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How to Fight Racism, by New York Times best selling author Jemar Tisby

How to Fight Racism, by New York Times best selling author Jemar Tisby
A Book Review by Fiona Lloyd

The issue of racism has been brought into sharp focus over recent months, generating much discussion and many different reactions. Jemar Tisby’s How to Fight Racism is a thoughtful yet passionate addition to this debate, clearly underpinned by his Christian faith, and has been written as a response to the “how-to” question of fighting racism in all its forms.

When considering this issue, we often fall into the trap of defining other people or organisations as “racist” or “not racist”. Tisby starts by encouraging us to move away from this binary position and instead to view racial justice as a journey; a distinction I found really helpful.

An overarching theme of this book is the inherent worth of all people in the sight of God. Tisbey writes: ‘All people equally bear the likeness of God and thus possess incalculable and inviolable value’. If we acknowledge the truth of this statement, then we must also understand that racism is a sin, and not be afraid to frame it in those terms. However, this is not just about a personal response. We need to recognise the systemic racism in our society and be proactive in seeking to dismantle this. Put starkly, the fight against racism is a spiritual battle, and those who claim that Christians should not get involved in social justice issues are helping to perpetuate an unjust status quo.

The book is structured around what Tisby describes as the ‘ARC of Racial Justice’, an acronym for awareness, relationships, and commitment. All of these elements need to be considered if we are serious about fighting racism in society but also in the Church. Sometimes we may focus on one area more than another, but Tisby makes the point that a ‘holistic approach to racial justice includes all three aspects’. He spends time examining each of these in turn, splitting chapters between theory and practical applications.

Awareness means understanding what the Bible teaches about race and ethnicity and taking time to explore our own racial identity. Tisby stresses the fact that having a greater awareness of our own souls will make us more effective advocates for racial justice. Furthermore, we also need to consider the context behind discrimination and racially motivated incidents in order to dismantle any myths or untruths that may influence our thinking. Included in this section (alongside helpful suggestions for broadening our knowledge of these issues) is a comprehensive table detailing different models of racial identity development. This is particularly useful in drawing us away from the binary position of racist/non-racist mentioned earlier.

The second section of How to Fight Racism concerns relationships. Again, Tisby’s writing on this topic is firmly grounded in Christian belief. We all recognise that sin ruptures our relationship with God, and that reconciliation is achieved through our turning to Christ. When talking about racial reconciliation, then, we need to keep this Christian dimension in mind. Tisby writes that ‘the root of resistance to racial justice is the heart’ – but the counter to this is that genuine relationships have the capacity to change our perspective.

Many of the thoughts Tisby offers around this – being honest, having humility, being intentional and so on – can be applied to relationships in general. However, it’s vital we think about these works in particular in the context of racial reconciliation. The very phrase ‘racial reconciliation’ can be shallow and lacking in transformative power if it remains as a nebulous ideal rather than an objective we take active steps to promote. The chapters in this section focus on church, personal and community relationships, with questions to ask ourselves (and one another) as well as helpful pointers to promote flourishing and mutually beneficial relationships.

How to Fight Racism was written following the death of the Black man George Floyd, in May 2020, but is the result of many years of observing, learning and campaigning on the part of its author. It is unsurprising, then, that the final section of the book covers the importance of commitment. Tisby quotes Martin Luther King Junior talking about the necessity of racial reconciliation in 1956, and yet this is still very much a live issue more than 60 years later. We know that following Jesus requires perseverance, and this is as true of the fight against racism as it is of other areas of our Christian life. This is not a battle that will be won overnight, but Christian love should compel us to strive to dismantle systems that perpetuate injustice. When we work to fight racism, we bear witness to the love of Christ.

This book is also available in hardback...

 

Fiona Lloyd is Chair of the Association of Christian Writers and is married with three grown-up children. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, was published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona also works part-time for Christians Against Poverty. 

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