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Anxious to Talk about It: Helping White People Talk Faithfully about Racism

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In a new season of civil unrest and activism around racism, white people are still anxious to talk about race. In this updated version of the popular 2018 release, Carolyn Helsel offers 30% new content to contextualize the conversation for this new season of the racial justice movement. This new edition includes an updated introduction, fresh stories reflecting current events, new research, and tips for parents and teachers. Anxious to Talk about It helps whites better understand and embrace their feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt, and work through them so that they can join conversations with more courage and confidence. Reflection questions close each chapter.

192 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2018

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Carolyn B. Helsel

4 books6 followers

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5 stars
34 (26%)
4 stars
49 (37%)
3 stars
35 (27%)
2 stars
8 (6%)
1 star
3 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Ledayne.
171 reviews2 followers
June 4, 2018
A decent enough introduction, especially for evangelical readers. I do like her take on "political correctness" from a biblical perspective (we're called to the far higher standard of genuine love rather than the attempt to simply not offend people), and her description of white racial identity development is interesting and helpful. I don't, however, think she shares anything original here, and even her telling of her own story is muted. I do not understand the point of some of the stories she chooses to share -- though perhaps some of her readers really haven't ever listened to a black man's story of the many times he's been pulled over for driving while black so that her telling someone else's story (even if she doesn't help her readers pull any particular meaning from it) has some value. I would like to have heard more about specific practices trainers can use to help white people enter into these conversations in a meaningful way. All in all -- it is fine, probably helpful for evangelical readers who are very new to the conversation -- but not particularly insightful, deep or helpful for others.
Profile Image for Robert D. Cornwall.
Author 31 books77 followers
January 5, 2019
If you are white, like I am, you will not have experienced racism in quite the same way as persons of color. When the #BlackLivesMatter movement erupted, many whites called for an #AllLivesMatter, which misses the point of the #BLM movement and that is, while all lives are supposed to matter it's time that this includes black lives as well. But, talking about race and racism can make one anxious. We may be afraid of what we might discover about ourselves, if we go too far with such discussions. Besides, shouldn't we be colorblind? After all, the color of skin shouldn't matter, but too often the undercurrent of that belief is that everything would be okay if people would simply assimilate into "American" culture. Unfortunately this means becoming white. The conversations about race and diversity can be difficult, and yet they are necessary. The question is, how should we proceed?

Carolyn B. Helsel is a white woman who teaches preaching at a Presbyterian seminary in Texas (Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Life experiences and academic considerations hav led her to focus her attention on questions of race and the church. She doesn't do anti-racism training, but she has focused helping preachers take up the topic of racism in their sermons (see her excellent book Preaching about Racism: A Guide for Faith Leaders, and in this book a guide to congregations and others who who are white who feel the call to pursue a conversation that can be difficult and make one anxious.

Helsel notes in her introduction that she writes this book out of her own sense of anxiety. She acknowledges the possible anxieties felt by the readers. Nonetheless, she writes in the hope that "by reading it, you will feel yourself honored and cared for, your emotions attended to, and not feel shamed for getting it wrong." (p. 3). In other words this isn't a harangue about racism meant to create shame. It is instead a guide to conversation that can be transformative for the reader and society, including the church.

The book is composed of six chapters, beginning with a discussion of the way we think about race. Definitions are important, including words like colorblind and melting pot, and so that's where the conversation begins. From there she speaks of "feeling white." She invites us into stories about the way people grow up and ways of living. She talks about the challenges of "political correctness" and the feeling that one can never get it right. Definitions are important, but so is experience.

In chapter three, she talks about "mapping racial identity development." This is an important conversation that I've just been introduced to through her books. We all have a racial identity, and that includes we who are white. Here the question concerns whether we are comfortable within our own skin, and the ways in which we get there. This is followed by a call to listen to different stories about race. How do others experience themselves, and their race? Is it positive or negative, and where does this begin.

Chapter five is interesting, in that it is a a call to express gratitude. This chapter provides a framework for conversation, in which we consider what we might be grateful for. That includes being grateful for this conversation. We enter this conversation not out of guilt and shame, but in gratitude for the grace of God received through Jesus. Finally, in chapter six she invites us to engage in spiritual practices, beginning with self-compassion, bearing witness, and hospitality. Developing spiritual resources that empower the conversation that can begin to create bridges, that is relationships, is key.

Like her book on preaching about racism, this small book could make a significant difference in our congregations, opening us up to new relationships, and from there a new engagement with the broader culture. This is a book for those like me who are white and who recognize the need for a new day in our society. It is a starting point for conversations that will allow us to let go of racist ideas and beliefs, many of which we might not be conscious of. So, take and read.
Profile Image for Tyler Collins.
186 reviews17 followers
September 10, 2018
Helsel offered some great steps forward for white Christians seeking to become anti-racist. Some of these include thoughtful listening to experiences of those who have been discriminated against without trying to justify or defend--simply letting them know "I hear you" and "I feel with you." She also put forward that we can view our continued growth in understanding race issues in terms of gratitude. Instead of feeling put-off or upset or defensive, we can be grateful for each new story we hear, emotion we feel, and step in the process, even if we make mistakes!

I do think the final two chapters may be better served toward the beginning of the book, but overall, it was a growing read.
Profile Image for Alison.
61 reviews
August 21, 2020
Well written, extremely relevant. Nicely organized and easy to follow. Something I'll come back to in future years as the ongoing racism conversation continues. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for AngelaGay Kinkead.
300 reviews2 followers
January 2, 2021
Not life-changing, but it was a good choice for an adult Sunday School class this fall. Stimulated important (albeit difficult) conversations.
Profile Image for Jessie Light-Wells.
225 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2020
I’ve read a lot of books lately about race and reconciliation work, but this one, by my dear preaching professor (who I was honored to have as the preacher for my ordination service) is one of the best resources for starting a conversation with white people about race. Carolyn writes with a tone of care that seeks to walk alongside the learner while also challenging each person to dig deeply within themselves to mine the gems of knowledge from their own experiences in the world, modeling this by telling her own story of waking up to racism. This book makes concepts like the racial identity development theory accessible and understandable, making it perfect for small group studies within a congregation. My favorite part of the book is the last chapter, in which Helsel expands upon spiritual practices that we might utilize in conversations about race, including self-compassion, bearing witness, showing forth hospitality, and yes, preaching! I also loved Helsel’s differentiating between responsibility and response-ability (“having the ability to respond with compassion and care, without needing to feel personally responsible,” p. 25). I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to my colleagues in ministry. The title says it all, but this is a really outstanding resource for anyone who is both anxious and yet willing to undertake these important conversations.
400 reviews
February 12, 2018
Thank you Carolyn! I had high hopes for this book and the author did not disappoint me. I have never heard racism explained so well. I really feel so encouraged to talk more about racism and better understand the need to do so. I feel I can better understand the differences between racism and situations that we confuse with racism. I think white readers will better understand what people of color have been trying to tell us for years. I really loved the author explaining the steps that people go through when experiencing racism. I highly recommend this book to everyone- whether they feel uncomfortable talking about race or not.
Author 6 books27 followers
January 18, 2022
I read this book in one sitting—with a few breaks for meals and snacks. Admittedly, this book is not designed to be read this way, and the author goes out of her way to insist that this book is best read and understood in community. But in times of Covid and isolation one does what one must do, I suppose.

But in spite of that, of not reading this in community, I found great value in the book and the methodology of going more deeply into the discussion about America’s most denied and most apparent sin: race. The book does not approach the topic as a sermon or lecture, and does not come across as polemic or soft-hearted. It confronts the topic directly, aimed right at people like me (white) who would want to be able to think about and talk about race comfortably without the anxiety or shame or even guilt that keep us from thinking clearly and feeling our whole selves.

For this is not a “how-to manual” on how to talk about race, racism, and the formation of the American character, split between white people and everyone else. This is not a book of handy answers to help us have a quick or satisfying solution to this nagging problem which is our difficulty in simply talking about race and racism without the distractions of side issues and side eyes.

This is a book that starts from the premise that we are whole beings with a complex mix of emotions, thoughts, histories, experiences, beliefs, constraints, desires, and needs, and it helps walk us through the path of unwinding ourselves from our anxieties when approaching the topics of race and racism, and helps keep us centered not just in our thoughts but also in our feelings.

Again and again, the author asks us to journal or talk about what we’re reading, what we’re feeling about our thoughts, how we want to incorporate these new and perhaps destabilizing ideas into our lives.

You will not find this to be the “answer book.” It’s not designed for that. This is a book that invites us to join in the community, in the discussion, in the journey.

If I had my druthers, yes, I’d read it in a group. I can see how it would be helpful. But even without that experience, it is still a very handy and inspiring tool to keep us wanting more, to drive us deeper into ourselves as humans, as spiritual beings, to figure out what it is that we want so much but are so afraid to admit: intimacy and forgiveness, hope and restoration, connection and community.
6 reviews
February 20, 2019
Rev. Helsel discussion of White Christians and racism is clear, sensitive, and very much needed in today's world. This is a topic where white Christians are easily offended by how they are, or may be, perceived by others and themselves, and she handles it well.

She tells her readers that "racism is more than feelings of being discriminated against; it is the systemic exclusion of certain groups of people from having access to opportunities based on their group membership." The idea of systemic exclusion of non-whites is not usually seen, or acknowledged by whites. We are confronted by the injustice we may had no part in, but, benifit from. It is a powerful book to read with others and explore the reflection and discussion question. That exploration may open eyes and hearts to the challenge of changing our world of white priviledge to a world were all have the opportunity to be the best they can be.
Profile Image for Mary.
785 reviews29 followers
July 17, 2020
Summer Bingo - Blurbed by someone you admire (Walter Brueggemann).

This is a great place for white Christians to start. My church is reading the book this summer and having weekly meetings (via Zoom!) to discuss. I loved how Helsel uses stories to teach, and she certainly makes the material approachable.

This was a 3-star book for me until Chapter 5, when she proposes Gratitude as a framework for white Christians to enter into conversations about (and ultimately, I assume, to take anti-racist actions) racism.

"We work on addressing ongoing injustice because of gratitude for the grace we have received."

"The good work of building community with persons from different races who all make up the body of Christ - this is what we were created to do."

forever and ever. Amen.
82 reviews
September 21, 2020
This is a great book to use in churches to begin a dialogue on race. Helsel encourages us to look at our own lives, thoughts, and actions and to be guided by grace and gratefulness as we seek to be more compassionate toward all people. It is practical guidance to use in small groups at any church.
Profile Image for Jim.
63 reviews
September 12, 2021
I ended up skimming most of it, as it was redundant in the light of my other reading. Also, it really didn’t do what the title suggests. There were no concrete suggestion for leading discussions about race from an overtly Christian perspective. It was mostly about how White readers could move more deeply into their own perspective on racism—a noble enough goal.
Profile Image for Brandon Beck PhD.
17 reviews7 followers
November 7, 2018
Powerful exploration of white Christian need to discuss race and racism

This book was compelling and well written. I am looking forward to meeting Dr. Helsl this weekend and discussing her ideas further as she explores important topics for us as people of privilege.
Profile Image for Beth Quick.
Author 1 book8 followers
January 1, 2019
I strongly recommend this for white individuals, groups, congregations who are trying to begin the work of thinking about race, racism, and privilege. Excellent.
Profile Image for Kathleen Wells.
621 reviews1 follower
August 21, 2020
I read this book for a study group/class on racism. It was a good book, but I've read others I liked more (such as "Waking Up White.").
January 3, 2021
This is a very good book to read as a starting point to understanding racism. It is very easy to understand and helps to open eyes to see things from a different perspective.
Profile Image for Sharon.
660 reviews78 followers
August 12, 2021
Too woke for me, I'm so done with all the nonsense. For those who think there *is* systemic racism, they might enjoy this, especially the Christian slant on it.

this was a goodreads giveaway
Profile Image for Peggy Hess Greenawalt.
591 reviews12 followers
April 6, 2018
So ANXIOUS to talk about this well done book that all should read and discuss. Well done Carolyn! The stories are just a sliver of what happens in America, and serve to open your mind to today's issues. If you are looking for a good book study for your church...pick this. There is a free study guide online.
75 reviews
April 16, 2018
A good entry into these conversations. Some chapters are more appropriate for leaders, and some for folks just now encountering these conversations. Hard to pinpoint what group this book works best for.
Profile Image for Sara.
19 reviews
April 23, 2019
Read a downloaded copy from the library and the loan expired before I could finish it. It was a Lenten book study at church.
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews

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