Good* White Racist, Kerry Connelly (Foreword by Michael W. Waters). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.
Summary: Explores how whites may be complicit with a system of racism while being well-intentioned and how white efforts to sustain a sense of “goodness” help perpetuate racial divides.
Kerry Connelly opens this book with admitting that she is a racist. A good white racist. She’s not a white supremacist. She thinks racism is evil. She is a Christian who loves Jesus. Yet the very desire to think ourselves good, she would argue, prevents us from seeing the ways we are complicit with the history and systems of racism in the United States. Often, she acknowledges, that, paradoxically, it is our attempts to defend our goodness, that keep us from leaning into the hard work of understanding our complicity, and the even harder work of discerning what it means to “pursue justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Her appeal in this book is that we would be the good people we want to be and lean into that hard work rather than keep defending our goodness.
She begins by walking us through our national self-perception of goodness, at least among whites. We don’t even notice that it is “white.” She looks at the construction of “whiteness” that we are often not conscious of, and how, over time, many ethnic minorities assimilated into whiteness, or otherwise were set apart as inferior. She unpacks the tactics of gaslighting: denial and detraction, distraction, disclaiming, and disappearing. She discusses the power of language, and how whites may not use the “N-word,” regardless of the use of it by others. She looks at the assumptions built into our education system, from the “discovery” of America onward. She looks at common justifications (often a form of distraction) such as “I don’t see race–I’m colorblind.” She explores our tendency to call the police when we see blacks in “white” spaces when all they are doing is living their lives while black (I had a colleague who found herself staring down the barrel of a policeman’s gun because she was watering a neighbor’s lawn while the neighbor was out of town, and had the police called on her). She explores how this plays out in white churches, including the large white evangelical church she left after the 2016 election. She concludes with the work we must do, beginning with the five stages of grief, and the personal, interpersonal, and collective work that must be done to oppose racism.
This is a challenging book to read. The content is challenging as is the writing style. Connelly may be “good” but she is not “nice.” She can be blunt, and what one reviewer calls “snarky.” She is liberal with her use of profanity, but contends that if we are offended more by the profanity than the profane injustices about which she is writing, we’ve just offered exhibit one of what is the problem. Here is one sample:
I also know this isn’t easy. God knows it’s not easy for me every time I discover another racist thought floating around my head or realize another way I’m complicit in the system. I know that I’ve probably already made you a little uncomfortable, if not outright pissed off. That’s okay. Let’s just sit with that a hot second. Because honestly, our discomfort is not the problem. It’s our absolute refusal to roll around in that discomfort that’s the problem. It’s the fact that we’d rather run from the room screaming “I’m good! I’m good! I swear to God I’m good!” than actually sit and practice a little bit of honest self-reflection (p. 6).
If you want to remain comfortable, don’t read this book. “Doing the work” is just not comfortable. Period. It just doesn’t feel good to realize that you are not as good as you thought, or are complicit with injustices that have deprived many of our citizens of equal protection under our laws or an equally enjoyed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if we do not begin here, we will not begin at all.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing. The opinions I have expressed are my own.