10 Books about Anti-Black Racism that Every Church Library Should Have

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This is not a comprehensive or exhaustive list.

Primary Reading:

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

For me, this is one of the most important books on race and the church that I have ever read. Tisby provides a searing and critical historical survey of how the (Evangelical) church has perpetuated racism. I appreciated his strong prophetic voice and the clear actionable steps.

Far More Terrible for Women: Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery (Real Voices, Real History) by Patrick Minges

Far More Terrible for Women presents 27 firsthand accounts of female ex-slaves. Patrick Minges “combed the WPA interviews of the 1930s for those of women, selecting a range of stories that give a taste of the unique challenges, complexities, and cruelties that were the lot of females under the “peculiar institution.””

Slavery’s Long Shadow: Race and Reconciliation in American Christianity by James L. Gorman

This book is important, powerful, critical, and devastating. “In Slavery’s Long Shadow fourteen historians and other scholars examine how the sobering historical realities of race relations and Christianity have created both unity and division within American churches from the 1790s into the twenty-first century. The book’s three sections offer readers three different entry points into the conversation: major historical periods, case studies, and ways forward. Historians as well as Christians interested in racial reconciliation will find in this book both help for understanding the problem and hope for building a better future.”

Sister’s in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God Talks by Delores S. Williams

An iconic book which led to womanist theology, Sister’s in the Wilderness is moving, powerful, and also felt (in my limited theological textual knowledge) very academic. I appreciated the thorough and critical theological analysis and the insistence on examining hermeneutics. I also deeply appreciate the insightful analysis of Hagar and the consistent centering of Black women.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone.

“The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk. Both the cross and the lynching tree represent the worst in human beings and at the same time a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning. While the lynching tree symbolized white power and black death, the cross symbolizes divine power and black life, God overcoming the power of sin and death. For African Americans, the image of Jesus, hung on a tree to die, powerfully grounded their faith that God was with them, even in the suffering of the lynching era.

In a work that spans social history, theology, and cultural studies, Cone explores the message of the spirituals and the power of the blues; the passion and the engaged vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.; he invokes the spirits of Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ida B. Wells, and the witness of black artists, writers, preachers, and fighters for justice. And he remembers the victims, especially the 5,000 who perished during the lynching period. Through their witness he contemplates the greatest challenge of any Christian theology to explain how life can be made meaningful in the face of death and injustice.”

other

Me & White Supremacy by Layla Saad

 “This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.”

White Rage by Carol Anderson

“As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as ‘black rage’, historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in the Washington Post showing that this was, instead, ‘white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,’ she wrote, ‘everyone had ignored the kindling.’…Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.”

Young adult fiction

All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

“Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins are two young men, one black and one white, whose lives are forever changed by an act of extreme police brutality. Rashad wakes up in a hospital. Quinn saw how he got there. And so did the video camera that taped the cop beating Rashad senseless into the pavement. Thus begins ALL AMERICAN BOYS, written in tandem by two of our great literary talents, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The story is told in Rashad and Quinn’s alternating perspectives, as they grapple with the complications that spin out of this violent moment and reverberate in their families, school, and town. Over the course of one week, Rashad tries to find the strength to accept his role as the symbolic figure of the community’s response to police brutality, and Quinn tries to decide where he belongs in a town bitterly divided by racial tension.  Ultimately, the two narratives weave back together, in the moment in which the two boys, now changed, can actually see each other—the first step for healing and understanding in a country still deeply sick with racial injustice. Reynolds pens the voice of Rashad, and Kiely has taken the voice of Quinn.”

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Note – while this book isn’t necessarily about anti-Black racism, the hate crime committed speaks to how hate causes harm.

“One teenager in a skirt. One teenager with a lighter. One moment that changes both of their lives forever. If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

Pure, a Book Review and Deconstructing Purity Culture: At the Intersections of Black, Female & Womanist

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Illustration by Katarzyna Bogdańska

A few days ago, I stumbled across the book “Pure” by Linda Kay Klein. I couldn’t put it down. 

Surely, this book would provide both critical insight and compelling testimony into the insidious innerworkings of peak Evangelical purity culture. 

Unfortunately, the 35-page Introduction was the best part of the book.

At once both captivating and tediously exasperating, “Pure” attempts to investigate the interconnectedness of White Evangelical America and the Purity Culture movement of the 1990’s. And yet, the scope feels narrow and the writing stiff.
Reliant on intermittent and awkward verbatim interviews, the book lacks the ability to tell a critical, compelling, coherent story; which is unfortunate at best and irresponsible at worst.
Primarily because it was hard to distinguish between whether this was a memoir or qualitative study, the writing style impedes rather than supports the reader’s ability to connect with the author.
While it remains obvious that the author went to great lengths to provide credible, vulnerable, heartbreaking interviews and testimonies, the overall style of the book felt awkward. If you do read it, I would recommend pairing it with my all time favorite episode of the Liturgist podcast: ’40: Woman.”
Growing up in a relatively conservative Christian home in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I strongly resonate with the teachings of Purity Doctrine and the overwhelmingly suffocating and toxic celebration of all things virgin.
Maybe you can relate?
At its core, #puritydoctrine teaches that modest, God-fearing, virgin, (white), obedient women are to be celebrated and exalted. Purity culture celebrates sexual pureness and advocates for strict gender stereotypes while teaching a damning ideological doctrine: if you engage in sex outside of marriage, you are beyond redemption.

Purity culture idealizes the Proverbs 31 woman. 

They are long-suffering and patient. They enjoy hard work. They have lots of babies and obey. They are helpmeets and ever-steady soul mates. They are pure and wise.
Or, as a kid growing up in the ‘90’s you could just tell if they were pure if they didn’t wear spaghetti straps, jeans with designs on the butts, crop-tops or v-necks, lip gloss or anything Victoria secret.
Oof.

Other damnable offenses were being “boy crazy,” engaging with or questioning purity culture or identifying as anything other than cis and straight. 

In my early growing up years, we were a Focus on the Family, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, The Bride Wore White, Every Young Woman’s Battle kind of family. 
I knew names like Joshua Harris, John Eldredge, Dannah Gresh, and Debbie Pearl. 
I knew passages like this, from “Created to Be His Help Meet:”

“If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity you are a “good thing,” a helper suited to the needs of a man. This is how God created you and it is your purpose for existing. You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man’s helper. You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature, for no man can do your job, and no man is complete without his wife. You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him…”

I faithfully read Karen Kingsbury, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Hinds Feet on High Places.
I went to Bible Study, Youth Group, Girls Club, Small Group, Lock-ins, Retreats, Sunday School and Church. 
I was on various worship teams, danced on the Church Dance team, led Sunday Schools and helped out in the Church Library.
I wore a purity ring, boy shorts, double and triple-layered my shirts and swore not to have sex until marriage. 
I listened to Rebecca St. James and MercyMe.

I dedicated and rededicated my life to Christ.

I didn’t party, drink or do drugs and for the most part I got straight A’s.

In many respects, I was a “good girl.”

And, I really tried.

But it was never enough. I was never enough. 
Boys would say and do sexually explicit things to me, and I was always the one who caused it.
You seem to cause a lot of drama, a youth leader told me once after I sobbingly confided stories of sexual harassment and assault.
Drama causing girls were stumbling blocks. Drama causing girls ‘got what they asked for.’

I never confided in my youth leaders again.

While I never engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, I was told both explicitly and passively that I was beyond redemption.

After all, sexual harrassment and abuse only happened if the girl was a stumbling block. Maybe you were leading them on? Maybe they thought you wanted it? Maybe you were just mistaken? 

In middle school, I told a classmate that a friend of the family was pregnant. The boy told the teacher I was talking about pregnancy
The teacher wrote my name on the board and made me sit in the front of the class for the rest of the day.
We don’t talk about inappropriate topics, she chastised.
In junior youth group, a familiar purity adage was that of a used car. Virgin women were fancy sport cars. But, those who didn’t wait to have sex until marriage were old cars. Nobody wants a used car, I was told in between phrases like “modesty is hottest,” and “true love waits.”
Pool parties during church retreats often had strict regulations. Females were required to wear one-piece bathing suits and cover-ups or be asked to change and/or leave. 
There were no regulations for men. 
Excited to wear my new (quite modes) tankini to the pool, I found myself humiliated when a lifeguard told me that I needed to wear a T-shirt. Your bathing suit is too revealing, he said.
As a 13-year-old, I already knew that my adolescent body was dangerous and damning.

My adolescent body was so tempting that it could lead men away from God.

Mortified, I walked back to my room and sobbed.

A few days later, a family member would joke about my clothes. Look what B is wearing…when I get older, my kids will never be allowed to wear that. 

My body was bad and dangerous. My body was not even worth being a role model for future nephews and nieces.

I was devastated.

Sexually abused and harassed from a young age, I knew that sexual purity would never include me. Purity Culture didn’t distinguish between consensual od non-consensual sex. Sex was sex. Touch was touch. Virgins were pure. I knew that I would “never make the cut.” That I would forever be deemed unworthy, unloveable and unwanted.

Nobody, not even God, could cleanse me.

The revelation that my body damned me forever as unredeemable was horrifying and deeply painful and abusive.

What use did I have for a God that would damn me because of my body?  What use did I have for the Church?

During a youth group discussion about sex, a youth leader advised: Don’t do anything with someone that you wouldn’t do with Jesus.

Told by numerous boys that sexually harassed me that I would never be marriage material, I finally broke down and begged them to tell me what was wrong with me. You are too opinionated and ugly. They told me. You should wear long skirts, another advised. You boss too many boys around, another one confided. My parents told me that people like you can never be a Proverbs 31 woman, another confessed.

In high school, four classmates that were known to date around were featured on the front of a student led, admittedly “illegal” school newspaper. The headline? “FO-FO-FO’S” for Four-Foot Hoes. 

In college, another boy later admitted that he thought I would be more attractive if I would stop being so intimidating. How am I intimidating? I asked. You come across as too confident, he told me. And you are too outgoing. Boys like quiet girls.

At the intersection of black and woman, I internalized not only racist and sexist tropes regarding my body but also theological ones.

Historically and contemporarily, Brown and Black bodies are overwhelming sexualized, demonized and degrated.

Purity culture capitalizes on this.

My butt, breasts, hips damned me. But, my skin verified me as someone whom couldn’t be credible.

I wrestled with the ideology that I would never be pure. And, it wasn’t lost on me the symbolism of purity culture: white virgin girls.

As a black girl, I would never belong.

Afterall, how could God possibly love me if I was a ‘stumbling block?’ 

How could God possibly want me if I wasn’t a Proverbs 31 woman?

How could God want me? 

Often, critiqued by family and community members for my clothing and body, I came to regard my body as both dangerous and evil. 
So, I internalized sexual abuse and harassment.

I was a black girl. A sexualized girl.

It was all my fault, right?

After all, I was just an Eve that was too tempting.

Nice girls didn’t interrupt. Nice girls didn’t speak up. Nice girls didn’t listen to secular music.
You want to be a nice girl, right B?

In 9th grade, I went on a youth group trip to Louisiana. Our youth group was partnering with relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina. One day while working at our assigned site, a secular song came on the radio: ‘Sweetest Girl’ by Wyclef Jean, and all the girls started dancing. I knew almost all the words by heart and started singing along with the radio. 
A female chaperone took her purse and spanked me with it in front of the entire youth group. “This is from your mom,” she said before adding: “You will never marry or be with a nice young man, especially not my son,” she whispered.
I was mortified, humiliated, angry and embarrassed.
No one stood up for me.
Later, I would tell my dad and watch him confront her. I don’t remember what went down but later that evening her son would find me and apologize.
It didn’t make me feel any better.
At the time, I didn’t have the language to name the incident as abuse.

I didn’t have the language to describe how that incident would go on to shape much of my psyche.

I didn’t have the language because these kinds of things were normal.

You know, the spiritual ‘slut shaming.’ The ‘Christian’ gossip mongering. Like, the super innoent prayer requests like: I just want to lift up my friend in prayer because she is currently having sex, and I just want to pray that she would feel convicted that…


I didn’t have the language then.
Now, I do.
See, the thing is, I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I understand why parents believe and teach abstinence. I get it.
But, I also see the Lie and the way Purity Culture has condemned a generation of girls and women into thinking they were unloveable and unwantable.
See, I believe that Jesus is the ultimate breaker of chains.

I also believe that women are more than marriage beings designed for sex. That women are more than sexual experience.


Scared of an “oversexualized” generation, the Churches purity culture created the perfect cover for sexual + spiritual abuse.

Who would believe women that had reputations of being a stumbling block or causing drama?
After all, if you could package sexual purity as the ultimate Christian goal, women wouldn’t even believe their own abuse.
Women are more than virgins waiting for the altar. 
I believe that women are called into the liberating relationship of Jesus Christ. And, that that relationship isn’t a relationship based on shame. That relationship isn’t a relationship based on guilt. It’s a relationship based in liberating, fearless, welcoming, radical safe love..
The church is called to radically exemplify this kind of love.

What happens when it doesn’t?

How do we reconcile that?

Growing up, I knew and still know too many women whom were denied entrance to the Churches version of love because they were too sexual.

I have girlfriends that have fully faced the sort of insidious, passive, Christian abuse for being sexual beings.

I have experienced that.

How do we reconcile that?

I would like to suggest we start by naming the pain, trauma and spiritual and sexual abuse that were committed in our own Churches, homes and communities.

We must listen to stories of survivors and offer spaces to tell our stories. After all, what we resist, persists.

In the wake of #metoo, Evangelical and many persons abused by the church started a new hashtag: #churchtoo

In the wake of #churchtoo, more and more women spoke out. Men spoke out. Persons identifying within the LGBTQIA community spoke out. 

These are the stories that are too often unheard.

These are the stories that are too often demonized.

These stories are also ubiquitous.

As I write this, I am furious and exasperated, exhausted and hopeful.
I fully believe that Jesus welcomes us as our human, gritty, vulnerable, raw, messy, sexual beings into his liberating love. 
There is redemption in that love.

There is no fear in that love.
There is no shame in that love. 
There is no Lie in that love.
We must create space in our church to hold and name the pain and trauma of Purity Culture.

There are many of us hurting. There are many of us in pain.

We must make space to deconstruct.

We must find space to hold space with one another. 

Over the past years, I have had to unlearn my ideas about womanhood and sex. About purity culture and redemption.

Things I know to be true about my experience with purity culture:

1. Purity culture enabled ( and continues to enable) sexual predators

2. Purity culture de-emphasizes truth and centers shame

3. Purity culture often contributes and perpetuates rape culture

4. Purity culture’s core curriculum functions on an ideology which advocates that young females are responsible for others thoughts and how men will treat them.

5. Purity culture reduces women to the state of their marketability vis-à-vis marriage. Ironically, nobody talks about how purity culture reduces “Godly” men to the drive of their penises.

Oof. There is a lot to unpack. Power and privilege. Abuse.

There is a lot to name and deconstruct.

Know if you resonate with this post that you are not alone.

I see you.

Honestly, deconstruction has been a rough, emotional, vulnerable journey. It requires a commitment to stick with the raw, messy, often emotionally exhausting process. It is uncomfortable and often alienating.

But, it is SO worth it.

Beloved One, if you are reading this and this resonates with you, know that your body is valuable, holy and valid. Your experiences matter and your voice is powerful. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You were created in love and your body is a design of love. Beloved one, love your body. Delight in your body. Honor your body. For Your body was declared a good thing.

Shalom always.

**Sidenote** There are many people that I respect whom adhere to conservative ideologies and purity culture doctrine. This is not a post to shame them. Instead, I wish to speak my truth and claim newfound liberation. 

The Things They Carried

Reading Time: 4 minutesOur guests arrive in the evening. They arrive and the news said they were in the detention facilities. ICE has released them and now is the slow, steady work of reconnecting them with their families and communities. 

Many arrive as partial families. They arrive with children, some small and shy, some giggle. 


They arrive carrying one another. 


Here, one guest carries a baby. 

Here, one guest carries a small, dirty pack. Here, one guest holds onto the hand of a child. 
Here, one guest stands and stares. 

There are many children. They hold each others hands.


I am in the kitchen when our guests arrive.


The pastor taps me on the shoulder. “Are you fluent in Spanish?”


I shake my head ‘no’ and he continues to tap volunteers until he has enough for the Registration table.  


A long term guest sits behind me at the kitchen table and sighs. Perhaps this guest knows how overwhelming this transition is for the newer guests. 


The new arrivals are quiet. Or, maybe they just sound quiet because I am inundated by the noises of the kitchen: commercial dishwashers hum; knives chop rythemically, a stool screeches across the tile floor and my spoon scratches the bottom of a large metal pot.


Many do not have much. Tengas ropa? 

Many carry the clothes on their back. Their hands carry children. 

I am stirring a large pot of chicken and noodle soup for the next days meal and worrying about my Spanish.


Worrying that I don’t have enough to give.


I say my name: Bonita. Hola, mi llama es Bonita. Como se llama?


I practice/practico saying the names of what we will be eating. 


Enchiladas.


Beans/frijoles


Rice/arroz


Cookies/galletas.


Juice/jugo


I continue stirring.


We are a ragtag team of volunteers.


Some are members of the hosting church. Others are local community members: 

Michelle* is from the Bahá’í Faith.
Ingrid* is a relative of someone who goes to the church.
Jenny* is the Church Administrator. 
Courtney* is married to one of the long-term guests, David.* 
Raquel*and Jorge* make Enchiladas and Spanish Rice while my husband chops lettuce/lechuga.

I stop stirring and turn around. Volunteers work steadily behind me. Well oiled machine, my mother would say. 


As we prepare, we carry. We fill our arms. We feel the weight in our arms and shoulders and back. We feel the weight in our legs and knees. Buckets of water. Trays filled with utensils. Steaming trays of food.  We carry weight. Familiar and unfamiliar. We wear forest green aprons. We carry cups and utensils, napkins and water pitchers, heavy china plates and coffee mugs. 

We carry what we have. Some of us carry things we brought: anxiety, depression, excitement, pain. We carry one another with smiles and gentle instructions: chop, stir, set, serve. 


A volunteer makes my introduction. By the end of the night, we will have shared a warm hug and many laughs. We will have carried one another in the little smiles of humor passed like old friends. 


Another volunteer shares stories of Woodstock. A past life…when I was bad.


Another volunteer will offer to sit with the children. In case they need help with their food. 


We carry light. And warmth. We carry good intentions and guilt.


We carry bodies that go home to families and warm beds. We carry bodies that are American. We carry blood on our hands. Tear gas on our hands. Tent cities on our hands. Barbed wire and guns.

Can we also carry God?

Can I dare grasp the uncomfortable tension of living with both dueling realities?

Can I dare not to?


Before dinner, someone frets that we need more food. The tables look too empty. A two person team heads to the store for salsa and chips. 


Later, they return carrying large grocery plastic bags filled with more plastic bags holding corn tortilla chips and salsa in large plastic tubs.


The TV is running. Guests wander between the makeshift sleeping quarters and the dining area. Some wander barefoot on the cold concrete.

A small child carries a Disney Princess Coloring Book. Small fingers wrapped firmly around the book. 

A pile of toys is strewn haphazardly on a small square of carpet. Unfinished castles and towers lay forgotten.


 Two children sit, watching us move around the room and giggle.


In the middle of the room, the TV is playing How the Grinch Stole Christmas. No one thought to turn on the subtitles. I have always hated that movie. A knot wells up in my stomach when I watch the eyes of our smallest guests staring at blonde, Cindy Lou-Who. The small child laughs and almost imperceptibly touches her own long brown hair with a small brown hand.


I want to burn all stories of white innocence. I want to turn the TV off and hand them all books of empowerment. 


I want to fix this…but too many fixes take away the agency of those most vulnerable. 


The TV stays on. The child moves to a seat and starts coloring a princess. A yellow marker streaks through the page. A Disney princess stares back at me with blonde hair. 


I carry hands bawled into fists. Short, sharp nils biting into palms. I carry anger and shame. I carry the dreaded reality of shared responsibility. 


I cannot fix this. 


I turn my back and continue to stir. The soup is ready for more ingredients. 


Just add a little wine, Jenny says, cracking open a bottle. As she pours it in she says, It will cook out. And, winks. 


She carries the bottle and the recipe. She carries cutting boards with chicken and bay leaves. In the background, David laughs. 


It is impossible for me to comprehend what chaos and lunacy prerequisites legislation which separates and detains families. 


I don’t believe anything can be such prerequisite. 


I grapple with the distinct desire to separate myself from legislative policy. From words like guns, detention centers, tear gas, tent cities, cages, ICE …America. 

I cannot fix this. 


I grapple with the realization that separating families was done in the name of making America great. Was done in the name of keeping us safe. 


Was done…for me.

I cannot fix this. But, I can create small inns ready for Jesus. 

A small child reaches with a small brown hand and then takes my husband’s white hand. Shyly, the child asks: “¿Dónde está el baño?” 

A baby needs clothes. A team leaves to buy infant clothing. What is open on a Sunday night?

After dinner, we carry trays. We carry dirty dishes back to sinks. We carry chairs back to tables. We carry glasses full of Kool-Aid and water and mugs of coffee. We carry high chairs and dirty rags and trash bags.


We carry full and warm bodies.

We carry…safety. And privilege. And power.

We carry white skin and brown skin.

We carry small hands reaching for help.

We carry laughing eyes.

We carry children tottering across wet floors. Cuidado

We carry markers and pens. Papers filled with information: name, age, destination. We carry nametags and permanent markers. 


We carry IDs tucked in purses. In pockets. In glove departments. In wallets. We carry them without thinking. 

We carry identifiers that mark us as us. We carry IDs that draw lines. Marking them as them.  

It occurs to me, again, that this is the Advent season. That people are still fleeing Herods. That people are still seeking room in inns that are too full. That Jesus is still born for such a time as this.