Helping white people talk about racism—with each other

Carolyn Helsel's guidebook is insightful, sensitive, and deeply practical.

Carolyn Helsel invites white Chris­tians to wade—even if nervously—into the waters of race, racism, and white privilege. With a rich blend of scholarly insight and pastoral sensitivity, Helsel inspires and models the kinds of conversations she believes are important for white congregations to have about race. Her book is lively, engaging, and deeply connected to the experiences of white people and people of color in the United States.

Helsel’s aim is to help white people “stay in this conversation, even amidst the anxiety [they] may feel when talking about race.” Importantly, she doesn’t claim to write a book consistent with the goals of antiracism training. Instead, she writes as a white scholar for white people to help them talk with other white people about race. Acknowledging the feelings of anxiety, shame, or discomfort that may accompany such conversations, Helsel insists that white people “need to be responsible for our own learning and education” and not ask people of color to teach them about racism out of the pain of firsthand experience.

Anxious to Talk About It is born out of Helsel’s Ph.D. dissertation, her experience leading congregations,  and her personal encounters (including her participation in the HBCU Truth and Reconciliation Oral History Project). Because it draws on such varied sources, Helsel’s work appeals both to the head and the heart. The book is crafted with the conviction that attention to emotions is as important as attention to cognitive understanding. For too long, Helsel claims, the assumption has been that people can be “educated out of racism.” Such reeducation is only helpful if we are attentive to “changing the emotions surrounding how we interpret racism” by analyzing the stories that “have already been part of our understanding of racism.”