Review: The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

The first (and perhaps only) time I got in trouble in elementary school was in the first grade. Two boys started fighting and I watched them. I missed recess the next day because I hadn’t gone to tell a teacher. I remember sitting against the wall, inconsolable at the unfair treatment.

Looking back on this early memory, I still don’t condone this style of playground management. Punishing six-year-olds for standing by and watching certainly isn’t how childhood conflict should be managed.

However, this scene reminds me of how many white people fit into the structures of racism that have built the foundations of the United States. Maybe we aren’t personally responsible for the building of those foundations. Maybe our ancestors weren’t even living on American soil when those laws and systems were first put into place. But we’ve stood by and watched, benefiting from centuries of racism and inequity.

On the left: The book cover of "The Color of Compromise" by Jemar Tisby.
On the right: "The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression." Jemar Tisby

In The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby provides a survey of American complicity in racism. He tackles overt systems, like slavery and Jim Crow laws, and quieter ones, like many white Protestant churches staying “neutral” during the Civil Rights Movement.

Starting in the Colonial Era, moving through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and into the Civil Rights Movement coupled with the rise of the Religious Right and then into Black Lives Matter, Tisby gives a detailed but brief overview of America’s “original sin” of racism. I appreciated this survey format – while I would love to read a deep book on each of these eras, I simply don’t have the time at this stage in life. Tisby’s overview was just what I needed to learn more about the untold history of my country.

Tisby reminds his reader that even if specific actions of racism aren’t personal, white people in this nation have benefited from the imbalance of systemic racism. We need to recognize our complicity. The church needs to recognize its complicity. Too many pastors either overtly interpreted the Bible through a lens of white supremacy or allowed those misinterpretations by staying silent.

This book is not for people just starting out on the journey of racial reconciliation. This is for people who recognize their part in these pervasive systems and want to know more. This is a book for people who are seeking to read a more rounded history, who know that what they learned in school was the story of the victors. Even though I knew a lot of the pieces of history referenced in The Color of Compromise, it was still difficult to read that time after time Christians and the church failed to make the choice to take a side.

For those of you on the journey toward justice and reconciliation, who are ready to listen and learn, I highly recommend The Color of Compromise.

What’s the last book you read that took something you knew a little about and shifted your thinking?

As part of the launch team, I received an advance copy of the book from Zondervan. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Who is Missing From the Story?

Mom, the first Thanksgiving lasted three days and the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims and they had a big feast to celebrate their friendship! 

National Day of Mourning plaque in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Well… Yes, kind of. I responded as we drove down the road. I hesitated, wondering if I should continue the story. If we should talk about our history of genocide and the thanksgiving feasts that celebrated the destruction of native societies.

Last week, one of our pastors texted that she was going to hear Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney speak and wondered if I wanted to join her. We’re coming off of a few weeks of busyness and I wondered if it was a good idea to head downtown for the conversation. I’ve been a longtime fan of Dr. Gafney on Twitter and have been meaning to read her newest book, A Womanist Midrash for a year so decided it was worth it.

It’s been just about a week-and-a-half since I got back from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage and I’ve been sorting through all the thoughts and ideas that started to germinate in those five days of learning and conversation. On the outside, I returned to my normal routine of school, volunteering, and all the daily tasks that keep our life humming. But my lens has sharpened. I’m looking at the narratives we’re telling our girls and ourselves and am remembering to ask, Who is missing from the story? Whose story needs to be told?

When we were on Ellis Island, we walked through an exhibit called The Peopling of America… it started in 1520. What?! What about the people who nurtured and cared for America’s land long before the first Europeans landed on these shores? A panel or two was dedicated to Native Americans but more as a sidenote in history rather than the genocide our ancestors committed.

Later, we had lunch with Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis at Middle Collegiate Church, the oldest continuous church in the United States. After our inspiring lunch, we got a quick tour of the sanctuary where Tiffany stained glass windows told biblical stories. Most of these Middle Eastern characters are shown as white in these windows, except for one. I don’t remember the process but the church decided to add darker backlighting to the face of Jesus, making his skin tone a truer representation of the man who lived in ancient Palestine.

Who is missing from the story?

On Sunday, Dr. Gafney talked about how changing the narrative is going to make people very uncomfortable. We like our ancient stained glass windows and childhood Bible stories. But those aren’t true. Dr. Gaftney offered gracious ways of taking small steps toward inclusion – what if we hang banners between our windows, depicting a truer interpretation without completely destroying the past? What if we change our communion loaf to a bread whose color represents that of Christ who we remember?

Going to hear Dr. Gafney was the best way for me to round out that first week of reentry after the Pilgrimage. Her words solidified some of my biggest takeaways.

I’m not sure how these ideas will play out in my life but I know that for now, I can talk with Bea about the Wampanoag story missing from our school Thanksgiving retelling. I want her to feel safe questioning our history together. I can look at my own book choices and notice who is missing from the narrative. I can keep my mind open to ways in which I have embraced a comfortable yet inaccurate narrative.

As we look toward our Thanksgiving celebration, I want to be careful. We will be thankful as a family and we’ll eat all of the foods that we only eat this time of year. But we’ll also pause to remember the rest of the story. We’ll hang our banner beside the stained glass already here, adding a more complete narrative to our history.

Looking for a place to start?

Check out ManyHoops.com, a website devoted to creating a more complete Thanksgiving story. Coloring pages, recipes, traditional prayers, and history are all included.

Also check out Decolonizing Thanksgiving, a way to combat racism in school environments.

What about you? How are you remembering a fuller narrative this Thanksgiving?

When The Way Things Have Always Been Done Isn’t Best

Our tax season got off to a rocky start. Unmet expectations, a busy weekend, miscommunication, the stress of the unknown. After three rough weekends, I wondered if this was it. Was this how the year would go? Do I resign myself to a cloud over each family day?

IMG_8390Thankfully, Frank and I decided that, just because it started out badly, our tax season and our interactions didn’t have to continue this way. We talked, we made a plan, we recognized expectations that could be met and those that are too hopeful. We recalibrated and reset. This didn’t happen on a date or even over a glass of wine. It happened after I put the girls to bed by myself and he came home before 9:00, which is early these days. But we did it.

And I’m so glad we did. Last weekend was wonderful. We stayed in our pajamas after breakfast. We ate lunch at the Botanic Gardens and played in the sunshine. We talked and did all the things we do as a family when life isn’t stretched thin. It was a reminder that, in the midst of stressful times it feels like it is our new norm – that life will forevermore be unpleasant. It’s not, though. We had a choice to talk and listen. We chose to start fresh on a Monday night, three weeks into a busy season.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Way Things Have Always Been Done lately. When tragedy strikes, we dig our heels in and feel sad and hopeless but recognize that this is just how life is. What can we change? Or we say, It’s a heart issue as though there’s nothing more to be done.

For Frank and I, our miscommunication was a heart issue. We both wanted things done our way and we weren’t able to stop and listen in a heated moment. We let our hearts be hurt and a bit hardened. But we also chose to change those same hearts toward a better way. It doesn’t mean we won’t argue again this tax season (or after). It doesn’t mean that expectations will always be met or that our feelings won’t be hurt. But it does mean we’re choosing love and kindness. We’re choosing to fix and restart.

Looking at history, I’m thankful for people who have stopped the status quo and helped ignite a reset. Without abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights leaders, and contemporary activists, we would still be living in The Way Things Have Always Been Done. Because we had women and men bravely stop the cycle of injustice, we have moved forward as a nation. Sometimes this means changing laws. Sometimes this means fighting for new laws. It’s slow going. We are still struggling to fully reset, even a century and a half later.

But just because we haven’t fully arrived, does this mean we stop? Do we condemn ourselves to live in brokenness forevermore?

 

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Source: Alyssa Milano

When I think about mass killings and the statistics about gun-related violence, I feel like any conversation of reform immediately stops because we are still living in the stressful mindset of The Way Things Have Always Been Done. But is it true? Is this the way things have always been done? Or have we been fed a narrative that benefits a few people at the cost of the rest of us? Are we believing that this is how life has to be because it truly is or because we’re mired down in division?

 

I’m not saying that every person needs to surrender their weapon tomorrow. We have many gun-owning friends who are the most responsible people I know. But reform and restriction are two vastly different things. We need a reset. This is a heart issue that also needs policy reform.

Thank God we chose early on this tax season to stop, listen, and reset. How damaging would it have been to our relationship if we had kept the status quo? We’re still in early days of modern gun policies. I hope that we can stop sooner than later and refocus the conversation. It’s never too late.

What are ways that you’ve reset your thinking about policy or politics? How do you make sure to stop and check the status quo?

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My Favorite Era

I was listening to a podcast the other day and one of the hosts mentioned how young America is – that it’s hard to find a home more than a hundred years old. Comments like this make me cringe. Yes, we’re a young country if you’re looking at a European-controlled population. But if you’re looking at humanity living on this land, America is quite old.

img_0667One of our family’s places to go and just breathe is Moab, Utah. The red rocks, the hiking, the dry climate (especially in spring, when it’s still temperate), and the fact that it’s relatively “undiscovered” makes it one of my favorite places to visit. When we’re hiking, we’ve come across petroglyphs and pictographs from the Pueblo and Navajo tribes that populated the area. These etchings are a reminder that people have inhabited this country for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.

I love living in an area where such history is easily accessible. We’re looking forward to taking the girls to Mesa Verde and other spots where we can see the remnants of ancient civilizations. We want them to recognize our own history – not just of the European immigrants that form our own family, but of our land and region.

One of my favorite parts about living in Paris were the plaques put up around the city, creating a history lesson. Churches, apartments, cafes, random alleys and corners have these short paragraphs about what happened in that particular spot. It’s amazing to be reminded of all that happened in that place, over the span of centuries.

I think it can be easy to romanticize ancient cultures. To long for the “old days” when life was easier and simpler and, subsequently, to downplay our own current era. When we see these ruins and read the plaques, we are reminded that big things happened long ago. But small things happened, too. Small moments filled those day-to-day lives, just like ours. People worked and played, just like we do.

Frank and I were talking about when we would have wanted to live in the past. He often imagines life as a pioneer in the wild west. I reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and, now as a mom, can only see the transient lifestyle. The fact that there was often little or no community support. The harsh winters and the stress of living in undeveloped territories. No, thank you.

Because I have an appreciation for historical context, I am quite happy living in this era. Middle class America is luxurious, with our single family homes and running water. With so many choices and opportunities. I sometimes wonder if a love of history can lead to a longing of the past. But for me, my love of history gives me a greater appreciation for the life we’re living today.

What about you? Which era would you most like to live in? Are you nostalgic for older times or do you like today?

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This post is Day 25 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.