“Red Lip Theology Speech Analysis” – Max LaBauve

African American History Blog

            While attending the University of San Diego, my classmates and I have had the privilege to learn more about the history of African Americans through a variety of sources. My class titled “African American History” has taught me a tremendous amount about the long and storied journey Black Americans have had both before and after their arrival in America. To gain a deeper understanding of African American culture and history, my classmates and I were tasked with attending a selected program that would further our knowledge about Black life in America. The program I chose to attend was Dr. Candice Marie Benbow’s speech about her book titled “Red Lip Theology”. During the speech, Ms. Benbow sparked a dialogue about what it means to be both a black woman in America and a person of faith. She discusses the social constructs America has placed on Black women and the importance of having a voice and embracing self-love. Similar Black theologies have been seen throughout African American history. The book “Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans with Documents” captures specific moments throughout history that relate to the concepts explored by Dr. Benbow. Both the program conducted by Candice Marie and the class literature share impactful stories and information about Black theology, specifically ideas of voice and self-love which has elevated my understanding of African American history.

To better understand the concepts shared in “Red Lip Theology” it’s important to understand the background of the speaker. Candice Marie Benbow is a Black theologian who focuses her attention on beauty, faith, womanhood, and culture. Growing up, Candice was surrounded by religion and spirituality because her mother was a member of their local Church. During her presentation, she told the story of when her mother got pregnant while being a member of the Church. Her mother was forced to apologize to the church for getting pregnant because she was a single woman. However, her mother refused to apologize due to the sexist nature of the situation, that single women should be forced to apologize for getting pregnant and not the single men who impregnate them. This story instilled strong feminist ideas within Candice from a very young age. Her mother purposefully raised Candice with principles of both the church and feminism alike and strongly encouraged her to ask questions no matter how uncomfortable. This allowed Candice to create her own personal identity and lens through which she can interpret the world, rather than being told by society what she should be as a Black female. She grounds her faith in the teachings of Jesus, her ancestors, and black womanhood which has allowed her to push the bounds of societal norms. She shares many important theological principles in her book “Red Lip Theology”, rooted in the philosophies of what it means to be a Black woman in America.

Candice began her presentation by discussing why she felt the need to write this book. She talked about how she felt left out of the religious discourse in this country because of her sex, a trend that black women have fought against for decades. She stated, “People don’t know black women of faith because we have been pushed out of the discourse… yet black women remain the most religious demographic in America”. She also discussed how “Black women are often left out of conversations when we are thinking about… black and religious leaders”. This led her to the creation of this book, a chance to generate a discourse that Black women can use to gain various perspectives and get their voices heard. There have been numerous instances in history where Black women have struggled to get their voices heard similar to what Candice discussed.  Chapter 14 of “Freedom on My Mind” discusses a historic moment in American history and how Black female leaders were excluded from this event. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 was one of the most important moments in Civil Rights history, with 250,000 black and white Americans gathering on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Many prominent religious figures and Black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. appeared and gave speeches at this event, however not a single Black female leader was invited to talk at this event. The chapter states, “Male leaders incurred the wrath of black women when not one woman was invited to participate in the planning of the march or to give a major speech” (867). While this important Civil Rights moment was used to achieve Black liberation and equality, the entire Black female demographic and their leaders were excluded from talking, spreading ideas, and creating an impact during this event(montblanc meisterstuck 149). Candice Marie has used her platform and novel to alter this course of history, encouraging Black women to share their thoughts and ideas and allowing men the opportunity to listen. These principles of black womanhood and voice have furthered my understanding of African American history, allowing me to better visualize the struggle black women have faced to get their own voices heard in both the Black community and throughout the political and social landscape of America.

Another major component of African American history I learned both in class and during this program was the representation of Black women throughout history and the degradation they’ve experienced in America. Moments of sexual exploitation of Black female bodies can be traced back as early as the Middle Passage during the slave trade. Chapter 3 of “Freedom on My Mind” discusses this exploitation, stating “it was common for the dirty filthy sailors to take African women and lie upon their bodies” (124). Other instances of exploitation can be seen with slave masters’ treatment of female slaves, which is constant in Chapter 6 of “Freedom on My Mind”. When discussing infant deaths during childbirth, the chapter states “Such losses were psychologically devastating for slave women, whose numerous pregnancies and miscarriages often took place under conditions that could be lethal to their own health” (372). Moments like this reflect the dehumanization of the Black female and how they were viewed as nothing more than physical bodies that could be exploited. The history of Black female exploitation is prevalent throughout this country’s history which has had long-standing negative effects on the African American community. Candice Marie uses her platform to change this historical notion and promote self-love and acceptance for Black females. She discusses the importance of “taking off the mask” that black women place on themselves to fit society’s standards for black women and embracing being in their own skin. Candice was quoted in her speech saying “We are sexual and sensual and smart and kind. We got to Beyonce concerts and bible studies”. This quote reflects her beliefs that black women should feel comfortable in their bodies, embracing their sexuality while also valuing their moral and spiritual beliefs. She also discusses the lack of support that Black females have received from the church. She stated, “We all owe it to our religious institutions to say, as black women that we deserve sermons who care about us… talk about a god who loves us and likes us”. Candice placed heavy emphasis on this idea because she believes that Black women are attempting to “live into fullness that sometimes gets robbed in patriarchy and church”. Using “Red Lip Theology” and her background as a progressive Christian, Candice Marie is changing the way people view the church in relation to Black womanhood and rallies for support to embrace Black females as the beautiful, strong beings they are. These stories of sexual exploitation and lack of support from the church have changed my understanding of African American history. Previously, I had only heard stories of male Black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. DuBois. Now I understand that female Black Americans have struggled and continue to struggle to gain the respect and voice that their male counterparts have. This was eye-opening for me to learn and changed the way I think about and evaluate Black history.

The aspects of Black theology shared so far throughout this blog are not mutually exclusive to the lectures I’ve learned in class and the presentation made by Candice Marie Benbow. The academic journal titled “The Will to Adorn: Beyond Self-Surveillance, toward a Womanist Ethic of Redemptive Self-love” by Melanie C. Jones shares another historical example of Black women fighting the degradation of their bodies. The article writes how in the 1920s black women hid aspects of their personal lives and sexual identities to protect themselves from being stereotyped or even raped. The article discusses how Black churchwomen would wear floor-length Victorian-style makeshift dresses and avoid bright-colored clothing to uphold their moral virtue. Melanie C. Jones even states that “fashion, styling, and dress became strategic tactics for early twentieth-century Black churchwomen to “look back” (hooks, Lorde) and thus combat sexual degradation and exploitation by covering their bodies in efforts to display their moral virtue” (8). The exploitation of Black female bodies has been a constant throughout their history in America, however, Black women have taken numerous actions to fight these stereotypes and gain moral respect from the rest of the nation. These actions are yet another example of African Americans altering their everyday lives as an act of progress for the black freedom struggle. The quote further explores the ideas shared by Dr. Benbow that African American women need to question the behaviors of the church rather than blindly accepting sexist behavior. In the words of Candie Marie Benbow herself, “Our silence is a level of complacency”. This philosophy of silence as complacency has been one of the greatest takeaways I’ve learned throughout my exploration of African American history. Had Black people remained silent and complacent with the oppression and horrors that surround them, change may never have been made. This resilience is what makes African American history so awe-inspiring to learn and explore.

When learning about African American history, writers and theologians like Candice Marie Benbow continue to change how people view and interpret the experiences of Black Americans. The lens through which we can evaluate, and change society is shaped by those willing enough to question the constructs that have been set in place for hundreds of years. Advocating for Black females is one way in which Black leaders like Candice Marie are changing history, moving away from the oppression and marginalization of the past. Remaining resilient has been the most pivotal factor that has led to the continued growth of the Black community. Recognizing and learning about the long and storied history of African Americans is one way in which individuals can take power into their own hands, deciding for themselves how others should be understood and treated. As the world continues to evolve, knowledge, understanding, and resilience are one way in which the human race can strive for a more equitable society.
















Works Cited


Benbow, Candice Marie. Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Convergent Books, 2022.

Jones, Melanie C. “The Will to Adorn: Beyond Self-Surveillance, Toward a Womanist Ethic of Redemptive Self-Love.” Login, https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=0&sid=1004cd6f-1622-4219-80c9-905f89f777f1%40redis.

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind a History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021.




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