Despite the media’s spotlight on race-related trauma over the last decade, racism and injustice are not new problems. Ever since race developed as a social construct, oppressing one group while uplifting another has become so ingrained in the fabric of our daily experience that few people today perceive racism and injustice when it occurs.
Believers find themselves climbing uphill toward reconciliation, facing a divide in the church that only seems to widen as the years go on. In particular, dealing with the aftermath of racism allowed, approved of, and participated in by white Christians throughout history seems too heavy for many to bear. That’s why with his new book, How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey toward Racial Justice, Jemar Tisby argues that due to the deep roots of racism in America, the path toward racial justice is a journey—not a quick fix.
Using practical suggestions for proactively and confidently combating racism while pursuing racial justice, Tisby attempts to answer the question facing many in the church today: What can I do? He walks the reader through history, highlighting multiple real-life stories that show how racism in America can be found in its economics, relationships, laws—and the church.
The way forward begins with looking back.
How to Fight Racism is built on the historical conviction that many white Christians have not only been complicit in racism, but have also actively perpetuated racist ideas in Western Christianity—from visual representations of a European Jesus to participating in slave-owning and preferring Christian Nationalism over the Christianity of the Bible. Forging a way forward, Tisby relies on the witness of scripture and specific doctrines, like the image of God, to reiterate that every race bears the image of God and that the church should be an active participant in the fight against discrimination.
Tisby formats his book around a model he calls the “ARC of Racial Justice,” which is an acronym for awareness, relationship, and commitment. Meant to provide a comprehensive approach to race reform, anyone at any time can engage with the model’s principles—and there’s no need for everyone’s engagement to look the same. Within the model is an exploration of race and the image of God, building diverse communities, and pursuing reconciliation.
In How to Fight Racism, readers learn why racism is a sin that needs to be confessed and repented from, why learning from Black theologians and historians is necessary, and why seeing any and every ethnic group as an image bearer with dignity is pivotal. Tisby also clearly illustrates the connection between individual and corporate behavior.
One especially helpful aspect of the book is the historical narrative Tisby includes, retold as a way of adding context to every nuance of racism expressed in our world. Stories like the life and ministry of Fannie Lou Hamer: Tisby regards her as someone who practiced courageous Christianity and who continues to fill him with the conviction and inspiration needed to stay on this journey, even in seasons of doubt and fatigue.
Hamer was a Black woman whose Christian faith fueled her drive to fight for racial justice and voting rights during the Civil Rights era. She spent much of her life defending the poor, fighting for Black voting rights and constantly endured life-threatening danger from angry white supremacists who left her beaten, bruised, and jailed on more than one occasion.
Joining the Fight
As a Black woman myself, I’ve had peers express confusion as to why a certain situation is unjust and request a “real-life” example to demonstrate the harm caused by a certain phrase that doesn’t seem racist. How to Fight Racism does just that, including stories that disabuse readers of underestimating ways in which racial injustice plays out.
More often than I’d like to admit, white peers have told me they believe Black and brown people are stuck in the past; that in order to eradicate racism, we have to stop focusing on slavery and past offenses and embrace that the abolition of Jim Crow fixed everything. But as Tisby explains, history is important because it provides the framework for what we see now. There is no way to deal with the consequences of racial injustice without purposefully confronting their source.
I’ve encountered many white people who see racism as something that simply needs to be forgotten or adjusted. But fighting racism, as Tisby’s book argues, implies a necessary action must take place. Fighting is hard and exhausting, and it requires strength. If we want to see the state of race relations change, we must work together to confront the demonic reality of racism and injustice.
As believers, we know that our faith by itself, without works, is dead. Christians cannot simultaneously believe that works should accompany their faith and that the sin of racism requires only empathy and prayer. When I say my faith is in Christ, I must also meditate on his word, forgive those who’ve hurt me, serve the people around me, and love my neighbors. Whether you’re advocating for voting rights, getting involved in police or criminal justice reform, learning from Black theologians, or simply standing up for a co-worker, be sure to act on what you believe.
Tisby stays true to a gospel-centered approach toward fighting racism while concretizing his teaching such that it could be helpful for all, including unbelievers. My hope is that people, regardless of religious background, read this book and feel a sense of relief, knowing there are many different ways to begin the journey of fighting racism and learning how to spot it in any given situation.
Being angry about racism and its repercussions can be coupled with practical, individual actions—both big and small—to create a huge change in our society. I’m grateful that Tisby’s How to Fight Racism serves as a how-to manual filled with strategies for anyone ready to make a change starting today. And today is a perfect day to learn how to fight.