“Fly in the Milk:” African/American Rituals in White Spaces
While there are 4.1% of African Americans in the state of Iowa there is a sizeable population of West African immigrants. Between 1990 and 1993 a couple of thousand African refugees were admitted to the U.S. each year with admittance doubling from 3,000 to 7,000. In the 1990s Sudanese associations started forming. In June 1995, the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services started providing bilingual and ethnic-specific services for Sudanese refugees making Iowa the largest resettlement site for the Sudanese in the country.
Imagine the distance many Black Iowans traveled to a homegoing service during COVID?
African American death care workers and funeral professionals occupy what sociologist Elijah Anderson calls “white spaces.”
Henderson’s Highland Park Funeral Home, founded by Mrs. Donna Henderson, is the only African American Funeral Home in Iowa, located in the capital city of Des Moines. In addition, I have been able to locate two Black identified funeral service professionals in the state. Imagine the distance many Black Iowans would have to travel to arrange or attend a homegoing service for their loved one during COVID?
African American death care workers and funeral professionals occupy what sociologist Elijah Anderson calls “white spaces”, spaces where there is an overwhelming white presence to the near absence of Black people where Black persons have to prove credibility to occupy such space because whites possess and yield enormous power. As culture keepers in “white spaces,” rituals take on important meaning as do the African diaspora’s ideas of Blackness. I explore, particularly how the voices of African American women have been central and how their roles as cultural connectors, interpreters, and activists have been key in understanding how African migrant and African American communities have been shaped by death practices due to COVID. I also want to understand how what psychiatrist Maurice Eisenbruch calls “cultural bereavement” underscores the practices and rituals Sudanese migrants (re)created during COVID to find closure in death.