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.”

Mennonite Institutions & A Call for Costly Allyship

Reading Time: 4 minutes

These past few weeks, I have been deliberating over Glen Guyton’s call and challenge to the Mennonite community to be transformative peacekeepers (his original piece can be read here: https://bit.ly/2Bl2C7O).

Like Glen – and likely many of you – I find myself deeply troubled by systems of oppression, the legacy of white supremacy, and the very real inequities and inequalities these systems create. And, perhaps, like you – I join in the call to lament.

However, I also join the call to lament, perhaps as on par for me, with a challenge. A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to my Mennonite alma mater asking for seven specific actions. As someone that cares deeply about semantics, I used the term ‘ask’ because I believe that too often when Black and Brown people use the words “we suggest, encourage, or invite you to consider…” in relation to specific actions regarding anti-racism, it often ends up doing (in my lived experience) two things:

1. Minimizes the urgency of the need and the required action because it relies on respectability politics as a conversational gateway AND

2. Results in a conversation that often yields continued committees, red tape, and little sustainable change.

These two results specifically impact, in this situation, BIPOC students. And, I would go so far as to suggest that these outcomes may even result in poorer institutional race relations.

Here is why: when institutions refuse to put in place sustainable anti-racist measures, the implication is that having anti-racism accountability mechanisms is not critical or fundamental to the success of creating a learning environment conducive for caring for the whole student.

Perhaps a good argument here is to suggest that sustainable policies take a long time to create, etc., I agree. And yet, I urge that perhaps the renewed sense of urgency around these events at this particular moment in time will provide space for new accountability measures which will in turn protect ALL students.

Growing up in a historical peace church, I lament the fact that I learned more about how my spaghetti straps made me impure (purely problematic result of purity culture and is discussed in length on a post on my website) than how white supremacy is a sin.

I lament the fact that I learned more in Sunday School about why drugs are bad than how to engage in anti-racism.

I lament that many, I would argue, of our Sunday School teachers are not equipped on how to teach anti-racism because we have not built measures or systems into place which would provide them with the tools to do this well.

In fact, throughout my history in the Mennonite organizations, I have cannot recall one single time where anti-racism was a required discussion. Often, it would come up in reaction to something rather than pro-actively.

As a member of the Mennonite church, I join Glen’s call for lament, AND I also join his call for action. The letter my classmate and I wrote to my alma mater had seven specific actionable steps. I felt confident and comfortable sharing that letter publicly because I had asked for each of those specific items when I was a student at that institution.

My general philosophy is to keep things private unless they need to be made public. While the letter had been shared (and I still have received zero responses) privately with the current president, we felt it was important to also share it publicly.

A practice that the Mennonite church has is a baby dedication where congregations affirm their commitment to provide holistic and lifelong care for each child. I struggle immensely with this affirmation because I have been overwhelmingly dismayed that perhaps this affirmation, when made in Predominately White Institutions(PWIs) and without the support of anti-racist measures, only affirms the life of, and creates a holistic environment for white children.

In the past few weeks, I have seen countless Black students come forward about their experience in Mennonite institutions – many of these Mennonite institutions are institutions I know and love, and some are institutions where I also have been a student. I remain proud of each of these student’s courage to write their experiences and to share it so that they could demand better for future generations. And, hearing their pain, I lament my own silence and my inaction. To that end, I wanted to offer these non-exhaustive actionable steps as some possible implementations (some of which were presented to my alma mater):

1. Hire a full-time Director of Diversity and Inclusion. This person must be included in executive level and board member events and meetings, and we believe strongly should be a person of color.

2. Specifically name and claim antiracism as a core value.

3. Require anti-racist training prior to any outreach opportunities and require partnership with already established BIPOC organizations doing the specific work you would like to do.

4. Formal formation of a Diversity Council. Members should be multi-generational and span leadership positions.

5. Support local anti-racism organizations.

6. Provide required anti-racism workshops. These workshops should be facilitated by an outside organization and should be integrated into things like Sunday School, Employee Onboarding, Learning Retreats, etc.,

7. Include BIPOC speakers for more opportunities than just Black History Month. Identifiy and interrogate if you are currently BIPOC by tokenizing them when you need their help with “BIPOC things.”

8. Identify and interrogate your spaces: what customs, cultures, and norms are upheld? What systems are in place which continue those norms?

Thanks for hearing my heart. I welcome your responses in the comments or in my DMs. Upward & onward together.

What Does It Mean to be Missional?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Have you ever heard someone say, “I heard God…” or “God told me…” or “God called me…” and then checked in with yourself? What was your body saying or doing? What did you notice? Anything surprising?

I was having a conversation with a close friend the other day when she said, “I think God is calling me to…” when I noticed it. A twinge. Right in my stomach. Faint, but still. It was there. A quick, ever so subtle judgement.

So. I did a quick check-in. What was that about? Why did someone hearing God’s voice make me feel _____?

As my husband and I have been gearing up for our cross-country move, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of multiple intense, yet deeply sincere, investigative discussions about my relationship with God and what does it mean to ‘hear’ God’s voice. How do we know God is calling us to do this work? How do we know we are qualified to do this work? How do we know this isn’t just something we want to do on a whim? How. Do. We. Know?

Following God and His call is often quite complicated, complex and multi-layered. And, when friends have approached me about wanting to sponsor us financially, I have often experienced a new layer of discomfort and distrust.

While, we have never explicitly asked for financial support, enough friends have explicitly expressed interest in financial sponsorship that we held a small Coffee shop gathering at the beginning of the summer. There, a relative pulled me aside to tell me that they would only consider giving financially if we were connected with an obvious missional NPO.

Which was fine.

But also, there went the twinge again. Right there. In my stomach.

What does it mean to be missional? What does it mean to believe and trust that God’s spirit is at work doing good work in others? This past year, a practice that my husband and I have committed to is giving gifts of money and/or gifts of time to people that we believe are listening to the call of God. For us, this has meant financial giving without strings attached. It means trusting that if the person wants to spend the money on a new pair of pants or a plane ticket, that that is okay. Self-care is a part of living abundantly. And, we trust what God is doing in that person’s life and we want to bless them.

I often wonder what that would look like in a larger scale. What would it look like to consider generously blessing those around us?

This week, I’d encourage you to check in with yourself. Pay attention. Dig deeper. Investigate those ‘twinges.’ Be generous! And, stay connected!

Shalom always,