The Othered White Seat: An Inside View of African Diasporic Religion from Blue-Eyed Devotees

Authors: Devin Leatherman*, Florida International University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Religion, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: whiteness, outsider-within, African Diaspora, African Diasporic Religion
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Gold, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Majestic Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Yoruban Òrìṣà/Orisha devotion has spread worldwide through it’s various branches, surviving through slavery, creolization, modernization, communism, capitalism, colonization, and evangelism. Agents of Orisha, “fully-seated” initiated priests, now contend with global neoliberalism in myriad ways including dynamic religious structure and practices. The latter half of the 20th century saw a swelling of Orisha practice in the U.S. wherein various black-led Orisha communities have gained prominence among a Cuban American and Latin American majority. Meanwhile, smaller numbers of white, non-Hispanic practitioners have also thrived. As scholars and practitioners of this rapidly growing community realize it as a “religion of color”, I am interested in what insight the mostly silent Anglo-American onlookers hear from their seat at the table. As initiated priests, this white minority regularly navigate internal conversations and material culture of the Black Atlantic world. Using Black Feminist methods and a mixed race lens, I ask the question: What can a view from this inverted white periphery offer racial geographies? A geographic intervention into this largely anthropological and historical literature offers insight into how diasporic deities cross spatial and racial divisions. Ethnographic interviews and archival research outline effective and ineffective liberatory strategies of this racialized community. Internalized structures reemerge and deconstruct inside of initiatory sanctums, and endemic hermeneutics challenge extrinsic processes of categorization. Mapping moments of ontological shift reveals how this community contends intentionally with concepts of identity and race. These initiations become locations around which practitioners defend ideological coherency and challenge secular concepts such as identity and race.

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