White fragility: "Eat the meat, spit the bones" | The alternate

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George Floyd's murder sparked centuries of racial tension in American life, and people have started (again) to look for answers on how to react. The jump from Robin DiAngelo's volume White Fragility into the sales charts rose to become a number 1 best seller. The book's sudden notoriety sparked its own under-conversation of praise and protest. Given all this, how should we as evangelical Christians feel about this bond?

I am a white pastor who has served in a black-majority church and congregation for nearly nine years. I am now starting a church in a relatively homogeneous, white community in South Florida, with tremendous diversity literally across the street. I struggled with race-related conversation and tension for years and recently completed my PhD on the multiethnic church. In light of my previous studies and experience, White Fragility struck me as a little nondescript. The book offers some helpful things that the majority / whites should consider, while these helpful aspects are often underpinned by problematic beliefs and other problematic assertions.

In this article I want to examine four questions about the book so that we can think about it a little more clearly.

Why is White Fragility so popular?

I have some theories about the popularity of white fragility, especially among evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. Here's my main one: too often, evangelical theology has a thin theological vision that makes us prone to overreacting. Too often evangelical ontology (doctrine of being), theological anthropology (doctrine of humanity), soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and eschatology (doctrine of last things) leave a lot of biblical goodness on the table. This leaves us looking for answers, especially in the obvious emergence of the underlying racial tensions and injustices. At such times, Christians look for explanations about society and our own experiences, find a book like White Fragility, and say, "That sounds exactly what I was looking for!" We eat the meat, but we can sometimes swallow the bones. Similar to the "cage stage" of a newly convinced Calvinist or charismatic, we see a lot of awareness in the "cage stage" for racist injustice. And since the “cage stage” of something provokes a visceral (over) reaction, the new “wakefulness” was confronted with a visceral reaction to it. That partly explains the controversy.

Why is White Fragility so controversial?

Many have opposed the book, some even saying that Christians should leave the church of a pastor who would recommend it. You have argued that anti-biblical premises underlie the book and you might be right. The book fails in its presuppositions about the problems of the human condition. The Christian worldview, shaped by Scripture, understands the world around us as a created good, although it is now corrupted by sin and awaiting final restoration. The problems of the human condition are rooted in a primal, culpable rebellion against the Creator. This sin problem permeates every heart and every system that is inhabited and built by sinful people in a world contested by hostile principalities and powers. The book offers much diagnosis and description of the problems that plague our culture, but little constructive, redeeming prognoses for dealing with racial problems. In turn, many have argued that these shortcomings completely undermine the book's value and make the book dangerous even for Christians.

So we see an evangelical “fight or flight” instinct at play: Instead of constructing a more biblical, robust theological vision, conservative evangelicals either join the crowd or fight the crowd. However, I think that having a robust theological vision allows us to appreciate some parts of white fragility while rejecting its problematic assumptions and claims.

What's Helpful About White Fragility?

As I said, my main thesis is that this book is not particularly praiseworthy or harmful. It has helpful elements and many problematic elements. Helpfully, it diagnoses symptoms of racial ambivalence that have remained true to me throughout my years dealing with the subject. Anyone who has worked to bring the gospel on race to an audience of White Christians has come across situations such as DiAngelo describes. Defensiveness, denial, and inversion of the tale of the suffering seem to be common responses from White Christians when confronted with biblical discussions about racial injustice. Likewise, evangelicals too often individualize sin to the exclusion of systemic aspects, and we should be aware that systems inhabited by sinful people and haunted by principalities and powers can at some point be corrupted without any conscious intention of any individual . This is where White Fragility could help white people like me see the spread of racist realities than we assumed. When we find that our white experience in society is often different from a black or minority experience in the same society, it helps us better love our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What is the problem with White Fragility?

If evangelical theology can overly individualize the problem of racial injustice, this volume does the opposite. White Fragility misdiagnoses the cause of the problem and roots the problem in a non-biblical ontology, anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology. It mistakenly bundles racial issues with LGBT + concerns and tends to reduce human nature to a specific social context. It excessively structures and de-individualizes the problems of race in our society. There is virtually no room for an understanding of a common humanity created in God's image and capable of responding to the world around them. The result is a false narrative that reduces people to their social and cultural norms and includes them in this narrative with little hope of escape. There is no hope of a primary teaching of the Christian gospel: God can and does change human hearts.

Part of my desire to write a theological dissertation on the subject of the multiethnic church was to comment that much of the work on the subject was more sociological than theological in nature. As Christians, we view the world and people through a fundamentally theological lens and believe that God can and does change people, hearts, and social structures by both ordinary and extraordinary means. So if this book is in any way dangerous, this is how DiAngelo would summarize her sociological claims and the implications for issues of race and injustice. This is my biggest fear of volume. Too many people will read it as the way of viewing race and the white and black dynamic in our culture and either (a) reject the need to wrestle with the subject; or (b) they become "fundamentalists of white fragility" and cancel anyone outside the confines of their own established orthodoxy.

How should we respond to White Fragility?

As I indicated, some of the popularity and protest against White Fragility comes from evangelicals who do not envision a solid biblical framework for the subjects it covers. We need to listen to our Bibles again. We need to hear the heart of God for humanity, for justice, for salvation and for reconciliation. When we look at the book through the eyes of Scripture, we find that there are some helpful things we can appreciate happily and gratefully, while rejecting the rest of its non-biblical assumptions and claims.

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