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Klau Center hosts author, scholar for “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” series

| Monday, October 4, 2021

The Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights hosted Dr. Jemar Tisby (ND ’02), who spoke on his recent book “How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice,during its online lecture series “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” Friday.

The lecture series is a component of the three-part “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” initiative led by Dory Mitros Durham, associate director of the Klau Center and leader of the Racial Justice Initiative at the Keough School of Global Affairs.

Tisby, has a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi and is the author of New York Times bestseller “The Color of Compromise. He is also the president and co-founder of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective and co-host of the Pass the Mic podcast.

When asked why he felt compelled to write “How to Fight Racism, Tisby cited his first book, “Color of Compromise. He emphasized how people must diagnose the problem with racism before giving a prescription for healing.

“If we haven’t really walked people through how we got to this point of crisis in terms of race relations, then not only will people not be ready … to take action, what they do might actually be harmful because you haven’t fully understood the problem, he said.

“Color of Compromise seeks to understand the problem through a survey of the history of racism in the American Catholic Church.

“If you look at the history, you could make a good argument to say that the profit motive led the theology, Tisby said. Because there was money to be made from slavery and other racist practices, the church supported it, Tisby argued.

In response, Tisby’s second book proposes the ideal of the “courageous Christian” who stands up to racism in the name of religion. 

When defining “courageous Christian,” Tisby cited the Gospel of Matthew chapters five and 25. Courageous Christianity is “Jesus Christianity,” he said.

“It’s Christianity that is in favor of and supports and defends and advocates for the marginalized and oppressed of the world, of whom Jesus would be counted,” Tisby noted.

In light of the widespread racial justice protests of last spring and summer, Tisby said that he is even more convinced that “something is different this time.”

“Racism never goes away, he said. “It just adapts.”

To compete with this shift, anti-racists require an updated framework to fight injustice. In “How to Fight Racism, Tisby put forth one such framework, summarized by the acronym ARC, which stands for awareness, relationships and commitment. Awareness includes actions that were popular in May 2020 — buying books on anti-racism, listening to podcasts on racial justice or educating oneself about the history of racism.

The relationships component of his framework is where Tisby said he loses some progressives. Tisby also emphasized the importance of interpersonal relationships with people of all races to fight racism.

Finally, commitment addresses the “levers of power” that uphold racism, including large institutions outside of individual control.

Tisby’s advice to students at Notre Dame pursuing racial equality is to seek out relationships built on “humility and not utility.” In college, students “have built-in structures that will enable you to cross barriers” between demographics, so that they can become connected to students of all different backgrounds.

Additionally, Tisby recommends students take advantage of the opportunities provided by Notre Dame. For example, Tisby said that he was “profoundly impacted by [the] work with the Center for Social Concerns.

Anyone interested in attending future “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” lectures or watching past speakers can visit the Klau Center’s website.

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