When I was growing up, our family generally ate healthy food. I distinctly remember the days when my dad came home with a box of Little Debbie cakes or a giant bag of potato chips. He would eat the entire box or bag in one sitting. Those were sad days for me because our pantry was never stocked with goodies. My snacks were carrots and celery and apple juice. Don’t get me wrong… I loved my snacks. I had learned to love them because they were what I always had. Eventually, and of course naturally, I learned to love some junk food, too, as I got older. Even though we generally ate healthy, there were some healthy foods that we never had, simply because my mom did not like them or could not have them. Two vegetables in particular that I never ate at home growing up were brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. They never once saw the table in our house. Once I was out of the house and was exposed to eating at more tables than the one in my house, I learned to love both of these vegetables. In fact, brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes are two of my favorite vegetables to eat. Don’t judge me.
I never knew what I was missing because I had never been exposed to these foods. My parents had always encouraged me to try new foods, but apart from what my mother cooked at home, I limited myself to a strict diet of chicken tenders any time I ate at a restaurant. My parents always told me that I would never know if I liked something or not unless I tried it, and they were right. We simply cannot make judgments about anything in life unless we truly experience it for ourselves, yet people do it everyday. While it may seem that food and race are not analogous, I think the principle is the same. We will never know what we are not exposed to. In the same way that we tend to avoid or shy away from foods that we have never tried, we tend to avoid or shy away from cultures that we are unfamiliar with and have little exposure to. Exposure can lead us to love, though.
I have been writing about race for the last several weeks, partly because of the current racial tension in the country, partly because it just simply matters to me, and partly because my desire is to be a white ally as best as I can. Whiteness has dominated America for centuries but as Christians, the Lord calls us to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Being a white ally does not require a person to be a Christian. Rather, I do believe that being a Christian requires white people to become white allies. You can try to argue with the Bible, but I think it is clear as day. To stand firm in one spirit and of one mind, striving side by side is to be allies. Yet being allies requires a sense of understanding each other. I’m not sure that it is possible to be united without some sense of understanding. When it comes to race in America, the majority of people have been raised in segregation.
Sure, official legal segregation ended over fifty years ago, but if you were to take stock of your life, what would you see? Who lives in your neighborhood? Who attends your church? What friends are you surrounded by? What are the demographics of the school you or your children attend? If you are anything like me, I was raised in a neighborhood that was entirely white, and I went to churches and schools that were predominately white. I had black friends, but the majority of my life was dominated by whiteness. I was raised in white culture and had to be proactive in learning about black culture. It took me being proactive in order to live out Paul’s commands to the church at Philippi. Because of the fact that the majority of us have been raised in segregation, it takes being proactive to learn about other races in order to become allies. You see, the principle stands, we don’t know what we are missing until we try it. Until we seek to know and understand each other’s cultures, we will continue to be distant and unknown to each other. I would argue that black people have had to live in white culture for centuries and likely know much more about white culture than the other way around. In order to be a white ally, I think the majority of us have some learning to do.
I’m sure there are a number of ways to get started on this journey towards becoming a white ally. I certainly suggest befriending people of other races, but because building new relationships is a tricky dynamic that cannot be forced, I figured another good place to start was to take advantage of the internet and print resources. I want to share some resources that I believe are important for white Christians that are seeking to learn and be proactive in living out the gospel alongside their black brothers and sisters. Below are five easy to read, yet important books to help you get started.
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
Jemar Tisby’s book is a great place to start if you are looking to understand more of the racial history in America, specifically as it pertains to the church. It is essentially a history book written from a gospel perspective. Tisby dives deep into the American church and the role it played in racism throughout history. The book’s subtitle, “The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism,” really says it all. If you are curious as to why 11 AM on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in our country, this book can help you understand. It is an honest reflection of events, trends, and beliefs that have lasted centuries and have had devastating effects. Tisby debunks myths and seeks to provide a concise and whole truth about racism within the American church.
“Even if only a small portion of Christians committed the most notorious acts of racism, many more white Christians can be described as complicit in creating and sustaining a racist society.”Tisby 17
2. Woke Church by Dr. Eric Mason
I love Dr. Eric Mason. I have listened to his sermons and teachings for years. I love his heart, his approach, and the raw truth that he speaks. His book, Woke Church, provides just that. Where Tisby’s book provides mostly an historical overview of racism in the American church, Mason’s book is a call to action for Christians to confront that racism. He calls the American church to wake up and be “woke” in addressing racism and issues that have been allowed to continue for centuries because of the church’s failure to act like Jesus. If after reading The Color of Compromise you find yourself wanting to know what’s next and what you can do, this book is a great read for you. Again, it’s an easy read and incredibly applicable to the racial situation we face today.
“But the evangelical church seems to be asleep to the hotbed of tensions that threatens to overflow into communities across America. Scripture makes it clear that we are supposed to be totally awake to what is happening in our world and steadfast in our commitment to fulfill the great commandments.”Mason 22
3. One Blood by Dr. John Perkins
Dr. John Perkins is the godfather of racial reconciliation. If you have never heard of him, he and his work are definitely worth investigating. Dr. Perkins has been involved in racial reconciliation for the majority of his life. He has written numerous books about his work, but now, as he nears the end of his life, he has written his “Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love.” One Blood is essentially a reflection on all the work that Dr. Perkins has done and everything that he has fought for. He has come to a place in his life that he realizes what the church needs most is Christ at the center of it all, racial issues included. After all, reconciliation can never happen apart from Christ. A nice addition throughout the book are snippets from pastors that lead multi-racial churches. These snippets discuss the church dynamics and experiences as multi-racial congregations. This book is worth reading simply because Dr. John Perkins is one of the leading voices when it comes to Christianity and racial tension.
“The truth is that there is no black race — and there is no white race. So the idea of ‘racial reconciliation’ is a false idea. It’s a lie. It implies that there is more than one race. This is absolutely false. God created only on race — the human race.”Perkins 17
4. Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
Of all the books that I am sharing here, this is by far the most academic (in terms of reading experience), but well worth the read if you are willing. Divided by Faith is a sociological study that addresses how white evangelicals view the issue of race in America, and in turn, how their view limits any efforts to change the race problem. At its core, the study reveals that while the majority of white evangelicals believe that racism is a heart issue, a sin issue, and that religion has the means to solve the problem, few white evangelicals put forth any effort to make change happen because they are blinded to where the change needs to happen. While religion may have the answers, churches have been reluctant to voice political opinions or address political, systemic change (with the exception of abortion). Therefore, white Christians have historically done very little to address a change they also claim needs to happen. For a white Christian, this book can be a challenging yet eye opening read.
“…racial practices that reproduce racial division in the contemporary United States ‘(1) are increasingly covert, (2) are embedded in normal operations of institutions, (3) avoid direct racial terminology, and (4) are invisible to most Whites.’”Emerson and Smith 9
5. Black No More by George M. Schuyler
Unlike the books so far mentioned, this book is a novel. If you hate to read, especially fiction, don’t worry, this book is a short and rather easy read. Published in the 1930s, Black No More is a brilliant satire on the prejudices of skin color. The novel sets out to depict a society that has discovered a way to permanently alter skin color. As the vast majority of black citizens are becoming white, fear sets in as the originally white communities can no longer determine who is who or what color. Chaos is inevitable as black citizens have been able to live, work, and function as white citizens, and no one knows what is real or true any longer. Considering the date of publication, it is an insightful look at the preposterous racial prejudices that exist in American society and are carried down generationally. Additionally, there are some humorous moments that reveal the hypocrisy that can so easily set into the lives of people that identify as Christian. This is a brilliant novel that truly deserves more attention.
“…it is clear that the Caucasian problem is painfully real and practically universal. Stated briefly, the problem confronting the colored peoples of the world is how to live in freedom, peace and security without being invaded, subjugated, expropriated, exploited, persecuted and humiliated by Caucasians justifying their actions by the myth of white racial superiority.”George Schuyler
6. Anything by Toni Morrison
If you do enjoy fiction, or are just up for the challenge of expanding your understanding of race, go ahead and read anything and everything by Toni Morrison if you have not yet done so. Be aware that Morrison’s writing is often raw and cuts no corners when it comes to depicting the harsh realities of black lives throughout American history, but I promise, it is worth it. The late Toni Morrison is arguably America’s greatest black writer, and many of her works are considered to be masterpieces. What Morrison accomplishes in her writing is to capture black life and the black experience. She leaves nothing untouched. For any white person seeking to learn and understand, there may be no better author to turn to than Morrison. If you have little access to black culture or black experience in your white life, you can at least find it in Morrison’s works. So, pick any of her novels and get started.
“In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”Toni Morrison
I hope that you will invest the time to read some (or all) of these texts. Most of them are short enough that you can knock out the first five in what remains of summer. Obviously, this is a very short list of helpful books circulating out there. If you need a place to start, you now have one, but I encourage you to continue branching out and seeking out other black authors that you can learn from. Being a white ally does not end with simply reading books, though. My prayer is that these books will eventually move you to action as the Lord works in your heart.