There seems to always be an assumption that Black people are Christian and when someone dies it becomes automatic that many reach for the church. This assumption that black people and Christianity go hand in hand isn’t just from those outside looking in but I have found this mostly within the dynamic of our community itself.
Several articles online cite statistics from UC Berkeley that say 82% of African Americans are Christian, 42% being Baptists. While I struggled to find the actually UC Berkeley study to verify these statistics, they felt about right to me.
In an ABC News poll called Poll: Most Americans Say They’re Christian Varies Greatly From the World at Large, analysis Gary Langer states, “Baptists are especially prevalent among black Americans: Nearly half of blacks, 48 percent, say they’re Baptists, making it far and away their No. 1 denomination”. These statistics are amazing to me because it shows how we continue to operate in a society that historically dictated to us who we are and what we should believe; and this tradition has translated into the main religion that we are continuing to practice. In looking into these statistics, it makes sense why many Black/African American Wiccans and Pagans have expressed so much opposition from their families and others in the Black community.
This makes me wonder how the split between culture and spirituality play such a major role in the decisions that are made, or ignored, during the final phases of someone’s life. I often think that the role of spirituality, when dealing with death, is more about comforting those who are remaining; reframing the version of what is about to happen so that those who are left are able to cope with this process. Often a person passes and the family pushes the automatic “religion” button that moves forward with this agenda and not specifically focuses on the religious beliefs of the person itself, especially if he or she is from a non-christian path. I have often heard people say “it is the family religion”. Where does this leave a Black Pagan or Wiccan when he or she dies among the Christians of the family? How can we advocate for ourselves as spiritual Wiccans and Pagans after death?
I think there are many things to think about when it comes to how deep the the lines go between our Black culture, religious rights, personal preferences, family allowances with choices around the death of loved ones and our final wishes. In reality, no one wants to talk about this stuff until we have to. It is not the type of discussion we want to have around the dinner table and it is scary to consider, but it is important for us to remember that minority preferences are not always considered by the larger culture.
I have recently had two family members pass, both of which had some counter-culture spirituality, and the complexity of grief, religion and family history have played out differently in each case. Much of that has been due to the differences of the very people who were able to call the shots, making the decision on behalf of the situation. While there are no rights or wrongs in the intent of honoring a loved one who has passed, in order to have ones spiritual beliefs taken into consideration it is crucial to consider how we can be effective in setting the stage of our final scene.