Good White Racist?: Confronting Your Role in Racial InjusticeWritten by Kerry Connelly Reviewed By Jackson Wu
The title of Kerry Connelly’s Good White Racist? poses a serious question; it is no mere provocation. And, yes, Connelly suggests that someone can be both good and racist. Not recognizing this tension, she says, is one reason why racism persists. She laments, “As much as I’d like it not to be true, it’s totally possible that I’m a really good person, and a really big racist all at the same time” (p. 1). Her thesis depends on the meaning of key words, which she defines clearly. For example, Connelly says racism is “a system of hierarchy based on the belief that one race is superior to all others” (p. 14). As a white woman, she suggests that racism in “good” people typically is implicit, unconscious bias. The book explains how this leads to “institutional racism,” “individual racism,” and “systemic racism.”
Connelly writes in a candid but not condescending tone. In fact, she likens racism among whites to an alcoholic in recovery. She empathizes with the defensiveness of white people who want to be good and feel they don’t have a racist bone in their body. When speaking of good white racists, she says, “I’m referring to the majority of white people who intellectually believe that racism is evil, that being ‘color-blind’ is good, and get so uncomfortable talking about race that they will tell activists to shut up about it because ‘it’s just making it worse’” (p. 1). Connelly contends that the fear of discomfort and the longing to be “good” are major obstacles to white people recognizing the ways they have been socialized to think in subtly racist ways.
The book goes beyond political ranting; Connelly offers several practical insights and suggestions. She identifies a common pattern of responses by white people when confronted with the topic of racism. One often begins by denying or minimizing the problem. A good white racist might then distract from the main subject at hand. Also, the person will disclaim responsibility. Finally, (s)he disappears from conversations related to race. She gives many examples of these reactions and reflects on controversies like the Take a Knee Movement. In addition, every chapter ends will action items to help readers learn, think, and act.
Although a relatively short work, Good White Racist? examines a wide spectrum of issues and objections. Different chapters look at the power of language, how schools attempt to prepare minority students for “white culture,” and racial inequities that plague the justice system. Connelly shines a light on the ways that white people see other racial groups as having a culture, overlook their own white culture. Connelly does not try to lash readers with “white shame.” She sees that approach as unproductive. Rather, she suggests that shame and the silence about racism are intertwined. Her book attempts to break that cycle of silence and shame.
Certainly, most readers will find something in the book that they find misguided or flat out wrong. This reviewer objected to several of the author’s points. However, many of her more contentious claims are stated in passing and do not undermine her main arguments. For instance, she briefly raises the subject of reparations. Most interesting, however, is her concept of “emotional reparations,” whereby one “stays in room” and faces the discomfort that comes with the intense emotions that surround race discussions. She urges us to remember that “peacemaking is not peacekeeping” (p. 151).
The most significant criticism of Connelly’s book is the degree to which her work may be influenced too strongly by critical theory, a perspective that pits society into two groups, the privileged and the oppressed. Readers can judge for themselves how much her thesis depends on critical race theory. Much of what she says could be framed in terms of implicit biases rather than entrenched social hostilities.
For those who want to engage the topic of racism, this book is an excellent resource. Connelly presents her case with succinct clarity. Her tone strikes a good balance between winsome and challenging. She does not devolve into partisanship. Good White Racist? is written with Christians in mind. Connelly periodically interacts with theological works, such as William James Jennings’s The Christian Imagination: Theology and Origins of Race [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010]. However, her objective is not to write an exhaustive treatment on race nor a theology of racism. Readers interested in further study have many options. Noteworthy mainstream works include Ibram X. Kindi’s How to be an Antiracist [New York: One World, 2019], Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists [Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010], and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility [Boston: Beacon Press, 2018]. These works overwhelmingly reflect the sentiments of critical race theorists. From Christian publishers, recent noteworthy books include David Swanson’s Rediscipling the White Church [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020] and Daniel Hill’s White Awake [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017].
Connelly writes as a white person for white people. This enables her to anticipate the defensiveness of potential readers. For example, she says, “If you’re a white guy, it’s probably even harder for you, because you’re really tired of being held up as the epitome of all evil in America by progressives like me. I get it” (p. 3). While Good White Racist? can help any reader, it is especially helpful for people who have only marginally engaged books focused on racism. I recommend this book to any good person willing to do the hard work of introspection and dismantling latent racism.
Jackson Wu is the theologian-in-residence for Mission One, serves as Mission and Culture book reviews editor for Themelios, and regularly blogs at jacksonwu.org.
Other Articles in this Issue
A Generous Reading of John Locke: Reevaluating His Philosophical Legacy in Light of His Christian Confessionby C. Ryan Fields
Locke is often presented as an eminent forerunner to the Enlightenment, a philosopher who hastened Europe’s departure from Christian orthodoxy and “turned the tide” toward a modern, secularist orientation...