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Jemar Tisby: How to Fight Racism

Jessup Think
Jessup Think
Jemar Tisby: How to Fight Racism

New York Times’ Bestselling author, Jemar Tisby, joins Mark and Rex again to discuss his new book How to Fight Racism.


Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host Mark Moore, and your co host, Rex Gurney. And Rex, so excited to have jemar tisby back on the shack on the show for the show. He is, you know, an author we had him on for the color of compromise. He’s also the president of the witness of black Christian collective, where he writes about race, religion, politics, and culture. He also co hosts his own podcast called pass the mic. And his the color of compromise became a New York Times bestseller this past summer of 2020. And he’s just released a new book on how to fight racism, courageous Christianity and the journey toward racial justice. And I know you as listeners are going to love this episode and learn so much because we learned so much being with him. That’s right.

Hey, Jemar, we’re so happy to have you back on the show. How have you been since we last had you on the show?

Man running going? I’ll tell you though, the holiday season was a bit more low key and subdue. Right? for all of us. Yeah, exactly. And I think there was something to that, because we needed every ounce of energy for 2021.

Right? Yeah, that is the truth, as a truth and you. So we had you on last time talking about the color of compromise. And then you’ve just released a new book, how to fight racism, and we’re gonna be focusing on that. But also, like, I don’t think we talked a lot about this last time. In the middle of all this, you’re also a PhD candidate. How are you? How you doing all this? Listen,

I don’t know that I am doing any of it. Very well. And so yeah, that is a Super Challenge. I’ll tell you the dynamic is good, though. Because that the type of work required to write a dissertation, it’s like this deep, focused work where you’re just in a silo. And I feel like it steeps you in knowledge and information and data and truth. And then when you come up for air, and you see current events and everything, this is one of the reasons why I wanted to pursue this degree in history was to be able to bring all of that deep study that academic rigor, and just the context of history to what we’re experiencing right now. So I like that going back and forth. I think if I was not in the program, with everything that’s going on right now, I would just be even more scattered than I am. So yeah.

And speaking of right now, we’re actually doing this podcast on January the seventh 2021, which is one day after January the sixth. And so, um, you know, that that just kind of places us right now in the context of, of what we’re talking about. And so, you know, we really want to give you a voice tomorrow, because we respect him so much. And we really do want to get to your book, but, you know, do you have anything to say about what happened yesterday, especially in conjunction with, you know, the fact that that, frankly, the crowd that stormed the Capitol was almost completely white? Yeah, yeah.

I sort of am processing it on three levels, an emotional level, a historical level and a spiritual level. So on the emotional level, my goodness, how frustrating is all of this is, it is so big, I mean, obviously disheartening, frightening to a degree, but also frustrating. In particular, as a black writer, I’ve been I’ve been talking about these things, in particular, putting words to them in writing, literally for years. But in the more recent past, at least, you know, since the 2016, presidential cycle, and there are so many, like me, who, who, because of our social location, racially, ethnically, we are canaries in the coal mine for these kinds of things. So we heard the rhetoric we saw, we saw the people who were attracted to this President and this administration, and we said, Hey, this is not good for us in so many people, minimized it ignored those calls. And what is frustrating is that it could have been prevented or at least mitigated, had we taken action sooner. So that’s the emotional level. On a historical level, there are all kinds of parallels, my mind jumped immediately back to the aftermath of the Civil War. And here you have sedition, rebellion, treason. on a national scale that led to what is to this day, the bloodiest War The United States has ever been involved in. And what happened after that, you would think, you know, in light of this this treasonous nation forming and literally spilling blood and rebelling against the union, there would be some harsh penalties and consequences. When in reality, what happened was the full pardon of Confederate soldiers, amnesty for many Confederate leaders and generals, wealthy people continue to own land. And one of the things I say in my first book, The color of compromise is that racism never goes away. It adapts. And so they were adapted. After that to sharecropping and convict leasing, it continued the economic exploitation of black people, and basically got a slap on the wrist, if that for for rebelling against the nation. And the way that connects to what happened January 6, is that relative leniency LED and emboldened more than a century of white supremacist extremism, because it was clear that the nation, or at least the authorities weren’t going to take strong action. And I think we are seeing the very bitter fruit of those rotten roots even in we actually saw

we actually saw confederate flag waving in the Statuary Hall.

So So yeah, and we can go on and on and on, we can talk about the KKK as a white nationalist organization, we can talk about what happened during the civil rights movement and the ways they protest and push back against black civil rights. And we can talk about the marriage of, you know, Christianity, and the religious right, which is the third aspect, the spiritual level. So what I’m seeing there is Christian nationalism on full display, when you have people carrying literal crosses, like four by four wooden themed, with 1012 foot crosses up there, you know, it’s, it’s one step away from just like messing thing on fire. And then you have, you know, signs and banners that say Jesus saves right alongside signs and banners that says Trump saves or Jesus 2020 and Trump 2020, right. And so you have all of these religious symbols, where they are using the sort of vocabulary and symbolism of Christianity, but importing this nationalist, xenophobia racist meaning into them. And it is so frustrating because for the past several years, we saw this in the church first, but it also hit the white house when they started issuing executive orders on this stuff about critical race theory, and critical race theory as the biggest threat to Christianity in the US the biggest threat to Orthodoxy, etc, etc. They use this label as a pejorative for basically anyone who was doing any type of racial justice work they didn’t like the they in here is far right fundamentalist Christians, who are pushing back against racial justice in the 21st century. And it was a red herring. It distracted us from from what has already infiltrated many sectors of the church in the United States and us Christian nationalism. So processing on all those levels.

I know the the assembled, I guess, seminary presidents of the denomination that I grew up in, all basically kind of got together and banned, even I guess, the the, you know, use of the term in in their seminaries. And that’s, that’s discouraging and

time to name names. I think this is a time to name names. The Southern Baptist Convention has done these regional things. Yes, they issued this, the president of the SBC seminaries issued an egregious statement, condemning critical race theory saying is wholly incompatible with Christianity, which actually went against a resolution they passed in 2020, I believe about it and saying, we know there are some parts we can learn from other parts are incompatible. They just did wholesale thing. And then to go further, from an article by Charlie dates who whose church left the SBI in the wake of this statement, right. He’s, he’s privy to all of the the conversations and whatnot. And he said, it was at the urging of Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that they went further and made that statement because it could have just been a statement in affirmation of the Baptist faith and message on its 20th anniversary, but They had to have a little jab about critical race theory in there. And then Moeller, several months prior to that came out and said, as a Christian, he couldn’t see voting for anyone other than a Republican candidate for president for the foreseeable future and directly attach that to his Christian faith and theological leanings. And to this day, as far as you know, as we record on January 7, has not reputed his support for this president who overtly and explicitly inflamed and encourage this insurrection.

Yeah, and I agree that it is a time that, that we name names and we we put that on record. I mean, I think this is, as we look back on this time, we’re gonna be looking back on the record of who voiced and who stayed silent. And, and I think it’s so important, and that’s why I think it’s so interesting that your book is is released, I think, at an amazing time in history, because I think people are looking for those who have their eyes open and ears open are looking for ways, how do we enter this conversation? Like how do we fight racism and and you start your book with the line, something is different this time. And and even though the events of January 6, you know, bring us back I think steps. It does feel like what what do you think is different this time, you know, from from spring 2020 moving forward.

Right, so I opened the book with a sort of recounting of the sustained uprisings that we saw from the spring of 2020, through this summer of 2020, about racial justice, and it was spurred most proximately by the murder of George Floyd, Briana Taylor, Amman, are very, but of course, there’s a much longer history. And, you know, in the midst of that, it felt different. This time, it felt weightier, it felt like there was more momentum, it felt like there was a greater potential for change. And I stand by that I absolutely stand by that we saw so this, the prime example I give is going to seem relatively minor at idiosyncratic to people outside of this area, but it’s a major deal, the state of Mississippi finally changed its state flag, which, of course, last one in the Union, to have the Confederate battle emblem on it. And mind you, that flag has flown uninterrupted since 1894. It took 126 years for that flag to come down. And there’s a reason it came down in 2020. And so that’s one sign we can point to lots of different other ones. The The other reason I think this time feels different, is not simply because of the protests or the progress, but because of the opposition. And what happened on January 6, is actually part and parcel of the protests and uprisings we saw in 2020, partially as a reaction to that. And so you know, the strength of your movement by the strength of the opposition you fix. And so we’ve, we’ve seen this resort resurgence and white supremacist extremism and terrorism and violence, and that is in direct proportion to the strength of the movement that’s pushing for racial justice.

Yeah, that’s such a good point. And, and being, you know, witness to that over these last couple days, and seeing that, and seeing how we can continue to move forward on this journey of racial justice. And I like how in the book, you call that you call it a journey of racial justice, and you provide a model that you created called the arc of racial justice. And I think there’s a really, you kind of shaped the book around that. And I really think that’s a powerful way for us to start to answer that question of Okay, what can we do? Right? How do we make those next steps? So you could walk us through that arc of racial justice? I love that.

Yeah, it’s pretty simple is designed that way, because my brain is simple can be I want it to be memorable for other people. So the art of racial justice is an acronym that stands for awareness, relationships, commitment. And I think you need all three, to have a robust holistic approach to racial justice, awareness, the knowledge, the data, the facts, the information we need, about race, racism, white supremacy, in order to understand what we’re dealing with, and to better address it. And so what is awareness building looks like a lot of different things. It’s reading the books, watching the documentaries, listening to the panel discussions, all of those things we do to add information, but we can’t just send big heads. We got to have big hearts around this thing, too. This is the one I find toughest to explain because the immediate pushback which I have to is that fighting racism is about Not much more than individual relationships, right? The pothole that that especially white evangelicals fell into around racial reconciliation was to think that racism is primarily a problem of interpersonal attitudes, one person not liking another. And so the solution then is, well, some of my best friends are black, or people, you know, have black friends or Asian friends or whatever it might be. Which, which, yeah, they stopped there, which is a problem. And I’ll get to that in the last portion of the model. But I still think there’s a place for relationships. As a matter of fact, I know there is, even as a black person or a person of color, it can be really easy to to paint in broad strokes and make white people all the absolute same. Now, I nuance that and say, Listen, if you’re white, you benefit from whiteness, no matter how woke you are, no matter how sensitive you are, issues, I understand that. But it’s a check on my heart, to make sure that I’m not saying all of this stuff, divorced from actual relationships with people, but it’s even more incumbent, I think, on white people, because even simply being in the numerical majority, it’s going to be harder for you to make real good, authentic relationships across racial and ethnic lines, there are simply more of you than there are us. But beyond that, this nation has been extremely adept at on purpose separating white people from other folks. And so they’re all of these structures. residentially educationally even ecclesiastically, then keep you separated. And so you’re gonna have to cross all those boundaries and skill all those walls to build relationships. Lastly, we can just have good relationships, because hey, we can have a great heart to heart on this podcast, we can, you know, when we’re, when the vaccine has been distributed in we can meet each other again, hold each other, high five, all that stuff. None of that’s going to do a thing about mass incarceration, about voter suppression about black women dying in maternity related deaths at three times the rate of white women. So what do you do about that stuff? That’s where the commitment aspect comes in, that says, prejudice works itself out not just through people, but through policies as well. And so we got to work at the legal level, we got to work the policy level, the practice level, the ways our systems and institutions are structured, that create a perpetuate racial inequality, we got to attack that too.

And be willing to I don’t know, I guess, except whatever you think is a sacrifice to do it. It may not actually be one, but you might think it is, I’ve been reminded that with, with just the vaccination thing, you know, it’s like, you know, I’m probably on on level 130 z or something. But you know, I want to sort of jump the line, but I also have to understand that people of color are being affected by the whole COVID crisis at in numbers that people like me aren’t, I have a place to go, I have a job that I can I’m at home right now on this podcast, and other people don’t and, and honestly, you know, they should be vaccinated first. It should be and I need to understand that and accept that.

And I think you’re hitting on something that is critical. So in the book, the chapters are all sort of uniformly structured, there’s usually some sort of introductory story that illustrates the broad concept. And then there are two sections, essential understandings and racial justice practices. So the racial justice practices, obviously, are the practical hands on here’s what to do stuff. But I really think part of the treasure of the book, if there is a value to it is the essential understandings because that articulates kind of my broader approach to race and how to think about it. And so what you touched on just a moment ago, is the idea of sort of communal thinking, in the sense of not groupthink, but in the sense of I’m part of a broader community. And I am going to do something that is good for the entire community and not just myself. That’s a fundamental shift in thinking. racial and ethnic minorities have that because we tend to be viewed by society as a group. So the analogy I always use is when I was in seminary, which was overwhelmingly white over 90% white if I did badly on a class assignment or something that would have not just been jumar did badly it’s the see those black people, you know, they can’t handle it, or they can’t hack it or whatever it might be. Whereas if one of my white classmates did poorly, that’s just john, let’s just mark Keenan study that night, you know, if there’s not as an individual kind of thing. So so that shift of thinking about the good of the group, and how this affects us all COVID is a perfect example, right where, because you know, you may be able to work from home or be more affluent and can afford better health care, it doesn’t affect you the same way. But that’s not all that matters is about the good of the group. And so I just wanted to highlight, you know, that really important concept that you just just mentioned.

Yeah, and in your book, you, you I appreciate how you bring in Christianity explicitly in this conversation, right, a year, that you tie it directly, and you label as courageous Christianity. So could you highlight what is courageous Christianity? And you also highlight like, why did you need to tie conversations of race and racism directly to Christianity?

Thank you. Yeah, it’s that subtitle is doing a lot of work there courageous Christianity and the journey toward racial justice. courageous Christianity, in contrast to complicit Christianity, which I talked about in the first book. And so the sordid history of white Christianity in the United States is one, pretty much characterized, in most cases by compromise and complicity in the face of racism. You can go even further than that, you know, active cooperation and construction of a racist society. But in contrast to that compromising complicity, would be courageous Christianity, that instead of compromising actually confronts injustice. And so I say in the introduction, you know, I really want this book to be broadly read, and it absolutely can be, you don’t have to be Christian, you don’t have to claim any faith tradition at all, I think, to glean from this book, but I felt I had to also address Christians because of a couple of things. First and foremost, when it comes to white Christians in this country, they’ve so often been part of the problem, this is your opportunity to be part of the solution. I really think, you know, white Christians need to be at the forefront of this thing, examining their own institutions, their own churches and nations. Yeah,

perhaps waving a Jesus flag as I climbed the Capitol steps before I smashed the door well,

and by saying at the forefront, I mean, need to be if what soldiers in this thing, but but that doesn’t mean taking the lead over and above people of color and black people who’ve been living this and, you know, have the insights and experience. So I thought we got to bring Christianity in for that. The other thing is, is on the more positive side, we have so many resources within the Christian tradition, for fighting racism and promoting justice. And so in the book, I talk about sort of broad themes, the image of God, I spent a lot of time in the first section of the book talking about this idea that we’re all made in God’s image. And that gives us inherent dignity and worth. And that tells us so much of what we need to know about how to interact across racial and ethnic lines. But I also talked about love and, and justice, and justice being loved in public, that kind of idea to get in the fact that we can’t just approach this on an interpersonal level, but also a systemic and institutional level as well. So, again, I think it’s accessible to anyone have any faith tradition, or no tradition at all. But I do think Christians in this nation absolutely have to be part of the solution. And so it’s addressed partially to know.

Yeah, I think any, you know, encouragement, actually, a, I’m trying actually not to mention the institution right now. But there’s a Christian College in California, very, very conservative that I am sort of related to, through my son and his in laws, and his father in law is actually on the administration there and they have, you know, decided to have a, the administrators actually have sort of a book club on the color of compromise. I just felt really, really, you know, I that’s a good thing. I don’t know what’s gonna come of it or whatever, but those are the people that need to be reading it. Yeah, they are. I’m glad they are.

Well, the it’s gonna be interesting in groups like that you mentioned, you know, that they might be more on the conservative side. With the first with the color of compromise. I was actually surprised there wasn’t more pushback. And I think that’s because of two reasons. Number one, you’re dealing with history, which is as much as there is a war on facts. And information right now, it’s a little bit harder to critique. I mean, when you’ve got the literal primary documents and whatnot, like the words are there, the evidence is there. So it’s, you know, you got to get much more creative if you want to just attack the knowledge there. But I think Secondly, there was less criticism than I expected. Because the further back in history you go, the more people think it’s distant and doesn’t apply to them threatened. But to the extent, to the extent that there was criticism and pushback, it was on two counts one, the more recent history, say from the 1960s on, so they really didn’t like, you know, what I talked about Billy Graham and his record on race, right. And that really, really didn’t like when I started talking about the Moral Majority. And this connection between Christianity and the GOP. On the second, so the more recent history they criticize, and then the second part they criticize was the last chapter, which was dedicated to practical steps we can take, and in many ways, you know, the color compromise and how to fight racism pair together well, because that last chapter, essentially expanded into entire book and how to fight racism. But that part, where you start talking about, you know, celebrating Juneteenth that taking down Confederate monuments and doing reparations, they love that one. That’s the part where they where they start to push back. So in these groups that study, the color of compromise, and perhaps even more so how to fight racism, I do anticipate most of the pushback and criticism comes when you actually start talking, not in just vague generalities racism is wrong. But here’s what we do. Right, specific things we we do. Yeah.

Yeah. And it’s what’s interesting there, it’s the specific things and actions is what we need to focus on right now. And what I mean, we need, we need that awareness. Definitely. And the historical awareness. And I think, for me, personally, that’s part of what I think this year has, has been that something’s different this time, at least for me personally, like, the more I dove into the historical record, and, and even the summer thinking, how did the church tree Martin Luther King, Jr. You know, I just asked that question. I never heard that growing up. And then as I look into it, I’m like, oh, not very well. Like, wow, how can we learn from that? So you need that. And that’s been good for me. But we also then we need to look at, okay, what do we do next? Like, how do we, how do we step in more? And, and we have to be able to talk about that. I one question that I wanted to ask you is, and part of it is with this, like, with with maybe more Current Conversations is within the church? How How would you help us have conversations about slogans and movements like black lives matter? Right, because especially and I’m Pastor in a predominantly white church. And, and that’s where people are always pushed back, you know, and I’m gonna, and I think like, this is a clear and obvious statement. That is true. And we should easily support. But people always push back with air hits too close to home, there’s this separation of movement versus organization. How would you kind of guide us on that?

A couple of things. And they’re, they’re pretty broad, but I hope helpful one, at the beginning of 2021, if people are still rigorously pushing back against black lives matter, I don’t think they’re going to change their minds very soon. And that’s true. We have seen so much the 2020 alone, and we’re continuing to see it, such that if people want to cling to this idea that in no way shape or form, should a Christian, be involved with a firm or even say the words, Black Lives Matter, I just don’t think you’re going to get very far very quickly with them. And to me, that is a signal to say, I love you, but I got to keep moving. I don’t know if that means disfellowshipping and going to another church. I don’t know if that simply means I’m going to unfriend you on Facebook, that kind of thing. But I would I would be very cautious about expending so much energy at this point on people who are who are still pushing back so hard against the phrase in the movement. The second thing is, in general, the people I find protesting most loudly against black lives matter aren’t doing anything besides that aren’t doing any advanced racial justice in a substantive way. And so they’re spending all this time and energy critiquing the movement that is happening. Well, not While using it as an excuse not to get involved in the movement at all. And so the the immediate question one can ask is okay, you don’t like BLM, what are you doing? Yeah. And it’ll probably be along the lines of I’m preaching the gospel. I’m nice to people, you know. But when it comes to, you know, actually changing laws about, I don’t ever want us to forget that the 2020 uprisings were about anti black police brutality. And as you could ask an even more pointed question for the people who are objecting to the use of the term or the movement. What are you doing about anti black police brutality, you will be crickets 95% of the time. So So all of that in mind. If you’re a leader at the church, speak the truth in love. Like, look there. I’ve been doing this long enough, there is no way to contextualize soften tiptoe around these issues, enough that someone is not going to push back. Doesn’t matter how careful or circumspect you are. So why not take that burden off yourself, just beat the truth and allow people the dignity of deciding for themselves, whether they want to believe it or not, and what they want to do with it. And so I would just encourage people who have a voice in leadership at their churches, now is the time for bold truth in love. But understanding that the truth divides, and that may be unnecessary division. Yeah.

That’s so helpful. Thank you so much for that. And thank you again for for coming back on the show. I wish we had more time. Maybe we’ll have to get you back. Yeah, we can tackle. Yeah, exactly. And with with this being your second time on the show, you officially become a friend of the show. A button or we’re working on T shirts where we can finally get those t shirts with me in the line. Yes, we will. But thanks again. And we’re so excited about your book, which was released on January 5. You can get it anywhere books are available.

Is it racism? Calm how to fight racism, calm. We’ll get you get you fixed up.

Awesome. That is perfect. Thanks again, Jim. are fun talking to you guys. Thanks for the invite. Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup.

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