Microaggressions and Ministry: A Single-Black-Woman's Perspective

In January, 
I attended a conference centered on the art and science of preaching. It was an opportunity for me to work on my craft, to listen to other people work out their callings, and to fellowship with my cohort of sisters in ministry that I attended the conference with. Of course, there were opportunities to network with preachers from all walks of life, from varying denominational affiliations, and from regions across the country. Many of them I knew by name through social media or because of the circles that I run in, but most were pleasant strangers that I connected with during curated conversational moments. There were meaningful interactions around racism and microaggressions from the pulpit, the intersectional age/gender gap at this conference, sexism and homophobia in ministry circles, and other fruitful dialectical experiences.

When discussing the conference with someone I know well who wasn't in attendance, we talked about the general framework of the event (i.e the hotel, the group I attended with) and the feedback I received,  but the question of the hour was:

"Did you meet any prospects?"

Uh...prospects? for what? employment?...cuz that's the only prospect I'm interested in at the moment. 

No. We know what this person was asking; they should've just come out with it: 

"Did you meet any potential husbands?"

I didn't go to this conference with that on my mind. In fact, it was furthest from my mind as it has been for quite some time (ok, maybe not the furthest). I was more hurt than annoyed, but a fair amount of both. Can I not go to a conference to work on myself without someone inquiring about whether I met a potential husband?

The Body Don't Lie
A bunch of feelings bubbled up to the surface--feelings of anger, feelings of disappointment, feelings that confirmed my insecurities about being single. The last ministry-related conference I attended, I went with my partner (at the time). He was a force-field against this question. He was almost a force-field against a lot of inappropriate behavior that I witnessed at that conference. I say almost because a facilitator who could've been my dad thought it okay to rub my shoulder and down my back during his presentation (which I wrote off until he went out of his way to offer his personal cell number at the end of the session). Every time I go to a conference in which women and non-binary folk are less in number than cisgender men, I feel it in my body. I felt the tension of desiring to show up in January for the sake of all women in ministry, yet wanting to hide because of the post-traumatic stress lying dormant in my body from previous experiences. I know what it's like to have unwanted attention from men at conferences that I've attended in the past of a similar structure....or in the church on Sunday...or walking down the street in Harlem. I carry that in my body. I also know what it feels like to truly want to connect with a potential colleague in ministry because of shared professional interests, and to wrestle with whether or not to give him my phone number or my email because I don't want him to get the wrong idea. I've learned how to give words of encouragement to men--to greet them and be present among them--in a way that gives the least amount of flirt-vibes. And I've learned that I'm not always successful at this.

So, with all of this living in my body, someone asked if I met any prospects at a conference and something within me collapsed on itself. I wanted to crawl into a hole and not even fight the systems that influenced the question. 
  • Is my ministry not good enough on its own? 
  • Why must my yearning for continuing education be also associated with finding a husband? 
  • Why are women still encouraged to embark on higher education with the complimentary goal of meeting a mate while they're simultaneously cranking out 30-page ordination papers and prepping to give 15-minute sermons?
But also, there's this assumption that I'm looking for a mate in ministry. I've grown so much this year as an individual. The space for discernment that comes with being single and childless is amazing, let me tell you! It has been life-changing. Though partnership is welcomed, I'm perfectly content walking through this transitional season without the hassle of a "prospect." I'm open to the possibility of someone changing my mind about this, but certainly not losing sleep over it, and DEFINITELY NOT flying all over the country and paying these high ass registration fees for it.

Lil Boys
Before I went to college, my mom threw me a women-only going away party. Many of my aunts, cousins, and family friends showed up to send me off to Syracuse. Most of them told me some version of "Don't go to school and get caught up with these lil boys," during our heart-to-heart hour (my mom is so extra). Before I got on the plane to depart for college, my dad hit me with the "don't make me have to come up there" speech. I was tasked with studying and staying away from "those lil boys." Of course, after I graduated, everyone wanted to know if there were any prospects 🙄 Like, for real? Can y'all make up your minds? When asked about whether I'd met someone at this conference, all those pre-college conversations came rushing back into my memory. The question of prospects comes more frequently, now--perhaps because I'll be 30 in a month and I have more degrees than I've had relationships. Perhaps, it's because I'm in ministry, now, and it's still taboo to be single in the pulpit, whether you're woman, man, transgender, or non-binary. Perhaps, people need to mind their business.

Recently, I was attempting to explain to my ex-partner a few real life scenarios in which I've had to question a male colleague's intentions. I thought he'd understand my plight (yea right 😏 lol men be so oblivious). I was describing a scenario is which a man (who I don't know very well) offered me a ride somewhere that was fairly close--so I didn't really need the ride--and I had 1-3 seconds to 1) scan his motives, 2) make a decision, and 3) figure out how to respond. That's usually all the time we get in these crucial moments. I couldn't take time to play detective and run a full investigation in my head, looking back at all of our previous interactions that left me feeling uncomfortably puzzled. I had to rely on my body--on my gut. I had to protect myself and say, "Thank you, but it's not that far. I'm good." I was unpacking other scenarios in which men have been a little too handsy. He seemed to so easily chalk this behavior up to them "just being nice." I was struggling, in this moment, to not only fight his apparent invalidation of my experiences but to also educate him on how his oblivion and naivete regarding his male colleagues' behaviors toward women factored into the disregarding of my concerns. Another microaggression.

Microaggressions are often painful, yet seldom addressed when they come from those who, we assume, should know better. 

So, this is my address:
Stop asking about "these lil boys" when I'm trying to lean into my call to the work of justice and mercy. Do you know the amount of wrestling with God it took to even get here? I'd be doing a disservice to myself and my ministry if, after years of tug-of-warring with my calling, I spent my time at a conference scanning the room for Boazes. And this is not to say that you don't meet people that intrigue you in your fields of work. That will always happen; but it feels disrespectful to inquire about romantic possibilities at a professional event that costs many attendees $500-$1000. Perhaps, somethings are better left unsaid and unasked. 


Single-Black-Woman in Ministry