The Uneasy Conscience of a White Christian

Making Racial Equity a Priority

Clifford Willliams

Published December 17, 2021


Wipf and Stock Publishers

"Drawing on decades of research and experience, Cliff Williams makes use of his own story as a white professor in white institutions teaching predominantly white students to invite the reader to listen and learn with him. . . . Personal, historical, biblical, and sociological streams come together under Williams's skill to create a must-read book for the white Christian."   — Matt Tebbe, Co-planter, The Table


Introduction | ix

A Note on the Stories | xv

1 The Uneasy Conscience of a White Christian | 1

Joi: Code-Switching | 19

2 The Power and Effects of Racial Socialization | 23

3 The Harm of Whiteness to Oneself | 33

Beth: Forming an Identity | 40

4 Moral Imagination | 43

Jonathan: Police Encounters | 52

5 Black and Wild, Like a Bear: Police Brutality and Moral Perception | 56

6 Black Power, White Power | 63

Devlin: Systems | 75

7 Inhabiting Every Nook and Cranny of American Life | 79

8 Is Abortion Worse than Racism? | 92

Israel: Racial Undertones | 99

9 “But I Didn’t Mean to Hurt You”: Racial Microaggressions and Whiteness | 103

Ana: Being Latina in the United States | 119

10 Is Racial Equity a Conservative or a Liberal Concern? | 122

Lisa: Belonging | 130

11 The Resistance of Southern Whites to the 1961 Freedom Rides | 133

12 How Slavery Affects Us Now | 138

Jonathan: Church Encounters | 143

13 Why Church Integration May Never Happen | 147

Devlin: Breaking Down Walls | 157

14 What We Whites Must Do | 161

Audio clip: Why I wrote this book

Interview on YouTube

From the book

An early racialized experience

“My first racial experience occurred when my family lived in Hawaii for two years. I was in second grade. There was this kid at school who followed me around and called me ‘Negro.’ . . . The entire time I was at that school that kid wouldn’t call me by my name.

“At the time I didn’t know what ‘Negro’ meant. But it didn’t feel good to be called that, because it wasn’t my name. I had the sense that it was pejorative, and it definitely made me angry. Later, when I had it explained to me, and after I had read James Baldwin, I learned that being called that is a stand-in so that someone doesn’t have to acknowledge Black people as people.”  
— “Jonathan” (52)

An uneasy conscience

"The first source of uneasiness stems from the fact that I have benefited from practices that have favored me because I am White. My good educational experiences, from grade school to graduate school, were had largely because I am White. Without them I could not have become a college professor. My wife and I would not have had nearly as many choices about where to live if we had not been White. The same is true of the safety we have enjoyed, the good health care we have had, and the enjoyable places we have been to on vacation. These have all been due in large part to the fact that our being White has given us easy access to them. . . .

"I do not feel guilt for being the recipient of these unjust advantages, for I had no control over my being White or the system that has given advantages to Whites like me. . . .  It is the fact that the advantages I have enjoyed were acquired unjustly. I got them illegitimately."   Chapter 1, "The Uneasy Conscience of a White Christian," 8–9.

Code switching

"Code-switching occurs when minority groups speak the language of the majority culture along with their own minority culture’s language, and they feel the need to keep those separate. I have to be this way, and then I have to be that way. I can’t be all of myself, my true self, when I am in a majority culture."    — "Joi" (21)

Is abortion worse than racism?

"Recently a Black acquaintance was trying to convince a White person that racism is an important issue. The White person said, 'Abortion is this important,' holding his hand at eye level, 'and racism is this important,' holding his other hand a foot lower. Both were students at an evangelical Christian college. . . . 

"I concur with White evangelicals that abortion is a serious moral wrong but also believe that racism is just as seriously wrong. Eliminating racism is at least as important as eliminating abortion for three reasons: racism produces deaths, the decreased quality of life experienced by recipients of racism is highly injurious, and the harm to oneself of racially biased attitudes is severe.

"If these reasons are sound, then those who elevate the wrongness of abortion over the wrongness of racism should change so as to advocate against racism just as strongly as they do against abortion."   — Chapter 8, "Is Abortion Worse than Racism," 92.

Church integration

"What must happen for there to be integration in US churches? The answer, I believe, is that the following eight considerations must be addressed by White churches. . . .
"(6) Microaggressions: A high percentage of adult people of color have been recipients of microaggressions from White people. Microaggressions are not intended to be hurtful, but they are, in fact, hurtful, especially when they pile up over years. Here is an activity for which results matter more than intention. So it is not appropriate to ask people of color not to mind them because of their nonhurtful intentions. The question to ask White Christians is, would you want to be in an environment, even if for only an hour or an hour and a half a week, in which you fear being emotionally injured by thoughtless comments by those who differ from you?"   Chapter 13, "Why Church Integration May Never Happen," 147, 150.

Clifford Williams is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of Existential Reasons for Belief in God (IVP Academic, 2011) and Religion and the Meaning of Life: An Existential Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Discussion questions on the book

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Some questions answered

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A number of books on race have appeared in recent years. What makes yours distinctive?

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Your degrees and title?

You are a philosopher. Do you write with complex prose?

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