By Hassan Henderson
Since receiving it as a gift, now a little over four years ago, I’ve boastfully sported the “I Met God, She’s Black” T-Shirt. It was given to me as a twentieth birthday present by one of my good friends—a Black woman. She and I would, together, trouble popular images of God as the great, white patriarch in the skies, rewarding and punishing Black people according to *His seemingly arbitrary will.
Resenting both this image and what felt to be our intimate yet impulsive alliance to it, we were committed to resisting white hegemony by defining for ourselves an expression of the love, the wisdom and novelty of the sacred uniquely expressed through the lenses of our blossoming radical Black-femme religiopolitics. Black feminist poets like Ntozke Shange testifying that “I found God in myself, and I loved her fiercely” aided in how we would spiritually work out our own political convictions about the social world.
After a while, we did finally meet God in ourselves too. And because of the way that this God urged the fervor of our political rebellion, She was then, as she is now, Black.
I recently discovered, however, that the profiter of the T-Shirt is not. And now I’m asking for my money back.
Dylan Chenfeld, referred to by white-apologist-media-heads as a “creative guerrilla marketing talent,” is the white man who designed the now widely celebrated T-Shirt popularized in 2015. That same year, white women across the country garnered social attention by subjugating and thereby perverting the magic that is Black-femme creative thought and being through “new trends” like Kylie Jenner’s “boxer braids,” Taylor Swift’s romanticization of European conquest of African lands in her music video for “Wildest Dreams”, Miley Cyrus’ dreadlocks, and Rachel Dolezal.
It was no surprise then that upon entering the slogan “I Met God, She’s Black” into the Google images search engine, my screen was overcast by grungy-hipster white people—white women especially—stunting the popularized phrase in white and black lettering down their abdomens.
This was confirmation that presumably well-meaning, progressive, anti-racist, feminist “allies” will only reinscribe anti-Blackness, while cashing in on the social and monetary benefits of Blackness as capital.
While rocking new post-racial, politicized merchandise, white progressives such as Dylan Chenfeld aid both in the proliferation of the modern anti-Black capitalist machine and the expansion of capital violence against Black women’s creative thought.
In 2015, The Huffington Post published the article “Jewish Atheist’s Controversial T-Shirt: ‘I Met God, She’s Black’ in which the then 21-year-old Chenfeld discussed how the phrase had become a source of business, exemplifying plainly—perhaps unbeknownst to him—the colonial functions of capitalism. Though he admits that he did not author the phrase, Chenfled gloats that “[h]e’s just the one who decided to put it on a $30 T-shirt.”
Further, Chenfeld admits that his intentions—which have little to do with his impact on Black people—are not as much geared toward supporting the emancipation of Black womanhood from the fetters of white-supremacist religiopolitics as much as to discredit the significant power that some Black women discover in the usages of divinity altogether. “I like poking fun at sacred cows,” Chenfeld told HuffPost. “I’m taking the idea that God is a white male and doing the opposite of that, which is a black woman.”
Whereas Chenfeld is right to criticize white-hegemonic images of God, his suggestion that Black women are the ”the opposite of that” reinforces conceptions of Black women as sole, uncomplicated, compounds of race and gender. Because whiteness defines itself by contrast, Chenfeld—as do all white people—fetishizes basic portrayals Blackness, Black womanhood, and Black sexuality in order to define himself as “a white male” even as he pretends to make an attempt to resist his white-maleness.
“I Met God, She’s Black” functions quite differently depending on who’s saying it. It is important to note that Black women are not the monolithic category as so often described in feminist and antiracist activism. Black women are themselves engaging complicated webs of political/theological dialog regarding the notion of God as Black-femme Savior. Myriad womanist and Black feminist scholars continue building higher, more nuanced imaginations of Black femme divinity that speak to the unique experiences of Black womanhood.
As it relates to Chenfeld and his predominate white clientele, however, the phrase can only serve as a post-racial metaphor for whiteness as it relies, daily, on Black injury in order to develop meaningful conceptions of white identity. And all of this is accomplished for the accumulation of social and financial wealth and because of the exploitation of intellectual and emotional labors of people—Black women—who are never determined worthy of profiting capital, because they are themselves firstly narrated as capital.
It was especially unsettling to discover Chenfeld tell The Huffington Post that after rising visibility of #BlackLivesMatter rebellions and #SayHerName protests across the country “he’s gotten an increased interest in the shirts,” regrettably confessing that the brutal execution of Sandra Bland, in the same year (2015), “hasn’t necessarily translated into increased sales.” Further, upon visiting his company’s website, I observed the “I Met God, She’s Black” T-Shirt, advertised adjacent to another shirt reading, in capitalized lettering, “LOCK HIM UP”; three words signaling the expansion of a massive prison economy, sustained by dramatized images of excessive Black criminality, necessitated as a primary feature of the American establishment.
I read Chenfeld’s expropriating violence in “the new world of anything goes guerrilla marketing” as pointing to a legacy of Slavery. His relation to Black ascetic and creativity is caught up in a history in which Blackness is first and foremost identified as commodity, a “thing” sold and purchased on the open market, expended for whatever motive necessary—no matter how brutal—in order to carry out and maintain the purposes of white religio-socioeconomic “progress.”
Notwithstanding, Black radical traditions continue, as they have for decades, to struggle against the logics of anti-Blackness disguised as white progressive antiracist performance. These traditions have maintained an obligation to preserve the Black collective; assembling and mobilizing all available resources for Black survival over and against capital accumulation. Black women—scholars, grand/mothers, entrepreneurs, daughters, pastors, etc.—have been doing “the work” to ensure greater capacities for Black life, and wellness of life. Black-queer folk have been negotiating spaces of freedom in which they offer counter-narratives to the brutality of anti-Black capitalism.
Black-queer women, like the creatives over at Unbossed and Unbought, are imagining alternative worlds for Black people, where we are nurtured, loved and cared for First; a world where Black people are never “ordered about” or “acquired; purchased; or sold.” I love their insistence that “[o]thers have tried to imitate, but could never duplicate our innate beauty and culture.” Certainly, it is true that “[o]ur ancestors knew this and have passed it down to us.”
Hassan Xavier Henderson-Lott is a black-queer seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.