Mining the Motherlode (By Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas)
(Reviewed by Reggie Williams)
Mining the Motherlode by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas is a venture that captures various resources of womanist analysis in one project in order to enable practitioners of Christian ethics to become familiar with womanist analysis, and better advocates of justice. Floyd-Thomas claims that womanist is a confessional title; a black woman claims the title in an effort to differentiate her theoethical efforts from the normative mode of ethical analysis that neglects her presence. Thus, in order to incorporate the lives and voices of black women in theoethical analysis, our perspective must be broadened in order to see them. This claim implies that our normative Christian social analysis has been too narrow. For example, Floyd-Thomas points to H. Richard Niebuhr’s notion of the responsible self which he described as a moral agent who has the power and autonomy to exercise freedom in relating to God and to neighbor (xii). Similarly, John Rawls classic theory of justice does not envision embodied people, but theorizes in the abstract. Both situations, Floyd-Thomas claims, the white-male derived notion of agency, and the abstract notion of justice leave out the everyday situations of black women. Floyd-Thomas borrows from Emily Townes to argue that much of what is considered virtue ethics also deprives black women of virtue. The virtues of thrift, hard work, and suffering are typically associated with economics. Yet, once again, calling these experiences virtues only serve to valorize the injustices experienced by black women.
Womanist theological ethics steps into this process of normative theological ethics with a disruptive voice that calls attention to “the least of these” among us. Womanist analysis highlights the value of every being’s race, gender, sex and class, recognizing in them a God-given voice to be heard and seen (xiii). It is an overall project of restoring agency where it has been denied.
With the task of womanism defined, Floyd-Thomas highlights three methods of womanist analysis: black women’s literary sources, sociological analysis, and historiography. She does her analysis through the lenses of what she calls “the four tenants of womanist ethics: radical subjectivity, traditional communalism, redemptive self-love, and critical engagement (8). With each womanist method, she peers through three lenses.
The literary sources of womanist analysis are mined based on the premise that the guild of Christian Ethics is not the only place in which codes of conduct and survival strategies are kept. Floyd-Thomas examines the literary method through the lenses of radical subjectivity (with a borrowed made-up word she calls biomythography), redemptive self-love (with an analysis of virtue-ethics) and traditional communalism (which she calls diasporic analysis).
The sociological analysis pays attention to the manner in which the social experiences of black women are transformed and the community—of men and women—uplifted. Hence, there is a relationship with black male liberation that is recognized when we pay attention to the sociological analysis. She examines the sociological method with the lenses of redemptive self-love (which she calls the dance of redemption), traditional communalism (which she calls case-study analysis) and finally radical subjectivity (which she calls emancipatory metaethnography).
Lastly, Floyd-Thomas describes a womanist approach to historiography as an effort to “debunk the historical accounts about black women and their trials and triumphs” (12). It is humanizing for black women to have their voices, experiences and perspectives included into the narratives of the history that we recognize as important. Floyd-Thomas examines this method with radical subjectivity (by attention to slave narratives), traditional communalism (what she calls moral biography and auto biography), and redemptive self-love (what she calls emancipatory historiography).
Womanist theological ethics challenges us to pay attention to the plight of everyone in our community because it encourages analysis from margin to center. It is a liberative analysis that does more to bring attention to the plight of the entire community than anything else that the academy has yet produced. Hence, Floyd-Thomas questions whether or not real Christian ethical analysis can be practiced without attention to womanist methods?