Cover Image: God Is a Black Woman

God Is a Black Woman

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Member Reviews

I think this is easily a new staple within the Womanist library. This book does an amazing job of breaking down the image of white colonizing men referred to as whitemalegod throughout these chapters. I love the focus of the whitemalegod in this narrative as Dr. Cleveland explains her own development after the pilgrimage to the Black Madonna statues throughout France. The whitemalegod personifies the patriarchal, racist, and capitalist world we live in while also shedding light on the religion that preaches such. I think this book is fantastic for anyone who is questioning what they have currently been taught through the lens of whitemalegod. Also, anything that bashes Thomas Jefferson gets a point from me. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I tried to have an open mind while reading this book but I really struggled to get to the end. I just could not wrap my brain around some of her views and I am a Black Woman. I felt triggered by some things that were said and I do not wish to repeat them. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book.
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I ended up adding this book to the DNF pile. There's only one other book there. I plan to circle back around when I am ready. I have been in a reading funk with a busy schedule and everything else in the world.

With the state of the world currently, I found it very difficult to even open my mind to God as a Black woman. I was beyond frustrated trying to open my mind especially knowing how awful things are. No Black Woman would do that. As a Black Woman, why have I suffered so hard? Being both Black and Woman life has not been easy, but I don't see Black Woman God giving us the free will to allow the world to crush woman especially Black consistently. 

I thought the book would be a little different based on the description but mainly I think the issue is the style. I expected more of a journal of the journey. I think this structure requires the reader to be in a particular space so if you're looking for a in depth, serious, and philosophical read I think this is perfect. I really wanted to love it and I think I might when I am ready to (emotionally, mentally and physically).
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Christina Cleveland postulates that a Black Woman being God separates the spiritual experience from the tenets of patriarchy and racism that the [evangelical] church has upheld. I thought her decision to undertake that journey under the care of the “Sacred Black Feminine” was interesting and actually enjoyed the fact that Cleveland approached spirituality with so little formality. She nicknames the Black Madonnas that she visits: She whose thick thighs saves life, She who cherishes our hot mess. And as a black woman, I could relate. I also knew very little about the Black Madonnas prior to reading this book and was happy to learn about the various ones scattered throughout central France. 

Cleveland’s is a spiritual journey but the kind of personal decolonization that readers are called to do can be done and perhaps should be done separately from religion/spiritual belief. For me the takeaway was clear: “We must search high and low for the internalized anti-Blackness and patriarchy we uphold in our minds, hearts and bodies.  We must decenter, protest and dismantle cisgender white male power.  We must center wisdom, needs, and healing of the especially marginalized Black women..” 

Her pilgrimage to visit the Black Madonnas in central France is woven into this book, along with personal anecdotes of which I wish there had been more. I really wanted to see how much more similar my knowledge of the evangelical space could be to her upbringing: the True Love Waits/purity programing, praying for a future spouse, the intertwining of physical attributes (especially weight) and morality.  It was all so familiar to me and a good reminder of the things that I personally have to continually unlearn and relearn. 

Overall, I think it was a thought-provoking book.
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I struggled with this book. I grew up in an uber-conservative evangelical household and much of what Cleveland espouses here borders on, if not sits confidently in, heresy given how I was raised. That being said, I consider myself to be much more progressive now and it was a mind-opening read. I certainly learned a lot and plan to read it again after I've had some time to mull over how my own biases are affecting my opinions.
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In God Is a Black Woman academic and activist Christena Cleveland uses her 2017 walking pilgrimage to the Black Madonnas of Auvergne to frame her experiences of abuse and exhaustion under “whitemalegod.” Her writing is relatable, unapologetic, and notably trans-inclusive. I found it extremely relevant to my interests working at the intersection of healing and justice.

Whitemalegod is patriarchal racist capitalism personified and upheld through the cultural imagination. Cleveland explores how whitemalegod, white Christ, and (weak) white Mary have been shaped to uphold whiteness and toxic masculinity, in contrast to Christian aspects of the Sacred Black Feminine. Her experiences with the memorably named Black Madonnas illuminate misogynoir and uncover a spirituality centering Black women. Tales from Cleveland’s youth in a repressive church and family environment are juxtaposed with more recent examples from her tenure at Duke Divinity school and her own healing journey.

Whitemalegod is a separating force, a fragile masculine perfectionist authority demanding absolute obedience. He uses purity standards to justify exclusion and violence, delegates to priests and fathers using fear and shame, and prefers a needless subject who transcends earthly issues. By contrast, the Sacred Black Feminine is highly personal, embodied, resilient, accessible, and empathetic to human needs. She honors your sacred knowing, wants you to meet her experientially, and gets down in the mud with you. She centers Black women because she IS a Black woman. She embraces mysticism and magic in and outside of Christian forms. She is embodiment over argument and convincing. She is a womanist, because she too has been called Mammy and Jezebel.

From Our Lady of the Good Death helping false selves identified with whitemalegod die, to Our Lady of the Sick’s messy spirituality, to the Mother of All Bling’s “reparations entourage” of white cherubs, Cleveland uses her experiences with these diverse Madonnas to encourage all readers, but most especially Black women, to explore spiritual homecoming.
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First, thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this most interesting book. 

The book is more of a story around self-discovery than about religion. This is clearly a catharsis of the mind, body and soul for her as she describes in frank and candid (and sometimes colorful) language her childhood, navigating through the corridors of academia and religious institutions and how racism played and still plays a major part in each, wrapped in the cloak of region. 

She makes strong arguments of how Christianity has been tailored to meet and further the needs of the "tailor" often times with horrible consequences. As someone who was raised a christian (Catholic) and indoctrinated in the  beliefs surrounding christianity whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, Evangelical in makeup, through much of my life, it dawned on me that when you do a deep dive into any religion you will see what Dr. Cleveland discovered, manipulation, racism, sexism, politics, and so much more. An example front and center that she and others have poignantly pointed out, is how religion was used to justify slavery, bending it to facilitate and support this most despicable crime against humanity. 

Dr. Cleveland's writing is crisp, well researched, structured and gives a perspective that makes you think.  While the story is on her search for the Black Madonna, don't let this stop you. Look beyond to see the true story that lurks. It will be well worth your time, especially if you are willing to be open about God in all of Her/His forms.
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TW: Religious Trauma, Child Abuse, Racism, Eating Disorder 

Short Review: If you've been angry that the Christian version of God has been a tool for white supremacy then this book is for you. 

Long Review: 
God Is A Black Woman is about Christena Cleveland's journey from dismantling the patriarchal "whitemalegod" and moving towards discovering the Sacred Black Feminine as she searched for the Black Madonnas in France. Cleveland's journey took off in 2016 as the police brutality of Black people continued, and after the results of the US Presidential election. This journey was a way for Cleveland to find hope in light of Christianity being interwoven with white supremacy, patriarchy, and political power. 

On her journey to find the Black Madonnas in France, Cleveland recounts her experiences in church and being raised with a faith background. She speaks on how America's view of the white God is harmful and leads to race and gender oppression. Through her journey to discover the Black Madonnas and subsequently a part of herself, Cleveland offers hope that believing in God can result in self-love and acceptance, and She is a sacred and guiding light. 

I've known that describing God as a white male was problematic based on historical accuracy. However, it never really occurred to dive deeper into what that could mean for BIPOC. I think I made this connection a bit more when I learned that Christianity was a tool for white supremacy both historically and currently but Cleveland's story added so much more depth. Given that I'm a white woman, her chapter on The God of White Women was really insightful and important for me to read. 

I have been on a journey of discovering the Sacred Feminine and this book is so important. It allowed me to empathize and have a better understanding of a Black woman's experience and it also allowed me to reimagine how I view God. After I read this book, I immediately looked up other books to read about the Black Madonnas and I am looking forward to learning more.
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Powerful and what I did not know I needed or was expecting. I loved the way the story was not linear - well how the author would express her ideas and then surround it was stories from her life. I will re=read this again and much slower to digest her ideations fully.
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Happy book release day to this beautiful and powerful book! This is the story of not just a spiritual journey also a very tangible physical journey as well, as we follow Dr. Cleveland on a walking pilgrimage around France as to see the Black Madonnas. Throughout the journey Dr. Cleveland invites us to explore the ways that “whitemalegod” has seeped into every aspect of our faith, even if we ourselves are not white and male, and how exploring the Sacred Black Feminine can liberate our faith.

This book is challenging, eye opening, and healing—a must read for anyone serious about decolonizing their faith.

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book for review.
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Summary: A memoir of the ways that beliefs about God impact our social reality and the ways that we can heal. 

There are books that I know will be misread or not picked up because they are judged without being read. I am never sure if the misreading or the prejudicial lack of reading is the bigger problem. I recieved an advance copy of God is a Black Woman from Netgalley. I glanced at reviews on Netgalley when I downloaded it, and sure enough, the standard (my paraphrase), "well, God may not be a white man, but he sure isn't a Black woman," was in one of the early reviews. And in response to a tweet, I posted a quote from God is a Black woman, and a person I do not follow argued with me over several tweets, assuring me that Christena Cleveland was publicly no longer a Christian and now advocated Goddess worship. That person had not read God is a Black woman but assured me that their view was accurate based on their reading of social media. I countered that I had read the book written to address these issues and that Cleveland had neither publicly repudiated Christianity nor advocated Goddess worship. But those two interactions, I think, will characterize a lot of potential readers, vague impressions that inaccurately keep them from picking the book up, and a misunderstanding of the book based on a lack of familiarity with the realities of race, gender, and history. As part of the Twitter conversation, the person suggested that no one believes that God is a white male. However, Color of Christ and many other studies show many people believe that God is a white male either explicitly or implicitly. (Four studies on perceptions of God and Race, older study on the importance of images of Black Christ to counter white supremacy)

I am not a close follower of Christena Cleveland, but I have been aware of her work for a while. I read Disunity in Christ, Cleveland's first book. I was aware that she was a professor at Duke and led the reconciliation study center started initially by Chris Rice. And that she left the school because of her frustrations with racism around the school. I read her essay about leaving, White Devil in Blue, although the article is now behind a paywall.  And I knew that she had gone to France on pilgrimage to visit a number of the Black Madonnas common in France. Knowing those parts of the story meant that I was not walking into the book blind, but I was not familiar with her broader story.

God is a Black Woman is framed as a memoir of that pilgrimage. Like many memoirs, that framing is an organizing structure more than a foundation. The book primarily looks at what she calls 'whitemalegod' and 'fatherskygod' and how she personally, and our society more generally, has been shaped by the cultural understanding of God as a white male. There are many ways to misunderstand this book if you have not previously grappled with Black or Womanist theology. Angela Parker's book If God Still Breathes, Why Can't I, which I have read, but I am going to reread before I post on, has an excellent explanation of what Womanist Theology or biblical studies are and why all Christians, not just Black women must grapple with the questions that are raised by Womanist readings of the Bible or Womanist theological reflections.

In some ways, God is a Black Woman is part of a long tradition of grappling with our misperceptions of God, for example, Imaginary Jesus, Good and Beautiful God, part of Twelve Lies, and the already mentioned Color of Christ. But without a liberation focus, those books on misperceiving God can stop at individual analysis and miss the ways that society acts to disempower. And as I already mentioned above, the familiar tropes against Feminist, Womanist, Black theology, etc., as simply replacing the White male God with different similar identity are projecting what has happened in the past with the explicit ideals of these theological critiques. When James Cone says Jesus is Black, he is both saying God is not White in a biological sense (similar to saying Jesus is Lord is saying Ceasar is not) but also saying that Jesus fundamentally identifies with the marginalized and dispossessed against the powerful. Whiteness, the cultural belief in white racial superiority, altered Christianity to require a hierarchical system. Womanist Theology believes that the hierarchy violates our understanding of Christianity and is a form of heresy. So the projection of simple replacement is a fundamental misreading of this book and liberation theologies as a whole. The simple message of the book God is a Black Woman is that we have to counter the distortions to bring about healing. Simple balance would be a distortion itself, but Cleveland does say, "When masculinity rejects feminine wisdom, it becomes a toxic caricature of itself."

I could easily make this into a post of quotes. I have twelves pages of highlights and notes you can look at (my notes). But I want to highlight a couple of more extended quotes that matter.

According to Douglas, the white christ essentially made slavery A-okay because, if Christ was white, then it was cool for white people to enslave non-white people and benefit from the enslavement of non-white people. But the whitechrist didn’t simply justify slavery; it also made a statement about who God is and what God cares about. Since the whitechrist more closely resembled whites than Blacks, God was obviously more concerned with the experiences and troubles of white people than the experiences and troubles of Blacks. Further, since the whitechrist identified with whites, God obviously preferred whites over Blacks. The whitechrist offered proof that God wasn’t concerned with the plight of the oppressed. In other words, God was just fine with slavery and other forms of oppression. In this way, God was not only associated with whiteness, but specifically with white supremacy. In the whitechrist, God specifically chose white people over Black people.
I am pretty sure that there are potential readers of God is a Black Woman who will suggest that Cleveland is exaggerating here, but as The Problem of Slavery in Christian America and The Bible Told Them So illustrate with Christian defenses of slavery and segregation, this is the type of arguments that were made to defend slavery and segregation.

Similarly, Angela Parker in If God Still Breathes and Willie James Jennings in After Whiteness speak about how theological education is oriented toward autonomous mastery and creating White Male theologians. Cleveland says, "whitemalegod teaches us that we should be ashamed of our need because our need erodes all that is right and good in the world." That grappling with human limitation and the false narrative that makes white maleness the normative expression of humanity ignores how our different human expressions show us different aspects of what it means to be human. As Cleveland discusses briefly in one section, humanity that bleeds regularly will have a different understanding of what it means to be human than one that does not. A disabled person has a different understanding of what it means to be human than a person that has not grappled with the limitations that society puts in the way for disabled people. Instead:

In whitemalegod’s world, to be human is to be needless. So, of course, white patriarchy does not permit a definition of femininity that challenges the status quo. This is one way in which whitemalegod weaponizes femininity—by defining it as always silent and submissive to white patriarchy. In other words, if one has a need, one better keep it to oneself or only express it in ways that will not offend white patriarchy’s fragile ego. This is a heavy burden for all women, but the weight is crushing little Black girls who, due to societal anti-Blackness and misogyny, carry great need in their bodies. Their societally inflicted need is LOUD and yet they are supposed to keep quiet.

and

More than any other human characteristic, need seems to trigger whitemalegod’s gag reflex.
This is already too long, but it matters that God is a Black Woman deals with Christena Cleveland's personal story of child abuse and control, eating disorders, sexuality and the purity culture, the tokenism of so much of the Evangelical world's concept of racial reconciliation, the silencing disagreement for the comfort of white Christians and the broader discussion of experience regarding theology.

Experience does not trump all other concerns, but what is common is that when others have an experience that we have not had, there is a disbelief in that experience, or at least a minimizing of the salience of the experience. The importance of God is a Black Woman as a memoir, and a piece of theology is that Christena Cleveland is centering the importance of her experience as an act of Christian theology.

The problem is that many people will either refuse to engage with it because of preconceptions or will engage it badly with the only purpose to argue. And that will be a loss of the gift that has been given to us.
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This is an interesting social history of the stronghold white supremacy has on Christianity (American). Cleveland makes connections of silencing, coercive behavior, and respectability politics in church. In short, the church using oppressive practices to separate people from their divinity. I think some connections are stronger but overall her argument is compelling and thought provoking.

CN:coercion, domestic violence, disordered eating
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Wow, this book is a beautiful mix of the authors personal experiences and meticulously researched evidence about the presence of the feminine in religion, or lack thereof. I, personally, identify as agnostic. I believe in a greater power/s, I just don't identify with any modern religions. With that said, I found this book the closest I've come to seeing theological thought that aligns more specifically with my values, morals and spirituality. 

God Is a Black Woman is a profound text and I think that this book should be read by everyone, religious and non religious folk alike. What I appreciated so deeply is that this book portrays a honest look at religion and how we arrived at the place where god became synonymous with a white man, known for violence. The co-opting of religion to subjugate on the basis of gender and race are core functions of the hetero white patriarchy and until we disentangle white supremacy from the dominate forms of spirituality the insidious nature of white patriarchy will prevail. Anyway, I REALLY recommend this book and think everyone will learn whole lot - about society and themselves.
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A challenging and important read. Dr. Cleveland journeys to France to explore the mysticism of the Black Madonna while also calling out the “whitemalegod,” that has corrupted American Christianity. She shares how acknowledging and believing that God is, in fact, a black woman frees us all from the oppression that has permeated churches through white supremacy. She challenges white feminism and asks all of us to embrace the divinity in black women, which in essence, will help us embrace the image of God in us all. (This was a pre-release copy supplied by NetGalley).
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Gosh- I wanted to enjoy this book so bad! It was one of my most anticipated reads this year because I love Black feminist theory and spirituality. However, I had some major issues with it that really stunted my engagement throughout the book.

Sometimes expectations are the problem.

After reading the summary for this book, I thought it was going to be a single narrative that describes a period in the author's life where she comes to realize God Is a Black Woman. I was expecting to hear stories about her realization as well as get exposed to her current practice with God. I also thought the book was about God from a non-denominational sense. 

To be honest, the structure of this book just didn't work for me. 

This book is essentially a group of essays centered around the author's worship and interaction with the Black Madonna. Outside of that, it rarely focuses on a less specific Black feminine spirit (which is honestly what I was looking for). The writing felt like an academic paper unfortunately- heavily researched, but low emphasis on taking the reader through a consistent lyrical narrative.

All that being said, there were a few compelling moments that stuck out to me in my reading! I enjoyed hearing about the various ways that the author connects with the Black divine to make sense of her life. I think this is a great introduction to the whitemalegod as discussed by womanism and Black feminist theory.

I appreciate what this book is trying to do. The execution just wasn't for me.
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God is a Black Woman truly made me sit with my own religious indoctrination and opened my eyes to the truths, effects, and supremacy that the whitemalegod dominates in society.. This book not only illustrates the author’s pilgrimage to see and experience various Black Madonnas but it also serves as a catalyst for the reader to embark on their own journey, experience a different perspective, and challenge any previous notions that God is anyone other than a Black Woman.
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This book will appeal to those who loved books in the vein of White Fragility and How to Be An Anti-Racist, The book spans three subjects: The Black Madonnas of Europe, the flawed interpretation of Christianity, and racism, trying to weave them together into a coherent narrative. At times, this is done successfully, at other times the abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents and her church, and the racism she's encountered in life overpowers her ability to view the world and people different from her in an empathetic perspective. 

I enjoyed the narrative about the black madonnas and her travels in France. I also thought her view on the "whitemalegod" was interesting, and it hadn't occurred to me that there are people who actually think of God as a white male. I felt sorry for her experiences as a child, both at home, at school, and in the church. But it was difficult to understand how she could swap one god (white/male) for another (black/female) just because one (in her POV) looks like her, and the other doesn't. Instead of growing spiritually, she replaced one effigy with another.

This book made me sad, because racism in the USA is so ingrained in everything and everyone, and if people always only look out for their own interests, and believe they're better than everyone else, this will never change.
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"God is a Black Woman" is a timely piece of autobiographical and theological goodness that will inspire and open wide one's views on God, life, and themselves!
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