Jemar Tisby’s How to Fight Racism does not get off to a good start. In the first paragraph he claims “I know firsthand that racism still pervades our society.” The second page he cites “Mike Brown’s death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson” without mentioning Brown attacked said officer and was reaching for the officer’s gun. Then he decries “the response of law enforcement, who came out with tanks, guns, body armor, and tear gas against people protesting for basic dignity and rights.” He conveniently left out the rioting and looting. So right off, the discerning reader can see Jemar Tisby deals in half-truths in an inflammatory manner and should wonder what other parts of the book are not to be trusted. Then Tisby smeared Trump as “a president who regularly engaged in racist and violent rhetoric that seemed to embolden the basest desires of a certain segment of the population.” Already I thought the book was going to be worse than I expected.
The beginning makes this on page 5 (of the hardcover edition) quite ironic: “Racism uses an array of tactics to deceive, denigrate, and dehumanize others.”
Look in the mirror, Mr. Tisby.
On page 8, I finally came across a good point: “People of color who have internalized racist tropes may act in prejudiced ways toward white people or toward other racial and ethnic minorities.” It is good that he acknowledges that, but perhaps he should, again, examine himself more in that regard. For he seems to assume white people are racist by default: “White people must constantly cultivate humility in order to acknowledge their complicity in racism…” (p.184)
Still, for a time Tisby overcomes his initial bad start to make some good points and give a lot of good advice. I think chapter 6, “How to Make Friends,” is the best chapter. There he even gives good advice on “how to talk to racial justice resisters” (Yes, loaded words, but continuing…), particularly when he writes, “Don’t patronize.” At this point I was thinking perhaps How to Fight Racism is not as bad as I feared.
The problem is much of his book has a patronizing attitude and worse about “racial justice resisters.” The very next page states “the root of resistance to racial justice is the heart.” Yeah, so if I disagree with Tisby’s vision of “racial justice,” it’s because I have an evil heart. Got it.
And the book went downhill from there into disturbing depths. In the very next chapter came a recommendation that is chilling:
It is not enough simply to hire for diversity; you have to know what a person believes about race and ethnicity and about their commitment to equity and inclusion. When hiring new people, have potential candidates write and make a verbal explanation about their commitment to racial justice.
What would happen to the job prospects of applicants who do not measure up in “their commitment to racial justice” is obvious. This somewhat totalitarian proposal alone disqualifies Tisby’s book and his vision of so-called “racial justice.”
Almost as chilling is his later proposal to “eliminate cash bail.” One can hardly imagine all the victims of Tisby’s version of “justice” that would create.
How to Fight Racism also advocates reparations and opposes Voter ID and other measures to prevent election fraud. Tisby’s claim that election fraud is rare and his citing “one study” that “found only 31 cases of voter impersonation out of 1 billion votes” is laughable. Does he think his readers are that stupid?
There has been some debate about whether and how much Critical Theory is akin to a religion. I am uncertain where I stand on that. But the title of chapter 10, “How to Orient Your Life to Racial Justice”, sounds a bit idolatrous. I thought Christians were supposed to orient their life to Christ. And Tisby’s religion, ideology or whatever it is comes close to cancelling some giants of the Faith; he includes Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield among “racists” we should be hesitant to quote or reference. In the same chapter he endorses cancel culture under the guise of deplatforming and advocates that everyone “use your platform for racial justice.” In other words, politicize all the things!
He wants preaching and liturgy politicized, too, of course. “Churches can also do an entire preaching or teaching series based on denominational documents regarding race relations.” As for liturgy, he wants to see “public prayers of lament” that include “a litany of injustices perpetrated by the local, state, and federal government we empower.”
I could continue with the shortcomings of this book; trust me I could. They are sad because much of his book is actually good counsel. But in light of the imbedded poison and his breaking trust with the reader from the beginning, I can recommend it only to those who, like me, are researching how woke church leaders think and communicate. I certainly cannot recommend it to any church group for study as Tisby and Zondervan are now vigorously promoting.*
*Yes, I am aware the Reconciliation and Racial Justice Initiative of the ACNA Diocese of the Rocky Mountains will be reading this book.