Posts By Adam Shields

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol AndrsonSummary: The recounting of five White backlashes to Black gains in the country. 

White Rage is not particularly long. It does not talk about everything, but instead gives an overview of five historical movements. We all know the history of the the events before these movements of White Rage, but the importance of Carol Anderson’s book is the framing of the story as Black gains then White rage.

The five movements pairs are, 1) end of slavery and reconstruction with the backlash to reconstruction and ‘redemption’. 2) The great migration pairs with the (White) race riots of the late 1910s and early 1920s. 3) Brown v Board with the anti-integration movement. 4) Affirmative action and the anti-affirmative action policies. 5) Obama’s election and the movement toward voting restrictions. These are not definitive for all of the examples of White Rage in US history but emblematic. And like what Jemar Tisby pointed out in Color of Compromise, each one was less overt and more subtle than the last, but still rooted in racism.

One of the aspect that keeps coming up in histories of reconstruction and the Jim Crow era is the relationship of arguments around states rights and racism. I know many people that are ideologically oriented toward Libertarianism at some level. I am unaware of any of these people adopting these political ideologies because of racism. But I also do not think that many Libertarians or small government advocates understand the racial history of Libertarianism or small government policies. Obviously, there has been plenty of racist results from national government policy as well. But part of grappling with history, has to be grappling with how different policy orientations have been misused to oppress. And while that does not mean that Libertarianism or small government, pro-business political orientations cannot be advocated, it does mean that there needs to be particular attention paid to how those political orientations and specific polities can uphold racism.

As is detailed throughout the book, even when the federal government was interested in protecting Black civil rights (which it often was not) courts or local government officials often actively worked against the federal government. In the Reconstruction era, the courts routinely ruled that the 13-15th Amendments could not be applied to the state or local government, or if they were, the federal government did not have the authority to intervene. In other words, if a local or state government violated a Black person’s right to vote, the federal government, even in a federal election, could not act to protect that right to vote. The person who’s rights were violated could only appeal to the  very same government that had violate his rights (this was before women’s right to vote, so it was always his rights being violated.) It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act, which has been significantly restricted in recent court rulings, that federal law was applied to enforce not just the right to vote, but the action of voting.

Already by the mid 1870s, charges of what is now commonly referred to as ‘reverse racism’ started to sweep through the courts. From the 1877 Hall v DeCuir which ruled that states could not prohibit racial segregation, then a series of cases in 1880 that allowed for constitutional exclusion of Blacks from juries to the final nail of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896, which effectively eliminated 14th Amendment protections, the roll back of Black rights happened because of either courts, or the unwillingness of federal government to actually enforce rights in the face of White backlash.

The Forgotten Creed: Christianity’s Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism by Stephen J Patterson

The Forgotten Creed: Christianity's Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism by Stephen J PattersonSummary: A case for “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” being part of an ancient baptismal creed.

I picked up The Forgotten Creed because of conversations around race. As I have listened and participated, the passage in Galatians 3:28, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (CSB) is frequently brought up. Usually when it is brought up in these conversations, it is being cited by White Christians that are using it to say that Black and other People of Color are in sin because they are paying too much attention to their racial status.

That reading is not what I understand Gal 3:28 to mean in context. But when I saw The Forgotten Creed I thought I should read more about the history. Patterson from the very beginning is taking a clear position. He mentions identity from the very beginning and I think that opening with a clear position of focusing on identity will alienate some readers.

But right before the mentioning of identity in the In the introduction Patterson suggests that the common scholarship for Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and Titus is that they are a pseudonymous, which he says are ‘forgeries’. That is not a great opening. Essentially it is the only thing that World Magazine says about the book in its short review dismissing the book. Patterson has been part of the Jesus seminar and his demythologizing includes dismissing Paul’s conversion story and removing Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning by the Antioch church and replacing it with Paul leaving in disgrace because the circumcision party at Antioch pushed him out. All of this really undercuts Patterson’s argument with many of the people that he wants to convince of his main point.

The main point of The Forgotten Creed is that Paul is citing an early baptismal creed (one that Paul likely didn’t write but was citing) that called on Christians to transcend, class, ethnicity and gender, three lines that were not crossed in the culture around the early church. This is similar to the way that NT Wright, in his biography of Paul similarly suggests that the early church was unique in the way that it transcended geography (national boundaries), ethnicity or culture, and class. So Patterson is not claiming something unique or original here. But he is suggesting that it was a focus of the early church that seems to have gotten lost fairly early in the church history. First in becoming detached from the Jewish origins. And then becoming patriarchal.

How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown

SHow to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brownummary: Part memoir, part life skills, part spiritual direction, lots of humor and heart. 

I have seen Amena Brown perform her spoken word poetry live twice I think. She mixes deep thoughts with humor and great writing. I picked up How to Fix a Broken Record on audiobook when it was on sale a few weeks ago. I moved it to the top of my list after listening to Amena Brown interview Hillary Yancey about Yancey’s book Forgiving God.

How to Fix a Broken Record is the type of young-ish Christian memoir that I really like to read every once in a while. The 30-something’s thoughts on life and love and what is really important. I get down on Christian Publishing at times, but Christian Publishing does print a number of books that are really good but do not get wide readership.

How to Fix a Broken Record is a roughly chronological spiritual memoir, early life, dating, church thoughts, career, eventual marriage, more thoughts on art and calling, miscarriage, the learning to be an adult, health issues, maturing. I am guessing, but I think I am probably about 7 to 10 years older. Some of her experiences are ones that I have lived through myself, many others are not. But they are still identifiable as common to the human condition. But like many other memoirs it is the telling and thoughts on them that matters, not the uniqueness of the experiences.

Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C Heller

Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C HellerSummary: Brief (140 page) biography of the philosopher and public intellectual Hannah Arendt. 

Like way too many books, I picked this up when I stumbled across it while looking for something else. It was a Kindle Deal of the Day last week, and it is also included, with audiobook in Kindle Unlimited. I am currently in a trial for Kindle Unlimited and I have been using too many Audible credits and my library has a long backlog on the audiobooks.

But it is this point where I admit that I picked this up having confused Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. Both were of the same approximate generation. Both were Jewish and impacted by World War II. Both became Christians, while retaining a hold of their Jewishness. Both were philosophers that have had significant impact through their writing. Weil died young, only 34, during World War II. Arendt died in 1975 after having lived in the US for 35 years. (I think I also mixed up Johnathan Arndt, the 15th century German Pietist in there too.) Weil was one of the thinkers that Alan Jacobs focused on in his The Year of Our Lord 1943.

Arendt is best known for her phrase ‘the banality of evil’. And it is there the book opens with the controversy of the Eichmann trial toward the end of her life where she used the phrase.

This is a very brief book. The basics of her life is covered. She grew up in a secular Jewish family, with a very sick father. She was brilliant and received a PhD in philosophy at 23. It was during her work on her PhD that she met and had an affair with Martin Heidegger. It is hard not to think about the ways that common sexism impacted her life. Heidegger kept her as a lover but kept her detached. Both of her husbands seem to have taken advantage of her in some ways. She worked and supported herself, but at least at times both of her husbands when they were not working. Affairs seem to have been common among the men in her life.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

If Beale Street Could Talk by James BaldwinSummary: A young woman recounts her relationship with her fiancee, while facing his imprisonment on trumped up charges and her pregnancy with their coming baby.

If Beale Street Could Talk is my fifth James Baldwin and third of his fiction books. It is by far my favorite of the fiction. James Baldwin is an incredible writer. There are so many lines in the book that just drip with beauty or truth or so clearly express real emotion. But his books are hard. Not that they are hard to understand but the themes are tragic.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a tragic romance. It is not that families are keeping the young couple apart like Romeo and Juliet, it is that society is keeping them apart through the systemic racism of the 1970s. Tish is only 19, but she and Fonny have been friends since childhood. As they realize that they really do love one another and want to get married they have to overcome the normal objections to young love.

Fonny is a sculptor. He works odd jobs to pay expenses but he is a sculptor. Tish is from a tightly knit family, one that Fonny has long been a part of because of the problems of his own family. Her family is supportive, but cautious. As the prepare for marriage and look for a place to live, they bang up against the prevalent racism of the world.

As is revealed slowly throughout the book, Fonny was set up by a racist cop. He was set up by the cop to take the fall for a rape. The system doesn’t have anything against him in particular, it is just designed to not particularly care for anyone.

Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

Forward Me Back to You by Mitali PerkinsSummary: Two teens meet in a church youth group and find friendship, healing, and purpose. 

I recently listened to Mitali Perkins interviewed on the Conversing Podcast. I borrowed her book You Bring the Distant Near from the library and loved it. When I saw Perkins had a new book coming out, I preordered it (it came out on Tuesday).

Forward Me Back to You is very different. You Bring the Distant Near was a multi-generational immigration story. A story of finding out what it means to be from India and in the US and how that experience is different across generations.

Forward Me Back is primarily a young adult book about Trauma. That is a heavy topic for a young adult book, and for one that I would probably classify as ‘Christian Fiction’ even though it is not published by either a Christian publisher or even a Christian focused imprint. But there are fully fleshed out Christian characters talking about God and faith and the world around them, while avoiding some of the traps that Christian fiction can fall into.

Katina King is the biracial child of a young White single mom. She works hard, not just at school, but in her jiu-jitsu (current northern California champ) and with a real vision for her future. She attends an elite private high school on scholarship. But after a sexual assault at her school that she was able to fight off, but was still traumatized by, her Mom sends her to Boston to heal with ‘Grandma Vee’. Grandma Vee is the aunt of her jiu-jitsu coach and an African refugee herself.

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by David Blight

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by David Blight Takeaway: The resistance to remembering has implications for today.

I first found out about David Blight when I was introduced to the podcast of his Yale History of the Civil War and Reconstruction class. Nearly 30 hours later, I was much more familiar with both Blight and the history around reconstruction and the Civil War. Last year I read his new big biography of Frederick Douglass, likely my favorite book I read last year. Since starting Race and Reunion, I also found out that Blight directs the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. The center has a podcast interviewing fellows of the center and Blight is involved in that podcast.

I have been aware of Race and Reunion for several years. It is an expensive book, small release academic books usually are. But the book was released as an audiobook earlier this year and when I found it as an audiobook that was enough to make me pick it up. By the time I finished the introduction, I had also purchased the Kindle edition so I could alternate reading methods, and especially so I could highlight.

I cannot better summarize his thesis better than Blight did:

Three overall visions of Civil War memory collided and combined over time: one, the reconciliationist vision, which took root in the process of dealing with the dead from so many battlefields, prisons, and hospitals and developed in many ways earlier than the history of Reconstruction has allowed us to believe; two, the white supremacist vision, which took many forms early, including terror and violence, locked arms with reconciliationists of many kinds, and by the turn of the century delivered the country a segregated memory of its Civil War on Southern terms; and three, the emancipationist vision, embodied in African Americans’ complex remembrance of their own freedom, in the politics of radical Reconstruction, and in conceptions of the war as the reinvention of the republic and the liberation of blacks to citizenship and Constitutional equality. In the end this is a story of how the forces of reconciliation overwhelmed the emancipationist vision in the national culture, how the inexorable drive for reunion both used and trumped race.

Race and Reunion is more than just an exploration of how the Lost Cause mythology was developed, although that is included. It is also about how memory shapes the future and how choices are consciously and unconsciously made about what is worth remembering. Historians talk about ‘usable memory’, the idea that history is not just history, but something that can give meaning or understanding for a current era. I do not think that Blight coined that term, but Race and Reunion spends a lot of time exploring how usable memory worked at the end of the Civil War.

Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick

Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John HambrickSummary: Making the argument that racism is antithetical to the gospel and that the church needs to work to overcome it. With the primarily example that reaching out and building relationships as the best means to more fully understand and build coalitions within the church to overcome racism.

If I had not met John Hambrick a couple times (he is one of the pastors at my church), I do not think I would have picked up Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time. I do not need to be convinced that racism is one of the evils that must be confronted in society and especially within the church. And I am highly skeptical about the structure of addressing racism from individual relationships instead of from a more systemic perspective.

But I have met John and we have previously talked about racial issues more generally and within our own church. So I was willing to give this book a try. While this is a book that talks about individual relationships as a means to gain understanding about the racial divide in our world, it does not present racism as a problem of individual animus based on skin color, but as a systematic cultural problem (as I believe that it is.)

The friendship framing is not about solving the problem of racism as a whole, but to gain understanding. I do still have a problem with White people seeking out minorities to be friends with out of purely utilitarian purposes and not an actual desire for friendship, but that is not what this book is advocating.

Instead this is a look at what racism is, why the church needs to deal with it and a number of the common issues that prevent Christians from really addressing race. I have read pretty widely in research about racism and around history and methods of addressing racism, and there is much to commend here. Many of the best books I have read on racism are not from a Christian perspective. In most ways, the Christians writing about race are at least a step behind at this point. But while Black and White is pitched to a more introductory level, the background of the content is on point and not simplistic.

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo IshiguroSummary:  An orphaned boy, now a man and a detective, searches for his missing parents.

I do not really care enough about this book to write a longer review. It took me forever to get through When We Were Orphans. I almost gave up a number of time, but I kept slogging through and I probably should have given up.

I really liked Remains of the Day. Maybe it is because I knew the rough story from the movie before I read the book. But in that case the untrustworthy narrator made sense because he truly believed his bad perspective. Here he also believes his distorted perspective, but that distortion make him someone I just didn’t want to be around. The story from about 50% to the end of the major event was mostly ridiculous.

The reveal at the end did not make me like the book any more.

So of the three Ishiguro books I have tried. I loved one. I did not particularly like this one. And I gave up on the Buried Giant. So I doubt I am going to try another.

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook 

Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores by Dominique DuBois Gilliard

Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores by Dominique DuBois GilliardSummary: Theological Reflection on the problems of mass incarceration, especially in regard to racism and poverty.

Rethinking Incarceration is a book well worth reading. I think the main problem of it is that it is trying to do too much. There is 199 pages of main content and in that, Dominique Gilliard tries to have shortened version of New Jim Crow, trace the (mixed bag) line of Christian reform movements within prison, make a theological argument for restorative model over retributive model, and convince people that systematic racism is a part of the whole history of the criminal justice system. The amount of content that is squeezed into the short book does leave him open to critiques in a few area where one aspect or another could have been fleshed out a bit more.

I glanced around at negative reviews last night and many of them seem to focus on three areas. First, Gilliard takes aim at Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory. I think he make a good point at why he is targeting PSA, but I think he also falls into the trap that many PSA proponents have of thinking of atonement theories as the actual work of Christ’s death and resurrection instead of metaphors and mental maps of what is going on with the atonement. If he had kept a tighter focus on PSA as one of many facets of the atonement, he could have pointed out the way that PSA lends itself toward justification of punishment, and God as judge metaphors, and how that influences how we think of criminal justice system theologically. I also think he would benefit from interacting with Fleming Rutledge’s book Crucifixion (I am currently reading this). She does not dismiss PSA as a model but believes that it is over emphasized and her corrective, without dismissal, would be a helpful model.