Black Life Matter: Blackness, Religion, and the Subject takes roles seriously. It literally invites the reader into a story and author Biko Mandela Gray is the storyteller. With this understanding, though the theoretical points are plentiful, so too are the stories. And they are many canopied under the story Gray offers about the place, manner, and value of Black lives. Gray wants their readers to sit down, slow down, take in, and honor the stories of these particular Black lives—for they are precious.
Black lives are not just things explored after making headlines tragedy after tragedy, or objects that fortify the existence of whiteness and its subsequent false assumptions about the superiority of whiteness. No. Black lives are tangible, dynamic, and living expressions of the fullness of humanity and all that exceed the bounds of a limited sense of a human self.
Black life is that which whiteness and its philosophies have attempted to make into an object. Black lives are those which exceed objectivity and overdetermination. Black lives have richness and depth that force whiteness to conjure rationales and practices in order to position itself over and against such lives.
Gray explores the richness of Black lives by centering them, offering critiques of the function and mechanics of whiteness. He thoroughly examines what it is about Black lives that disturb a white status quo. Thus, in privileging Black stories, Gray also deconstructs the altars whiteness has created for itself. And Gray does so through attending to matters of humanity.
Moving deliberately while exploring the roles and affects such as care, attentiveness (i.e., sitting with another), touch, imagination and thought, flesh, love, and most importantly, fear in the stories of Ayana Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and Sandra Bland, Gray signals how—though Black persons are imaged and subsequently slain—Blackness and Black lives cannot be demised. Whiteness images and imagines them to be and move and live in ways that confirm white fears, yet Black lives best white imagination.
Black life matters because whiteness, though it tries through whatever means it can conjure, cannot name Black life, know it, or end it. Whiteness cannot control how Blacks life, how Black lives, how Black lives matter and materialize outside of the narratives whiteness tries to place upon them.
But whiteness forces its way in and cries out to be just as present in the stories of these Black lives. This is the difficult reality to sort in a work like Gray’s. In honoring and granting significant space to the stories of Black lives, the culprits’ justifications and rationalities of whiteness steals most of the room. This stealing, unfortunately, grants significant space to the thief. The distorted morality, imagination, affect, sight, habits, and practices of whiteness and its descendants claim space – too much space. To best understand the stories of Black lives, whiteness’ stories are told, too. This is the unfortunate entanglement—in telling the victim’s side, what happened to them matters. But the mattering is ensnared in a web of whiteness. This is the unfortunate consequence of trying to ensure Black lives have story. Whiteness has bound itself to them.
But the stories must be told. And Gray’s courageous take on offering theory and religious attentiveness to Blackness and Black lives creates a space where Ayana, Tamir, Alton, Sandra and so many others can be honored for the fullness of who they were to their families and to this world—and not only be reduced to what happened to them on this plane. Gray reminds the reader that they are more; that their love, lives, and impact still live on today. Their stories carry their intentions and dreams and possibilities further than anything state-sanctioned violence can do to them.
They live still. They live on. Whiteness cannot control that. Black Life Matter is an everlasting reminder that Blackness bears infinity within it and no matter what or who tries to terminate it, Blackness essences eternity. It cannot be captured. It will not end.
Oluwatomisin Olayinka Oredein is an assistant professor in black religious traditions and constructive theology and ethics at Brite Divinity School.
Date Of Review:
December 4, 2023
Biko Mandela Gray is Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University and coeditor of The Religion of White Rage: White Workers, Religious Fervor, and the Myth of Black Racial Progress.
Reading Religion Newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter and receive updates on new books, new reviews, and more.
You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never share or sell your e-mail address.