Candice Marie Benbow situates her work at the intersections of beauty, faith, feminism, and culture, giving voice to Black women’s shared experiences of healing and journeying toward wholeness. A theologian and educator, she never minces words. This is why we love her.
In her first book, Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough, Benbow is funny and deeply personal. She’s so real that as I read, I felt exposed. The essays speak to loss, forgiveness, heartache, and sexuality. It’s a love letter to Black women that I could not put down.
BGN had the pleasure of speaking with Benbow via telephone to discuss the importance of her book, feminism as it relates to Black women, and what it means to be fully loved by God.
First, congratulations on Red Lip Theology. Recently, you posted on Instagram that you prayed Black women would “really get” this book, and that you wrote it for us. Why was this book so important for you to put out in the world?
One of the things I was always frustrated about was that there were a lot of faith conversations taking place, but Black women were not at the forefront of those conversations. Then, there are some conversations that Black women are at the forefront of, but it’s a specific kind of Black woman. She may be much more conservative and traditional in her theology. There are sisters who love God, who are deeply faithful but have a different articulation of faith. We deserve equal opportunity to have conversations that are grounded holistically. I wanted to be a part of that movement. I wanted to be a part of what it means for Black women to think differently about faith. I wanted to be a part of what it looks like for us to be talking.
My prayer was that Black women would get it because I wrote it with the abiding love that I have for sisters to be at the center of their own faith conversations — to be hallowed in that and honor what it means to trust the voice of yourself, when you’re making faith decisions and don’t always have to lean on and hear from men. You can trust the knowing you have within yourself to question things, to honor things, to walk away from things, and you don’t need men to tell you how to move in that regard.
In the introduction of the book, you say, “No matter what condition I find myself in at any given moment, I know I am fully loved by God.” Why do Black women often feel when they have “messed up” or get off track that God will not love them anymore?
There’s so much shame that takes place when we make mistakes. There’s this idea that “I should know better.” The truth is we all make mistakes. There were times that I made a decision that I thought was best at the time. Then were times when I knew I was being a mess. I knew I was being trifling, and I did it anyway. Too often we let the shame move us into some really morbid and morose thoughts about ourselves. That shame and guilt paralyzes us momentarily, and we’re not able to see the beauty of being able to make a different decision or the beauty of what it might mean to regroup.
Too often we borrow from society the expectation that we’re supposed to be perfect and that we’re supposed to do no wrong. When we don’t live up to that in our minds, we can be really brutal on ourselves. It’s just not loving, and it doesn’t give us the space to grow in care.
When we talk about feminism, many Black women avoid the conversation and hesitate calling themselves a feminist because they believe it’s only for white women. What are your thoughts about this?
When it comes to Black Christian women who are cisgender/heterosexual, we’re trying to denounce feminism because we think that’s going to push us a little bit closer in the line of getting a husband. We think it somehow suggests we are worthy of the things we want — a husband, a family. I believe we were created with intention; if God created me to be a woman and I am living out this life, then why would I be okay with things that oppress me? That is fundamentally antithetical to the life God wants for me, the same way that men, especially Christian men, should not want to live in a world where power is hoarded by them.
I had a random conversation with someone that said that the first wave of feminism is the only important one. How? Because it’s the only one that allowed us to get bank accounts, homes, and jobs, and that was enough. Other waves destroyed Black womanhood. But there are women in 2022 having to fight because their employers are finding creative ways to fire them after they had a child. But you’re telling me the best thing that’s happened to us is that we can go to the bank and open a checking account?
It becomes clear that part of their resistance to feminism is so that they can appeal to men. I desire family, marriage, and partnership just like everybody else. But not at the expense of my own personhood. Not at the expense of who I am as a woman. There are little girls in my family, there are little girls that will come behind me, and maybe I will have my own one day. I want them to know that nothing is impossible for them simply because they were born a female. It has to be that real and that understood.
As a Black woman writer, do you sometimes struggle with knowing your true work? How do you home in on what that is?
Absolutely. As far as figuring out what grounds my work and my writing, I will say that for the last seven to eight years, it’s been very clear to me that my work is rooted in the flourishing of Black people, Black women specifically. What I write always comes from that place. What helps us thrive and flourish? What’s in the way of us thriving and flourishing? Those are always my big questions, and that’s where my work is rooted. Ultimately, I’ve gotten very comfortable with my voice and understanding that is the work that I’m called to.
What I learned very quickly was to find an angle so that in every story I could bring those intentions to it. Once I took the time to get settled into the fact that I am writer, I didn’t shy away from that. I was able to move even more quickly into what that looks like for me to honor and live into the call and the work.
Red Lip Theology is available January 18, 2022.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.