I admire a good ghost story, especially a “true” one. I read tales of the paranormal. I watch those ghost investigator shows on television. And I’ve been known to take ghost tours in cities that I visit. I am intrigued by the idea of unknown realms beyond our comprehension. I love that glance-behind-you-and-make-sure-the-closet-door-is-shut chill that lingers for days after hearing a particularly delicious spooky tale. And I am fascinated by the places where history and the paranormal allegedly meet, like Gettysburg, Pa. But one aspect of ghost stories—true and otherwise—that I am not so fond of is the demonization of the traditional spirituality of people of color.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard reputed hauntings attributed to Indian burial grounds, angry shamans or the mere fact that “y’know where your house sits used to be Native American land.” (Cue ominous music … duh, duh, duh, DUH!)

Not as popular, but too common, is the “slaves were here” explanation. Watching a DVR’d episode of Ghost Hunters, I heard a woman at a historic house that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad explain a supposedly haunted room by sharing the accepted lore about the space: (paraphrase) People say some slaves got in here and sacrificed an animal. (Cue ominous music … duh, duh, duh, DUH!)

Why do we never hear this?

Worried homeowner: I just don’t understand what is happening. Furniture is moving about the house. My wife hears disembodied voices in the laundry room. Our little Billy is interacting with a shadowy figure in the backyard and the dog refuses to go into the basement.

Ghost expert: Well, Mr. Homeowner, we’ve done some research and…some Episcopalians once held a church service right on this very land! (Cue ominous music … duh, duh, duh, DUH!)

What? Not scary enough for you?

The message inherent in this horror trope is that the traditional spirituality of brown folks is evil and frightening. For instance, thanks in part to racist Hollywood depictions of the faiths, Voodoo and Santeria are often used as devices to conjure up all kinds of nasty images.

Voodoo is a religious tradition originating in West Africa, which became prominent in the New World due to the importation of African slaves. West African Vodun is the original form of the religion; Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Voodoo are its descendants in the New World.

Santeria is a syncretic religion with West African and Caribbean origins. It merges Yoruba religion with the traditions of Roman Catholic Christianity and was spread throughout the African Diaspora, in part, through slavery.

Now, you may not practice or agree with these belief systems (or any religion at all), but they are no more frightening than the Celtic polytheism that influences a lot of modern New Age belief and indeed some of traditional Christianity. Yet, New Age spirituality is seen as benign, if not a bit silly, while African-based traditions are viewed as exotically malevolent. Race bias creeps in everywhere, doesn’t it–even into hokey ghost-busting shows?

Oh, I know this is a little thing. Ghost stories are meant to be harmless fun. I take them in that spirit. But it rankles when I see drumming, gyrating, chanting, scantily clad Africans, bathed in firelight, used as shorthand for impending evil in some film. And it annoys me that the tour guide at the Underground Railroad stop mentioned above would assume slaves were summoning ghosties with their dark tribal religion, instead of, say, gathering spiritual strength for what must have been a harrowing journey to freedom.

 

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  • Clarity

    Lisss,

    Christianity is not a Jewish religion. Do research on the history of the “Jews” and how they came to be. Christianity comes from the Ethiopian Coptic church which came from Egypt. The Yoruba Orisha worshipping people are descendants of Egyptians. Migration occured due to war. West African slaves did not come to Americas , Caribbean, etc. as Christian. They were forced to be Christians. All religions have the power to curse. Opening your mouth alone is a curse. You don’t need fancy shrines or altars. People use “magic” , reading Psalms from the bible. Oh yes! Foolishness and evil goes on in African religions, Christianity, Islamic, Judaism, etc. How many Muslims are tied to terrorist attacks. How many Christians commit crimes? You see we all have the power to do evil. Clutch has a story about a shooting in church. So, I’m not sure why African religions always get pegged with cursing and wrong doings.

  • Cocochanel31

    Well the Bible clearly states that the Messiah had skin the color of bronze and hair like wool. If our OPPRESSOR would like to continue to paint him blonde haired with blue eyes, as well as leave out pertinent passages of Scripture in order to further their HATE than that his on them because “we’se free and can reads now”!

    I won’t pretend to “know it all” as it pertains to Christianity or any other religion, however, what I will do is continue to plead the BLOOD OF JESUS over MY life, while others continue to worship whoever and whatever they so choose.

  • BreaktheCycle

    This makes me think of how Voodoo was used in “The Princess and the Frog”. What does that say about the movie made with the first black Disney princess? :(

    • Nichee

      They showed a “good” doctor and a “bad” doctor, as far as I’m concerned that’s pretty fair.

    • apple

      its says nothing.. that is new orleans (where i am from) and voodoo mixed with Catholicism is very preventable and considered normal(i learned most of it in a black catholic school)… just google marie laveau

  • Elizabeth

    My grandmother always said there was good and bad juju.She was a christian and I truly believe her the medicines have been demonised, shea butter and leaves can work wonders BUT some of this sacrifice/cursing stuff is scary and very real my own cousin was hypnotised into stealing her father’s money in Nigeria they had to get a pastor to deliver her and it was the most unreligious person who suggested a pastor,I don’t play with some of this ish.I’m unsure about christianity at times but the spiritual world is real I don’t even feel comfortable watching this derren magician guy we have in the uk.