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Welcome to feminist utopia. Episode five in our inaugural episode we talked about how we believe religion is a feminist. issue and so today we’re having our very first interview and it’s going to be with our friend Deanna Adams. We so appreciate Deanna for being brave enough to come on with us and for putting up with our recording fiascos. We’re still learning. The coffee shop that we chose did not have good acoustics, so we went with plan B, which was in a parked car in the parking lot in a city parking lot with sirens and everything, so huge thanks to our sound engineer for cleaning it up and huge thanks to Deanna too. Huge, huge thanks to Deanna for coming out and sitting in the back of her car while we all huddled around a computer. Right. Deanna recently published an essay titled Black Women and Christianity in the United States.
A historical perspective part too, and it was published in the book, Women v Religion and it’s an exciting read. There’ll be a link to the book on our website. Deana is well known to us through her activist work in the humanist community and in this essay she discusses issues regarding women and atheists and their marginalization in the civil rights movement and also the continuing issues black women face from their religious communities. It really is a very well written illustration of intersectional oppressions for Black Women who face challenges and then are further marginalized within their religious communities. Here’s an excerpt from Deanna’s chapter followed by our interview with her enjoy.
Deanna: In order for the modern black woman to begin to heal from generations of religious zealotry, it is essential to be honest about the unhealthy relationships, abuse and financial difficulties that are exacerbated by adherence to Christianity, apathy for our health and social justice issues, especially those most concerning to black women must be addressed honestly within any plan to truly prosper.
We’re welcoming Deanna Adams to our podcast. Today. We’re going to talk about a book that she helped write called Women v Religion and I think the best way to start is to tell us a little about yourself and about the book.
Deanna:Thanks for having me today. I’m very excited. So as you both know, I was involved in the humanist and atheist movement in the Houston area and to make a long story a little bit shorter was approached about writing specifically why black women should consider leaving religion. It’s something that’s been very important to me personally in my journey and it’s something that I’m very concerned about because as you either have heard or will hear shortly, Christianity is not helpful to black women in a lot of different ways. There is a lot of abuse that occurs in the name of Christianity in a lot of accepting abuse. That is a problem. So personally speaking, my back story, if you will, I was a devoted wife and church member. I was in the Ministry of Arts and drama. I wrote plays and towards the end I was also in an abusive marriage.
So I like to say I left an abusive church and an abusive marriage. On the same day I went to, I talked to my pastor about finallygetting out of this after she had been telling me over and over and over again. And just keep praying for my husband. Just pray that he’ll get better and he’ll stop treating me and the children the way that he was. And finally I was done with it after a specific episode and she told me if I left, because she had invited him unbeknownst to me to this meeting. But if I left then I might as well just keep walking. And that’s exactly what I did. So I walked away from him. I walked away from that church and eventually I walked away from the idea of Oh God at all. And it became crystal clear to me that a lot of women, especially black women, are held in these situations with no upside.
Deanna: You know, talked about in the book how we still have the highest rates of disease, the highest rates of maternal mortality, highest health issues, and yet we’re the most religious. So, you know, it doesn’t really make sense. What’s God doing for us? Like really? So yeah, that’s the back story. And how I got involved in this particular project and the book women be religion overall is 13 different SAS that are speaking about why women should consider leaving religion. The smaller type is the case against faith and for freedom and I, Karen Garcia’s the editor. Her first book was a book about essays of personal stories of women and how they left religion and her second book. She wanted it to be more focused on making that case for women so that they can decide for themselves.
Benita: In the book itself covers all types of religions. There’s a essay about Islam. There is an essay about Judaism, several about Christianity, different types and resonates with me because I firmly believe religion is a feminist issue. It’s used against women to cudgel them into becoming the drama person at their church and providing a bunch of free labor with the hope of eternal salvation at the end of it. One of the things that we talk about with feminist utopia is how ms is so ingrained in our society and when it’s disguised in the context of the religion that you were brought up with. It’s hard to recognize. We’re just saying that in our feminist utopia, faith in God would not be dependent on subservient women and you make the case in your essay Deanna really well about the reasons why religion makes it more difficult for women and how you become entrenched in the church. And one of the things that I want to hear about is how you got the courage to step outside of that.
Deanna: That’s a great question. Thank you. I’ve done a couple of these podcasts by now and I think that’s the first time anyone has ever asked me that. Let’s see. You know, I have three children and once it got to a point that my children were being harmed, you know, in the marriage that was easy enough because I’ve always been one in my family will tell you to cut things off when they start being harmful. However, it had always been in church. I had always been taught to believe that God was going to fix things and at this point, one of the things that was extra harmful about being in this church was that guilt and shame of being. This was my second marriage, and so I had failed already and God was giving me a bigger test and I’m about to fail again kind of thing, but again, my children were being harmed so that just license everything away.
Nothing else matters at that point for me, and I left the church and then I started just reading a lot and googling, are there such things as black atheists, does that exist? Am I losing my mind? Should I be in somebody else’s church? Maybe that just wasn’t the right church and I just started learning so much and then I went through this phase of embarrassment because I was a relatively intelligent person, college educated, and I have a great professional life and all of this other thing and how could I ever believe in talking snakes? You know what was wrong with me? So I guess my children’s safety is that first thing. Then then just learning, learning and growing and accepting the fact that if we’re taught something from day one and you’re taught not to question it and you’re taught to revere it, that is your bedrock. When everything else in life goes wrong, it’s hard to let that go. It’s really hard to live that.
Benita: I find it really interesting. Kind of a universal female truth is that we will put up with a lot of abuse for our own selves. Maybe you felt like it wasn’t so bad when it was just you, but adding in the kids all of a sudden that gives you the strength to leave. We take on ourselves so much and think we deserve it, but that mother bear comes out. There’s some switch that happens when our children are threatened and my question is, how come we’re not enough? How come it’s not enough when we’re being hurt?
Deanna: Right? It’s that long suffering, which by the way, it has always, even when I was religious, my least favorite virtue has been long suffering. It’s always been a question in my head, why?
Why do we have to suffer so badly? You know, I come from a background of raised southern Black Baptist because southern Baptist and southern black baptist are two different things. If you didn’t know, and Prosperity Church. And then the last one, it was a nondenominational, very, very small church where the pastor was very hands on. And in all of those traditions, it’s always been you put yourself to the side so that you can serve Jesus. I mean even Jesus says that everything that is used because you don’t matter anymore, what matters is this ministry and what matters is this faith and what matters is you raising your children into this faith. So that’s why we, especially as women, put ourselves on the back burner and put ourselves to the side and it’s okay, I can handle it, I can handle it and we can’t and we shouldn’t have to. That would be my feminist utopia. Not Having to deal with raising children, raising men, raising anybody really. But that’s the parents of a teenager talking right now. Yeah, it’s a whole nother episode. Right?
Debby: What were universal truths? It was in your essay was the, if it’s bad for a white woman in religion multiply that times 20 and then you’ve got how black women are harmed, increased mortality rates like you mentioned, but also if you do leave a domestic violence situation of black woman is, I can’t remember, I want to say it was like 12 times more likely to die due to abuse from your partner and you have to make me look okay. But it was, it was a shocking statistic and I guess it Mean Times 15 I underestimated my question is when you have multiple intersections of oppression, like being a woman and being black or being porn, all those, how do you get out of it? How do you help yourself? How do you help others? I mean it’s the multiple intersections make it seemingly almost impossible.
Deanna: Yes, yes. I didn’t want to say impossible. Nothing’s ever impossible. Um, but no, sometimes it is,sometimes it’s sheer force of will when you have, like you said, all these things stacking on top of each other. That’s why my focus has been on black women and my focus has been to say, you don’t have to do this in addition to everything else that you’re dealing with. You don’t have to be put into a situation where if you leave an abusive situation, you’re being told by the church since your bed or going to go to hill or you’re going to have a harder, I was actually told once, well, if you leave this husband, you’re going to get a worst one after that because you failed the test that God gave you and so now you’re going to get harder to see those and give you easier tests.
Like I was literally told that in a counseling session. So you know, I guess my point in writing this is hopefully women will see it and we’ll read it and we’ll say, okay, that’s one thing that I don’t have to put on myself and if something is wrong in my life or if something needs to change in my life, I don’t have to go and pray about it. I don’t have to wait for an answer that’s never going to come. I can make these small steps or these changes. I’m kind of working on a project right now that you guys know. That’s the point of that project. That project is instead of running to Jesus and planting a seed in church and saying, God, give me a house. These are the steps that you take to actually buy a house. Or these are the steps that you take to get out of an abusive situation or these are the steps that you take to live a healthier life.
So I think that’s what you do. You research and you try to do better and you try to do different and then you tell other people about it. I’m assuming that in your life and the church, that was a lot of your social support. Yes. And did your friends leave you when you left the church? Oh yeah. And you know, to be fair, I love some of them and some of them love me. Well, when I left the last church, which was like a cult, I left everybody in that church because, oh, funny story. The abusive ex husband hired a lawyer from within the church because like I said, it was like a cult. So everybody, there were doctors in that church that the other members would go to, their lawyers in the church the other members would go to. And so he went to one of the ladies in the church who had worked with me on the drama team, knew me personally, and let’s just say pretty much threw everything at the wall that they possibly could and none of it stuck.
But she was stuck with a rather large bill later that he didn’t pay. Anyway. So yeah, that particular church, everybody in there is just immediately cut off. But I’ve had other friends in my life, friends from college were already sisters, things like that. I’ve had some that have just not understood, you know, how can you not be religious anymore? How can you turn your back on God? But some of them have just quietly walked away. Like they just don’t answer the phone anymore or they don’t call or what have you. And then there’s a couple that have stuck around. There’s a couple that we had some rough patches and we talked about it and we’re doing okay now. And then I found a whole new community. I found you guys. And for a while in Houston I found other black nonbelievers, black atheists and humanists. And that was awesome because there is a time that you feel like you’re the only one and then there’s people that’ll tell you, oh, atheism, that’s white people. Shit, I heard that a couple times and and so it was great to find like minded people who look like me. So yeah, I found a whole new community and some parts of that community can be incredibly toxic as you all know. But other parts of the community can be lifesaving.
Benita: And Deanna was modest discussing her activist background when she did her intro, but I’m going to ask a question that hopefully will pull some of that out. Being all these multiple intersection, being atheist and being a female of being black. How has that shaped and directed your activism, which she does? I’m kind of old.
Deanna: Hey, that’s right now. So I always feel like I’m not doing enough. That’s another woman always feel like we’re not doing enough. Right. And I think you need to give yourself more credit. Yes. So I like to say, and I’ve said before on other shows, atheism is one thing. Atheism is just, you don’t believe that there is a god. That’s it. But atheism without humanism is crap. Yes. I mean, it just is. If you don’t believe that there’s a god, then that means you know that nobody’s coming to save us. And if nobody’s coming to save us, then guess what? We need to save ourselves. Right? And we need to help each other and we need to be there for each other. I try not to Bash Christians at this point in my journey. But one of the things I can say about a lot, not all of course, but a lot of the Christians that I know is they have so many excuses and escape clauses and reasons why they can’t help their fellow man.
And I even heard in a church once, you know, well, the most powerful thing you can do for somebody is pray for them. I’m sorry, but, and it was to me, looking back at it now, that’s an excuse that I don’t want to lift a hand up. I don’t want to help anyone. I don’t want to actually do something. So I’m gonna pretend like I’m talking to the all powerful person up there and they can do way more than I can ever do because I’m just a puny little human. Once I let go of religion and realize that that was crap, I just started acting more. I’ve always been a person that loved other people. So even when I was in church, that was kind of my faith and action was helping other people. But since getting out of religion, part of humanist and Houston am a part of black lives matter Houston during Hurricane Harvey, we did a lot of Harvey recovery. I was still involved with West Street recovery. Yeah, shout out to all of those organizations. They are still think we are, what, 1718 months after Harvey and we are still rebuilding houses. Like I said, you know that there is no god coming to save us. You need to help people because we have to save each other. Yeah,
Benita: well we definitely agree. Posting something on Facebook and getting likes as self-congratulatory akin to wearing a pussy hat. Sorry, can we, you know exactly where I’m going with that.We want to have meaningful action directions and I was wondering if you might have some ideas about what are the other women out there can do that would have a meaningful impact.
Deanna: So as far as what the average person can do, I am not wanting to bash whatever somebody can do because everybody has their own limitations and everything like that. I get it. However, if people who want to help, like I said, we are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey down here in Houston. There’s Houston that got their insurance check and rebuilt, you know, have nicer houses now than they did before the storm. And then there’s the area of Houston that we work that are still rebuilding West Street Recovery has been doing amazing work since day one. They got into their boats. You guys heard about the occasion. Navy people got help because other people said, you know, hey, I know this family that’s on the roof over here. Members of the organization got in their boats and they saved people off of their roof. And then what we did with BLM, h o u was organize days of mucking and gutting and then we came together and we created West Street recovery or a group of us.
Dude, that would be an amazing place to donate time, donate resources if you’re in the Houston area. We as in western recovery take volunteers every weekend. So you just go to West Street recovery on Facebook or the website, West Street recovery.org. Um, we also take donations. You know, they’re still doing mucking and gutting. They’re putting up sheet rock, so donating their would be amazing. Do you want to stress one thing about Western recovery, I was one of those people that didn’t get FEMA money right out the gate. And FEMA grants have largely gone away. You have to jump through so many hoops and they’re offering low cost loans. But these are people that can’t afford a $30,000 loan or qualify or qualify for it. So Western recovery can be sending helps those people especially that have been left behind and they came in early and our stain, so much aid came in early and then left. But here on is almost two years in August and they’re still gutting homes.
Deanna: Like I said, it literally started with three people in a boat, three roommates who lived on West Street and it ballooned and it congealed and we became an organization that’s doing really great work. So you can be sure that your donations are going to helping people to help women in your life. You can always buy the book of women, be religion. It’s the case against faith in four freedom edited by Karen Garcia.
Debby: Well, thank you so much for meeting with us is always, it’s delightful to hang out with you and talk and I’ll probably be seeing you in October at the conference if you want to talk a little bit about that at all.
Deanna: Yes, thank you for reminding me as if I could forget. I’m going to be at the women of color beyond belief conference being put on in Chicago in October of this year and I’m going to be speaking and possibly on a panels. So yeah, I come out and can’t wait to see you guys again and thank you so much for having me and congratulations. Thank you. I am honored, honored to be here with you guys. The first interview is ours. Yes, you are in first,
Debby: thank you so much for joining us today at feminist utopia. If you like our work, please give us a review on iTunes, stitcher, or wherever you access our podcasts so others can find it as well. You may also become a feminist utopia email@example.com to show your appreciation. Remember, patrons get perks and check out our blog and other resources at our website, feminist utopia.net email us your idea of what a feminist utopia would look like or any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org we appreciate you taking the time to listen and grow with us. Feminist Utopia is created by Debbie Williams and Benita Malone.