Westminster John Knox Press, 184 pages
Reviewed by Katina Sharp
I recently purchased a new sofa. It is buttery soft and squishy plush and reclines, and it should have been the most comfortable sitting I have ever done. What a waste. Reading Kerry Connelly’s book “Good White Racist?” I found myself squirming to find a comfortable position. Soon I realized that it wasn’t the fault of the chair but, rather, my own conscience speaking to me through this startling work.
Connelly engages in a no-holds-barred approach to confronting racism. She doesn’t tiptoe around the issues to ease the white reader into dialogue, but rather jumps right in, asserting that all of us have deeply-rooted racist thoughts and think and act as a result of this subconscious (and sometimes conscious, if we are honest) way of thinking. She pokes at readers’ comfort in assuming that they are not racists because they have black friends, participate in civil rights movements and despise racial injustice. The title “Good White Racist?” is the theme — it is possible (and likely, if the author knows her audience) that the white reader is a good-intentioned, people-loving, injustice-hating, equality-for-all-promoting racist. The paradox of this is examined closely, providing familiar examples from popular culture. I found myself arguing with Connelly, defending myself against the truths I didn’t want to see, before finally accepting that I do actually find racist thoughts and behaviors in my progressive, people-loving self.
Answering the question “Did you like the book?” will be difficult for readers. No one likes being told that their patterns of thinking and living are expressions of racism that perpetuate systems of injustice for people who are black, indigenous people of color (BIPOC). Perhaps, then, that is not the question that we should be asking about a work such as this one. Instead, it would be wise to answer this question: Did the book change your way of thinking such that you plan to make intentional changes? To that, I can enthusiastically answer yes. Connelly offers assistance with this part. Each chapter ends with three action items: learn, think and act. The first offers a specific task to research more about the chapter’s topic; the second invites the reader into self-reflection; and the third offers a tangible challenge to put the learning into practice. Connelly does not claim that anyone can just decide to simply stop being a racist, but that it is the calling of “good” white people to become aware of our participation in this system of injustice and take steps to correct it.
The book is down-to-earth, written just like one side of a conversation between girlfriends. Connelly’s informal language and dry humor keep her from sounding like a professor shoving expertise down the reader’s throat. Rather, she sounds like a fellow sojourner in this difficult journey toward being a better ally for our BIPOC siblings. I do not recommend this book as comfortable living room reading but as a part of your personal wellness plan. It hurts like burpees — it burns and makes you want to quit, but ultimately makes you a stronger and healthier person. Thank you, Coach Connelly, for insisting that I put away my complacency. I hobble away grateful.
Katina Sharp is the pastor of Powell Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the author of “Put Your Hands Up.” She and her husband Mike have four sons and two spoiled dogs.