Monique Moultrie

“Womanist Ethnography, Race, Sexuality, and Media”

Moultrie 200 x 297In an epoch when some are chanting “Black Lives Matter” and the United States is once again forced to plunge into discussions about race and its citizens, W. E. B. DuBois’ words, “How does it feel to be a problem?” (Souls of Black Folk, 1903) still ring true as the continuing problem into this new century appears to be the color line. Despite electing a mixed race president, Americans still have polarized views of racial relations, and these views are often intricately connected to a person’s religious beliefs. The Black Lives Matter movement captured a national surge of resistance to the treatment of black bodies as dispensable and inconsequential. Despite the Black Lives Matter participants’ use of religion to highlight black bodies as divinely created, there has been overwhelming silence from most religious communities choosing not to weigh in publicly on these secular concerns. This silence echoes the sense that some bodies matter more than others, and some people use religion as a justification for this belief.

In this way, religion has imprinted morality onto racial groups. Religious myths about race are important markers for determining societal hierarchies. Socio-religious myths provide an answer for why the world is the way that it is. The myth of race lingers partially because it is deemed by so many to have religious sanctioning.

Myths are also so persuasive because they are often based on storytelling, and the use of myth is especially significant in religious stories. According to religion historian Bruce Lincoln myths are encoded with the fundamental values of a group such that storytelling is actually just a reflection of the values and persona of the storyteller. Thus, it is important to recognize the power involved in religious myths because some groups are given authority to shape stories that are deemed fact. An African proverb states “Until the lions have their own storyteller, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Using womanist analysis in religious studies requires listening for the story of the lion and questioning the tale of the hunter.

Womanist sexual ethics is invested in determining how religion and race ought to be theorized and discussed as it is conscious of what happens in and to the bodies of people of color. My scholarship is rooted in the bodily experiences of black women as I amplify their meaning making about how faith impacts their lives. My research utilizes womanist ethnography and qualitative research to use the stories, voices, and experiences of black women as sources for scholarly inquiry. Womanist anthropologist Linda Thomas asserts that womanist ethnography involves entering the communities of black women, learning and living among these people to utilize their life experiences as primary sources with the task of reflecting their polyvalent stories. Just like womanists who use biomythographies, autobiographies, or historiographies, the major emphasis is on creating space for the validity of black women’s religious experiences.

In my discussion of research with this group, I plan to bring forth some of the promise and challenges involved with qualitative research and virtual ethnography as methodologies for scholarship. My book follows faith-based sexuality ministries (Christian ministries/media that discuss sexuality) and the women who are consumers of such messages as I documented their deep desire for their sexuality and faith to align. Yet, my participant observation of these ministries was possible because of my prior participation in these movements and the research (particularly the online ethnography) was particularly helped by my compassion towards the research subjects. Yet, I was clear in my goal of illuminating my ethnographic subjects’ experiences while at the same time offering a womanist corrective.

Each book chapter takes a part of the womanist definition to construct a womanist sexual ethics for contemporary times as I ponder what would it mean to live into this contemporary womanist sexual ethics. For example, I investigate how scholars think about sexual freedom, flourishing, and thriving that actually deals with people’s everyday realities and not just what the norm would be. My job as an ethnographer was to listen, record, and then interpret all the while being consciously aware of the stereotypes that abound about black women’s sexuality. As a scholar of racialized faith, I remain conscious of the impact of socio-religious myths and how they impact public perceptions of race. Thus, being critical and ethically attuned to these women’s daily lives often brought challenges to the research that SORAAAD will help me explore.

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