It’s all about God’s greatest hits today! Alyssa and Brendane kick off the episode with ‘Defund Reform Abolish,’ before getting into the colonial and religious history and use of the word diaspora. They debate whether the Jamaican immigrant community is a diaspora and get into some African diaspora religions before moving on to the text of the week: Transcendent Kingdom (2020) by Yaa Gyasi, the story of a PhD student dealing with grief, mental illness, and faith – it definitely elicited some strong feelings! Finally, we reveal who the blockheaded dude Brendane was talking about in the last episode and discuss the high – and problematic – standards women must meet in the church. Stay tuned to the end for another little behind-the-scenes of ZD!
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Seven
Co-Hosts: Brendane A. Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: Holy is the Black Woman
Total Length: 01:34.39
Transcript by Alissa Rae Funderburk, Oral Historian
[00:00:00.00] Alyssa: I’m gonna have to ask D, he said that getting through Leviticus has been a slog [Laughter].
[00:00:06.85] Brendane: Oh, the laws, all the things, that your whole life is basically a sin. Yeah, for sure.
[00:00:13.34] Alyssa: Is that what it says in Leviticus?
Brendane: I think.
Alyssa: Girl, I just know—because I went to Catholic school, right—so, I just know the greatest hits, you know? [Laughter] The greatest hits of the Bible. [Laughter]
Brendane: Not the greatest hits. These were God’s best singles. [Laughter]
[00:00:48.14] Alyssa: Hi everyone! I’m Alyssa, my pronouns are she/her/hers/elle and I’m sorry about my voice. I actually just got a COVID test on Wednesday and it came back negative, so it is not COVID. I just have some kind of an allergy situation.
Brendane: Well, feel better soon. I do not have allergies thankfully. Cross my heart. But I hear you, Elle! I will choose not to translate my pronouns but y’all, I’m Brendane and my pronouns are she/her/hers. Welcome to the Zora’s Daughters podcast, where we define real world issues and empower our listeners to join in on academic and anthropological conversations with a Black feminist lens.
Alyssa: Today we will be talking about religion, diaspora, and the many ways Black Christian men got Black women all the way fucked up. [Laughter]
Brendane: All the way fucked up [Laughter]. Yes, but before we get started, we want to give a huge thank you to Tina—hey girl—and Sophie for donating to the podcast! Your support is invaluable. You can donate by visiting our website zorasdaughters.com or through the link bit.ly/supportzdp on our Instagram.
Alyssa: And, of course, in these challenging times we want you to put you and yours first, so we equally love non-monetary support. That can look like a rating and review on Apple & Stitcher podcasts, following us on social media @zorasdaughters on Instagram and @zoras_daughters on Twitter, or it can just be sharing our podcast with your friends, family, and colleagues, people that you want to learn a little something about Black feminism—because apparently people don’t know what it’s like to be a Black woman out here.
Brendane: They don’t and whew, they need to listen. Sit down and listen.
Alyssa: So, we have a great episode, I think, planned today so I think we should just jump right into it. But we’re going to start with our new little game that we have, our fun Defund, Reform, Abolish—
Brendane: Abolish! [Laughter]
Alyssa: So, I’ve got what I think is a good one for Brendane today.
Brendane: Yes, you do. And I have—I’m such a lame at this shit y’all, I honestly—
Alyssa: It’ll come, it’ll come.
Brendane: It’ll come [Laughter].
Alyssa: Okay so, today Brendane, which would you defund, which would you reform, and which would you abolish between the terms “Black and brown,” “BIPOC”—that’s the Black, Indigenous and people of color—or “diverse”?
[00:03:45.32] Brendane: [Laugh] Oh man, I’m closing my eyes because I really—I really have to think about this. Yo, this is difficult because I truly detest all of these ways to describe people but I feel like—okay, if I’m going to reform one, if one is the most salvageable, I’m gonna reform “Black and brown.” I don’t really have much of an explanation, I’m just gonna reform that one. I think that one is the most keep-able one. I think what makes it difficult—okay, and I guess defund whoever said “BIPOC” was a thing, just I am like yo wait. Because it’s confusing right? So like, me and my friends, we had conversations about this because we’re all nerds. We’re like, does this mean Black and Indigenous and people of color? Or does it mean—
Alyssa: Black Indigenous?
B:—people of color who. Right. It’s like, but then people use it as a descriptor to describe a person and you’re like, “Wait, what?”
Brendane: Like so and so is a BIPOC. Wait how? How? How is somebody a BIPOC? Unless you are indeed a Black Indigenous person of color, you cannot be—one person cannot be a BIPOC. But people use it in that way and I don’t know, the grammarian in me is always like “What is happening?” And also, just the collapse of all these different forms of experience into an acronym just also just confuses me. So, I’m—I think though between that and diverse—because when people say, “Oh you’re a diverse person with diverse experiences,” like what does that mean? Uh, sis, please explain. So, I think that one’s gotta go. Diverse is abolished for sure.
Alyssa: Yeah, I’m almost with you there. Definitely with you on diverse. That definitely needs to be abolished. It’s just another way for white people to avoid saying Black. Now Black and brown, I think Black and brown can be defunded.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think Black and brown can be defunded. I like it, I use it, I think it’s okay. It’s just that it’s a shorthand and shorthands never really get at what we mean, but Black is in there. And then with BIPOC [Laughter]
Brendane: I just feel like BIPOC [unclear]
Alyssa: [Laughter] I don’t even know how to say it. I said B-I-P-O-C [Laughter].
Brendane: I thought—I was like, “Are we talking about bi people?” So I was like, there’s bi people of color.
Alyssa: Yep, there’s that, too.
Brendane: Okay. [Laughter]
Alyssa: People get confused. I think that BIPOC can be reformed because I think that it centers Black and Indigenous people. At least, it puts them up front. The problem with it is that it ends up—I think “people of color” itself, that term, is a problem because then you end up having this like debate about who is a POC.
Alyssa: So, who gets—I mean, who gets? [Laughter] And then there’s the other thing about it, actually, is that it doesn’t—I don’t know. I don’t know.
Brendane: It just don’t be doing it.
Alyssa: So, sorry, so some people write like non-BIPOC and I’m like just say white.
Alyssa: And then I have a problem with—you know I should have put “non-white” on here because I have a problem with that one too.
Brendane: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Alyssa: I just like that it puts up front, Black and indigenous.
Brendane: Okay, I can get with that.
Alyssa: Because we can’t really be collapsed into P-O-C.
Brendane: We can’t.
Alyssa: Because our experiences are so different.
[00:07:48.15] Brendane: Yeah no, but also when I think about P-O-C, I think about are we including people of Asian descent and East Asian descent in P-O-C, who are not necessarily underrepresented in middle to upper class situations. It’s like, are we talking—when we say P-O-C what does that mean. I also don’t know who is a brown person. I do use Black and brown, but I’m also confused about who qualifies as brown. Are like white Latinx people also brown? I don’t know. That’s why I, I’m like, all of them—that’s one of the conundrums about using a language that is not truly yours, right. You don’t really have words for all these difference and that’s part of the violence of having to use English to even have this conversation. But I’ve got one for you that’s much more lame, I feel like, and more so in line, I think, like with what we’re talking about today, with the themes of religion, etcetera. So defund, reform, and abolish, virtue, femininity, or purity?
Alyssa: Okay, I’m going to abolish purity because I think that is predicated on—well not predicated on but its opposite is impurity. So, if someone is pure than someone has to be impure. And I don’t like the idea of a person being impure. What is that? What does that even mean? I will reform virtue because I think that virtue doesn’t always have to apply to the woman, the virtuous woman, and apply in a biblical sense. I think that it can be another word for someone who is ethical and thinks about things, and believes and acts in ways that are beneficial to others and helpful to others. So, I think that we can do a little bit of that. And then I’ll defund femininity. I think that we need to stop putting so much of an emphasis on femininity but some people enjoy embodying that and embodying what it means to be feminine so I don’t think we need to throw it all the way out the window.
Brendane: Yeah, okay. I think—I don’t think I disagree with you. I feel like—well, we’ll get into it later, my feelings around purity and virtue. As someone who is read as femme and who identifies as, you know, femme, for sure, femininity can be troubled. But yeah, especially when it comes to Black women. You know, femininity is a category, for those of us who chose to be fem and exist in femininity, it really matters to us to have access to that, I feel like. Especially because we are denied in mainstream forms of femininity honestly, or are often defined in opposition to like our bodies, especially. Right, like, the fact that I have broad shoulders is not a feminine thing.
Alyssa: What? What broad shoulders?
Brendane: I have broad shoulders. I be hiding it in my clothes but I have broad shoulders.
Alyssa: [Sigh] I don’t know who told you that.
Brendane: I am a really—I used to be a linebacker.
Brendane: Don’t rob me of my [Laughter] don’t rob me of my—
Alyssa: The only time you had broad shoulders was when you were wearing the shoulder pads, get out of here. [Laughter]
Brendane: Oh yes, I used to do little football stuff back in the day.
Brendane: Powderpuff. I don’t know, do they do that in Canada, where they have girls football teams?
Alyssa: Not as far as I know. No. I mean, I’m sure it exists but I’ve never come across it. But I could have played football. I would have chosen that maybe over rugby.
[00:12:25.66] Brendane: Rugby sounds dangerous. Mm mmm.
Alyssa: [Laughter] Alright so, this was fun. I hope that it’ll spark some conversations off the podcast with some folks who are listening. So, let’s make our way to our first segment “What’s the Word?” So, Brendane, what’s the word for today?
Brendane: Okay, the word for today is “Diaspora.”
Brendane: Diaspora. It refers to any group of people who have dispersed around the world who have particular geographic origins. This term actually comes from a Greek word meaning I scatter, or I spread about, and was used to describe citizens in Ancient Greece who colonized other lands for emigration.
Alyssa: And so then, of course, there was a kind of progression in the meaning of the word from this colonization to a more religious meaning. And that happened during the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. So, this is considered the first mention of diaspora—the use of the actual word diaspora—and it’s as a result of exile. In Deuteronomy, it speaks of “the dispersions of all kingdoms of earth” and Psalms where “the Lord gathered all outcasts of Israel in Jerusalem.”
Brendane: Not Deuteronomy. Mmm.
Brendane: That’s like my least—[Crosstalk] [Laughter]—least favorite book in the Bible. All my church kids we all know that’s our least favorite book. Deuteronomy was mine for sure.
[00:14:10.68] Alyssa: I’m gonna have to ask D, he said that getting through Leviticus has been a slog [Laughter].
Brendane: Oh, the laws, all the things, that your whole life is basically a sin. Yeah, for sure.
Alyssa: Is that what it says in Leviticus?
Brendane: I think.
Alyssa: Girl, I just know—because I went to Catholic school, right—so, I just know the greatest hits, you know? [Laughter] The greatest hits of the Bible. [Laughter]
Brendane: Not the greatest hits. These were God’s best singles. [Laughter]
Alyssa: Anyhow, so I was looking through the Oxford English Dictionary Online, and the first usage of the word diaspora in English, at least from what I saw and what I understood from this reading, is that it was in 1694. And it was used to refer to the Jewish Diaspora. Then in the 18th century, it was expanded to the concept of doing diaspora work. That was more what we’d call missionary work, so church leaders travelling to evangelize in foreign countries. So, it was kind of a return to its Greek origins in a certain sense and then in the dictionary it sort of shows that like when diaspora arrives at its current usage—that is, referring to any population that is displaced or away from an indigenous or established homeland—that seemed to happen in the mid to late 1800s.
Brendane: That’s really interesting. I consider myself to be part of this African diaspora in a sense, but I never really—it’s so interesting though how these meanings come back to themselves. Like how it literally was about colonization and now as part of an African, that’s how I see myself as an African displaced from a homeland or like the very meaning of the word that I use to describe myself is also tied to that. That’s so, so fascinating. Do you see yourself as part of African diaspora?
Alyssa: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely imagine myself as part of—I don’t even imagine, I am part of the African diaspora but as I was thinking about this episode, I was like am I part of a Jamaican diaspora? Because I’m not really sure I would categorize Jamaicans as part of a diaspora—or as a diaspora because even though we’re totally a community, and I’m sure many will disagree with me! But I think in a way, I was kind of like unconsciously theorizing this. What is the difference between a diaspora and a migrant community? Because diaspora carries a meaning of displacement and I’m about like a Miss Word Nerd.
Brendane: [Laughter] Now apparently.
Alyssa: Mmm hmm. So, when I’m like okay what does diaspora mean, or what does displacement mean, where does it come from, I’m thinking about it as moving. But it also, in science, is like when one object forces a liquid out of its place, or something like that.
Brendane: Right, yeah, Newton’s Law.
Alyssa: You put a rock in a glass of water and it’s gonna displace the water. So, I think of displacement as requiring an external force. And so, Jamaicans weren’t necessarily forced out of their homeland, although certainly pushed by social, political, and economic factors. But there is an involuntariness to diaspora for me.
[00:17:28.00] Brendane: Yeah. I agree. I think of diaspora as forced movement and I was really thinking about that as you were talking. Because for me, myself, considering myself to be a Black American person but my great-grandfather did immigrate here from the Bahamas. And I remember sitting, I think it was with Jafari Allen at a dinner and I was telling him, “Oh, I’m from South Carolina but on my mother’s side they’re Bahamian but we don’t really practice any type of association with the Bahamas.” Like I really wish I knew more about the culture or really, I would feel like a fraud if I was to sit out here and call myself Bahamian. But he was explaining to me like, “Oh, actually Bahamians were among the Caribbean people who assimilated the fastest, so after one or two generations, they would call themselves and consider themselves being just descendants of enslaved folks in the same way that Black Americans who had lived here for generations would.”
And so, he was like “I don’t really know what’s behind that, I just thought I would offer that to you.” And I was “Oh, yeah I could see that.” Like my great-grandfather came, he married this Black Indigenous woman, and that was that. We grew up as poor Black Southern people in the middle of nowhere South Carolina. At least my mother and her brother and her sister and then I’m in the city that some people would still consider in the middle of nowhere but you know, it’s cool, it’s the capitol of the state, so boom.
But anyways, in 1991—to bring us back to what we were talking about—in 1991, political scientist William Safran set out six characteristics to distinguish a diaspora group from a migrant community. So, here they are, there must be a myth or collective memory of the homeland, that homeland is their true home, three that they are committed to the restoration or maintenance of that homeland, and that homeland shapes their identity. So, he also says that because of the forcible uprooting of “Black Africans” from their homeland, and because a specific homeland cannot be restored, this homeland myth becomes supporting and identifying with pan-African liberation movements. So, I mean I can see that though, that I can see. It’s thought provoking for sure. And I think Saidiya Hartman in her work, Lose Your Mother, definitely circles around this idea of homeland and talks about what does it mean to return. And she beautifully writes about coming back to Ghana—even me saying “coming back” right—going to Ghana and walking through the slave castles and being called a stranger by the natives.
When I was in Ghana, though it was so interesting because people assumed that I was Ghanaian and so they would like, call me “sister” and like, as long as I didn’t open my mouth, people just assumed I was Ghanaian. Or like, when we were in the marketplace, my partner and I would be trying to barter and like my partner is lighter than me and so they would not really take my partner seriously but when I would be like no and they would take it seriously and move on. And I was like, I don’t know, is it because I look Ghanaian?
But also, I was like, I don’t know what that is. But I definitely felt an identity, like a connection to a homeland when I visited but I could also feel a distance. Because it was like, okay, when I—this could be my home but I don’t know. And even being there with my partner, we couldn’t be, like we couldn’t show affection toward each other in public because homosexuality is illegal there. And so, it’s just like oh now I can’t even—this can’t really be home because I can’t even bring my whole self here. So, where does that leave me?
[00:21:47.00] Alyssa: Mmm hmm. Yeah, I think that’s the—I wanna say contradiction or like, difficulty of being a Black American, being African American, and it’s something that differs being—and there are also Black Canadians who are the descendants of slaves in Canada and the U.S. so I should add that in there as well—and I think that’s something that differs as someone who is the child of immigrants. So, like for me, the myth of my homeland is Jamaica but the thing is I don’t necessarily think of it as my true home. I don’t know, I’m kind of caught betwixt and between for some reason.
Although for my mom, for example, and that generation Jamaica is their true home, right. My mom has lived in Canada at least twice as long as she lived in Jamaica, at least, and she never ceases to tell me about how things are “back home” and talking about Jamaica all the time. I’m like [in Jamaican accent] “Mom, you don’t how kids behave in Jamaica anymore, you don’t know how they behave back home.” I’m like you have lived in Canada longer so, please assimilate how you treat me, assimilate how you treat your children. And just like let me be an adult. [In Jamaican accent] Low me, just low me. [Laughter]
But William Safran, he also talks about the way that homeland shapes your identity, and in many ways, Jamaica shapes mine. And I was trying to think of a percentage, is it half and half, is it sixty/forty? And I haven’t quite come to a conclusion on that, I don’t know.
Brendane: It’s hard to say.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s like one of those things like it depends on where I am right? If I’m in Canada and someone’s like, “Oh, where are you from?” I’m probably gonna say Jamaica first. Whereas that’s like a really offensive question to ask a Black American, right? And also, like the intonation of the person, right, it depends. That’s also going to make a difference as to whether or not I’m going to feel offended by that question. Or you know, people will be like “Oh, where’s your family from?” or something like that, and I’m not always offended by it. But if I’m traveling or something like that and someone was like “Oh, where are you from?” I’m going to say I’m Canadian. And on this podcast I’m always like “I’m Canadian, I don’t know anything about this—” [Laughter] So it’s somewhere, I feel like it’s somewhere in between. In the end, I think I’m gonna say, I’m not going to knock anyone who wants to say they’re in a diaspora, that they’re diasporic, because words evolve and change their meaning, and even now, the idea of this homeland doesn’t have to be physical, it can also be conceptual. There are religious diasporas, linguistic diasporas—people talk about the global Francophone community, the Francophonie, it’s called—even digital diasporas. And I’m like, I’m not so sure about the digital diaspora, I’d kind of want to call it digital transnationalism, but I haven’t read the digital diasporic work so I’m not gonna open up that can of worms too much.
Brendane: Now I feel like a dinosaur. I’m like digital transnationalism? I’ve never heard that before. But yeah, and I know about Bianca Williams’s emotional transnationalism so I’m interested to hear about digital—I have to do some digging. Get out of my Black American hegemonic Blackness zone [Laughter] and get, you know, think about things.
[00:25:27.00] Alyssa: Is that another subtweet? [Laughter]
Brendane: [Laughter] Oh y’all can’t see my face but it probably was. And that’s that on that! Yeah.
Alyssa: In researching this episode, as we do, I learned some very interesting facts. And so, one of the things I learned is that the largest diaspora group in the United States is German. This actually follows in Canada as well. After Chinese and Punjabi, Spanish and German are the most common immigrant languages, and so most of the Germans are in their 50s to 70s. I don’t know that many but I probably know, more so, their children. But yes, in the U.S. more than forty-eight million people have roots in Germany, although few are foreign born. Apparently, allegedly, so many were migrating to the U.S. that Benjamin Franklin said they’re “swarthy” folk—swarthy meaning dark-skinned—“swarthy folk” who would “never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.” So, it’s interesting, right?
Alyssa: It’s like, you know we were talking about the creation of the category of black and I think that this is another example of how people who are deemed inferior are racialized as darker-skinned. So, the marginalization of darker-skinned people is not inherent. It’s like a position that non-Black people can more in and out of and so here again comes the problem with P-O-C and things like that. Anyways, Germans and German-Americans are fully subsumed into whiteness. What’s also interesting is that there’s this narrative out there of “Mexicans” and “Asians” “taking over” but the Migration Policy Institute has reported that the largest diaspora groups in the U.S. are German and Irish. So, their whiteness exempts them from being labelled the “swarthy peril” or something like that.
Brendane: Right, so it’s like this blackenings of folks, like I’m blackening—I don’t know if that’s a word, somebody’s going to be like, that’s not a word but blackening for sure of folks to marginalize them but then when it’s necessary for them to be seen as white so they can be incorporated into this group of folks that have power and to help whiteness maintain its power then that blackening is kind of shifted away. That is so—I think we’re going to see more of that as we move forward, especially in the season that we’re in. There are going to be some groups that are called into definitions of white and some groups that are going to be pushed out as this election season, for sure, moves forward. It’s going to be fascinating to see how that happens because we’re like living through that in real time and I think, particularly what’s going to happen to this category of Hispanic and Latinx as people, as we see white supremacist groups gain power. I’m interested to see what’s going to happen with that ethnic category. But we actually we’re not even going to talk about diaspora today, y’all.
[00:28:48.00] Alyssa: I know, we were going to talk about syncretism [Laughter] and y’all can tell us, y’all can just let us know if we made the right decision about that [Laughter]. Syncretism is the blending of different religious practices and schools of thought to create a new belief system. Because of my own intellectual background, I actually thought that syncretism really only related to African diaspora religions. So, I first came across word learning about Haitian vodou in a Caribbean history class and then all of these religions, like Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Candomble, Rastafari and Obeah in Jamaica—although my mom would be like [In Jamaican accent] “Don’t you ever call Obeah a religion” [Laughter]—but also Hoodoo, these are syncretisms, right. And so, I found them really interesting because Haitian Vodou is specifically one that is so indicative of Black fugitivity, these Black folks expressing a desire for escape and transgression. The loa, they’re Yoruba gods but they also have counterparts that are Roman Catholic saints. And so it’s just like, this is quintessential smuggle operation, as our professor Audra Simpson would say. She loves a good smuggle operation.
Brendane: Yes, like, Black folks were like okay sure, we’ll bring about your cute little saint whatever but we’re going to have our gods here as well. We understand that religion doesn’t necessarily have to be an either or and that was like part of the white supremacist Christian violence was just to kind of demonize especially, these Indigenous religions. And yeah, so I was introduced to syncretism in theory class my first year. We read Melville Herksovits’s—oh, I always stumble over his name—The Myth of the Negro Past, which actually Zora Neale Hurston, she contributed to part of this work. He and a team of anthropologists, mostly Black, were trying to establish that the Black people in fact do have a culture. Because part of the racist myth at the time was that negroes did not have a past, they did not have a culture, so how can we really consider them to be human. And so, part of the project was to establish them as people with the culture and part of the way they did this was studying the connections between African religions—which were then perceived as “primitive”—or African indigenous religions and their offshoots in different parts of the African diaspora. So, Herksovits says that African Americans, especially the ones in the continental U.S. specifically, are the most “watered down.” Like as far as, if there was a scale for who retained the most African-ness and who retained the least, U.S. African American folks retained the least amount of African-ness whereas Black folks in the Caribbean and in South America, namely Suriname and Brazil, were the purest. But you could see elements of African religion in everybody’s worship services. And he based this on two weeks of ethnographic study in Haiti.
Brendane: You know, two weeks. You know, of course ethnography looked different back then. But the talk of this scaling of African-ness and, of course, it’s pointing to authenticity, right. So then it’s like are you truly, actually descendant from African folks if you have not kept all of these forms of African-ness as evidence through religion and spirituality. But I feel like that is of course a conversation that we could have, we should have among those of us who are African descendants like the ways that we demonize certain religions or their spiritual beliefs because of their association with the continent and it’s like nothing about Africa is unholy.
[00:33:19.00] Alyssa: Yeah, I mean you sent me that tweet by Pennilee around last week. And so this person wrote, “African spirituality is not witchcraft, it’s pretentious and arrogant to think that God only revealed himself to the white man. Just because you refuse to understand it doesn’t mean it’s evil.” The responses to that were very interesting. There were some people who were saying “yes, that might be true,” some people were saying “no, that’s devil worship.” There was an interesting conversation, maybe we can get into that.
Brendane: Yeah, it’s like, do y’all wanna limit God to Europe? And to white folks? When they’re responsible—
Alyssa: Someone even said, “God has made it plain, he’s not in African spiritualism,” so I’m confused, how did he make that plain?
Brendane: What? Wait, which one of God’s singles did he drop the line “Oh, I’m not an African spiritualist.”
Alyssa: It sounded like. Oh also, “African spiritualists don’t claim to be of God/Christianity so I’m not sure why people want the two so badly to connect.”
Brendane: But me not saying something’s not evil doesn’t mean I’m trying to connect it to Christianity, I’m just saying it’s not evil.
Alyssa: I think there’s a really interesting tension here that we’re coming up against, which is how do you bring these two things together. How you bring together this African-ness and religiosity. And so, I think that brings us really nicely into what we’re reading today. So Brendane, what are we reading today?
Brendane: So, we are reading Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. And just for transparency, we requested and were given copies of Transcendent Kingdom specifically for this episode from the publisher. All opinions are our own and have not been reviewed or influenced by the publisher. All we did was get a book, we read it and we’re here to talk to y’all about it today.
Alyssa: Yeah and this is definitely his is your time to shine! [Laughter] As I was reading it I was like, wow Brendane, this is resonating [Laughter].
Brendane: Triggered [Laughter].
[00:35:44.00] Alyssa: So we’ll get into that but first, a little about Yaa Gyasi. She is a Ghanaian-American novelist, whose debut novel Homegoing was awarded the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016—and that was actually chosen by Ta-Nehisi Coates—and the American Book Award. Whew, she’s accomplished. She was born in Mampong, Ghana, she is the daughter of a professor of French [at the University of Alabama] and a nurse. Her family moved to the United States in 1991 when her father was completing his Ph.D. They also lived in Illinois and Tennessee, and from the age of 10, Gyasi was raised in Huntsville, Alabama. I say all of that because it actually resonates a lot with what happens in the book and so in some ways it seems somewhat autobiographical. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Stanford and a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. And I’ve only heard of that from Girls the tv show but from what I understand it is a very prestigious creative writing program at the University of Iowa.
Brendane: Well clap, clap, snap, snap. Um, yes.
Alyssa: Do the thang.
Brendane: Transcendent Kingdom, which was released in September 2020, is, I would say, a very provoking novel about a young woman whose name is Gifty. She is a sixth year PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Alyssa: Mmm girl.
Brendane: That, even that part was triggering. I was like whew. I used to want to do medicine too but she’s not studying to be a doctor, she’s getting her PhD. She studies reward seeking behavior in mice and the neurocircuits of depression and addiction. Her brother Nana was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. So, her suicidal mother is living in her bed and that’s where we start. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s losses, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. So, I just obviously read that off of the book jacket but it does, I thought, would provide a really good glimpse into like where we hop in on this story. So, like yeah.
Alyssa: Before we hop in though, I do want to say that aesthetically, the cover, the book jacket, I’m just happy with it because it suits the aesthetic of my apartment. As you may know, black, pink, and gold, these are my accent colors. So, I don’t know where I’m going to put this but I want to put this book somewhere to bring my bookshelf together.
[00:38:51.00] Brendane: Oh, well I am not that deep. [Laughter]
Alyssa: [Laughter] That’s actually not deep, that’s probably the most superficial part of the book [Laughter] but okay, what I did want to say is that there’s this scene, it’s very early on. Her mom has just arrived at her home and she’s upset, she’s at work and so she goes to the bathroom and she’s like “get a hold of yourself” and she says that she felt like a cliché doing this. Like looking in the mirror. She said, “it was like I was re-enacting a scene from a movie, I started to feel like I didn’t have a self to get a hold of, or rather that I had a million selves, too many to gather.”
I just love that because it made me think about the fracturing of the self, and the way Black women, we hold these multiple selves and experiences because there are so few places that we can be our full selves and at the same time we’re expected to be everything to everyone. We’re the race educator, advocate for Black men, the perfect daughter, the perfect mother, the diversity and inclusion expert. All of these different kinds of things in these different kinds of places. I just really saw that theme in this book. You know, she always trying to be what it is that she needs to be to others, so she’s her mom’s rock, she’s the best in her lab, all of these kinds of things but there’s nowhere where she brings all of these selves into one.
Brendane: Yeah, I mean until you get to the end and it’s like a magical thing and she’s able to bring herself together for her future with her partner. But yeah, that was really just thought provoking for me because I thought about the ways growing up—I grew up in a Protestant church that was nondenominational but it was actually a lot like the church that Gifty in the book is at. It’s much closer to like a Pentecostal, speaking in tongues, holy rollers, shouting, but Black. Very, very Black church. And I just remember getting visions of like my pastor and other ministers telling us to leave those broken pieces for God or Jesus to put back together again. So it’s like it’s not even really this ability for you yourself to pull yourself back together, it’s like this is something that God is supposed to do. And my pastor would talk about how she allowed god to take her imperfect flesh and make it whole again and perfect and as someone—I don’t know if you know this Alyssa, but I went to seminary school when I was a teenager.
Alyssa: No, I didn’t know that.
Yeah, I went to seminary and part of that was I was really wanting to be accepted with the church that I was at. There were a lot of labels put on me, a Jezebel label and like, you know, people believed that I was possessed with demons. And so, I just really wanted to demonstrate that I was not possessed so I went and did seminary school. And I learned a lot about these roots of protestant religion, so a lot of these offshoots of protestant religion, like Pentecostalism and etcetera, etcetera, all really are rooted in a Calvinist or Lutheran belief that we are fundamentally broken and that we cannot be complete without God. So, it’s different from Catholicism, where in Catholicism there is this intermediary which is the priest that you speak to and the priest intercedes on your behalf. But for protestants our intercessory is Jesus, that we have a personal relationship with but we’re never actually whole without having Jesus in our lives. Thinking about that and how I really internalized that now as I’ve grown up and lost my identity as a Christian for sure, looking back on young me and seeing how really holding on to that with such zealous fervor really left me feeling broken and incomplete. And how I am working towards wholeness and knowing that I had to let go of those beliefs about my fundamental brokenness. I had to let that go. But what she’s saying is so true, we are, we do kind of become everything for everybody and it’s really against the grain like, for us to put ourselves first or for us to pursue wholeness even though we need a wholeness to survive. So, yeah, that’s—I’m shook.
[00:43:50.00] Alyssa: I think it’s really interesting that we’re coming at this from these two different understandings as well. I didn’t put that together from the religious side but I was definitely thinking about it as just like the way that I walk in the world and I think that’s interesting so. I mean, does she ever really—we’re not going to ruin it but I wonder if she ever really does achieve wholeness. Because there was—you know, you pointed this out when we were talking beforehand just that, you know, there was no Black person that knew her fully and how could she know herself fully, Gifty I’m talking about. How could Gifty know herself fully without a Black person or being in community with other Black folks. I was—it was interesting.
Brendane: Yeah, I mean, I guess we could just get into it here but I really thought about this. Like, [Sigh] one of the problems—the problems I have with the book, please, it was well written—but one of the things that was really puzzling to me, growing up in the South, I’m like churches are so segregated in the South. It was very rare that you have interracial congregations. And so, I was just like its fascinating that her mother decided to plant them in a white church in Alabama. And like, Alabama is the South, South. I’m from North Carolina and I’d be like oh, no Alabama, I’m not tryna, like, go there. It’s like, I’m sure there were plenty of Black churches to choose from, so what was it that made this white church better than the rest. Especially considering the racist violence that the mother experiences, her children experience in the church.
It made me think about these kind of “diaspora wars” that people talk about on Twitter, which are these regional divisions among African and African descended people. I was like, yo, was the Black church not good enough for Gifty’s mom? Was there something superior in going to attend this white church with a pastor who could never actually really connect with you? And they also lived in like a white neighborhood. Was there like a Black neighborhood not good enough? Because there are Black people in Huntsville, Alabama, hands down, you know, it’s Alabama—there’s going to be Black people around. But Gyasi does not really talk about or write about how Gifty’s mother spoke about Black American people so you kind of—it’s like this question mark of like, what was even the upbringing around interactions with Black American people but I got a sense there was some internalized anti-blackness running through the household.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s like this undercurrent but it’s never really addressed by Gyasi. I do have some questions about how Gifty’s mother imagined herself within the U.S. society. I think it’s kind of what you were saying, like her going to this church and being a part of this church maybe made her superior. But I think it also speaks to this Black immigrant narrative where these stereotypes about well we pulled up our bootstraps and these immigrant communities are doing far better than African Americans it’s just like another way to denigrate African Americans.
[00:47:21.00] Brendane: I mean there’s a lot of politics around that. I would say in response to what you’re saying about how Gifty’s mother saw herself, I feel like in page twenty-seven was a really clear way that a lot of like Black—well understandings of blackness and the Black condition come into play. So, Gifty’s mother never really saw her experience as a racist one, even though she went to work every day for Mr. Thomas, who was calling her out of her name every day. But she could understand and see racism through her husband’s experience and so this really subtle—and this gets back to my research, you know everything always comes back to my research—like this really subtle way in which the Black man’s experience becomes the writ large Black experience which becomes, you know, she sees herself as exempt from these things for some reason, but her husband is the one that experiences all this violence. Yeah. And it’s like, when obviously, it’s like, say, it’s like you’re the one with a job. You’re the one like upholding the household. You’re the one that has like two to three to four jobs like, Mm hmm. You clearly are living at a disadvantage. But she was only able to see that through her husband, like her husband was the most disadvantaged one. And I was gonna say like, in regards to even thinking about her relationship with her son. Mm hmm. I just had some thoughts.
Alyssa: I wanted I wanted to think about it. And in relation to Gifty’s relationship with Raymond. He is her little boyfriend, I think they say, her little friend. They met in her first year, her first year at Stanford. And he’s in the modern thought program. So, he’s a humanities PhD student. And she says this thing that just like, that just kills me. Let me see if I can find it quickly. So, she actually doesn’t really like hang out with him and his friends because they just like, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And she says, “What is the point of all this talk? What problems do we solve by identifying problems, circling them?” And I was like, Oh, you’re challenging me. I don’t like it. But anyways, I think that there was so when they first meet, she kind of like, minimizes her research. And she was like, “Oh, I try to get mice addicted to cocaine.” And he was like, “why do you do that? Why do you minimize your research?” And she was like, “Oh, it’s just, it’s just easier that way.” And he said, “maybe you don’t have to do easy with me.” And I was like, okay, huh? Ha. I melted a little bit. It’s the kind of thing that would just have me looking at a man like I am Bambi just like wide eyed and enamored.
Brendane: I mean, honestly, it’s no surprise that this man is fictional, let’s be, let’s be. Let’s be real, I’ve read that. Like, Oh, yes. Raymond. Like, yeah, yes. Yeah.
Alyssa: So, the way I read it was like, okay, on the one hand, I mean, there’s two ways of interpreting it. At least that’s how I saw it. There’s like, our relationship is going to be hard. There was that, but the way I read it, and the way I understood it was, you don’t need to shrink or minimize yourself with me. And I was just like, Ah, that’s what I want. I mean, I have that
Brendane: I was gonna say you got somebody who lets you be your full self.
Alyssa: I know. Um, but you know, in the end, like, that’s exactly what she did. It was like, she couldn’t be her full self with this black man. And I just, it was just so confusing. It was just, it’s just strange. It’s like, does it go back to her growing up in this like, very white corner of the segregated city? I don’t, I don’t really understand that part.
[00:51:39.15] Brendane: Me either, me either. Um, I was just like, okay, there’s, there’s a lot to be said here about interracial romantic relationships and like, how they can function for Black people who are tokenized in certain environments. And I’ve heard people say that, you know, like, oh, being with a non-black person, you don’t have to worry about the pressures of being black around them and like, you know, you can just be yourself whatever that means. And so maybe that’s a subtext of this because of course, we never really get an explanation. We never get an explanation outside of the argument they have around Gifty’s lack of transparency about herself. And then you get a little bit but it doesn’t really, it doesn’t really cycle, you don’t really get to like really see it play out to fruition, at least in this book. And I just felt like you know, whole time I was like, Gifty, girl you need to be talking to psychologists, girl like
Alyssa: You know, actually it makes me just it just makes me think of the difficulty that immigrants have coming like Black immigrants or I guess we can say immigrants in the African diaspora, or from Africa, coming here and then learning, “learning” that they’re black. And I think that it speaks to a little bit of that hesitance, her being Gyasi being like Ghanaian American, and then these characters also being gone as an American. It’s just like, What? What is? What does my blackness have to do with anything? I think is kind of like one of the main questions, but I have a question for you. It’s related to the relationship and the relationships within this text. What did you make of the queer subtext? Because it’s clearly there. I mean, very subtle. I mean, it’s not that subtle. But if you’re kind of like, skimming, you’ll definitely miss it. But it’s something that remains unnamed. Right. And I, so I use this subtext because I feel like when you grow up in the church, or Jamaican immigrant family, you know, it’s the thing that shall not be named, right. Like it’s tolerated. As long as you don’t put it in someone’s face.
Brendane: Yo, I was lowkey, lowkey, I was like, why is Gifty not having the romantic relationships that she should have with these women in her life. And like she denies herself just off the bat, like denies herself and these romantic connections, even though they clearly there well with? One of the women and other one is, I guess, more imagined, but like, why did she deny herself? and maybe it is something to do with religion. For me growing up in the church, I didn’t really see myself as queer, or understand myself as queer. And so, after I became grown. Well like, I definitely looking back I was like, Oh, yeah, definitely. But like, I had my blinders because I was taught that like, that was wrong. Like, you said like I was, I was wrong. I was taught like, no. And then now learning that so many people that I went to church with, were also queer and we were also all silenced. And not able to really find ways to love ourselves through our religion and so a lot of us have left, but it’s just like, yeah. I mean, that could be part of the reason why it’s much more of a subtext, I wish that, honestly, I wish that Gifty would have pursued a queer relationship. Like and actually pursued one. But you know, that’s just also me being selfish. I’m like, we need more queer representation out here.
Alyssa: I mean, it also speaks to hurt, the inability to be whole, like, as a result of these, like tensions in common complications that she has. Absolutely around you she is and where she’s from? And what she believes.
Brendane: Yeah, yeah, I think about like, I don’t know if I told them on the podcast or not, but like somebody that I grew up with a church who was like a sister to me, passed away a few weeks ago, and I was watching a funeral, the homegoing service, that’s what we say, the homegoing service on Zoom. And I just remember crying because I was like, this is probably the closest I’ll ever be to this group of people who were so important to me. Because I refuse to hide certain pieces of myself. And I have a privilege and that choice that like, I can do that and it not affect, you know, my day-to-day life. Like I can live in my truth and it not, you know, leave me homeless or destitute and things like that. Some people don’t have that choice. But yeah, I was like crying because I was like, Yo, I missed this person. And I haven’t been able to talk to them in years. And, you know, now I won’t be able to talk to them in this plane. So, it’s like, you know, that disconnect? Because once I realize okay, me pursuing my truth and being in this relationship means that there are people who just I just can’t spend time with anymore, even if they were such a big part of my life before. So yeah, is a pain because definitely a pain around that. A pain. And there was like, this is really random, but I was reading it and I don’t know if you caught the part where Gifty talked about coming home to her mother with locks and her mother like giving her the silent treatment.
Brendane: And yeah, she says this line “holy is a black woman’s hair.” And of course, a reference in the Bible about you know, your hair being a crown, whatever, whatever. But then—
Brendane: Yeah, that’s like—
Alyssa: Oh, no, like, I’m just saying, oh, because I cut my hair like really short when years ago and my, you know, my grandma was like, [In Jamaican accent] “Oh, why you do that to your hair? You know, your hair is your crown,” I’m like, “it’s not about what’s on top of my head. It’s about what’s underneath.” And India.arie, she was like [In Jamaican accent] “No, why you do that to your hair.”
Brendane: My mother literally went silent. Like did not speak to me. Um, wow. And so yeah reading that was like, yo, first of all Gyasi, get up, out my spot. And then it was just like, yeah, like been there, really these parallels but there were several moments in the text where I was like, Oh, my gosh, these are parallel experiences to my own and thinking about my mother literally just…like my aunt cut my hair. The one who listens to the podcast, she, she cut my relaxed ends for me. And then my mom was like, silent did not speak to me for about a day. And then the next day she was like, “So what? What are you doing with this? Like what’s happening?” And even when I came home with locks — now my hair is locked– this summer, and she was just like, “What is, what are you doing with this? Can you comb this out?” Like it’s a little, a step up from the silent treatment. But like, it’s just like, the subtle ways that like, even religion comes into hair is also something fascinating too. And I think we should like, think about these men in this book, because I think that’ll really cue us up for our next session. But our next little section, but yo.
Alyssa: I actually I did want to say like, just to the, the subtlety, like the subtle ways, its way into our lives is like, it’s a question that I have for myself, like, you escape religion or religiosity, when it’s so embedded in our society and our language. And so, I see her struggling with this faith, but then, but then so unable to completely avoid it, right? It’s just like, it just becomes a part of you that it stays that stays embedded within you. And so, I just think about like, how even my everyday speech, you know, isn’t really secular, you know, I say, “I feel blessed,” or “Oh, my God,” or, “Oh, Lordy,” I think I said it earlier.
Brendane: I be saying, “oh, Lord,” too
Alyssa: Like these, you know, these remnants of religion, they never truly leave, I think, but then it’s also that religion and beliefs are deeply embedded in these Black diasporic cultures. And so, I think she does a really good job. Gyasi does a really good job of like, bringing that out and demonstrating that to us.
Brendane: Absolutely. I say, “Oh, Lord” all the time, which now, which is actually funny, because when I was younger and seminary school, I learned that you actually shouldn’t call on God’s name in vain. So, when you say that, it’s actually a sin. So now I’m like sinning all over the place and I’m like “Oh, lord,” but you know, he, he, he, I’m living my life now. [Laughter]
[01:00:52.68] Alyssa: But the men, well, there’s the “Chinchin Man”, who is dad, I think we’ll just that one comes with like, the what happens to him comes later on in the book, so we won’t really spoil that for you. Um, I was actually really interested in this character of Pastor Tom. So, he’s a pastor at their church. And he’s like the youth pastor. And so, he almost seemed to me this representation of the way religion can be this apparatus of exclusion, right? It’s like to be a part of it, you must act, dress, things, speak, believe, and praise in a certain way. And so, there’s this, like, he was very representative of this, like, internal contradiction of religion that says, we accept everyone, but there’s still a caveat. And that caveat is as long as you do things the way that we do. And so how this comes up is he’s, he’s, yeah, so he’s the youth pastor. And they’re having their like, children’s session. Is that what it is?
Brendane: Yeah, children’s church.
Alyssa: Yeah. And so, Nana says, so let’s say that there’s some remote town in Africa. And you know, nobody could reach them. So, they haven’t received the Word of God. Are they going to hell? And, Pastor Tom is like, Well, of course, he’s gonna, you know, God can reach everyone. So of course, they’re gonna find out and so Nana’s, like well, what if they can’t? And he’s just like, well, then yeah, they’re going to hell. And Gifty kind of reflects on this, his comfort, Pastor Tom’s comfort with condemning Africans and people that look like her and who, you know, are from the same place as her, condemning them to hell. And I found that I found that interesting. He’s an interesting character.
Brendane: Yeah, I mean, I grew up in a church that believed a lot of these things. And so, you know, part of the charge was, oh, it’s your duty as a Christian to evangelize because if you don’t get these people to accept Jesus into their heart, they’re going to die and go to hell period. Point blank, blah. And for me growing up, I had to be like, Okay, I get it, why things have to be so black and white because you know, we have a Bible read a certain way that depicts God in a certain way. And so, I get why this black and white definition of saved or not saved, hell or heaven, is useful. But then I thought about, like, all the women in my life, all the Black woman in my life, who did not adhere to this definition of holiness. And I was like, yo, are they gonna go to hell? Like, are y’all gonna go to hell? And so like, Oh, no, like, is God just gonna condemn all these women in my family who had children without being married? Or no, my friend who is Muslim like is she automatically going to go to hell like.
And so, as a child, I was living through a lot of a lot of that like thinking and then had to come to the realization that like, I don’t know. I’m going to say this, but like, and you know, whatever people can respond, how they want to respond, but yeah come to the realization that like, Hell is not a real place, or at least I don’t believe it, the hell is a real place. And if it is a real place, then I’m living a life, that’s gonna make me be there. So, then you, you know, me and my home girls, we gonna be sitting, we have a joke, actually, my roommate and I have a joke about us being in the VIP section of Hell and like, where all the black. All the Black queers are partying in the VIP section. And, and, you know, because I also had to come to realization, I was like, yo, if Ronald Reagan is in heaven, is that a place I want to be? But right, also, you know, that’s neither here nor there.
Alyssa: So? Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know where my thoughts are on heaven and hell. I mean, I’ve told you like, I just made this up. So y’all don’t, don’t jump on me on this. But I’m like religion neutral. So, I’m not, I don’t believe, I don’t disbelieve, I just kind of let people be, and I live my life in accordance to what results in the least harm for others, I think is probably the best way of putting it or do what you need to do as long as you’re not hurting other people. And that’s kind of where I’m at. And I like to help people, but I think I’m just a naturally good person. But so, what you know, which men in this in this book, did you find particularly compelling?
Brendane: Well, maybe, maybe not. Not men alone, I would say always men in relationship to someone else. So, like, Nana, Mom, that relationship where, you know, she, he’s a miracle child. That’s the apple of her eye, that’s her heart. Gifty comes along, she’s like, Yo, what the fuck? And then, aight what the fuck? But then of course he did. So, there are certain ways where you notice, right, the differences and how their race, of course, now not as much older than Gifty, and things like that. But it’s just like, I don’t I, in the book, she calls it Oedipal, I, I just the idea she had, I think so she, I think she calls it Oedipal. Or maybe that was just me reading them and being like, this is an Oedipal relationship. But—
[01:06:49.11] Alyssa: We know how you love your psychoanalytics, girl.
Brendane: Hey, how you doing? Ah, like, I think about Black mothers who raise their sons with very much different standards than their daughters. And then be looking confused when their sons have different outcomes than their daughters. And it’s like, yo, why are you confused when you basically made your daughter raise herself, essentially, and help you raise this son, um, and this son was babied. And just like the patience that he was given that Gifty was not shown and just all these, all these different things. It’s made me reflect on what I’ve witnessed in relationships between mothers and sons. And then also that made me think about like, on a more intellectual level, like scholarship, especially scholarship that centers like Black movements, or even modern media discourse about black movies that kind of focus on these mothers who are mourning sons. It’s like losing a son is this ultimate loss. And that really kind of overshadows all of these mothers who’ve lost their daughters for a multitude of reasons. And so it’s just like so, so fascinating to me because Nana essentially, I mean, he dies, obviously that they tell you that from jump, but it’s just like Gifty’s left to pick up the pieces and like help like help do this work that she was already doing as a child of like bringing her family together.
Alyssa: And so, throughout the book, there’s this theme that, you know, she’s working on addiction pathways in the brain and mice. Right. And this is her research and she always says that it’s not about her brother, and that she’s, you know, she’s trying to understand something else. But it’s not. It’s not about like, thinking about how she could have saved him, which is also interesting. You know, there’s this kind of pressure put on Black girls and Black sisters to save their Black male family members. But so, I think that in a way, it is still about him, even though Gifty is always saying it’s not about him. It’s not about him. I think that she’s trying to understand this dynamic, right? This dynamic of like, why him and not her when they share this DNA?
Since I’ve heard this explained really, really well, you know, if you have two people who are two siblings, they’ve had the same experience the same parents, you know, why is it that one can turn out really well, and another one will die of an overdose, right? And so, I heard it explained as like, you think of each sibling as a glass, and you drop both the glasses, one crumbles, and the other one turns into a sharp weapon. So, we just all break differently. And I don’t think that that can necessarily be explained by just the brain. And she struggles with that throughout the book. You know, she has a difficult time, like reconciling. She has a difficult time, reconciling the heart, the mind and the soul. So, the brain and the soul and the way that we feel about things. She’s just like, how, how do I bring all of these together to understand what happened to my brother? And why it’s different from how I’ve turned out?
[01:10:23.65] Brendane: Yeah, and understand it outside of this kind of blasé Christian, it was God’s plan, right?
Alyssa: Like, that’s what they say at the funeral. Right?
Brendane: Yeah. Like, and it’s like, you know, why would I want to serve a God who destined me to lose someone in this way? You know. Often one of the questions I had growing up as a child. And now understanding loss as loss and not in not feeling the need to like recuperate it as some part of some sadistic master plan, um, to make me a better person, which is also just, I don’t know that whole theology confuses me. How you have to suffer to go through to be a better person. I’m like, this is abuse. Um, and like, you know, we don’t have to think about God as abusive, right? God could, yeah, I can leave God out of it. And just be like, Oh, this world is just a fucked-up place. Um, but whew child.
Alyssa: All right there, this is gonna be the last thing because we’ve got to move on the next segment.
Brendane: Yeah, obviously, we have, we just, we really enjoyed reading this book.
Alyssa: I did. I mean, I’m gonna say that I would rate the book a three and a half out of five. Because I was just like, waiting for there to be some kind of climax, but it’s really, I was just like, it needs to be building up to something is it building up to something and then it just kind of like, end sand then, like you I was very disappointed, by the way that it ended. I was just kind of like, and I found this with Yaa Gyasi’s last book with Homegoing is, it was just like, this is so good. It’s building up to something. It’s building up to something and then the ending it kind of just like peters out, and I was a little bit like, ah, but there’s this one scene where they’re getting Nana into the car after he’s been missing. And so, it’s around lunchtime. They’re in a business district downtown. And so, people are just like sipping lattes and eaten lunch in the area and they’re struggling to get him in the car. These, you know, this little girl and an older woman. And so, she writes, we were three Black people in distress, nothing to see. All of these people just keep going on about their life, because of as you talk about in your research, it’s like there’s an illegibility to Black suffering.
Brendane: Yeah. And she, I mean, when she talks about like, people I at her church being like, “Oh, you know how they are more prone to getting addicted to drugs?” And, and so yeah, there’s these understandings of blackness as always being a state of crisis, right? So, like, oh, Black people in distress, it’s just that you know, everyday life for them kind of thing. But then also, not seeing Black women in particular. I do think that something about the image right of just as a Black woman and a Black girl, uplifting this Black man, and that kind of being seen as like, how it should be
Brendane: Right? Like that, like, that’s like how it should be. And so, it was kind of just like, because I’m like, I can’t imagine if two Black men came and pick this Black man up off the ground and try to drag them out. People not at least being intrigued or wanting to know, like, what’s happening here, but the fact that it’s like a Black woman, a Black girl, trying to drag this very large Black man ‘cuz he says he’s tall, like, it’s a spectacle for sure. But like this, that’s just how it’s normalized. And the way she writes about it, just kind of like, people just say, Oh, I’m gonna send my latte, and eat my lunch. But then also, like, I don’t know, I just kept thinking like, yo, if Gifty was out here, you know dealing with this type of illness and addiction, would her mother be circling the block for her? And it’s obviously no, like, obviously not, I’m just so through, so through, but I feel like we should talk about why we even talked about this [Laughter].
[01:14:34.64] Alyssa: Listen, I, no, okay, so y’all, this is our first time talking about a whole book. So usually an article or we do an excerpt of something. So, this is the first time talking about a whole book. So it was a lot, we actually didn’t even get through all of the things that we want to talk about. But in that sense, as you said, as we started this out. It was, it was provocative, it’s been generative. So even if my semi low review, even if my review is, you know, a little wishy washy, I definitely think that it is a book that I would give to a family member to provoke conversation and discussion. And just, you know, I think that it’s really good for that, because part of the reason Gyasi wrote this book is because there isn’t, or there wasn’t anything out there like it before that really resonated with her. And I think that’s where some of the best art comes from, is from wanting something yourself. And then going out and making it and doing it.
And I think seeing how it’s like resonated with you. And it’s given me a lot to think about with some of the religion stuff, but also there’s like a lot of the PhD stuff, conversations around like, around the seminar table, and things. And just like, thinking about myself and my ambition and my goals, and things like that. So there’s a lot here. And she deals with a lot of these very challenging issues. And so, the reason that I only give it a three and a half is because some of these issues get short shrift. And yeah, I think that I want to say that there was more maturity needed in her writing, you know, more like, I don’t know, I’m not sure how to say it more like perspective or life experience to really make some of these things come to life, right? Because these subjects are complex, every single one of them right science versus God, mother daughter relationships, and, you know, all of these different tensions. I think they’re complex and important, but it kind of was just the story about Gifty and her life
Brendane: That kinda ends with a little cute little bow on it. Um,
Alyssa: Yeah, which what was up with that? Anyways? Y’all if y’all read it, let us know what you think. But we are going to move on to Brendane.
Brendane: What in the world?
Alyssa: What in the world right? So, in our last episode, if you were like, okay, who in the hell is this nigga that Brendane keeps talking about? We are going to talk about him today. So his name or whatever he calls himself is Apostle WisePreach. That’s WisePreach. One word.
Brendane: Y’all, I’m dead okay.
Alyssa: So, he’s a Leo.
Brendane: Which really means loud and wrong.
Alyssa: Oh, but so he was born in Kenya grew up a pastor’s kid, but didn’t really feel called to the Lord until he fell out of a bunk bed. And he was, “supernaturally rotated in his sleep so that he could avoid head injury.” And he also went through nine months of demonic warfare, during which time he could not eat or drink. So the post that we’re referring to in that last episode was one that quickly went viral and has since been deleted. But since the innanets are forever, here’s what he wrote. “I am looking for a Proverbs 31 wife who must meet this criteria. One, the woman must be Christ centered. Two, absolutely gorgeous. Three, can sing. Four, light skin with a stunning smile. [Laughter] With a stunning smile. Five, between the ages twenty-two and twenty-seven. Six, absolutely no kids. Seven, loves Jesus more than anything else. Eight, can cook and is tidy. Nine, an intercessor. Ten, is between five feet and five foot four. Eleven, never been married before. Twelve, submitted and a great listener. Thirteen, hospitable and loves Jesus Christ more than me.” And then this entire list it ends with, “Do you have what it takes to marry a prophet?”
Brendane: Hell no.
Alyssa: Girl, where do we start? Where do you start with this call for proposal? Where do we start with this reality TV series?
[01:19:44.51] Brendane: Letters of inquiry. Yo, okay, so I think I’m gonna, absolutely gorgeous is definitely connected to light-skinned with a stunning smile. Okay, his, he views, you know, light skin as gorgeous. Got it. And of course, between five foot to 5’4” like, okay, that’s me. You know, I see what you, what he was trying to do with that one. Like get you a short, get you a short one? I heard you.
Alyssa: I’m pretty sure I said maybe until there’s a picture of him sitting on a bench. But he’s saying he’s sitting on the top of the bench with his feet on the seat part. And I was just like he should, brah, you need to marry whoever helped you get up on that bench because she must to be the one.
Brendane: That ladder from Target is the one. Um the one that really at least initially, as I’m going through and thinking through this. Between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-seven. I am twenty-seven and I’m remembering myself at twenty-two, I was a completely different person. Also, how old is he?
Alyssa: I don’t know. On his website he only has August 3 is his birthday. [Crosstalk] Oh my gosh, that’s my cousin’s birthday.
Brendane: He’s in his thirties. That’s his hairline, his hairline was disappearing, it was slipping away, going away to Jesus.
Alyssa: And you know what’s going on? Okay, so let me, let me tell our listeners who don’t know what it’s like to be on these innanets as Black women. We’re talking about this Black man, and all of this criteria that he has set out. A lot of which is ridiculous. And you know what men are going to come to us with, you know what they’re going to set to us with? Why is it that you can go and talk about this man, how he was doing all of this stuff? That was so rude. But then you’re gonna make fun of men who are short and have no hairlines. You see women, you guys Oh, women are just you’re so demanding.
Brendane: Sweetie, the one thing that will always bring to the table is a hairline. this shit ain’t going No. Where. So, like, if I’m gonna say something to you, it’s gonna be about that one too. Like, there’s nothing here about her intelligence. Nothing here about other qualities that she could bring to the table. She just needs to be able to cook clean, pray, be short. A never ever, ever, ever, ever had no kids. He didn’t say she need to be a virgin though so.
Brendane: So, she do—so, between the subtext of all this he says she can’t be no “hoe,” right? Which I watched a beautiful presentation on that last night, but she can’t be no “hoe” with kids. No divorced “hoe” with kids, but she got to know what she doing. Right. So that’s in the background of all of this on top of being light-skinned and between the ages of a child and almost an adult and [Stuttering] no way, sir.
Alyssa: Um, so that was just, ah, that one really it brought up some questions. And so, I’m in this group and I’ve talked about it on this podcast before, and I didn’t want to give the name. But I’m in the group. And that was where I first found it. And just the comments from the women were just like, “This man is ridiculous.” And then all of the men were getting upset about it. And they’re like, “Oh, what men, we’re not allowed to have standards now. We’re not allowed to have standards. So you all can say you want a man who has money, is tall, has a hairline, has a job, and no kids and that’s okay for you. But when men do the same thing, it’s misogyny.”
Brendane: I want a man who could pay bills. I mean, tall? Okay, I’m gonna say this as someone who has dated tall men and short men in a past life. Tall men don’t have the same complexes about themselves and like they don’t because masculinity. Okay, we’re gonna get into with like gender as a form of looking through the world. And like, you know, you’re perceived to be more masculine, the taller you are, this goes for people who are men and people who are women. Right? So, they have a certain assuredness in their masculinity as they get taller. But I feel like short men feel like they have to compensate sometimes. And sometimes they do that through misogynistic violence. And so, we see this evidence in his standards, right, which is like, you know, women are asking for someone to help them maintain a household, he’s asking for [pause] prefer someone to do that. But it, but like, what does her skin complexion have to do with any of these?
Alyssa: Yeah, he’s looking for someone to bring him to salvation, or to like, contribute to his arrival at salvation.
Brendane: Which is just like, when you see all of these other scandals and things about these big name preachers who have mistresses and baby Mamas and they all talk about how their wives built them up, or like, how their wives are the center of their world, and they just have to tackle these lust demons or whatever within them. But then it also becomes the other woman’s fault. Like, Oh, she persuaded me or God sent, I mean not God, the devil sent her to like, get me off track. And it’s like, no, like you were attracted to this woman. For whatever reason, you abuse your position of power, most likely to lure her into a sexual relationship. You got caught because your wife is over here cooking, cleaning, being light-skinned, stunning her with the funnest smile, hospitable, loving Jesus, and you out here doing whatever. And so, it’s just like, yo, like, the misogyny that’s inherent in these expectations around partners that is like just propagated in the in the church is just so harmful is so what’s on.
[1:26:23.65] Alyssa: Yeah, and I think that’s something that’s really interesting, or actually is really problematic, is that it’s always the woman’s responsibility to keep the man from stumbling. Right?
Brendane: Yeah. That’s Adam and Eve. Like, that’s literally the Bible comes right out the gate. And it’s like, even though men are supposed to be the holy ones, they’re supposed to be the leaders, they’re the one that you’re supposed to submit to, oh, God, and that’s now a whole, a whole internet conversation.
Alyssa: Well, let me tell you, you know, dating a Christian, I’ve had to come to my own.[Laughter] As soon as you say “come to my own,” in terms of like, religious stuff, people say, “Oh, you’re a heretic aren’t you” but um he’s an okay, let me just point out that he’s never said, I’m looking for a woman who is submissive or whatever. But you know, I think all of these things are part of it, the whole like, you know, leave and cleave and being equally yoked and things like that. So, I consider them and I take it, you know, I think about them and I’m just like, alright. One of my friends was like, how are you going to reconcile submission? And I was just like, Alright, let me be this word nerd. And I was like, what does “sub” mean? It means under. What’s “mission”? That’s a task a goal is something that you’re trying to get to trying to achieve. So, to me, submission means that both of us are under the same mission, that we are working towards the same mission. So, it does not mean that I am the one that who is submissive. It means both of us are under the same mission, working towards the same goals in life. And that is how I’m reconciling this, you see, being a word nerd.
Brendane: See, I like that little dance you had going. My thing is the mission, though, who sets the mission of the house?
Alyssa: Both of us.
Brendane: Right? But I mean, maybe. Is it really both or is it really being like, actually here is what I would like to see happen, let’s agree that what I would like to see happen can happen. Maybe I’m speaking for myself. Let me speak from the “I”, let’s agree that what I would like to see happen can happen [Laughter] and if you have some suggestions please let me know, but this is about me running this household, us being this household together. At least, that’s how it felt when I was in relationships with cis men. It’s like I’m definitely in charge here and because you see me as mother 2.0. So, like, I’m definitely in charge here, I’m the one setting the vision for this relationship, I’m the one driving as we move from stage to stage. I’m the one like, you know, “These are the color sheets we should have, and this is when we’re gonna wash clothes,” and so all these little forms of labor that are feminized and then deemed lesser. But it’s really like, no, if I stop making these decisions we really stop functioning as a couple and as a household. So, it’s just the myth around like leadership and God pointing to men and saying you’re the leaders of the home, I just believe it to be a myth. And I know somebody’s momma, church momma, is gonna have something to say.
Alyssa: Yeah, we’re both the leaders, that’s how I look at it anyways. Whew, we are running long. We just wanted to take this last little bit to acknowledge church hurt and Brendane is going to take us away with the final closing sermon.
[01:30:14.30] Brendane: [Laughter] Whew, closing sermon, L-O-L. As someone who has been hurt in the church, as particularly along the lines of gendered violence sustained over really the majority of my childhood from the gamut of having someone, a grown man, stalk me in church because he believed in his mind that God destined for us to be together, down to just again people telling me that I was possessed and being ostracized because of that possession. Or just the fear, the guilt, the shame, this kind of hyper-focus on sin, but certain types of sin, purity culture. If you are there or have been there, just know I’ve been there with you and healing comes and it’s a process. There are days that you feel like you come above it and there are days when like literally you feel the pain again. Just know that things don’t necessarily get easier but the process does become easier and gets better and you learn how to just move through it and process it and understand it. And if you choose to still believe in the church and believe in God, know that God did not destine that for you, this was just people projecting their own insecurities onto you. And if you’re like me and you’ve chosen to just turn away from that particular set of beliefs then you find healing and wholeness in yourself. I applaud you for that, I applaud you for whatever you choose to do.
Alyssa: Thank you so much Brendane, and I’m sorry that happened to you. We just wanted to know that we hear and see you all and affirm that your experiences are your experiences and that it was not you, it’s not your fault, and there is a way forward. So, thank you for that Brendane, that was lovely. And thank you all for listening, making it through this episode. I heard recently that you can really only get one wish from people, and so you’ve pretty much already done the most by making it all the way to the end of this episode, so if I could get one more wish this week it would be to leave a comment on our Instagram post! Because you know them algorithms be playin’ us!
Brendane: Yes, absolutely! You can find us at zorasdaughters on Instagram. And if you’d like to read transcripts for the episodes, our bios, or to just get in touch with us, please head to zorasdaughters.com. We really got that brand ownership on lock, don’t we?!
Alyssa: That we most certainly do.
Brendane: Until next time we all must take care of ourselves and each other.
Alyssa: I need to stop laughing [Laughter] this has to go in the bloopers at the end.
Brendane: No, us cracking up at God’s best hits.
Alyssa: [Laughter] So I was looking through the Oxford [Laughter]
Brendane: [Laughter] Yo, we can’t even move forward. I just have this image of God with some headphones on in the booth like [Laughter]
Alyssa: But not an album [Laughter].
Brendane: I’m dead.
Alyssa: [Laughter] Let me just blow my nose.
Brendane: [Laughter] Yo.
Alyssa: Pull yourself together woman. You know she says that in the book. I’m gonna talk about it, I liked that section.
Brendane: Mmm hmm.
Alyssa: When she says pull yourself together. Okay. Anyhow.
[END OF RECORDING]