I forget precisely how I discovered Jemar Tisby’s first book, The Color of Compromise. However I found it, I read it and thought it was brilliantly well researched, eye-opening and challenging. It was a work of history that shined a light on things too long left in darkness and has become the first book I suggest people who want to wrestle with the failures of white Christianity in American history go to and read.
About a year after I read The Color of Compromise, it shot to the top of the bestseller list. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, lots of books about racism became best sellers. In the midst of the sadness and anger over Floyd’s death, I was glad Tisby’s book was getting more attention.
While I said that the book was challenging, it was still a work of history. How to Fight Racism is essentially a sequel to The Color of Compromise. Its not like one of those fantasy series where you have to read the first to understand the second. Its just that where The Color of Compromise is heavy on history and lighter on everyday applications, How to Fight Racism flips it around. This is the book to read if you are aware of, or becoming aware of, systemic racism in the church and America and you want to do something about it.
Tisby breaks this book out into three sections using the acronym ARC: Awareness, Relationships and Commitment. The three sections each consist of three chapters, and each chapter is further divided into “Essential Understandings” and “Racial Justice Practices.” This is not a book of meandering essays (not that there is anything wrong with such books!), it is a highly organized book clearly developed to be read in discussion with others, whether in church small groups or online book clubs (or over the kitchen table, as my wife and I have been discussing it).
The first section, Awareness, begins with Tisby showing that race is a social construct and in the Bible all races, all humans, are together made in God’s image. From this he moves on to inviting the reader to explore our own racial identity, including writing your own racial autobiography. This is something I plan to work on, as I have a variety of memories from my youth of racist jokes and comments being said by family members. The first section ends with a chapter on how to study the history of race.
This chapter could be a book in itself, as the question of how to tell what news is legitimate or how to talk to someone who believes conspiracy theories, is very relevant today. As I was reading this book, I texted my pastor suggesting our church read this book AND do some sort of study on how to analyze news and information. Then I read this chapter and realized Tisby kind of did both!
The second section focuses on Relationships. Here Tisby talks about how to do reconciliation right, how to make friends and how to build communities. Racial reconciliation is much more than hugs at a large Christian conference. Reconciliation requires repentance and confession by those who have harmed others, and even those who have benefited from the harm others have done.
Finally, the third section is about Commitment, focusing in on working for racial justice, fighting injustice and orienting your life to racial justice. As in the previous sections, there is a lot here and though I finished the book, I am going to be returning to these sections frequently. Its not the kind of book you read and toss on the shelf, its the kind you read and come back to.
Overall, I think this is probably the best book out there to give to a Christian friend who wants to learn how to fight racism. There are plenty of books out there, such as Ibram Kendi’s How to be Antiracist, and all these books have value. Yet, especially for Christians who are resistant or even skeptical, Tisby’s book has especial value because he writes as a Christian. If a person of faith will not give their brother in Christ a hearing, then they probably aren’t truly open to change.
Moving forward, I am truly challenged by this book. I hope others will read it and discuss it. If you do read it, discuss it with me! I’d love to chat with you!