White Awake: An honest look at what it means to be white
Daniel Hill (Intervarsity Press, September 2017)
I’ll admit to a certain degree of resistance to this book. One can reasonably be weary of self-righteous pronouncements about “white privilege” from quarters of our society where people don’t seem to understand the difference between justice and revenge. It makes sense to discount critiques from people whose ideology is based on a faulty worldview.
At the same time, you can’t ignore the reluctance of many “whites” to acknowledge – much less discuss – the systemic aspects of injustice in this country. It’s hard to take seriously complaints about “reverse racism” from people who are ignorant of the atrocities that created today’s circumstances of poverty and inequality. People who aren’t struggling every day with poverty and injustice let themselves off the hook too easily when the question “What should I do?” arises.
Both “white folks” and “people of color” can benefit from this book. Daniel Hill takes a stand between the strident voices complaining about “white guilt” and the complacent yawns or (worse) angry condemnations of those who think they bear no personal responsibility for either past atrocities or current injustices.
The heart of the book for me is when Hill quotes Mark Charles quoting Georges Erasmus: “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” Once you get past the book’s opening personal testimony and the necessary lecture about cultural identity, Hill journeys through an insightful and helpful discussion about cross-cultural friendship, denial of injustice, the disorientation that comes with awakening, dealing with shame, the problem of self-righteousness in regard to “bad” people, seven markers of racial awakening, and practical suggestions for changing the status quo.
The cause of Kingdom justice is being harmed by both strident voices and complacent yawns. But we don’t have to buy into someone else’s ideology or political agenda to acknowledge that the status quo in our communities doesn’t begin to approach God’s Kingdom design. We ignore at our own peril the fact that God requires his people to open their ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed, love compassion, and do justice. Let Daniel Hill talk with you about serious issues with which we need to come to terms.
* I apologize for the quotation marks. So much of the conversation on the subject deals in stereotypes that oversimplify the complexities of these issues.