Jemar Tisby Zondervan 2021

Tisby is CEO of The Witness, Inc. and the author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020). In many ways, this is a sequel to the earlier book. He structures a practical approach to fighting racism around the model of the “ARC of Racial Justice. ARC is an acronym that stands for awareness, relationships, and commitment” (5). Racial justice requires knowledge of racist strategies; awareness “is the knowledge, information, and data required to fight racism” (5). Relationships are required because “you cannot pursue true racial justice without authentic relationships with people who are different from you” (5). Finally, “what truly enables broadscale change on the racial justice front is a commitment to dismantle racist structures, laws, and policies” (5).

Tisby begins his book with several stories of racial injustice from 2020 and concludes: “Time will tell if the protests and uprisings of 2020 lead to lasting transformations in the United States. What is clear is that racial progress does not occur apart from the sustained efforts of people who dedicate themselves to fighting racism in all its forms. History demonstrates and hope requires the fundamental belief that when people of goodwill get together, they can find creative solutions to society’s most pressing problems” (3). It is this hope that permeates this book, and it is a hope worth pursuing.

The book is divided into three parts, with three chapters in each part. In the first, “Awareness,” Tisby argues, “In order to fight racism, we must begin with the fact that race is a socially constructed category that offers certain privileges and advantages to one group, which in the US context is white people, to the detriment of all those who are excluded from that group—that is, ‘nonwhite’ people, or people of color. Race intertwines with sex and class in a sticky web of exploitation and oppression” (20). He continues, “The concept of race has changed over time as often as society’s norms have changed, and any progress in racial awareness largely has been due to the persistent protest of racially marginalized groups” (20). Tisby explains, “What we refer to as ‘race’ is a social construct. This should not be taken to mean that race does not have real-world consequences. It simply means that race is a socially determined category rather than a spiritual or biological reality” (20–21). Among a series of practical steps, Tisby recommends learning the local and institutional histories of where people live and work. He encourages celebrating Juneteenth as a day of remembrance which would, he writes, accomplish several goals: “It would remind Americans that their country was birthed amid the idea and practice that white people could own Black people. . . . A national Juneteenth holiday would be an opportunity to celebrate progress. . . . . Third, celebrating Black emancipation would also remind us of the work that still needs to be done” (79–80).

In the second part, “Relationships,” the author writes, “I believe one of the key tools in fighting racism is understanding the spiritual dimension of race relations. There is a divine morality that compels us to build or restore relationships with one another, and many of the racial justice practices highlighted here focus on what churches in particular can do to bring about reconciliation” (87). Among the suggestions he makes is to “incorporate lamentation into worship. If you have not learned to lament, you have not learned to love. To love someone is to know and be known, which means opening oneself up to the possibility of being hurt by another. In love, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the failings and flaws of others” (93). In the chapter, “How to Make Friends,” Tisby “explains some ways to build relationships through the offer of friendship to people who are different and how to do so in a healthy manner that honors their story and identity as well as engages in the uncomfortable work of listening to and learning from one another” (108). This section is intensely practical and useful for those who desire to build and strengthen relationships.

The final part, “Commitment,” might be the most challenging section of the book. Tisby calls Christians to action: “Love for neighbor requires critiquing and dismantling unjust systems of racial oppression. It is one matter to acknowledge that all people are made equal and have inherent dignity in their very being. It is another matter to identify the ways the image of God is defaced in groups of people through systems and policies and to work against those injustices” (142). In “How to Fight Systemic Racism,” Tisby explains, “The ARC of Racial justice reminds us that just as individuals can act in racist ways, institutions can develop policies and practices that are racially discriminatory. When racist policies of different institutions intersect and interact, they create systemic racism” (158).

Tisby concludes with a helpful reminder and a call to action: “Orienting your life toward racial justice requires constant reflection and action. It is not a one-time decision. In community with others who share the same concerns, we need to constantly ponder our practices to refine our approach to fighting racism. The ARC of Racial Justice reminds us that we need constantly to commit to changing racist policies. We all have the responsibility daily to decide to take another step on the journey toward racial justice” (201).

This book is highly recommended. It should be in everyone’s library. For those who need to be convinced that racism exists and is evil, reading this book with a mind open to learn will be heart- and mind-changing. For those who need to be encouraged to begin fighting racism, reading this book will provide numerous practical steps, both small and large, to join the endeavor. For those already involved in racial reconciliation, reading this book will provide encouragement that the work is worth it.

The book ends where it began with a note of hope: “We cannot give up. We are people of hope. Hope is not blind optimism. It is a realistic assessment of current conditions with the faith that tomorrow can be different. We are people who believe that a brutal, unjustified murder resulted in a resurrection. We believe that a poor carpenter from Nazareth conquered death and is forming a people who will join in this triumph. Each day that we live is the opportunity to be witnesses to the resurrection life and the coming of the kingdom of God. We pray and work for that kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done, not just in the sweet by and by, but right here and now” (206). We march to a triumphal tune: “The journey for racial justice continues, but the music we hear along the way is not a funeral dirge; it is festival music leading us to a banquet of blessings and a harvest of righteousness. Today is the day and now is the time to join this journey toward racial justice” (ibid.).

About the Contributors

Glenn Kreider

Glenn R. Kreider

Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.