Anxious to Talk about It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully about Racism
"Book of the Year" Award (2019) —Academy of Parish Clergy
"Wait, we're talking about what? I'm not so sure I want to do that..."
Talking about race can make us anxious. Professor and pastor Carolyn Helsel draws on her successful experiences with white congregations to offer tools and practices to explore the anxious feelings that can come up when talking about racism. Learn how to join the hard conversations with less fear, more compassion, and more knowledge of self, others, and the important issues at stake.
Great for Group Study!
While Anxious to Talk about It can be read alone, reading with a group will deepen the discussion, integrate the material, and provide opportunities to practice. Our bulk discounts make purchasing copies for small groups easy and economical.
"In this useful book, Helsel, a Presbyterian pastor and professor of preaching at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, lends her perspective as an academic, a member of the clergy, and a white woman to the conversation about race in contemporary America. Helsel divulges personal stories as well as stories taken from the lives of people she has met while preaching and during her time working with the Oral History Project. In one chapter, Helsel tells the story of a young biracial girl named Ashley growing up in white society. To analyze Ashley’s experience of learning that white people view her as an outsider, Helsel breaks it into the five phases of racial identity development described by Janet Helms—pre-encounter, encounter, immersion, internalization, and commitment—that track Ashley’s process from the original encounter with racism to a full commitment to her African-American identity. Helsel’s penultimate chapter, 'Spiritual Practices for Race Talk,' argues that (for white people) overcoming fears of talking about race requires 'caring for yourself through self-compassion, tending to cries for justice through bearing witness, strengthening community through hospitality and dialogue, and incorporating a vision of reconciliation in regular forms of worship and preaching.' In Helsel’s thesis, public, communal healing must begin with spiritual inner peace and a love of brotherhood found through Christ. This slim but powerful book will be of most use to white readers looking for a way to have honest conversations about race." ―Publishers Weekly, 2/11/18
“...When I began Anxious to Talk about It, I thought, ‘Uh-oh, she’s going to sugarcoat reality so that timid white people can feel good about themselves without actually facing the truth of our national situation.’ Helsel quickly proved me wrong. She has written this excellent primer so readers may ‘reconsider where race continues to operate in our society and in our lives’ so that ‘when the opportunity to act comes, you will know what to do.’ Helsel provides fascinating and convincing material for enlarging readers’ empathy toward people of color, as well as tips for talking with and understanding other white people in ways that also increase empathy and space for continued conversation. Her book comes as a breath of fresh air for many who have felt wounded by more confrontational approaches to dealing with racism and for church leaders trying to have that conversation. Most profound and potentially groundbreaking about this book is her use of the concept of gratitude, rooted in biblical teaching, as the spiritual bedrock for exploring our deeply-rooted and often invisible racism to emerge with more wholeness than ever before.”―Karen Branan, The Presbyterian Outlook, 04/10/18 (read the entire review)
“We white Christians engage in conversation about a number of important issues. But there is one conversation we are loathe to have: talk about race. We get edgy and nervous when talk turns to ‘America’s original sin.’ Carolyn Helsel gives us the background, the context, and the history we need in order to engage in this painful but so very important conversation. Helsel also gives us specific, practical guidance in how to instigate conversations about race in our churches. Thanks to God for this useful, important book!” ―Will Willimon, Duke Divinity School, United Methodist Bishop (retired), and author of Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism
“This book is spot-on for the kinds of conversations we need to be having. Carolyn Helsel offers ready access to approach the hard issues of race without being adversarial. Her writing is deeply personal, reflecting her own path of growth. At the same time it is acutely informed by developmental theory and is pervaded by a generous pastoral sensibility.” ―Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, author of Sabbath As Resistance, The Prophetic Imagination, and other books
“Helsel has engaged a critical step in dismantling racism: moving beyond the anxiety and hesitancy that many whites have about discussing the subject. Hard conversations must be had, and this book will be an important tool in facilitating them. The reader will be grateful for Carolyn’s honest courage.”―Teresa ‘Terri’ Hord Owens, General Minister and President Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
“‘I’m not a racist,’ you may be thinking. ‘I’m not in the KKK and I don’t carry a Nazi flag. Why should I read a book about race?’ Carolyn Helsel’s new book will answer that question, and in the process, you’ll become … not just a better white person, but a better, more mature, more caring human being. ―Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration
“Anxious is a much-needed resource to demystify the ‘R’ word (racism) for White people. This book is an inviting and accessible read for individuals and small groups. Helsel adeptly employs the art of storytelling to disarm those plagued by feelings of anger, confusion, and guilt when participating in anti-racism discussions. She impressively escorts the reader through an introduction to critical race theory as an invitation to help participants embrace their discomfort and own their ‘response-ability’ toward becoming an ally in the movement for racial justice.”―April G. Johnson, Minister of Reconciliation, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
“Carolyn B. Helsel has placed her finger on a most anxious place in our society: racism and the awkward silence on this issue in many pulpits. With a scholar’s insight and a pastor’s wisdom, she provides counsel about how preachers in white contexts can speak about race with courage, thoughtfulness, and practical impact. This is an urgent, timely, and welcome book.”―Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
“Helsel wades right into the thicket of emotions that accompany white fragility. This book is a tender journey through the forest of avoidance, defensiveness, and obliviousness and a tool for building one’s tolerance for truth. She pierces myths that undergird white supremacy and offers preachers and teachers a resource for sparking some conversations that desperately need to start. This volume is packed with stories that need to be heard if America is ever going to live out a new story concerning race.”―Donyelle McCray, Yale Divinity School
“In Anxious to Talk about It, a welter of stories that are real and get real invite ‘white Christians’ to recognize and relinquish racist ways, however subconscious, subtle, or insidious. Using narrative finesse, Helsel gently convicts readers to rely upon gratitude for the grace of God as an entrée into ‘response-able listening’ that fearlessly and attentively loves all neighbors, especially ones devastated by the sin of white racism. Churches and communities beyond her targeted audience will also feel the warmth and promise of her witness.”―Gerald C. Liu, author of Music and the Generosity of God, Princeton Theological Seminary, and ordained Elder in the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church
“From guilt and shame to healthy white identity, Helsel has brought us a much -needed guide to white self-awareness on the switchback-ridden journey to becoming anti-racist.”―Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, Director, National Council of Churches Truth and Racial Justice Initiative
“Carolyn Helsel’s book is full of stories, including moving stories about her own attempts to understand the power of racism and the need for faithful action to resist it. But she does not pretend to be perfect. She does not claim to have it all figured out. Her modesty opens up space for some frank conversations about race. And these are conversations that the church very much needs to be having.”―Ted A. Smith, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
"Anxious to Talk About It is rooted in scholarly knowledge that branches into pastoral wisdom. White people usually do not want to talk about race and when they do, often discover that they do not know how. Helsel takes seriously white anxiety about racism and provides keys to understanding the cultural, personal, and spiritual issues that it entails. This book is full of faith, and gives people of faith an accessible strategy to move beyond anxiety and guilt toward grace and gratitude. This is a book to be used, not just read."―Daniel Aleshire, Retired Executive Director, The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada
“Carolyn Helsel’s book is ‘for such a time as this.’ It is an honest, courageous, thoughtful, and pastoral approach in engaging whites who are anxious to talk about race and racism. Helsel is brave enough to speak truth to power in these anxious and angry times. Reading this should move one prayerfully from anxiety to gratitude because the truth dances all over these pages. Beware (white) readers: you will meet the truth and the truth will set you free! If you dare to be free, ‘take up and read.’”―Luke A. Powery, Duke University Chapel and Duke Divinity School
"Anxious to Talk about It builds a bridge for White Christians who don't want to be racist, but who don’t have the tools or language to build an anti-racist identity. Rooted in both a Christian religious practice as well as a rigorous commitment to racial justice, Helsel addresses common barriers to racial awareness, including colorblindness, guilt, and resentment about PC culture. Direct, clear, and replete with illustrative stories, Helsel offers both invitation and inspiration to White Christians to grow and change in liberatory anti-racist ways, as well as the tools to do so."―Ali Michael, co-founder and director of the Race Institute for K-12 Educators and author of Raising Race Questions: Whiteness and Inquiry in Education