by David Maxwell
Westminster John Knox, Louisville, Ky. 120 pages
Reviewed by Derek Longbrake
Many hoped that the election of Barack Obama, our nation’s first African-American president, ushered America into a post-racial age. As current events such as police shootings of back males and the Black Lives Matter movement have made clear, there can be no diminishing the importance of race in our country. “Race in a Post-Obama America” is written for predominantly white churches, many of which have difficulty dealing with the hot topic of racism. This slim book will be a resource to spark discussion and invite action for those willing to address racial justice.
You or your congregation may feel overwhelmed or impotent when considering the reality of racial injustice and thus choose to ignore how race affects lives in the United States. This read provokes one to consider living out a new Christianity that recognizes that racist attitudes and practices not only harmed non-white people in the past, but also still exist and need to be overcome. The authors issue both a call to awareness and a call for white Christians to be antiracism activists.
The book is structured in three parts: the reality of racism in the past, the reality of racism in the present and how individuals and the church can respond. Looking at the history of America through the lens of race and its impacts on non-whites is eye-opening, from forced movement of people of color over centuries, to real estate segregation, to criminalization of black men.
White Christians, for the most part, look for ways to abdicate responsibility for the racism of the past. We want transformation without discomfort. We celebrate racial multiculturalism, which the authors describe as making institutions look diverse without changing the status quo. They suggest that this explains why an Obama presidency has not signified an end to racism in the U.S.
The author also writes about “the patterns of white supremacy that have always been at the heart of what the U.S. is.” This is not white supremacy as one normally understands it – referring to an individual or small group. Instead, white supremacy is defined as embedded systematic racism in our society. He acknowledges it can be difficult to consider this without feeling attacked and becoming defensive. However, ignoring the reality of racism ignores the reality in which non-whites live. He notes that conversations about race can only be productive when white Christians acknowledge the racism experienced by non-whites. This reviewer was challenged by the statement, “White people know very little about the day-to-day experience of African-Americans because white people know almost no African-Americans in a meaningful way.”
This book would be a useful tool in discussions of race in your congregation. It challenges white Christians to consider their privilege of being able to ignore the reality of racism. The book concludes by detailing practical suggestions for both the individual and the church’s response to racism including: make a lifetime commitment to end racism; listen to non-whites; speak up; show up; be educated; do justice. The author recognizes that these responses are part of a movement that needs to continue over generations to right wrongs and bring healing regarding race in America. As the final words of the book say, “Complacency is simply not an option.”
Derek Longbrake is the director of development for the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless and a PC(USA) teaching elder. He lives in Beallsville, Maryland.