Dr. Keri Day’s book Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives, can be seen as a lengthy meditation, indeed a recapitulation of the words of artist and black feminist poet and playwright Ntozake Shange, and her acclaimed poem/play/novel For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf:
i found god in myself
& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely1
Day weaves an extraordinary breadth and range of scholarship—Christian theology, black feminist literature and social theory, European continental philosophy and critical theory, and womanist theology—to argue that the world’s global political economy—neoliberalism—operates through mechanisms and procedures which render black women, women of color as expendable and discardable. However, the constitutive excrement of women of color to neoliberalism make their acts of humanity, of care and of agency the very condition of possibility, both from outside and within neoliberalism for forms of resistance, of desire of other possible worlds within this world by the work of our own hands. For Day, this work is what she marks as “religious,” informed by deep, enfleshed, erotic connection for one another, which translates into contingent, creative and immanent love and hope, based on a sense of the sacredness of the black feminine, of women of color and their activity in the world.
In an introduction and five tightly argued chapters, Day forcefully deploys a diasporic conception of her key terms: neoliberalism, religion, womanist and black feminist. These terms mark both hegemonic, if always evolving, conditions of political subjugation and economic oppression, and the myriad formations of what Day calls “Divine” in fleshly actions of women of color as constituted and reconstituted in their dispersion throughout a world marked by colonial formation. Given that diaspora marks both real and imagined homes and familial relations, it should be no surprise that she adroitly moves through a discussion of US black women, and global iterations of women of color, as well as moves seamlessly in discussing the sacrality of the black feminine in Christian and non-Christian ways. Her work, as it dismantles the myth of progress and offers a realized eschatology, or critiques the reduction of persons to things in resisting the acquiring mode, or yearns for a recovery of sensuality and sexuality as foundational to our sacrality and our politics in loss of the erotic, or begins to move from deconstruction to constructive acts of remembrance and resistance in love as a concrete revolutionary practice and hope as a social practice—Day engages in what I might call critical fabulation.2 Day, like many black feminists, will not allow Western discardability and subjectivity to define agency and the black sacred sense of ineffability, which grounds black women and women of color feminine activity in the world. Critical fabulation resists enclosure that predicates truly transformational change on an eschatological inbreaking from outside the signs and marks of life women of color—black feminine sacred—exude by breathing, walking, praying, shouting, dancing, singing, mobilizing, agitating and demanding when already presumed dead by neoliberalism. Critical fabulation offers, against archival absence and disciplinary silence, the imaginative recovery of the hopes of dead ancestors, and their unrealized dreams of justice, as possible pathways of resistance against teleological fate and neoliberalism’s presumed finality.
Her interlocutors on this forum—Melanie Jones, Sarah Azaransky, Christophe Ringer, and Ellen Ott Marshall—both engage her emphases and offer critical questions for her and this forum’s readers to consider. How does Day both privilege and distinguish between black feminist and womanist resources for the religious imagination and resistance they may offer to neoliberalism? In Day’s effort to conceive of these resources in ways that no doubt start in the lived and fleshly experience of women of color, how can the analytic of black feminine subjectivity be retained as she moves from black feminist theories of intersectionality—which often expose the legal invisibility of the interlocking oppressions made flesh in black and women of color women—to more subtle, affective, erotic and emotional connection for political action through more recent feminist articulations of assemblage theory? Does the turn to the erotic and the affective guarantee their disposition for resistance, or is the erotic and the emotions always already contested and contaminated within the neoliberal world? And if contaminated, by what ethically justifiable means might the erotic be retrieved? Given Day follows Audre Lorde’s distinction between the erotic and the pornographic, does Day discount the very ways the pornographic, the abjection of black feminine life, may be retrieved, though violent and oppressive, for signs of resistance, and marks of imagination? Finally, given Day’s commitment to no inbreaking from the outside, no transcendent power guaranteeing the outcome of our fight against neoliberalism, can this humanocentric divine immanence offer a concept of God that lives up to the sacred formations and practices of black and women of color women whose religions conjure up imaginations of and physical fights for justice in this world?
Ntozake Shange, For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf, reprint ed. (New York: Scribner, 1997), 63.↩
See Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26 (2008) 1–14, esp. 11; and I am also thinking about the work of Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley and M. Jacqui Alexander. See Jafari S. Allen and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, “A Conversation ‘Overflowing with Memory’: On Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s ‘Water, Shoulders, Into the Black Pacific,’” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 18.2 (2012) 249–62. M. Jacqui Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).↩