A Misguided Attempt to Empower: Deborrah Cooper’s Lonely Black Church Woman Blames Black Women for their Singleness
I am single black church woman. I go to church on Sunday morning because I need to hear a word from God. I need to know that there is hope in the world. I need to know that when “my body is ailing” as the old folks say and my childhood traumas—daddy beating momma—keep me awake at night that there is a contemplative word of peace, healing, stillness, redemption, and salvation is spoken to let me know that I can make it through, yet, another week. I go to church because on its most good day holding constant its homophobia, materialism, and patriarchy teaches people to be a more loving, caring, and community focused people. And of course, some churches do it better than others, but the point remains that there is an attempt to provide a collective healing space for both black men and black women.
So, when I read Deborrah Cooper’s article, The Black Church: How Black Churches Keep African American Women Single and Lonely, I was left in some ways flabbergasted by her blatant generalizations about single black church women and then equally disturbed by her many negative hackneyed expressions about the Black church which prompted me to say, “What is nuanced about her article that differentiates it from the numerous Nightline’s, CNN’s, and ABC’s news stories about the doom and gloom of being a single black woman?” What makes it stand apart from the many decades of telling single black women and unwed black mothers that they are responsible for their singleness?
And, all that I can surmise is nothing. There is nothing unique or empowering about this essay.
Of course, on the surface Cooper purports to empower black women—leave the patriarchal black church and you will find a good black man—but, she inevitability falls prey to the same paternal trappings of the Steve Harveys and Tyler Perrys of the world whereby you blame black women for their singleness and then tell them what they should be doing to get a good black man which often means playing literally by manmade rules.
Meaning, you, single church black woman, do everything and anything to gain the attention of non-church going black men.You stop going to church because men are at home watching the football game. You stop attending Bible study because all the things you need to know is found in the good book of Act like a Lady think like a Man. You stop praying to God on your knees because you realize that knee time is reserved only for swallowing his manhood (I borrowed this from my crass godmother). Ultimately, you stop seeking God who gives you strength because at the end of the day all you need is a good black man to solve all your problems. And because of this, at best, her conclusions are misguided and ill placed.
And once again, her blog is not unique or nuanced. However, what gives it its teeth—blog hits—is that it is a black woman saying what black men have been saying since Eve sinned—“Black woman, if you will only do what I say then all will be right with the world.” You see, oppression is more legitimate more palatable when you are able to get the oppressed to co-sign their oppression which Deborrah Cooper does with little equivocation.
In general, Ms. Cooper’s blog has sparked a holy uproar in cyberspace where either people are co-signing her rant or critiquing her many generalizations. One well known blogger, Boyce Watkins, wrote that, “Cooper’s article is built on a deeper resentment of both the black church and black men,” and I venture to say this is not totally true. Yes, she resents the church, and perhaps there is a level of resentment she has for black men, but her full anger (rather she knows this or not) is directed at black women.
Black women are the problem. They go to church. They allow black male ministers’ malevolency to flourish by tacit attendance. They teach Sunday school and bake pies to raise money for the children’s choir. They lay prostrate at the altar beseeching Jesus for help with their wayward sons. Yes, for Ms. Deborrah Cooper, the black woman is the problem because she comes to Sunday morning worship service, Tuesday night Bible study, Wednesday night church council meeting, and Thursday night choir rehearsal. But, they do all of this not in pursuit of a husband or because they have internalized their oppression, but in pursuit of faith that says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil because God is with me.”
And perhaps, I am romanticizing black church women’s love affair with the church, but the point remains that most often black women attend church not to find a man, but to find a God. And let me say this, I agree with her belief that that we must challenge patriarchy in the church, but you don’t do that by telling black women to leave the church and go find a man in a sports bar or by caricaturing church going black men as sexual predators, luckless bastards, and ex convicts who are lucky to be non-incarcerated black men. As I stated earlier, on its most good day, the black church, holding constant its homophobia, materialism, and patriarchy teaches men to be a more loving and caring husbands, fathers, and brothers.
The way you challenge patriarchy in the black church is how you challenge it in other environments (i.e. Political Arena, in Relationships, on the Job, and at Home) by being critical women of faith who like Queen Vashti refuse to acquiesce . . . to bow . . . to submit to violence simply because her husband commanded her to do so. You challenge patriarchy in the church and other environments by telling women to pursue and to listen to “something within,” that strengthens their ability speak out. You challenge patriarchy in the church and other environments by working to educate both men and women on how male privilege works. This is how you challenge patriarchy . . . you change albeit raise people’s consciousness about gender and oppression.
But, what I find interesting about this “new round” of media attention on black women being single is that it is non-discriminatory in the length it will go to paint single and unwed black women as desperate and incomplete women. Meaning, even my attendance at church is prefaced on my desire to find a man. As I’ve said in a previous blog there is a political project a foot to make single and unwed black women feel woefully inadequate without a man and Deborrah Cooper’s article is yet another demonstration of this open season on single and unwed black women.
Let the church say, Amen.