Silencing White Noise: Six Practices to Overcome Our Inaction on Race

By Willie Dwayne Francois III

 

A Review by Dwight A. Moody

 

It has been a decade since my ministerial path crossed that of Dr. Francois. That was before he was a doctor of ministry but not too long before he graduated from the Divinity School at Harvard University. Now he and I both are pastors of Baptist churches. I know virtually nothing about his church, but he knows a great deal about me. He must have had my picture on his desk when he wrote this:

“I long for the end of White credentializing on race. Credentializing consists of attempts by White people to show how woke they are: what anti-racism literature they have read, how many Black friends they have, what causes they support, and what courses they have taken” (160).

He is writing about me and a million others. We do these things because we don’t know what else to do—what else, that is, that does not jeopardize the perks of our Whiteness. Which is what this whole book is about.

I knew from page one this book was about me and those like me. He gives the first clue on page one of the Introduction: “I categorize the racist ideas, speech, silence, and misrepresentations that protect and perpetuate Whiteness as white noise …. I am not referring to skin color but rather to conscious or unconscious deference to unfounded notions of superiority. White noise masks racial realities and allows persons … to ignore the call to disrupt systemic, structural, and individual racism” (14f).

To address the white noise, Francois works as a community organizer, political activist, congregational pastor, keynote speaker, and author. He is also a social entrepreneur, having launched his own non-profit organization he calls PLOT, for Public Love Organizing and Training project. All of this tends toward answering the question, “What can we do about it?” And his answer is this: “The stories, criticism, and practices in this book invite us into what I call reparative intercession” (22).  By which he means, we are to “take up the oral, attitudinal, and behavioral practices that turn off the white noise and build the moral muscle to topple Whiteness” (22).

To that end, Francois proposes “six rhythms of reparative intercession,” which are 1) embracing difference as gift, what he calls cues to color; 2) confronting the histories of Whiteness, what he calls momentum to encounter; 3) honoring our interdependence, what he calls pattern recognition; 4) exploring our fuller selves, what he calls syncopated identity; 5) sacrificing our power and privilege, what he calls pulse to risk; and 6) naming our complicity in racism, what he calls downbeat truth (31).

Throughout the book, Francois confronts what I consider to be at the core of the prevailing resistance to the structural racism in our country: namely, the conviction that racism is not our problem, that it is endemic to human society, and that the only solution is the return of Jesus and the coming of the millennium. Taken together, these undergird the hopelessness both Blacks and Whites often feel when considering how to lead or respond to the racial realities in which we live.

While many among us need convincing they are racist to the core, many of us confess we are so, much to our disgust. We long for practical ways to move ourselves, our families, our congregations, and our communities away from the polarizations in which we live. It is a daunting task.

At the beginning we must recognize, Francois asserts, our “Americanized gospel” and how it must be transformed by a new version of Jesus. We must begin following the Jesus who was “a victim of colonialism … marginalized, poor, terrorized, arrested, and executed in a manger-to-cross pipeline.”  We must become disciples of “a man born to a teenage mother, a once-infant escaping the murderous insecurity of a puppet politician … a religious leader profiled by the temple state: an incarcerated man facing trumped-up charges by a lynch mob who internalized Roman supremacy” (124).

As a preacher and pastor, this is one thing I can do—or try to do, from the pulpit of the mico-church I lead in a southern town. And what better time to start this revisionist history than now: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany?  I will give it a try and will also give this young scholar the credit to the extent I have any success.

I know this as I start: Dr. Francois is a splendid writer and a passionate advocate. I heard him preach ten, eleven, and twelve years ago when he attended the National Festivals of Young Preachers I helped launch and lead. I am sure he is today an accomplished and  compelling preacher of this gospel we need so much today.

Published On: November 30th, 2022 / Categories: Book Reviews /

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