Conversations about racial justice and equity are very common right now, but few have practical advice on how to start solving the problem. Jemar Tisby has released a new book full of practical tips and advice that you can start today to start solving the problem instead of just describing it.
I recently sat down with Tisby to talk about his book “How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice,” and he did a great job unpacking the main ideas within it.
Tisby has been developing his framework of racial justice for several years. He calls it the “ARC of Racial Justice,” and it provides 3 main areas for us to focus on in our pursuit of justice and equity. Awareness, Relationship, and Commitment. Here’s what each of those mean in a little bit more detail.
Like the rest of the ARC, the basic meaning of this term is obvious: in order to fight against injustice we need to know what the injustice is. Tisby is a trained historian, and he puts that training to good use.
Since this book focuses on the practical ways to fight racism, he doesn’t spend a lot of time in describing the roots of racial discord in America in this book. But, good news, he did write a whole book about that already. It’s called “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” and it’s definitely worth your time.
In this book, Tisby offers other tips about becoming more aware of the racial history in America, particularly within our own education and religious heritage. I found his outline of the typical progression we go through as we become aware of our racial identity particularly helpful.
He also suggests learning from the theology and experiences of the oppressed and disinherited people in our history. Here’s a handy list of books you can use to start that process today.
I’ll be honest: I’m really good at awareness and really bad at relationships. This section was very challenging for me, but it’s still full of practical ideas that I will actually be able to do (once we’re allowed to go out to eat and gather together again…).
As Tisby wrote, “reconciliation is incarnational.” Having the knowledge of the existence of racism, but not having any personal experience of its effects leaves a gaping hole in our ability to have compassion and to empathize. But this chapter is soooo much more than just “Get yourself a Black friend.”
Tisby encourages people to make sure their friendship is founded on more than tokenism or racial reconciliation. He suggests we ask the question: “If I didn’t talk about race with this friend anymore, would we still be friends?” White people need to be sure they are seeking relationships in pursuit of true friendship, humility, respect, and love.
Talking about how graciously enter into Black Spaces and what to do when I mess up was my favorite part of our conversation.
Awareness and relationship are necessary, but they are preambles to taking real action that can affect and change others. The last section of the book changes its focus from transforming ourselves to being people that are compelled by our new knowledge and experiences to help stop systemic injustice and in practical ways.
After we’ve developed our understanding of the problems in our society – things like mass incarceration, generational wealth, and voting rights- we might feel overwhelmed with choices about how to start doing things that alleviate and repair those circumstances. Tisby gave me great advice about how to pick ways to start today. He called it his mild, medium, and spicy options.
He suggested picking something that is simple both ideologically and logistically to start going right now, like maybe giving a book to a friend. Then, also, choose something that will take some planning and start working on it, so you can commit to doing it soon. The spicy option would be something that’s way out of your comfort zone, like running for the local city council or school board.
Whatever your level of comfort, Tisby’s book will definitely help you make progress in your walk towards being a promoter of racial justice and equity.
“Fighting racism is not just about how it changes the world; it’s also about how it changes you.”