Guilt is a God-Given Emotion
Since 2016, I have hosted a weekly podcast through our denomination. I sit with authors, theologians, journalists, sociologists, psychologists, or practitioners each week to discuss relevant topics for congregational leaders, clergy, and churches. I also have the privilege of over 20 publishing houses sending me advanced reader copies of hundreds of books throughout the year, asking me to consider having their authors on the CBF Podcast Conversation. Before 2020, the number of books sent to me on the topic of racism was less than a handful. Since 2020, that number has reached a new level.
Conversations around racism, discrimination, and systemic injustice are now commonplace. This is leading to a lot of overdue discussion and changes. At the same time, these conversations underline many unhealthy assumptions, old habits, unconscious biases, and toxic emotional responses from various individuals. The intensity of these discussions is uncomfortable for many people, especially privileged white people who have mistaken a sense of guilt for an opportunity for positive change and an elevation of equity.
John McWhorter, a Columbia University professor of English and comparative literature, penned “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America” as an alternative voice to what he has deemed a new religion of antiracism. He wants to engage in a social, historical, and philosophical conversation on racism from a “different way of being black.” As a Black American, McWhorter is concerned with the effects of the most recent form of antiracism affecting the employment of “innocent individuals,” stating, “It is neither progress nor messy for people to lose their jobs and reputations for not putting the overturning of power differentials at the very core of every single thing they ever do, express, or feel.”
Woke Racism focuses on what McWhorter calls the Third Wave Antiracism, defined as “social justice warriors or the woke mob.” In the author’s mind, this latest form of antiracism has cultivated a religious fervor with Calvinistic underpinnings that those who get it are the elect and those who do not are the fallen. “An anthropologist would see no difference in type between Pentecostalism and this new form of antiracism. Language is always imprecise, and thus we have traditionally restricted the word religion to certain ideologies founded in creation myths, guided by ancient texts, and requiring that one subscribe to certain beliefs beyond the reach of empirical experience.”
McWhorter is concerned with how he believes this approach to antiracism is pitting white people against black people, black people as the oppressed and white people as the oppressor, white people as perpetrators and black people as victims. The scholar even argues that this new form of antiracism is actually a new form of white savior mentality. He wants his readers to pause before impulsively blaming everything on systemic or structural racism.
Racism will always be with us, the McWhorter would argue. As he wrote, “We should hope for its eventual disappearance, but if this is impossible—and it likely is—it must be kept on the margins of our existence, just as smallpox is.”
Woke Racism creates an alternative viewpoint to other leading black scholars and theologians, such as Jemar Tisby, Ibram Kendi, Esau McCulley, and Anthea Butler, many of whom I have interviewed on the Podcast. However, this book should not be used as an excusatory or apologetic catalyst for White Christians.
As I stated before, too many White Christians are focusing too much on the guilt felt by these open conversations about historical, systemic, and structural racism. Guilt is a God-given emotion. But guilt can also mislead into misgivings, such as anger, resentment, denial, entrenchment, and misplaced judgment. As Dr. King stated, “The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.”
Guilt is a healthy recipe for revelation, empathy, and repentance. All of these things seemed to come from the lips of Jesus. And as leaders, our organizations are filled with people all over the map in these conversations. Therefore, creating space for healthy, honest, and safe dialogue is critical for cultivating a place for everyone to feel seen, heard, understood, and invited into the process of real change.
Woke Racism provides another sociological, historical, and philosophical layer to the conversation of racism. It invites readers to pause on some of their assumptions, asking us to think critically about how these conversations directly affect our black neighbors.
 McWhorter, John H, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2021), 183.
 Ibid, 4.
 Ibid, 23.
 Ibid, 59.
 Civil Rights Digest (United States: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1969),16.
6 responses to “Guilt is a God-Given Emotion”
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Great analysis, Andy. The book was thoughtful and I’m glad I read it. I have not been paying as much attention to this “Woke” movement as others but now I feel like I am in the know. McWhorter gives the reader a lot to think about and although he is cynical and sarcastic about the extremes of the “Elect,” the last two chapters are optimistic and his solutions that he puts forward are helpful.
Andy, great post. In your new role, are working with any NC churches that are working on the issue of racial reconciliation? If so, what kind of strategies are proving to be successful?
Andy, I really appreciate your views on this topic. I realize my life experiences, coming from the Pacific Northwest, which is in need of hearing a broader context. I am going to jump on Roy’s question of the types of strategies you have used to maintain dialog and meaningful change.
Andy, I coudln’t “not” read the blogs!
I enjoyed this read. I am still amazed by the amount of content you are able to consume and retain (as to the books, podcasts, etc.). Impressive.
I will piggyback on Roy’s question. You have lots of content you have been exposed to, and many thoughts (I am sure) about how things should be done. What do you foresee as practical steps you can help encourage within your sphere of influence?
Andy: Another thought provoking post – I always like learning about who you have on your podcast over the years and your perspectives given the things you’ve learned and people you’ve spoken with. Have you found over the time that podcasts have become an avenue to open respectful dialogue for the listeners in giving them access to a conversation without actually having to join in? Or do you think people still largely stick to similar realm of thoughts/opinions as their own when engaging with podcasts?
Andy, I do appreciate your summary.
In what ways would you differentiate McWhorters book from Shelby Steele’s book we read our first year?