Publisher: Brazos Press
Publishing Date: April 12, 2022
I like to think my heart has been oriented toward justice from a young age. I remember writing my “hero report” on Jackie Robinson in elementary school. I mourned for the loss of Indigenous culture in 6th grade when we recreated models of their homes and communities. I had diverse friends, and I was open to learning about how my whiteness and my Christianity have perpetuated racial injustice. I studied political science and criminal justice because I wanted to figure out how we can make policies more equitable and just for all people, especially marginalized people.
As I read Idelette McVicker’s heartfelt book Recovering Racists: Dismantling White Supremacy and Reclaiming Our Humanity, I realized I’ve grown complacent in my journey of being a recovering racist. This book reminded me that the journey of justice and liberation is a lifelong one.
Idelette McVicker is a white South African woman who grew up during apartheid. This book is the heavy and hopeful story of McVicker’s journey so far as a recovering racist, a journey she says continues every day and will for the rest of her life. McVicker recognizes and puts words to the world in which she was raised that based its political, social, and cultural system on skin color. She writes, “I am in recovery from a system and a consciousness that had created a human hierarchy based on the color of someone’s skin. These were all personal ideas first, which then became political ideas, which then became policies and laws, which then became embedded into our bodies and into our consciousness. I will most likely be in recovery for the rest of my life.”1
“These were all personal ideas first, which then became political ideas, which then became policies and laws, which then became embedded into our bodies and into our consciousness. I will most likely be in recovery for the rest of my life.”Idelette McVicker
McVicker defines humanity and whiteness like this: “Our humanity is who we are as human beings. Whiteness says being human looks like this: striving; winning at all costs; imposing yourself on others and on a land, even if you are not welcomed; greed; jealousy; scarcity; superiority; and an arbitrary hierarchy of human worth. Whiteness values wealth more than relationships. Being right more than being kind. But this is not the humanity I want to belong to or be a part of creating.”2 As white people, we are responsible for being racists in recovery, which means flipping the script on what it means to be human.
This book is divided into five parts and 20 ‘stations of liberation’ where McVicker offers readers questions for further reflection. The five sections are aptly named according to different stops on the journey of the recovering racist: “Wake Up”, “Leave”, “Repent”, “Recalibrate”, and “Repair”. McVicker’s writing is a mix of her own experiences with racism in each of these stages, as well as important statistics, places for reflection, honesty, lament, and encouragement.
McVicker shares from the specific context of being an Afrikaaner woman wrestling with the racist past of her country. Her anti-racist work is holistic and extends beyond South Africa: she has lived on three continents, pilgrimaged through the southern United States, and currently lives in Canada. This range of experiences has opened her eyes to injustices committed against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color across the world, writing how she is “deeply aware that racism is a pandemic.”3
McVicker says that many white people aim to prove how not racist they are, that they are “a good white person.”4 Real recovery, she writes, can only happen when we hit rock bottom. When we see ourselves in the ugliest, racist people we can visualize and see how whiteness has been destructive to everyone. This book, because of that truth, is heavy. It makes the reader dig down deep in their soul and their past to acknowledge the things they would rather not admit about themself.
“I had everything white privilege had afforded me, including a good education. All I needed to do was follow the path laid out for me. What they did not account for was that I also needed a soul.”Idelette McVicker
The construct of whiteness is destructive to all people—regardless of color, race, or ethnicity. McVicker writes of her experience: “I grew up in what white fascists and alt-right conservatives campaign for: a white-dominating, nationalist state….I had everything white privilege had afforded me, including a good education. All I needed to do was follow the path laid out for me. What they did not account for was that I also needed a soul.”5 I was hit deeply by McVicker’s reflections that she lived in this utopia desired by white supremacists—many of them Christian—and how it damaged her soul. When we reach a turning point, acknowledge our racism, and embark on this journey of recovery, we are acknowledging that these constructs have damaged our humanity and God’s vision for creation and that we must reclaim our humanity by doing the work to achieve liberation for all people.
McVicker’s recovering racist journey was not possible without supportive friends and loved ones. While she acknowledges that as white people we need to come to terms with our racism ourselves and not demand forgiveness from people we have inflicted harm on, it was essential for McVicker, and for us in our own journeys, to have people to hold us accountable and support us through this journey.
This book is written by a white person, for white people. I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first to read a book about anti-racism written by a white woman. However, as Lisa Sharon Harper writes, “McVicker has done the work.” This book is not easy, but it is encouraging. Throughout the book, McVicker wrestles with her own guilt and shame, a match that will never truly be over. Yet there is a constant thread of hope. The book is meant to be guiding, not guilting.
“This book is meant to be guiding, not guilting.”
I noted this book on my Goodreads as “essential reading for white people.” It is important, as McVicker says, that we learn from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color first in our recovery journey. Yet it is important to do this work in community with one another as we repent from racist thoughts, actions, and beliefs, and work towards reconciliation and justice for all people.
The journey of the recovering racist is a hungry one. We must be hungry to learn new stories, to learn and speak the truth about racism in ourselves, our families, our organizations. We must be hungry to strive toward the liberation for our brothers and sisters that God gives to us.
My eyes, heart, and mind were opened to the need for justice through reading and listening to the stories of others. We must each engage in our own stories, to understand how we are complicit in systems of oppression and the power we have to work toward reconciliation, justice, and hope, as we also listen and learn from the stories of others. This work cannot be done alone or in a bubble. We can’t live and work without each other. The good news is that our story is still being written, and we all have the power to determine and change the narrative.