect with the most, in respect to our ancestry.

When people push the ideology of Christianity being a “white religion pushed by slave masters” and Islam as the “true black religion” is pointless because both claims lack merit. It is also important to note that Islam was spread through Africa the same way that Christianity was. The Arab slave trade was popping way before the new world was. Slaves were being taken from Africa ever since there were boats and/or roads to transport folks.

There are no winners in this conversation amongst black people in America. The only consistent loser, is the mother-land, her people, religions, languages, and all the resources that have been plundered, stomped out, and pushed to the back. This forces the mother land to suffer in silence while her people scratch their heads trying to find an identity. In this search of identity many of us fight against ourselves with condemnation and judgement. The book of truth will continue to be closed, as long as his story continues to be written by “him” and the victors because no one seems to care what a woman has to say. While the world continues to ignore the mother, I pray to the ancestors that this article may be able to wipe at least one tear from her face as we continue to vacate and invest everywhere else in the world and turn our backs on our mother. Maybe one day she will forgive us.

~Johnathan Jackson

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3 thoughts on “Black America and The Search For Religious Identity”
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