An Introduction to Jemar Tisby’s Lecture: “Red and Blue, Black and White: Untangling Race, Politics, and Religion in America”
Dordt College, February 6, 2017
In the same way that none of us get to choose our own biological parents, most of us do not get to choose our country. This means that—as members of a particular nation—we are thrown together alongside other individuals we didn’t get to choose as fellow citizens. (Although, even in this, there is a constant insecurity in human nature that drives us to limit or exert control over whose wellbeing counts in our community, whose voice should be heard.) So, for the most part, we grow up surrounded by people who—we assume—share a common love for the flag, the national anthem, or some abstract notion of what it means to be a freedom-loving American (or Canadian, or Mexican, as the case may be). Assuming these shared loves, these common expressions of patriotism, it may be difficult to understand why so many of our fellow citizens can think, act, and vote so very differently from us—why we have competing visions of the common good of the nation. It doesn’t make sense. So we’re left confused and frustrated—and perhaps resentful.
Or think about it another way. As I’ve gotten to know him and his work, I’ve discovered that Jemar and I share many things in common. Jemar, like me, is a proud alumnus of the University of Notre Dame (which means we both shared the same debilitating misery during the last season of college football). Jemar, like me, has a background in the Reformed tradition, and is versed in the liturgies, creeds, and catechisms that are the lifeblood of that particular theological community.
And yet, for all these commonalities (which matter in their own respective ways), there is an obvious sense in which I do not always live in the same world as him. My experiences in the church and in society are shaped by the simple fact that I am white, and that my whiteness, and the pervasive whiteness of the communities that raised me, have formed me to think, act, and vote in determinate ways—in ways that I may habitually fail to recognize.
This is why Jemar’s lecture is important for me, for this institution, and for the church as a whole: it’s time to de-center our whiteness. It’s time to heed voices like Jemar’s that have been speaking to us all along, even when we weren’t listening.
The Andreas Center for Reformed Scholarship and Service hosts the First Mondays Speakers Series at Dordt College. This lecture by Jemar Tisby was part of this series. Readers of iAt can watch past lectures by other scholars and practitioners here.