Black Women Are Very Religious, Says New Survey from Captain Obvious July 10, 2012

Black Women Are Very Religious, Says New Survey from Captain Obvious

It’s not like you need the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation to tell you this, but black people are very religious. Black women, especially:

The survey found that 74 percent of black women and 70 percent of black men said that “living a religious life” is very important. On that same question, the number falls to 57 percent of white women and 43 percent of white men.

But in times of turmoil, about 87 percent of black women — much more than any other group — say they turn to their faith to get through. Black women, across education and income levels, say living a religious life is a greater priority than being married or having children, and this call to faith either surpasses or pulls even with having a career as a life goal, the survey shows.

This only confirms what we already know — we have to work especially hard to help African-American atheists come out. Church is intertwined with their culture and wanted to leave the former is often mistaken as wanting to leave the latter.

But why are black women more religious than black men? We don’t get a clear answer to that.

Here’s what I love about this analysis, though. Both Anthony Pinn and Sikivu Hutchinson are given the chance to explain why they’re in the religious minority and why it’s important for black people to leave the church:

But even in the church, black women often find themselves in male-dominated institutions that are not always open to sharing power, said Anthony B. Pinn, a professor of humanities and religious studies at Rice University.

“Black women provide most of the labor and a significant amount of the financial resources but don’t hold an equivalent degree of authority in these organizations,” he said.

“What has religiosity and belief in supernatural beings really achieved for African Americans in the 21st century — and in particular African American women, given our low socioeconomic position?” [Hutchinson] asked.

Looking back on her childhood, Hutchinson wonders: “Why would children be compelled to profess belief, especially when they look around them and see that the world is overpopulated with adult believers flaunting their immorality?”

Hutchinson contends that perhaps there aren’t more black women grappling with that answer because there is little in their communities that supports a different perspective.

That may be true, but we are starting to see attempts to let other black atheists know they’re not alone. African Americans for Humanism has a list of local groups as well as a Speakers Bureau full of black writers, organizers, and academics, all of whom are outspoken atheists helping pave a path for others to follow. (r/BlackAtheism is also worth following.)

This survey isn’t news, but it should still be a wake-up call to atheist group leaders that we have a responsibility to make sure we do whatever we can to draw in more racial minorities to our gatherings and into our communities.

(via Get Religion)

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  • I also wonder if it is so prevalent in communities where poverty is an issue because it gives them a safe space to gather.   Whereas you may not be able to gather in a park that has been proclaimed as gang territory, you are safer to gather in a church.  From my observation in the Richmond area it appears a lot of community activism in the more poverty stricken areas does stem from churches, with ministers leading campaigns to take back the neighborhoods from crime.   I wouldn’t know where else these folks would be able to gather, or would be able to afford to rent to gather and organize. 

    I completely agree with Sikivu’s question as to why they continue to clutch on considering the low socioeconomic status.  It’s very sad.  The only answer I can come up with is complete desperation. 

    Even I get desperate and frustrated because I don’t currently have the cash flow to make a couple of home repairs, but I can’t even imagine not having the cash flow to feed my family.   That is where some of these women are coming from. 

    Of course, this is only my idea from the status of a middle class white woman, looking towards poverty stricken women of color. 

    It’d be nice if these women could be turned on to organizations like African Americans for Humanism.   But are these organizations in the areas where it is most needed?  No.   Even all encompassing atheist/humanist groups aren’t completely accessible in all cities, let alone in poverty stricken areas of cities.

  • But why are black women more religious than black men? We don’t get a clear answer to that.


    Seems to me like the difference between genders is bigger among whites than blacks.

  • mikespeir

    Let’s face it.  African American’s have historically had it pretty hard in this country.  We haven’t given them a lot of reason to hope for anything in this world, so….

  • LutherW

     It might also be one more consequence of the education achievement gap that has African Americans lagging in reason.

  • But why are black women more religious than black men? We don’t get a clear answer to that.

    I just want to point out that the relative gender disparity is a fair piece larger among whites.  Perhaps the question ought to be, given that women tend to be more religious than men, why are black women only a little bit more religious than black men?

  • Tiffany

    I’m a black woman and I’m an atheist. I’ve been one for years, few people in my family know. I for the life me can’t understand it either. In my life there are no other atheists. Life does kind of suck when you are a black woman, I guess a history and culture of abuse, misrepresentation, and marginalization contributes to those abysmal numbers. My mom always says “There has GOT to be something or someone watching out for us” That strikes me as desperate for answers. Like when society has rejected you, at least god loves you and values you. Shes even told me that if I keep going on with “that atheism thing” that I’ll never get married…men don’t want an atheist. Trust me, it’s got nothing to do with economics, I’m middle class and had a comfortable two parent house. It’s got everything to do with culture. I grew up in the church, every Sunday. Questioning want even an option. It’s being discouraged from questioning…thinking and questioning aren’t encouraged. It’s a culture thing and it sucks ass. When you are told all your life that only good girls are valued and you see black women in media portrayed as hoes, welfare queens, and constant victims and you think you have to emulate that behavior or accept that portal…and the church is the only salvation from your filthy desires and life…no wonder so many cling to the church. There is so much more to this, perhaps I’ ll write something about it for this blog.

  • sijd

    Ceiling effect, maybe  ?

  • I’d like to read that.  I’m an almost-middle-class small-town white guy, but many of my students come from urban black culture, and one of the surprises was how vehemently my kids profess belief.  It’s not just going to church; it’s conspiracy theories about which famous rappers and actors have literally signed deals with the devil in order to get so famous.  It’s such a disconnect that it was hard for me at first to accept that they were serious when they explained that Lil’ Wayne is clearly possessed by demons (because, they said, you can see that his eyes turn red in his music videos when he looks directly into the camera) or that Kanye West’s mother didn’t really die during surgery, but instead was sacrificed to Satan by West because he had to prove that he would give up his own blood.  Then there are the apocalyptic predictions; one middle-school student confided his fear that the earth is heating up rapidly and will literally burst into flame at the end of 2012.

    I grew up in an almost-all-white small town less than an hour from where these kids are growing up, but our experiences are completely different in some ways I would never have suspected.  I was used to people who talked a lot about being religious but didn’t really believe “the crazy stuff,” as they would have put it.  But for these kids, growing up in a small city in “black neighborhoods,” the real, physical, non-symbolic existence of devils, demons, witchcraft, spells, curses, etc. are simply accepted fact.  I don’t argue with my students about these things (I’m a math teacher, so I usually need to move on instead) but even the fact that I don’t enthusiastically join the discussion often puzzles them.  

  • I’d also like to read that!

  • I will tell people, if they ask, that I’m an atheist. However, I see no reason to come out to my family. I don’t see what I would gain by making them think I will go to hell. I like to avoid drama. Coming out to my family would be an inconvenience because, as long as everyone assumes that I’m a Christian, no one is trying to save me. I don’t see how my beliefs, or lack of them more accurately, are their business, for that matter.

  • Forrest Cahoon

    If black men want intimate partnerships with black women, their odds are much better if they at least pay lip service to religiosity. I’m not saying that’s the whole picture, or it’s even a concious choice. But if you’re in a community where everyone is religious, and where the persons you want to be with the most will almost certainly evaluate your suitability based on your religiosity, the motivation to just go along has got to be enormous.

  • Dan

    You are right, it doesnt look like whites have less of a difference in the importance they place in religion. If you combine the very important and somewhat important choices together, and the not too important and not important categories together, then the gender differences are about the same magnatude between races. I think a pretty good case could be made that, considering the sample size, the gender differences are about the same between the two groups.

  • I’m a black female atheist.  The atheist community has made genuine efforts to include blacks more into the gatherings and events.  Personally I do not feel left out.  There does seem like a lot of atheists that do want to hear from the black perspective.  I feel a sense of community within atheists that I do not get at home because blacks are so religious.  I came out last year and it could have gone worse.  My mom was not happy at all, but she didn’t disown me, though I don’t speak to her or my dad that much anymore.  There is some snide remarks every once in awhile when we do speak.  Thankfully I moved out with my boyfriend and I am able to set limits on how they speak to me now as an adult.  My stress and anxiety has gone down and I feel more empowered now that I don’t have to hold my tongue when I talk about being an atheist.

  • RosieY

    I need advice related to this topic. Here’s the deal: my sister in law (who is black) had never expressed any religious leanings in the 9 years that I’ve known her. In fact, the one time we had a discussion about religion she said, “I believe there’s a god but I’m not religious.” Then earlier this year, she and my brother moved to the deep south. Lately I’ve noticed lots of her Facebook posts have gotten religious (e.g., “God is good,” “say your prayers,” “prayers go up”). I got concerned and tried to send her a semi-joking text message about it, but she never responded, which is unlike her. This makes me even more concerned because I think the only reason she would ignore my questions is because she knows I’m not going to like her answers. 

    So the advice I need is this: What should I do? Should I reach out to her again, and if so, what can I say that will not push her away? Should I just let this drop? I feel especially reluctant to confront her on this because I am white and I don’t want to come off as being insensitive to her cultural heritage. Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom.

  • I would let it drop because I don’t like proselytizing. I don’t like religious people trying to convince me to be a Christian, and I don’t try to convince them to be an atheist. 

    However, if you did talk about religion, I don’t see how it would be insensitive to her being AA, unless you went for “How can a black person be a Christian when the Bible condones slavery?” angle, or something similar. I really can’t stand when people act as if we have to feel someway just because we are black. 

    In any case, if when I was a Christian a white atheist had tried to de-convert me, I wouldn’t have thought it was culturally insensitive because I did not  connect my race to my religion. 

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