Black History Month According to an Afro-Latin@

My name is Idalia T. Wilmoth, and I am an Afro-Latina American from Roatan, Honduras. To me, Black History Month means a time to “Re-member” the Sankofa, an African word from the Akan people which means “to return and retrieve; go and get it and bring it here; to return to the source; to recover the rich lessons.”

Black History Month is more than celebrating the enormous amount of invaluable contributions Black Americans have sacrificed and given to the United States and the entire world. It’s a moment where I believe African Diaspora peoples center and unify themselves in ways to reimagine life within the dominate narrative.

With February as Black History Month, we as a people deeply understand and appreciate a time designated to the celebration of African descendants. For me, Afro-Latino Americans have a long history of African linage that reaches back to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. However, the narratives of Afro-Latinos often are rarely brought to light.

The Importance of Afro-Latin@s

According to Miriam Jiménez Román and Juan Flores in their 2010 book The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States, Afro-Latin@ communities have historically been structurally racialized, which has resulted in the creation of monolithic narratives surrounding what race and ethnicity mean; in this case, Black and Latinx. Both Black and Latinx discourse for me speaks to the intersecting identity I hold linguistically, culturally and even within the notion of Black indigeneity.

This intrinsically complex and unique blend of identity means that the African ancestors from their various ethnic groups were kidnapped from Africa, but brought their cultures, ideas, and world-views with them. In this regard, the experiences of Afro-Latino Americans are not homogenous but these communities exist simultaneously in similar and different ways throughout the African Diaspora. This simply means that Black History Month is always incomplete without the global narrative of Afro-Latinos.

Black History Month as Communion

It is for this reason that I always compare Black History Month to communion. I believe this month is a time to reflect, renew, and refuel. It’s an opportunity to show humility, reverence, and stand in awe of a God who protected His people through 400 years of slavery and displacement, Jim Crow and lynching, institutional discrimination, and global exploitation and erasure. It is a time to never forget and to stand on Hebrews 13:7 which says to,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

The bible says to remember those leaders who embraced faith and were obedient to God’s calling. We should consider their lives, their examples and how they lived, and do our best to emulate their faith and leadership.

This month is a time to awaken the historical amnesia that sweeps the hearts and minds of many, and remind ourselves that Black History Month is a powerful tool against white supremacy. It is important that we avoid romanticizing Black history as this savior, heroic and achieving piece to our narratives. We must address the complexity of blackness and the ambiguity of the past. Let’s not only focus on celebrating the first inventors, but explore our first defeats and disappointments. Let’s be intentional about studying the critical thoughts and products of African heritage globally.

Black identity has shaped, informed and touched this world like nothing else. And Black History Month reminds us how we have done it so as to encourage this current generation to continue to do it. Adding the lens of Latinidad only adds to this rich understanding and call to true Black History.




Faith Over Fashion

“I’m gonna’ put on my robe, tell the story how I made it ova’.”

Contention over dress within the Christian church it is nothing new. For African Americans, clothing, fashion, and style have historically been acts of resistance, liberation, and counter-narrative. Our garb has also signaled and signified who we are and how we “made it over.”

So why is it that we ask the controversial question “how should we dress for worship?”

Many have harbored strong feelings about the topic of dress and worship for some time. And whenever people feel strongly about a topic that the Bible does not give explicit instructions on we find ourselves in an imbalanced state of division. But if we look back at history, P.E. Klassen documents in an article for Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation that Black women in the 19th century used dress to communicate. Both the political and religious messages in their attire suggest that women understood the power of dress and how it legitimized them in a society that was originally hostile towards them. In other words, dress in African American communities has traditionally not been a separate entity. Our dress was functional, political, and religious, all while displaying our cultural expression through style.

With dress originally playing such a pivotal role in African American political and religious culture, when did the two separate? How is it that now, African American dress is a choice between religious respectability or cultural identity?

Sacrificing Culture for Salvation

The truth is, I believe some African Americans have sacrificed their culture for salvation. Many African American Christians have traded in their cultural identity for respectability in Western European Christian churches. It’s as though we’ve omitted the origins of dress as a feature of culture, and an expression of being. But there is no Scriptural support for such a sacrifice. In fact, Scripture reveals that dress and all its particulars has always been important to God. In fact, God even believed certain religious leaders, those being the priests, should wear particular garb. Exodus 28:2 says, “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him divinity and honor.” Some translations say “for glory and for beauty,” meaning the robes of the priests were to be both appealing to the eye and sufficient to represent the glory of God.

In other words, the garments in Exodus represented the culture of post-Egyptian bondage as now they are a people that has been set a part to worship Yahweh and Him alone. But they are also a representation of God’s standard of “divinity and honor.” These robes were to help them understand the significance of humanity coming into the presence of God in the sanctuary.

Covered

But God also spoke to the Israelites about His plan to save them and atone for their sin using the dress of the day as a metaphor. In Ezekiel 16:10-14, God describes how He found humanity, metaphorically a woman in the text, naked and covered in blood. He washes her and covers her:

“I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord God.

Here, God is speaking to the prophet Ezekiel and He’s likening His redemption of humanity to clothing a woman in fine linen and jewels. Speaking of the fabrics and ornaments of that time period, God is not put off by cultural dress. No, here God uses the cultural dress of the time to describe His plan of justification and sanctification. The beauty of such spiritual covering, God believed, would be best understood by the people if likened to the finest fabrics and jewelry of that time.

Dress is an Act of Worship

By likening salvation to the cultural dress of the time, we see that African Americans have the authority to express their relationship with God through dress. God desires that we be beautifully garbed. But what’s of greatest significance is that our garb is not a prerequisite for coming into His presence. In fact, the truth is, all we do and anything we wear is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This is why God promises to clothe us and cover us like the Father did the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.

Yes, God designed a robe specific for the priests because of their role as intercessors on behalf of the people. But to the people at large God did not designate any particular kind of clothing that was specifically for worship. This gives us the freedom to celebrate our authentic walk in Christ enjoying how our clothing is a symbol of God’s infinite grace. God is the Master Stylist. He took our fig leaves and clothed us in lamb’s wool, and because of the sacrifice of Christ takes our sin and clothes us in His righteousness. And God has even promised that when it’s all over He’s going to hand us a crown and a robe and we will put on the garments of Heaven and tell the story of how we made it over. So until that day, let us feel free to worship Him with the fashion of our various cultures remembering they are beautiful symbols of our justification and sanctification.