Valuing Black lives

Pentecostalism, charismatic gifts, and human economies in a U.S. inner city

by Frederick Klaits and Shenita A. McLean

Read Article

A common trope in recent Black popular literature compares pastors and pimps on the grounds that both collect money from their dependents. We frame this comparison in terms of regimes of value operating in U.S. inner cities, where the commercial economy and legal system commonly fail to affirm the personhood of the racialized poor. Drawing on fieldwork in Buffalo, New York, we show that in eliciting tithes and protection money, pastors and pimps combine care and exploitation in ways that assert the value of their own and others’ lives against heavy odds. We extend the concept of “human economy” developed by David Graeber to these transactions, arguing that pimps and pastors construe the money they gather in terms of its power to recognize the value of the lives of givers, askers, and receivers.