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.