Who do you turn to as your spiritual guide? If you’re a black woman then the answer is probably “God”.
The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a nationwide survey and concluded that nearly nine in 10 African American women rely heavily on their faith.
WaPo says the poll is the most extensive look at black women’s lives in decades. (You’ll likely remember some of it’s previous findings like the results on overweight black women and self-esteem.) This poll found that, as a group, black women are among the most religious people in the nation. Although black men are almost as religious as their female counterparts, there is a more stark divide along racial lines. According to their report:
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.
Clearly, according to the poll, the majority of white women are also believers. But cultural influences probably account for the racial gap, said Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, a professor of sociology and African American studies at Colby College in Maine.
African Americans are more likely to have grown up with gospel music in the background of their lives, as well as with a mother or grandmother who insisted on all-day church on Sundays and Bible school in the summers.
Of course, even a modern-day discussion of Christianity and Black America cannot leave out slavery. The article goes on to say:
Inextricably woven into black culture has been the sense that devotion and faith in God more strongly connect black men and women to their slave ancestors, who leaned on religious faith to help maintain their dignity in the face of discrimination and harsh and unjust treatment.
Some theologians argue that women in general and black women in particular are more religious than men because of their experience with oppression.
It’s important not to confuse this finding that women who confess their faith with women who just go to church. The report found that many women get together outside of church to pray together and read the Bible and discuss their personal wins and losses. The power in the majority of churches is decidedly male and this fact wasn’t lost on the black women surveyed. They don’t seem to mind though because church isn’t the focus. They told WaPo that their focus is on one thing: their personal relationship with God.
When life is harsh and doesn’t turn out as they expect, they say, they rely even more strongly on God.
Although this report seemed to focus mostly on Christianity, they did explore the fact that Christianity is not the only religion black women practice. The article quoted one Protestant turned Buddhist and other religions are discussed as well.
There was also a segment of women surveyed, albeit a small segment, who don’t profess that faith plays a significant part in their lives. The poll found that for roughly a quarter of black women who responded to the survey, religion plays a less-than-primary role in their lives; a scant 2 percent of them said it is “not at all” important.
Where do you stand? Does religion play a strong role in your life?
Follow Alissa Henry on Twitter @AlissaInPink
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