Christians are called to pursue justice and show compassion to our neighbors while helping them transcend that which diminishes their quality of life (Deut. 16: 20-22, Micah 6:8; Col. 3:12, Is. 1:17). We’re also instructed to pursue peace where we live (Jer. 29:7).
However, there are divergent ways people are struggling to engage these obligations, particularly when it comes to racial discrimination.
A Washington, D.C. church is doing what it perceives to be in its best Christian interests to investigate and diminish the effects of systemic racial oppression. It’s hosting two small-group book studies called “Conversations on Race” to engage this topic. One of the books is Good White Racist? by Kerry Connelly. The other book is of course, White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo.
Kerry Connelly is writer, blogger, and host of White on White – a podcast focused on re-imagining white identity that’s divorced from privilege and pseudo-(white) supremacy. Connelly is also pursuing her MDiv at Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)-affiliated Christian Theological Seminary.
Her book, Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice suggests that white people, herself included, have inherited a system of whiteness. Resulting from the meaningful racial progress America has made, the construct of “whiteness” allows whites to view themselves as good people.
White people, citizens of what she calls the “white empire,” have tolerated improved race relations in America – realized in the broad condemnation of racism as evil, the embrace of colorblindness, and miming all the right things when it comes to diversity, racial inclusion, and so on. Connelly suggests this cultural evolution provides present-day white folk the opportunity to distinguish themselves from traditional white racists of the past – a default that permits whites to define themselves as essentially decent.
At the same time, though they differ considerably from white nationalists or hood-wearing Klansmen of history, modern white folk aggressively reject honest reflection of how they’ve cooperated with– and preserved– a white supremacy that cultivates systemic racism. Connelly indicates that the lack of self-and-collective reflection by whites, the reluctance to acknowledge internal, unconscious racism; and the refusal to challenge the social normalcy that reinforces socio-economic inequities of non-whites, unavoidably indicts white people as racists.
What is a good white racist? How do good white racists contribute to racial injustice?
Connelly defines “good” as being nice, valuing peace and rejecting disruption; “white” as a socially constructed racial identity with built-in layers of privileges unavailable to non-whites; and “racist” as a defender of personally and socially tiered racial discrimination that actively reinforces oppression of non-white minorities. Therefore, a “good white racist” is a polite, white beneficiary of socio-economic privilege who rejects racism while simultaneously preserving it because they’re unaware of how the ‘system’ reinforces their privilege. Like DiAngelo, Connelly suggests that when confronted with their privilege, good white racists react defensively because they’re protecting themselves from that which threatens their comfort and “goodness”.
A loosely Christian version of White Fragility, Good White Racist repetitiously explains the depth to which good white racists will go to defend and distract from the behavior that threatens black lives.
Across eleven easy-to-read chapters, Connelly explains how whiteness is embedded in white people from an early age. She describes how whites engage in defensive techniques to shame and marginalize Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) when they confront white people for their micro-aggressive behavior that furthers perceived racial oppression.
Some of the positive elements of Good White Racist are:
- Connelly indicts herself and fellow progressives as among the worst offenders of being good white racists. Not only do white progressives diminish conservative perspectives regarding race but the self-righteousness of progressive racial awareness oftentimes leads to racial paternalism towards BIPOC;
- The reality that being white has been “normalized” in such a way that white people rarely think about how racial dynamics have contributed to social hierarchies that continue to play out;
- That some white people use their relationships with “people of color” to prove that they’re not racist as opposed to self-examination to determine where potential blind spots exist;
- That white supporters of racial preferences are so because it benefits them personally (“proves” they aren’t racist) not because of the impact on preference beneficiaries.
Some negative elements include:
- The indication that racism is both conscious and unconscious (though there’s limited data to support the latter) leading to the inescapable conviction that all white people (including Christians) are racist – despite admissions of their racial sins or attempted antiracist acts of contrition;
- Repeated oversimplification of issues enabled by misleading attributions as “evidence” that whites are racist, like:
- white people use agents of the state as weapons against blacks – calling the cops on blacks only because they’re black;
- cops who shoot blacks do so because they’re racist, full stop;
- the denunciation of genuine objections by whites accused of racism just because they’re white rather than an honest examination of their character and behavior;
- The use of colorblindness to avoid seeing racism, which allows racism to continue. Were civil rights protestors also guilty of this or do only whites bear culpability?
- Connelly no longer refers to herself as a Christian because of the injustices perpetuated in the name of Christ and the church that bears his name. But she didn’t mention if she no longer refers to herself as white for the very same reasons;
- An unclarified paradox: Connelly says that whites must be less racist and must do that work themselves – they shouldn’t rely on people of color (racial experts) to educate them. But from her perspective, most white racists lack awareness of their racism. Are whites supposed to do that from other well-meaning, racially misguided whites?
Like most of antiracism, this book is a program by white people for white people. The desire is to advance from stain to purity – appeasing and cleansing their consciences from the shame of racial unrighteousness. Antiracism ‘work’ consists of a performative talk that impersonates action rather than engaging the real work of eradicating the remnants of real racial discrimination.
Subsequently, I’m convinced that much of this racial condemnation of white folk by other white folk comes down to projection. These ‘good white racists’ who write articles, books, give lectures and diversity seminars are projecting their feelings of racial supremacy, superiority and paternalism onto other whites who don’t necessarily hold or have similar feelings. I also sense condescension present in this racial projection as the anointed attempt to (re)acquire moral superiority over benighted whites who simply “don’t get it” or who challenge unfair accusations of racism. Accordingly, since (white) purification is the goal, helping blacks is ancillary: antiracism actually dehumanizes blacks and holds them in contempt.
There was scant discussion about how proper hermeneutics, the understanding of biblical anthropology or how the application of Jesus’ teachings mitigate racial discrimination in Good White Racist. The gospel of antiracism seems to be replacing Jesus’ gospel. Christians should be concerned.