For several generations, the vast majority of African Americans were able to fit neatly in certain boxes—Democrats, Christians, employees, etc. Now, however, a shift is happening in all areas of life that make those traditional labels less and less accurate.
Just as the Defender explored the shift taking place in politics, with Blacks who are still overwhelmingly Democrats, seeing more and more of their millennial-age and younger voters identifying as independents (see article at Defendernetwork.com), we now seek to explore shifts taking place in religion, the workforce and national affiliation.
Here are just some of our findings:
CHRISTIAN TO SPIRITUAL
There are countless revered scholars, including Dr. John Henrik Clarke, who argue that Africans were the first to create the faith systems that gave birth to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The late Reverend Albert B. Cleage Jr., “Father of Black Liberation Theology,” argues the Hebrew founders of Christianity were Black.
But whether you care to go back that far in time or not, the majority of African Americans have been Christian since the doors of that church were open to us—doors initially closed, but later opened to quell their spirit of resistance. And though there have always been Blacks of other faiths in America, and periods when large numbers of Blacks questioned Christianity and went other faith routes, our numbers have always been greatest within Christiandom.
Now, however, there is an exodus afoot, mainly of Blacks 40 and younger, moving away from Christianity to traditional African faiths or a general spirituality that rejects the labels of any particular faith.
“Personally, I believe the shift away from Christianity to another faith with people in my generation is because of the knowledge and information made available to us,” said Cydney Crathers, a University of Houston junior, majoring in pre-psychology. “I feel that my peers who have learned more about the history of their own ancestors made that shift in order to get back to their true roots.”
Crathers, who strongly identifies as Christian, says she understands why some of her peers have had a shift in their beliefs.
Fellow UH student, Joaquin Moreno, believes the issue behind the shift is Christianity’s history and lack of regret its leaders have for atrocities like converting Native Americans to the faith by the sword and the enslavement of African people.
“The teachings of Christianity aren’t necessarily a problem, [rather] America has politicized Christianity and used it to push an agenda that isn’t Gods and isn’t the teachings of Jesus.”
Reverend Chris Johnson, a minister at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church and millennial, agrees.
“Unfortunately for some people the word ‘Christianity’ is more synonymous with Jim Crow than it is with Jesus Christ,” he said. “I have some friends who simply do not accept Christianity as their native spiritual practice and that is their right! All of this is signaling a new era in Black spiritual identity.”
Johnson added, “This generation refuses to be herniated by social and religious constructs and markers. I believe this shift only proves that statement.
US-CENTERED TO GLOBAL CITIZENS
Though there are pockets of us who live in “the country” that often get overlooked, Blacks are predominantly concentrated in urban areas like Houston, Chicago and Atlanta. This is due, in large part, to the Great Migration of the early 20th century.
But even with the reverse migration that has seen over the past two decades a large shift of the national Black population leaving the north for southern cities like Charlotte, NC, Memphis, TN and Houston, for us, urban areas still rule.
However, there is another migration taking place, one that is both geographical and psychological: the shift in African Americans from being US-centered to defining ourselves as global citizens.
“We are truly global; not just with Black people everywhere on the planet, but Black people from everywhere on the planet right here in the US, especially Houston, with its huge Ethiopian, Nigerian, Ghanian, Eritreian and Caribbean communities,” said T’Shon Jenkins, a Houston transplant by way of New Jersey, by way of Belize.
Kevin Bahati Johnson, journalist, engineer and current Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University’s cultural anthropology program, sees two sides to the globalization of Blacks in America.
“As global demands for political, economic and human rights unfolded particularly in the 1960s, migrations of Black peoples from Africa, the Caribbean, and the rest of the Americas brought groups of Blacks into the U.S. have added to the overall population in the U.S. while adding to its cultural, racial and ethnic diversity,” stated Johnson, who is the Pan-African Ambassador for his Houston-area church.
He added that urban areas have been the main recipients of newer arriving Blacks, using Barack Obama’s father from Kenya and Kamala Harris’ father from Jamaica as examples.
“In addition to the movement of Black groups into the U.S., there are also movements of Blacks with centuries of roots into the U.S. who are regularly visiting or relocating to Africa or other parts of the Americas,” said Johnson, speaking on the geographic shift.
Secunda Joseph, host of “Imagine a World” on All Real Radio, spoke to this geographic shift.
“I recently did an interview with Swatara Olushola who repatriated to Tanzania. She spoke about how surprised she was that many of the Black folks repatriating were not necessarily from the conscious community at all, and that they were from many places where Black folks were oppressed and were over it. It’s the culture now,” Joseph said.
Joseph argues the psychological shift towards global is just as prevalent.
“Black people are choosing to say no to double consciousness. No to being twice as good for less pay. No longer desiring to be accepted by whiteness. It’s the interpersonal liberation that opens the world up for us. When there is no longer a need to belong to the white establishment, there is freedom. The biggest impact is the cultural mindset. Black people as a whole have developed a certain ethic that values every part of Black life, everywhere.”
EMPLOYEES TO ENTREPRENEURS
Contrary to the racist stereotypes of Blacks being inherently lazy, historic records show Blacks have been the hardest-working demographic in the nation since officially arriving on these shores in 1619.
For decades, Blacks could be jailed if they couldn’t prove they were employed. And with decades of attacks on successfully self-employed Blacks (ie Black Wall Street, etc.), we have a long and storied history of working for others, with the majority of Blacks working government jobs.
This reality is changing as there has been a rush of Blacks, especially women, choosing to run their own businesses.
According to Inc., “The number of African American-owned businesses in America had ballooned, increasing 37% between 2007 and 2012, when the U.S. Census Bureau last tallied the nation’s Black-owned businesses at 2.6 million.”
There Black-owned businesses generate over $150 billion in gross revenue and employ more Blacks than any other US businesses.
Locally, this shift from employee to entrepreneur has countless examples, including the nationally-renowned Marcus Davis, owner of tbk Holdings, who was once employed by Chick-fil-A before opening his own business, the breakfast klub.
But Davis is far from alone. Chasity Christian along with her sister Tiffany Guillory have followed that same path.
Christian worked for a title company while Guillory worked at another beauty salon.
“Tiffany was always complaining about working with people in the beauty industry, and I said ‘Why don’t you open up your own shop?’” recalled Christian.
Guillory, however, didn’t like the business side of running a business, but the business side happened to be Christian’s forte.
“So, we decided to open up our own business, The Beauty Bar and Salon/Boutique (3000 Weslayan, Suite 150, 77027). We’ve been in business since 2010, with me doing the business side, make-up and waxing, while Tiffany handles the services, doing hair and managing our social media.”
Christian’s testimony is consistent with many others who made the move from employee to entrepreneur.
“The best part about working for yourself is you grind and work hard for yourself instead of for someone else,” she said. “Even as a business owner, you never truly work just for yourself because you have to pay taxes and take care of your employees. But as an entrepreneur, you have more control over your life and your destiny.”