How to Fight Racism: An Interview with Jemar Tisby
What are biblically practical ways to conquer racism? How should we consistently interrogate our everyday actions to maintain a steady anti-racist posture? In what ways is the Christian faith the ultimate solution to racism as we embrace the implications of what Jesus taught his followers?
Bible Gateway interviewed Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) about his book, How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Zondervan, 2021).
Jemar Tisby: Racism is a system of oppression based on race. Or, put another way, racism is prejudice plus power. Notice in the first definition there’s an explanation on the systemic dimensions of racism. Many people have a truncated definition of racism that concerns only interpersonal feelings and attitudes. Absent from this definition is any consideration of how racial injustice works out through laws and policies governing institutions and broader social systems.
The second definition highlights the role of power in racism. It’s helpful in refuting the erroneous concept of “reverse racism”—the idea that white people face just as much discrimination as Black people and other people of color due to race. While people of any racial or ethnic background can demonstrate racial prejudice, not every group has the power to enshrine their prejudices into policy. Historically only white people have had the political, economic, and social power to embed their racism into how institutions operate and how laws govern the land.
What is the ARC of Racial Justice that is foundational to your book?
Jemar Tisby: In order to effectively fight racism, we need to take a holistic approach. The ARC of Racial Justice is a model I’ve been developing to help us do just that. It’s an acronym for Awareness, Relationships, and Commitment. The ARC of Racial Justice provides a simple framework for a comprehensive approach to racial transformation. Like the three legs of a stool, all are needed for a stable foundation on which to build our racial justice efforts.
Awareness is the knowledge, information, and data required to fight racism in all its forms. It includes watching documentaries, reading books, and listening to podcasts.
Relationships are the personal, professional, and community networks needed to foster cross-racial empathy and solidarity. As Christ himself demonstrates, all reconciliation is relational. We need to intentionally build meaningful relationships with people from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.
Commitment represents the actions necessary to deconstruct laws and polices that create and perpetuate racial inequality and replace them with ones that lead to equity for people of all races and ethnicities. Too many people, especially Christians, emphasize relationships at the expense of changing laws and policies. But all the heart-to-heart talks over cups of coffee or tea won’t alleviate the crisis of mass incarceration. All the pulpit swaps between Black and white churches won’t curb voter suppression tactics. All the “thoughts and prayers” about racial injustice must be paired with action to relieve the structural injustices that create and perpetuate racism. Faith without works is dead.
Why is “courageous Christianity” needed to achieve racial justice?
Jemar Tisby: As I demonstrate in The Color of Compromise, the church—specifically white Christians—have all too often been complicit in building a socially stratified society based on race. They’ve compromised with racism and white supremacy and betrayed their brothers and sisters of African descent as well as other people of color.
In order to learn from the mistakes of the past, we must practice courageous Christianity in the present. Complicit Christianity has chosen to compromise with racism, but courageous Christianity confronts racism in all its forms with the boldness of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
So often fear paralyzes people of faith. When they should be speaking and acting against racism, they’re afraid of what their community of peers might say. Will they be called a Marxist, Communist, Critical Race Theorist?
Yet others are frightened of making a mistake. They’re well-meaning, but they worry about messing up and getting piled-on by people pointing out their error. There’s good news. You’ll get it wrong. That’s okay. Learn. Get better. Keep moving.
You write that your book is an invitation to dream? Please explain.
Jemar Tisby: Injustice impedes imagination. We’ve labored under the pernicious power of racism for so long that it’s become hard to envision a reality where racism does not hold so much sway. My second book, How to Fight Racism, is an invitation to recover our imaginations. As Walter Bruegemman put it, we must exercise our “prophetic imagination” to come up with creative ways to fight racism.
My hope is that by reading How to Fight Racism, people will experience bursts of inspiration. They’ll imagine new ways they can fight racism right where they are and dream up innovative methods for enlisting others in the cause.
I look forward to one day writing an updated and revised version of How to Fight Racism that’s stuffed with stories from the field about how readers have taken decisive and creative action to fight racism.
How is the concept of race a socially determined category rather than a spiritual or biological reality?
Jemar Tisby: Race is a socially determined category because it has no basis in the Bible or biology. True, the Bible speaks of differences between people groups—this is most accurately termed “ethnicity.” There are different languages, religions, customs, and geographic regions represented in the Bible. But skin color as a meaningful category of human difference is something that societies have invented over time.
The Bible speaks of all people being made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That means people of every race and ethnicity have inherent dignity and worth. Skin color does not determine dignity.
Furthermore, scientists have determined that human beings share 99.9% of DNA in common. Physicist Riccardo Sabatini explained that if we printed our entire genetic code on paper, it would take 262,000 pages and only about 500 pages of those pages would differ from one person to another. These minor biological variances do not set inherent limits on intelligence, cultural creativity, or social location. Instead economic, political, and social limits have been placed on whole people groups based on the arbitrary physical feature of skin color.
What does the Bible mean when it says humans are made in the image of God?
Jemar Tisby: If the doctrine of salvation—one is saved by grace through faith alone—was the pivotal doctrine of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, then the doctrine of the image of God—that all people are made in God’s image and likeness—is the pivotal doctrine to the reformation that must take place in the church today.
Being made in the image and likeness of God means all people—inclusive of their skin color, race, and ethnicity—have the fingerprint of God upon them. As God’s creation, made a little lower than the angels—no person has the right to denigrate the dignity of anyone else.
The Bible’s teaching on the image of God instructs us on how to relate to one another across all kinds of differences. It’s a teaching that exalts the oppressed and humbles the proud.
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What are you asking readers of your book to do?
Jemar Tisby: I’m asking for readers of How to Fight Racism to DO SOMETHING. The racial justice uprisings of 2020 demonstrated beyond a doubt that racism is not just a problem of the past, but a persistent issue in the present as well. By now you’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, posted the hashtags. What’s next?
We need a generation of people ready to rise up against racism. We need another movement for racial justice in our day. For those who are ready to be part of the solution, How to Fight Racism is a book made for action.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Jemar Tisby: I come back again and again to Joshua 1. Joshua is taking lead of the people of Israel after Moses’ death. As you might imagine, he’s daunted by the prospect of leading millions of people into the Promised Land!
Yet God gives Joshua a simple command. Be strong and courageous. Three times in the first nine verses of Joshua 1, God repeats that command to Joshua.
But with the command comes a promise. God says to Joshua “I will be with you wherever you go.”
Such words are a soothing balm to us as we undertake to fight racism. It’ll require strength and courage. But we have provision for the mission. The promise of God’s presence is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ—Immanuel, which means “God with us.” We go forward in the fight against racism shoulder-to-shoulder with Christ himself.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Jemar Tisby: I use the Bible Gateway App literally every day. I’m reading through the Psalms right now and I use the Bible Gateway App for my personal devotionals. I also do most of the preaching at teaching at my church. I use Bible Gateway on my desktop. I love how easy it is to switch Bible translations and search for keywords. Its overall ease of use is pacesetting in the field, and I’m sure I’ll use Bible Gateway products for a long time to come.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Jemar Tisby: The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism are invitations to further dialogue, learning, and action. I encourage readers to follow and learn from Black and other Christians of color. A good place to start is the The Witness Inc., an organization I founded that’s dedicated to Black uplift from a Christian perspective. Visit thewitnessinc.com.
How to Fight Racism is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Jemar Tisby (BA, University of Notre Dame; MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is CEO of The Witness, Inc., an organization dedicated to Black uplift. He is also cohost of the Pass the Mic podcast and the author of The New York Times bestseller The Color of Compromise. He has spoken nationwide at conferences, and his writing has been featured by The Washington Post, CNN, and The Atlantic. Jemar is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Mississippi studying race, religion, and social movements in the 20th century.
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The post How to Fight Racism: An Interview with Jemar Tisby appeared first on Bible Gateway Blog.
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