How to Fight Racism – Jemar Tisby

How to Fight Racism Jemar Tisby
How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby
Also by this author: How to Fight Racism Young Reader's Edition: A Guide to Standing Up for Racial Justice
Published by Zondervan on January 5, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Racial Reconciliation
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Racism is pervasive in today's world, and many are complicit in the failure to confront its evils. Jemar Tisby, author of the award-winning The Color of Compromise, believes we need to move beyond mere discussions about racism and begin equipping people with the practical tools to fight against it.

How to Fight Racism is a handbook for pursuing racial justice with hands-on suggestions bolstered by real-world examples of change. Tisby offers an array of actionable items to confront racism in our relationships and in everyday life through a simple framework--the A.R.C. Of Racial Justice--that helps readers consistently interrogate their own actions and maintain a consistent posture of anti-racist action. This book is for anyone who believes it is time to stop compromising with racism and courageously confront it.

Tisby roots the ultimate solution to racism in the Christian faith as we embrace the implications of what Jesus taught his followers. Beginning in the church, he provides an opportunity to be part of the solution and suggests that the application of these principles can offer us hope that will transform our nation and the world. Tisby encourages us to reject passivity and become active participants in the struggle for human dignity across racial and ethnic lines. Readers of the book will come away with a clear model for how to think about race in productive ways and a compelling call to dismantle a social hierarchy long stratified by skin color.

How to Fight Racism should be required study for the white evangelical church. Jemar Tisby writes with razor-sharp clarity and precision, defining each and every one of his terms in exacting manner. Tisby doesn’t just made it plain that racism is still a driving factor in society—a skill in and of itself when white evangelical society thinks of itself as post-racial—but provides a thorough, practical blueprint for the church to move forward in the fight against racism in our institutions, communities, and lives.

As I read through How to Fight Racism, I tried to look at it from the perspective of someone who holds to this sort of post-racial world: someone who responds to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter, or someone who doesn’t believe in systemic racism. I tried to see what statements I would pick it, what word choices I’d be offended by, or what storylines I’d refute. And, in truth, I couldn’t find any. Tisby’s arguments are self-evident and airtight. You can argue against them, but not effectively. You can disagree with him, but not substantially. By shying away from language that some find inflammatory, by carefully defining his terms, and by being clear, firm, and practical, Tisby forces the reluctant reader to least consider a different perspective.

The cynic in me still wonders what effect How to Fight Racism will have on this audience. History has shown that careful arguments and substantive evidence can all too often be overwhelmed by the systemically racist structures it calls out. However, those people are Tisby’s secondary audience, and we should laud the fact that he even attempts to write in a manner accessible to them. His primary audience are the increasing number of people who—particularly through the events of 2020—have jumped into the arena of racial justice and are ready to fight.

Tisby doesn’t say it outright, but these folks need to be educated. Particularly young white evangelicals who are breaking from their denominations and their elders on this issue (and hi, I’m one of them). We’re young, white, and ready to fight—and that’s not always the best. Tisby leads readers through a calm, yet forceful response to racism, utilizing the ARC framework of awareness, relationships, and commitment.

How to Fight Racism covers each of these points in three-chapter sections. Awareness is step one: becoming aware of racism, exploring one’s own racial identity, and understanding the history of race. This helps the reader orient themselves to racial ideas beginning with the intimate and personal before moving to the systemic and communal. Tisby begins with an explanation of race as it factors into the humankind’s creation in the image of God. Often, the imago Dei is used to downplay the idea of race (and therefore racism) because all humans are created in God’s image. Tisby flips the script, asking if that is the case, why have some humans been treated in ways that would profane that image?

Tisby also talks about race as a social construct. Because race is a social construct, it is one that we—the society—have the power to change. Understanding the history of race, both one’s own personal history and American history, helps readers contextualize the need to fight against racism and one’s own personal place within that fight.

After awareness comes relationships. This is where many young white Christian find themselves. They’ve been made aware of the issues, but they don’t know where to go and they don’t know what to do. To speak from my own experience, my change from being neutral on racial issues to active involvement came through the development of relationships. I grew up in a rural town that was almost universally white. Only after seminary, when I took a position at a primarily Asian church set within a primarily Hispanic and Black community that I begin finding myself challenged to action through the creation of relationship. I was out of the fight before because I wasn’t connected to it. Getting into the fight wasn’t, for me, as much a change of intellectual position as it was simply gaining these connections, becoming educated, and experiencing even by proxy, the life of a person of color.

The final part is commitment. It’s something we’ve seen a lack of again and again. There will be some egregious incident, there are protests and calls for justice, then a week or so later the media narrative has moved onward. It’s social justice by social media, where calls for justice are often superficial and simply moving along with the bandwagon of wokeness. No real change ever—or rarely happens. At least, no real change happens like that. Tisby walks readers through a blueprint for real, substantive lasting change that will only come through real, substantive work.

Point by point, area by area, How to Fight Racism spells out exactly how to work for racial justice and expose and stand up against racist systems. Tisby is thorough, providing clear and practical advice. It’s not easy advice, understand, because it’s about changing systems not just minds. It’s about practical change, not just intellectual assent. It’s about becoming a person for whom justice and reconciliation are integral parts of life. Tisby doesn’t call readers to all of this points. Some individuals are made for some spaces, other individuals for others. But neither does Tisby leave something out simply because it’s hard or because it won’t be relevant to most of his readers. He talks about how to run for political office, how to organize voter drives, how to protest, and the list goes on. Find one or two and pursue that. This section can be the building block for sustained, substantive activism.

Tisby ultimately concludes: Fighting racism is not just about how it changes the world; it’s also about how it changes you. We began with a personal exploration of racial identity and an awareness of racial and racist systems. We moved through awareness to relationship and reconciliation, which happens in one-on-one friendships and through small groups, churches, and communities. We ended with a commitment to take on the system, expanding our reach even more into our governments and institutions. But, in the end, Tisby leads us back to ourselves and how the journey toward racial justice changes us, makes us more Christlike, and calls us to be a part of that Kingdom that is coming and is even now here.

How to Fight Racism has the ability to save the soul of white evangelical Christianity. Jemar Tisby is our Ezekiel or our Amos, warning us of the vapid hollowness of our religious systems if we do not take up this banner of justice and let justice roll like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. With precision, passion, and grace, Tisby calls the church to repentance. His call to racial justice cannot be ignored. We do so at our eternal peril.