As with Rediscipling the White Church I have a somewhat ambivalent approach to reading Daniel Hill. He is an excellent writer, and I really do appreciate what he writes. But I am also reminded that part of why he is needed to voice racial justice is part of his subject matter. In his first book, White Awake, his voice is needed because so many White Christians are resistant to hearing about issues around racism and White racial identity from non-White voices. And the book White Lies is needed because simple exposure to diversity does not actually root out white superiority problems (a euphemism for white supremacy as a cultural system) within the church without it directly being addressed. I am ambivalent, not because his voice is not useful (and certainly not because he isn’t a skilled writer or thinker), but because White voices like his are necessary because of the very nature of White belief in the superiority of White culture, which requires White voices to condemn White superiority for White people to be able to hear the problem.
I think it is important to use clear language and say that no one within the United States culture is not impacted by racism. I, as an individual, have feelings of White superiority. While I want to work against those feelings and to work to make sure those are never translated into actions, it is why I regularly point back to George Yancy’s language, “the best that I can be is an anti-racist racist”, and as a male, “an anti-sexist sexist.” And as a Christian, an anti-sin sinner. Because we are not solely individuals, but within a culture and community, regardless of my own attitudes, biases, thoughts, and actions, I cannot control how others respond to me. When I, as a stay-at-home Dad, take my kids to the grocery store (in pre-covid times), the response to me as a parent is different than the average response to a stay-at-home mother who is doing the same thing. I am routinely praised for being a good Dad for doing simple tasks that every mother also does without praise. When I walk around a store, the lack of undue attention because I am a middle-aged White male is not a result of anything I have done, but because of cultural assumptions and realities. But my lack of desire to be racist or sexist has nothing to do with the reality that I still receive benefits whether I want them or not.
I have sat around not writing this review for about two weeks now. I have recommended the book to several. But I have not been sure how to write about it. White Lies is excellent. Daniel Hill’s writing is clear, helpful, direct, gentle, and deeply Christian. I mostly listened to the audiobook. After a bad storm, I had several days of cleaning up brush and cutting up fallen trees at my mother in law’s cabin. I have both the kindle and audiobook synced together so that I could highlight and sometimes make notes. But this is still a book I should probably read again.
White Lies is pitched toward the White Christian that is racially aware, those that “read the right articles, study the right history books, listen to the right podcasts.” It is a follow up to White Awake, which was pitched to those in the initial stages of understanding of White racial identity. It is pitched toward those who already have Black friends, maybe go to a multi-ethnic church, or live in a not all-White neighborhood. It is pitched toward people that think they are fairly safe or are good White people. And as I keep hearing and seeing repercussions, these people are most dangerous and harmful to the Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of color (BBIPOC) around them (to use the current en vogue phrase). It is a Christian version of the same group that Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and George Yancy’s Backlash were written for. And frankly, it is this group that both embraces Critical Race Theory and is why it was needed to be developed. Because proximity, and continued ignorance, allows for the ability to commit the most harm.
When Daniel Hill talks about white lies, he is talking about ‘being woke’ but believing in a fantasy version of ‘wokeness’ that is prideful in what they have accomplished and views their status as ‘having arrived.’ They think they were invited to the Barbeque based on their own merit and not based on their friends’ grace. The ‘she’ in the following quote is a veteran White leader in racial issues that Daniel Hill knows.
She explained that a lot of White folks begin their journey with a clear admission that the system of race is something they typically haven’t thought about and still don’t understand well. But she notices something that happens along the way, specifically for White leaders who are actively searching for ways to participate in solutions to race-based problems. Whereas they used to center voices of people of color in their initial process, they start to shift toward a centering of their own thoughts and ideas. And whereas they used to demonstrate a healthy dependence on people of color to tutor them from lived experience, they start to long for an independence that no longer requires this ongoing mentorship. She sees this desire as a direct symptom of wokeness. The more woke that White leaders deem themselves to be, the more likely they are to see themselves as fit to lead efforts directed toward race in an independent fashion, disconnected from critical feedback on their approaches or theories of change. (page 26)
When Daniel Hill says, ‘stop being woke,’ he calls us to a spiritual practice of humility. That humility needs to be tied not just to personal repentance (although that is a spiritual practice that is focused on toward the end of the book) but also an awareness of systemic reality and a desire to work (in cooperation) toward changing those systems.
One of the most discouraging things I read in White Lies is that not only are many White people not changed by proximity to other Christians of color (which didn’t surprise me), it was that Christians of color are more likely to be changed to be less attentive to systemic realities.
“The typical African American outside of the multiracial congregation is fairly aware that there are structural issues in place that continue to perpetuate inequality . . . But African Americans within multiracial churches don’t report that same level of structural awareness.” Dougherty then summarized the findings of the study in a single, haunting sentence: “Instead of the predominantly white majority changing its views, it appears that African Americans start to think more like whites about the origins of inequality.” (p 73)
I will not summarize the book or walk through the lies and the corresponding spiritual practices that Daniel Hill proscribes. Instead, I will close with a long quote that I think best summarizes the need for the book and for clearly addressing the system of lies that forms white supremacy.
And this is precisely where I see an undeniable connection between the supernatural reality of evil and the social problem of White supremacy. As we explored in both chapters 3 and 4, White supremacy is built on a set of lies about human value. The narrative of racial hierarchy, which is the operating system of White supremacy, is really not much more than one ongoing lie. It is a lie that attempts to deceive and harm people of every background, telling them their value is directly tied to their racial background and not to their divine birthright. The narrative lies to White people, and says they are inherently superior because they have been placed at the top of the hierarchy. It lies to Black people and says they are inherently inferior because they have been placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. It lies to Native people and says they no longer matter and are forever irrelevant within race conversations. It lies to Latino and Latina people, Asian American people, and Middle Eastern people and tells them they can only hope to achieve worthiness by getting proximate to Whiteness. When an individual agrees with the lie of the narrative, this is already a matter of obvious danger. But what happens when it is no longer just an individual who agrees with that lie? How much more powerful does the lie become when it is agreed with by an entire family? Do you see how quickly the power increases when it begins to become a cluster of lies? And then what happens when it is not just a family that agrees with the lie of the narrative, but a whole community agrees with it? What happens when a whole city agrees with it? What happens when a whole nation agrees with it? Do you see how and why the lies that sustain White supremacy become the devil’s breeding ground? Do you see why the father of lies would be so keenly interested in the narrative of racial hierarchy? Can you see how and why White supremacy has become a well-guarded, well-sustained principality of darkness? This is what we’re getting at when we talk about White lies. This swarm of lies around human value has infected the very air we breathe. We cannot live or move in this atmosphere without inhaling these lies. We must, therefore, contend with these White lies. (p 120)