Summary: A White Christian talking to other White Christians about racism.
If you have read my post on The Myth of the American Dream, you know I am ambivalent about Good White Racist and several other books I have been reading lately. They are good books, among the best I have read from Christians, which I appreciate. But the fact they exist, in some ways, is a sign of the reluctance of White people to learn from minorities who have been saying many of the same things for a long time.
The description of the book opens with the following:
good white racist noun
1. A well-intentioned person of European descent who is nonetheless complicit in a culture of systemic racism
2. A white person who would rather stay comfortable than do the work of antiracism
One of the positives that immediately struck me was the preface. There are several pages devoted to acknowledging the people that have previously taught her all of the things she will later say. The Black women (primarily) that have taught her personally and paved the way academically to write about race. There is humility with that opening that caused me to text it to some friends immediately and think that maybe this book would be different.
And then the introduction opens, “Hi. I’m Kerry, and I’m a racist. (This is where you’re supposed to say, ‘Hi, Kerry.)'” She continues in the next few pages noting that White people trying to address race often “talk a great game on the one hand while maintaining the racist status quo on the other.” Like White Fragility, this is a book primarily is targeted toward people that have some awareness of the reality of racism, but also consider themselves a ‘Good White person.’ As she says, “It is our job–white people, not anyone else’s–to acknowledge this power dynamic and dismantle it, making space for the power of others to emerge.”
A friend posted a quote from Martin Luther King Jr’s book Where Do We Go From Here:
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
The importance of the book is that Good White Racists:
“…benefit from that assignment in a social system that privileges whiteness…are generally nice people who intellectually do not approve of racist behaviors but who practice them anyway…[and] are concerned (possibly obsessed) with two things: their own comfort and their own inherent goodness.” (p15)
What Good White Racist points out throughout the book, is that paying attention matters, and the desire to not pay attention is exactly the problem that prevents real change. (Similar to the theme of Myth of the American Dream).
“To not pay attention is to exercise my privilege and power and do harm to others. To not believe people when they tell me about their experiences is to participate in evil. To insist that I’m not racist while refusing to either pay attention or believe people makes me a good white racist. The first step in my own healing is to awaken to the psychological games that whiteness plays ion the whole of society.” (p39)
What makes racism so hard to deal with is that racism is not comfortable to address.
It’s not fun to be confronted with your own racist behavior, and it’s definitely not comfortable. For good white racists, talking about race causes a psychic discord, because hidden beneath our positive self-images and our ideological Americanism is a deep river of shame–shame over the brutality of our ancestors, shame over the inhumanity of our skin-kin, shame over the privilege we enjoy while others do not. The problem with the maintenance of our own comfort is that it prohibits us from seeing the very brokenness we need to heal. (p48)
I could keep quoting for a long time. This is a book by a White person that has thought significantly about racism. I did not write the book, so I would like to see differences or alternative descriptions in places. I think that she would benefit from George Yancy’s language, ‘the best I can become is an anti-racist racist.’
The message of the book is essential, and “the very first rule in antiracism work: stay in the room, even when it gets hard and uncomfortable.” There is much here that is good, discussions of gaslighting, white empire, self-justification, education, the consumption of Black bodies and culture, ‘niceness’ as a means of social control, and the role of the church in the perpetuation of racism. But again, there is not much that is new here. Good White Racist is a well-written book. But it is a book that exists because of good white racists who do not want to submit to the leadership of Black pastors, or that will not read books written by Black or Native American women, or listen to the actual people of color in their lives.
So I am ambivalent, this is probably the book written by a White Christian for White Christians that I will most recommend at this point. But at the same time, the fact that the book exists is part of the problem. I also know exactly where many of the objections will come. I want a perfect book that will not have any objections. That book does not exist because many of the objections cannot be separated from the reality of the racism that this book is confronting. The tools of gaslighting and whataboutism will exist regardless of the actual content of the book. There will always be an ‘if only’ response. And at some point, we have to actually deal with the main point, and not the tangential objections.