“Grieve well and you grow stronger.” Anthropologist Rebecca Louise Carter heard this wisdom over and over while living in post-Katrina New Orleans, where everyday violence disproportionately affects Black communities. What does it mean to grieve well? How does mourning strengthen survivors in the face of ongoing threats to Black life?
Inspired by ministers and guided by grieving mothers who hold birthday parties for their deceased sons, Prayers for the People traces the emergence of a powerful new African American religious ideal at the intersection of urban life, death, and social and spiritual change. Carter frames this sensitive ethnography within the complex history of structural violence in America—from the legacies of slavery to free but unequal citizenship, from mass incarceration and overpolicing to social abandonment and the unequal distribution of goods and services. And yet Carter offers a vision of restorative kinship by which communities of faith work against the denial of Black personhood as well as the violent severing of social and familial bonds. A timely directive for human relations during a contentious time in America’s history, Prayers for the People is also a hopeful vision of what an inclusive, nonviolent, and just urban society could be.