Toward understanding whiteness

Disrupting Whitensss: Talking with White People About Racism by Drick Boyd (Arch Street, 2021)

Certainly, whites must learn to listen and validate the stories shared with them by BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color]. Undoubtedly, they need to learn to share power and at times follow the lead of BIPOC. Unquestionably, they need to pay attention to their attitudes, micro-aggressions and unconscious biases. But at the same time, white people need to better understand themselves and the impact that whiteness has on them.

— Drick Boyd, Disrupting Whiteness

My Mind changed about Drick Boyd’s book when I read these lines. Written after the murder of George Floyd yet before the white nationalist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Disrupting Whiteness is about how to talk to white people about racism. I expected Boyd, like many well-intentioned white -people, to talk about the importance of speaking with politeness and empathy to help white folks understand people of color. That anodyne approach is popular among liberal white folks, including Anabaptists. As a person of color and a victim of racism, I approached the text with a cynicism informed by this experience of Anabaptist obsequiousness.

But Boyd — a former Baptist pastor, a professor emeritus at Eastern University and a West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship attendee — writes with a different tone. He wants white people to tell their story, to understand their history and to know how whiteness has impacted and traumatized them. 

He doesn’t rebuke white people but says that all of us — regardless of our race — stand to learn from our own histories, our own experiences. It requires the same humility for people of color to know they are victims of racism as for white folks to know they perpetuate it.

It isn’t enough for white people to know the harm they’ve caused. They need to understand how their power and privilege impacts them. Boyd talks about how whiteness hurts, even traumatizes, white people. It has “brought about a loss of humanity on the part of perpetrators, the unknowing historic beneficiaries of racism. In propagating, justifying and then minimizing the history of racism, white people have lost contact with their integrity and morality.” Thus, it is in the self-interest of white people to disrupt whiteness.

Boyd’s call for dialogue and even empathy isn’t a call for victims of racism to act in a different way. It is for white folks to understand how they perpetuate racism unintentionally. This unconscious racism requires patience to confront. Boyd never calls for people of color to exhibit this sort of patience with those who have harmed them. But, in white spaces, such patience is possible.

Boyd shares his experience with the interracial, interfaith group New Conversations on Race and Ethnicity. NewCORE focuses on storytelling, listening and dialogue. In safe places, with appropriate guardrails, racism can be confronted.

confrontation is not free of potential harm. Boyd expects white people to respond in ways that express their fragility. This can take the form of guilt, shame, denial, fear, sadness or anger. The expectation that white people will respond with these negative emotions helps us listen to them as they come to terms with whiteness and white supremacy. 

Boyd also advocates relentless interrupting of racist harm. When we witness explicit racism, especially in a public setting, it is necessary to call it out. 

Boyd wants to protect people of color from racism, even as he wants to help gently guide white people, who perhaps are not committing acts of egregious harm, to a more self-aware understanding of how whiteness impacts themselves and others. 

Boyd’s approach to addressing white liberals is different. For white people who think they know better than to be racist in any way, Boyd suggests a firm and confrontive approach. For white liberals who exhibit traits of white supremacy, directness is the path forward. We must not only decenter their voices but interrogate their unwillingness to confront their racism. 

While Boyd is a Christian, his book has nary a reference to Christianity or the Bible. Yet his tone and posture, as well as his commitment to truth and love, are characteristic of Christ. The book will be especially useful for pastors and congregations seeking to confront racism in predominantly white organizations and churches. 


Jonny Rashid is pastor of Circle of Hope, a Brethren in Christ congregation in Philadelphia. He blogs at and hosts Circle of Hope’s “Resist and Restore” podcast. His book, Jesus Takes a Side, was published by Herald Press in 2022.

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