Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart (Book Review)

Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart (Book Review) March 14, 2016
Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart (Book Review)

Drew Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen is forcing me to do some hard thinking, and that’s always a good thing. I’m still trying to process and make sense of everything Hart has to say. The subtitle of the book is Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, and if Hart is right, then I definitely have a lot to change in my own perspectives.

I absolutely agree with the thrust of the book’s message. Racism is very real and very much alive, and we as the church need to address it. But Hart defines and explains racism in ways I’ve never heard of before.

In my previous way of thinking, I’ve tended to view “race” as an artificial construct—there is really only one human race; different skin colors are no further apart than different eye or hair colors. Since races don’t really exist, we simply need to stop acting like they do exist, and start treating everyone the same way we would want to be treated, regardless of skin color. Simple enough, right? Seems like it should be to me.

But according to Hart, it’s a lot more complicated than that. On the one hand, he acknowledges that races are an artificial construct, and he goes into great detail to show how “whites” have historically used this construct to their advantage, frequently changing the definition of who gets to be white or not. But despite recognizing that races don’t exist, most of the book treats races as if they do exist. Furthermore, Hart seems to go back and forth between defining races by skin color and defining races by cultural distinctives.

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

One of the major themes throughout the book was the idea that we who have historical privilege need to let go of our gut instincts regarding such things and choose instead to submit our thinking to those without privilege. Hart argues that those who have been oppressed often have a better perspective from which to view the truth.

I can definitely agree with this principle. This is a Jesus-like way to approach things. But agreeing with something doesn’t make it easy to do. I’m finding myself really struggling with much of the way Hart approaches things. I’m doing my best to suppress all the arguments that keep coming up in my mind, and to just listen instead. But it’s not easy.

Furthermore, Hart is not the only one speaking on such topics from such a position. The perspective I’ve previously had on race and racism came from a different black author with a different view. So which perspective do I submit my thinking to in this?

All that to say, the book gave me a lot to process, and I’m still working through it all. I’m trying not to come to any firm conclusions on my own. I want to keep listening to different perspectives. If nothing else, just getting to understand the various perspectives that are out there would be a good thing.

Trouble I’ve Seen has challenged my own way of thinking, and it has introduced me to a new perspective on racism. This is surely a perspective the church needs to hear and understand, and I’m glad for the chance to start my own process of understanding it. I’m certainly not there yet. Thank you, Drew Hart, for helping me. And thank you, Herald Press, for sending me a review copy of this book.

You can pick up your own copy of Trouble I’ve Seen as a paperback or a Kindle eBook.

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  • J.J. Valenzuela

    Interesting post… I will say that I am utterly against collectivism and collectivist thinking (whites are all this, or blacks are all that.. or you don’t agree with me so you are white… etc). And your notion that we need to treat everyone well, regardless of status or color or anything, is of course correct. The conversation about what to do with oppression, I think, is about addressing systems “the man” that keep people “the brother” down, which for me is very much a function of the myth of authority which runs into governments. Of course, people who make and run those systems might be unknowing contributors but i’m quite sure the ones who are the authorities are quite knowing indeed.

  • Drew H

    Chuck, thanks for this engaged post in which you are clearly trying to take the book seriously. I love that. My main goal and hope was to start a healthy conversation. So I love how you are wrestling with the material. Thanks.

    One thing that may be helpful to consider in relation to your observation of my continued usage of racial terms through out the book might be to extend the “lived reality” of racism aspect further. If we can acknowledge that racism has been the lived experience of people (even while race is a social construct) then we can also think about terms like “black people” as people groups formed by racialized experience and self identification. So there may be no biological grounding for racial terms (people are just people) but that doesn’t necessarily negate how our history and present reality have created people groups that identify intimately with one another for legitimate reasons (shared history, experiences, cultures, etc.)

    One more point that might be helpful, which I think is in the book, is that people working for racial justice have found that to be precise in righting the wrongs of the past and addressing historical oppression actually requires the usage of the very terms that were used for harm. That is, we need restorative justice aimed at the very people who suffered through 400 years of white supremacy. The same intentionality that got us in this mess will be needed to get us out. Well, that is what I believe at least.

    Anyway, thanks for the good post and for reading the book. I hope you will keep exploring these topics beyond my book. Lots of good stuff out there. Have you read Michelle Alexander, Joe Feagin, or Eduardo Bonilla Silva yet? Alexander’s book has been real popular but is focused on the criminal justice system (I reference her in my book). Peace.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Drew. That’s helpful. And I will try to check out those other authors you recommend!