White Awake: A Review

Daniel Hill, White Awake (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018)

On a scale from 1 to 10, where are you currently in your development in understanding and engaging issues of race in America? White Awake is a great resource for moving people who are at a 3–4 to a 5–6. The book is geared toward people who are willing to engage the question enough that they would read an entire book devoted to better understanding “whiteness.” The first chapter ends by describing Daniel’s first encounter with this exercise:

“[A mentor] issued a personal challenge in the form of a reflection exercise. To help me begin my exploration, he invited me to catalog carefully the primary voices that informed me as a person and shaped my thoughts and values. To simplify, he organized the exercise around four groups of voices: my closest friends, the mentors I looked to for guidance, the preachers/teachers/theologians I relied on for spiritual guidance, and the authors of books I was reading. The instructions were simple: (1) comprehensively list them; (2) take note of the cultural backgrounds they represented” (pp. 5–6). What were the results? “the results in all four categories were the same: the voices shaping me were overwhelmingly white” (p. 7).

This is the starting point, and the rest of the book unpacks a number of ways to process what it means to be white in America in 2018. What I found most helpful is that it’s not a book trying to guilt white people into caring about this issue. The book is aimed at those who already acknowledge that it is an issue and want to engage it, and it does a deep exploration of the particular pitfalls for folks like that. Folks like me.

“Why are you interested in this? What blind spots still remain? Are you being self-righteous about your “wokeness”? Are you willing to actually sacrifice anything? Why do you give up so easily? Why do you move so quickly into action mode before you even understand the issues? Have you ever just stopped to lament?”

Along the way he offers helpful illustrations, historical facts, and lots of personal confession. I didn’t feel brow-beaten or guilt-tripped. Daniel knows firsthand the messy process of growth.

Two particularly helpful takeaways for me at this stage are (1) “Dismantling white supremacy trumps the seeking of diversity” (149–153). While I’d like to launch into efforts to increase diversity in my white-spaces, I fear that more work needs to be done to root out white-supremacy before it will actually be a healthy place for diverse people to be; (2) Invest in white people” (173–175). When someone close to me voices an opinion on race that I disagree with, do I shut them out or work hard to understand them and help them to grow with me? If I won’t do it, who will?

I’ve had times where I would have ranked myself a 6–7 on the scale of “being awake.” I’ve been realizing that I’m probably closer to a 3, and this book has helped me move closer to 4. I commend it heartily to anyone who is willing to explore what it means to be white.

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