Rejecting both the notion of colorblindness and antiracism, Baylor University sociologist George Yancey outlines a path to genuine racial reconciliation. He provides a way forward that includes collaborative conversations and a mutual responsibility model that could overcome the shortcomings of both colorblindness and antiracism approaches. Join Scott and Sean for this stimulating two part conversation.
Dr. George Yancey is a Professor of Sociology at the Baylor University. He has published several research articles on the topics of institutional racial diversity, racial identity, academic bias, progressive Christians and anti-Christian hostility. His books include Compromising Scholarship (Baylor University Press) a book that explores religious and political biases in academia, What Motivates Cultural Progressives (Baylor University Press) a book that examines activists who oppose the Christian Right, There is no God (Rowman and Littlefield) a book that investigates atheism in the United States, and So Many Christians, So Few Lions (Rowman and Littlefield) a book that assess Christianophobia in the United States.
Scott Rae: Welcome to Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. A podcast from Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University. I'm your host Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host Sean McDowell, professor of Christian apologetics.
Scott Rae: We're here with our guest, Dr. George Yancey. We've had Dr. Yancey on before, not that long ago and he's back because he has a brand new book that's out that we want to spend a lot of time talking about. It's a super insightful, very I think, very encouraging, very hopeful book entitled Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism. Dr. George Yancey is a professor of sociology at Baylor University. He spent many years at the University of North Texas before going over to Baylor. He's published widely, published on race and religion and lots of other topics in his field of sociology. So Dr. Yancey thank you so much for joining us for part one of this conversation.
George Yancey: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Scott Rae: Now, in your book, you start out your book in a really transparent way, because you talk a bit about your own personal journey in writing about race. In fact, I've read both. You wrote two great books on race about 10, 15 years ago. I've read both of those. And then as you describe it in this current book, you stopped writing about race. Why did you stop and why have you taken up the subject again at present?
George Yancey: Yeah, so I think about 15, 16 years ago, I just came to the conclusion that I've said everything I had to say on race. And there's certain scholars who said the same thing again and again, they just get different data sets. And they just said the same thing again and again.
Sean McDowell: It's true.
George Yancey: I just did not want to be one of them. So I felt like I had nothing really left to say. There are other things that was very interesting to me. And so why not go and study those things? And for me, I needed to separate myself from race so that I can really focus in on some other things that had really caught my attention.
George Yancey: As far as why I got back into it I guess, the year 2020 to shook me into it. I had made that Cardinal mistake, which is saying I'm never going to talk about race again and I've discovered in my life and when I say never to God, that God has funny ways of making me, like I was never going back to school after I got my bachelor's degree and here I am with the professor, I'm doctorate. So that sort of thing. And so the events, the George Floyd, the murder of Arbery, those events kind of shook me up. And I just felt, and also not just shook me up, I sort of pulled away from just social media and the news for a little while. And when I got back, it was like people were reaching out to me in a way that hadn't happened over the past 15, 16 years.
George Yancey: And one of the reasons why I think I got away was I thought, well, I've said this, you all do it if you want to, don't do it if you don't want to, I got other things to do. Well now I had a lot of people who are saying, well, they stumbled on beyond racial gridlock and things of that nature. And I just was starting to think, is God pulling me back into it. And then I got the final kick in the pants to get me into it and that was my wife who said, you ought write another book again. And I went woman don't you know how much time it takes to write a book? Don't you see how busy I am? And of course, three weeks later I'm like, okay, you're right. I'm writing a book. You know how it is. It's like, she wants me to write a book. I don't want to write a book. So we compromise. And I write a book.
Scott Rae: Sounds like my house.
George Yancey: Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, I think God had really pulled me back into it. I think God knew I needed the time away and I think I'm proud of the work I've done in the meantime, in that interim period. But I think I needed to pull away. And then I think God's bringing me back in. Probably for the rest of my life I'll deal with racial issues.
Scott Rae: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: Wow. Wow. Could I take you back? You mentioned this in the book a little bit where, why you even first decided to write and address the topic of race, because if this was 10, 15 years ago, clearly before then you were already into academia.
George Yancey: Yes.
Sean McDowell: What was it that first got you into it and thought, you know what, I need to contribute in this area?
George Yancey: To be honest, the thing that first got me into it was a broken relationship. I grew up honestly, I'm an African American, since this is a podcast, people may not know that. And so I experienced racism. I saw racism. I ran into racism, but I always had the attitude that, you know what people could be racist, but I can overcome it. People may not want me to succeed in school, but I'll do that anyways. And by and large, that's what happened. I got my bachelor's degree in stuff and I went onto grad school and then I fell in love. She was white and I thought it was going to be okay because her mom was, she told me, her mom was this liberal feminist who hated God. And so I thought, well, that's not good, but at least she's probably liberal. Well, she was not on racial issues. Her mom refused to meet me at all.
Sean McDowell: Aw,
Scott Rae: Really?
Sean McDowell: Gosh.
George Yancey: Yes. I always felt that if I could've met her mom, she could've seen what a wonderful guy I was. And then she would've known her daughter was in good hands, but no, she absolutely refused to meet me. And it was the first time in my life I felt I was denied something purely because I was black.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
George Yancey: I could not say like, if I didn't get something, a scholarship I could've said, well, maybe I wasn't the best person. Maybe it was racism. I don't know. But there was no doubt about this. And that shook up my world in a lot of ways, judge us on racial [inaudible 00:05:55] but in a lot of ways that shook up my world and that got me thinking, all right, what is this thing, racism where people act so irrationally? And so that got me into it.
Scott Rae: George, let me dive into your book here. One of the things that you say you want to do and accomplish in the book is move beyond the ideologies of what you're calling colored blindness on the one end and anti-racism on the other. Just briefly, how do you understand each of those terms and why do we need to move beyond them?
George Yancey: I think color blindness is probably the easier one to just briefly explain. And that's just, you're just going to ignore race. You're going to pretend that race does not exist. So you treat everyone exactly the same and that's the notion of color blindness. Anti-racism, really anti-racism has developed from other attempts of awareness encounters and such, and is a more proactive attempt to deal with racism on multiple levels, not just personal but structural. And it's very proactive, is its very much what in my former book, I call the white responsibility model. The problems is among European Americans and their structures and so we have to fix that.
George Yancey: So, and you can see it, of course, in some of the latest books that come out. So You Want to Talk About Race, White Fragility, Kendi's book on How to Be an Antiracist. Those sort of books have come out very, very assertive. And it is a dominant paradigm in a lot of the more, I don't want to say progressive culture because I think it's goes beyond just progressive culture. When people want to solve racial problems, they usually look towards anti-racism unless they're really wedded to color blindness.
Sean McDowell: George, one of the things about your book that I loved as I'm reading it going, yes, anti-racism needs this critique, but then there are other points I'm reading it going yeah, he's also pressing me to challenge my own categories here. I don't think anybody could read this book who's honest without being stretched one way or the other and looking in the mirror. And what you do is you model this in the sense that at the beginning, you say that you are a part of the problem when it comes to race. What do you mean by that?
George Yancey: Yeah, I think is important for me to say that because it's easy for me to say, look I'm an African American who has studied race for decades, who has published on this subject, peer review stuff, peer review books, peer review articles. And so I have it all figured out. The problem me saying that is that's not true because I'm limited being human, having depravity. And so if I don't recognize that I fall victim to the same biases and confirmation biases and propensity that we all have, even though I have all this education and experience, then I can develop an arrogance to where I believe I have the answer and my job now is to force you to accept my answer. And that's exact attitude that is creating the racial division we have in our society. So I want to, and I don't always do this, I'm not perfect in this, but I do want to examine my own presuppositions from time to time and look at myself and look at how I engage in subtle racism or subtle ways of mistreating others, which I should not do.
Scott Rae: So appreciate that transparency that's I think, that runs throughout the book. You also maintain that culturally we're in a really unhealthy cycle when it comes to racial issues. Can you explain what that cycle is and why it seems so intractable?
George Yancey: Yeah, so here's what will happen, and this is my observation, is that we'll have some sort of racial incident and it could be a police shooting, it could be a protest, it could be a wide variety of things. It could be someone saying a racial epithet and then you'll get all these protests against that incident. And then you'll get a counter-protest against that incident. And then it'll be on the news for a while and then things will die down.
George Yancey: And it's like, we think we're in some sort of equilibrium, but we're not because the next time we have an incident, we go back again. You get the protest, you get the counter protests, dies down. And there doesn't seem to be a way in which we are getting away from that. We know it's going to happen again. It's just a matter of time. Something's going to happen. And then we'll get the protests, counter protests and then the dying down. I want to find a way in which we can break that sort of cycle, because it's not healthy, it's harmful. And that's why I hope this book can help us to move towards doing.
Sean McDowell: What are some of the things you think are preventing people from entering into this cycle that you're talking about and going beyond to quote the title of the book, Beyond Racial Division, staying in this unhealthy cycle, what are some things that hold us back from entering into this process you're talking about?
George Yancey: I think there's a part of human nature that makes us not want to admit when we're wrong. And we know from the social sciences that we tend to be drawn towards our group. We create these in groups and out groups. And when you do that, you create these sort of caricatures of the out groups. So they're the enemy. Their only purpose is to be defeated. And when we have that mentality and I'm talking about everyone, I'm not trying to single out a single group. So I hope your audience thinks about their own group when they think about this, that what your group is doing is they're singling out an out group.
George Yancey: When the incident comes up, no matter what the out group says, no matter how right they may be, you must stigmatize them and fight against them. You cannot acknowledge that they may have a point, that they may have a perspective you've not seen and you can learn from, and they feel the same way about you. So when there's an incident, some groups feel they have an advantage to protests and to bring their issues to light other groups resent this, but they eventually find a reason to counter protests and fight against them. And the only thing that happens is the incident goes away for a while and it dies down. But the anger, and the resentment, and the hostility still exists under the surface. So that's what I think is happening. And that's what we have to try to break out of if we're going to get out of this cycle.
Scott Rae: Now George, you describe your approach as a mutual accountability approach. Tell our listeners a bit more, what you mean by that approach and why do you think this is a better option than the others that are on the table?
George Yancey: Okay. So given what I just said on how we don't see how we could be wrong or how they could be right, what I believe we need is we have to enter into communication that is productive and helpful rather than just shouting past each other. Because when we engage in that sort of conversation, and we're humble enough to acknowledge that I might have something to learn from these people, obviously I believe that I'm mostly right, because if I didn't, I wouldn't have these beliefs, but maybe I could learn from someone else. And if others approach me with that, then we have a chance to build something where everyone is included into the conversation. And the solution includes everyone's needs. When I say mutual, what I mean is that everyone, regardless of race or perspective has a responsibility of entering to this conversation. I'm not saying that the solution is going to be mutual, but I'm saying that the conversation has to be, because if it is not, then all we're going to do is set ourselves up for more of the animosity and anger that we have kept seeing in our society.
Sean McDowell: What's the response you're hearing? I know the book is just really coming out right now, so to speak kind of this spring. But when you have conversations with people, when you post stuff on social media, is there a resistance, because people want to fight the culture war from whichever side of the divide they're on or is there a sense of breath? Just kind of like, this is a breath of fresh air, which is how I experienced reading it. What's the general response you get, if you can gauge that.
George Yancey: Yeah. Of course, I get both. I get people who say, boy, I've known something's wrong and this is putting a finger on what's wrong. I've warned this about race, but I've, sense that what people tell me what to do does not work. And so I get that. I also get from both sides, the individuals who are dead set in their perspective and my challenge of it, because as you all read the book, I do challenge both. I don't challenge just the anti-racist. I do challenge those with a colorblind perspective and I think I challenge them very well.
George Yancey: And so I do get that pushback. I just saw a survey not too long ago, that use critical race theory as a proxy for racial attitudes. And based on that survey, what I think the percentage of the country is, is that 20% of the country I think is so wedded to color blindness that it's hard for them to see any alternative. And 20% is so wedded to anti-racism. It's hard to see [crosstalk 00:15:48].
Sean McDowell: Interesting.
George Yancey: But that leaves 60% that I think is in the middle going either they're not paying attention, which they're busy with living life or they don't want to go either way or go either way too hard because they sense problems in both the ignoring race and the anti-racism approach.
Scott Rae: Yeah. I wonder if some of the folks might be folks that have entered the conversation, found it too hard and just sort of threw up their hands and said, I'm out. This is too hard. Do you get that response also?
George Yancey: Yes, I do have people who said that they tried to engage, found the conversation was not productive, not helpful and so they decided to stop engaging in the conversation. And so I do run into those folks who are hesitant to engage in the conversation. That they're afraid of being slapped down. And I do not blame them, given how we are having the conversation today. I understand why people... I try to put myself in the position of a person whose white. If I was white, would I be eager to have this conversation? No, I would not. Now maybe part of that lack of eagerness is that I don't want to confront some of the realities of race and racism in our society and understand that. But to be honest and fair, another reason why is, I feel like whatever I say, someone can just say you're being a racist and dismiss me.
George Yancey: Do I want to enter a conversation where people could dismiss what I have, my concerns so easily? Probably not. So we got to create an atmosphere where everyone, and I understand that people of color have been shut out the conversation for a very long time. And obviously I'm not wanting us be shut out again, but we got to bring everyone in because if we don't get buy-in from multiple quarters, then all we're going to do is have a cycle where one group's going to have power and the other group's going to fight against them until they get power. And that's going to be our life in our society.
Scott Rae: Yeah. That's not an attractive option.
George Yancey: No, it's not.
Scott Rae: Now you, well, it seems to me, one of the things that you've tried to do to not alienate potential conversation partners is to avoid terms that are inflammatory to one group or another. So you refer to the US as racialized and you avoid using the term racist and white supremacists. Did I get that right? Is that the rationale for why you use the terms that you do and avoid the ones that you avoid?
George Yancey: Yeah. There's research that shows that when people feel threatened in conversation, they literally shut down and cannot hear you any longer. So if I want to reach someone, I got to talk to them in a way that they can hear me. If I talk to them in a way that's overly threatening, they literally cannot hear me and the conversation goes nowhere. Having talked with whites and my experience is that when you throw white supremacy and racism at a lot of whites, they literally shut down and they cannot hear anything you have to say after that. So you have to figure out a way. I mean, if I care about these people, if I care about people and I should as a Christian care about everyone, I should care about trying to talk to them in a way that they can understand where I'm coming from. And so that's why I've learned not to engage in conversation in certain ways. To be fair there are ways whites engage in conversations that are threatening to people of color as well. So this is a two way street.
Scott Rae: For example?
George Yancey: I don't see race, because when you say you don't see race because as an African American man, my race is part of my social identity, an important part, not the most important part. That's being a child of God. But it is an important part. And so when you say you don't see race, you saying it's a part of me, an important part of me that you just can't see. Now I've been around enough whites to say this, to know where it's coming from. And so for me, I can still go on with the conversation, but a lot of people of color can't from that point on. I mean, they'll be there and they'll look like they're listening, but they can't hear you because of the threatening nature of that sort of comment.
Sean McDowell: George, can you give me an example just since you've been writing on this and obviously thinking about it more than 10 to 15 years, is there a way in which your perspective has changed over time, big or small? We're just having these conversations, self reflection, being open and starting with saying maybe I'm a part of the problem, which is such a humble way to approach this. Are there any things that come to your mind just big or small, how your views have changed about race or just the best way to approach racial division?
George Yancey: Yeah. I think that for me, the biggest change, as far as my opinion or perspective, obviously I've done more research, done more reading and so I'm better up on what I think. But I think as far as changing, I think what I wrote 15 years ago, I had more confidence that I could articulate an answer. And I realized that even if my answer is correct, if it doesn't come in the situation of a conversation, it feels like I'm imposing an answer on people. And that imposition of an answer is going to generate the resistance that's going to fight against people.
George Yancey: And so I think I've become more wedded to the need for a conversation, an honest conversation. I mean, I think I always have been, but I think I didn't feel like I had answers. I still feel that those answers I had were probably correct, but I want to be open to the fact that maybe in conversation with others, they could be tweaked or maybe there are things that are not correct at all. So I'm less confident that I have the answer that if everyone adopted this would be okay. I'm more into, let's have a conversation and get to an answer that we can all live with.
Sean McDowell: When you talk about the importance of an honest conversation, I know there's probably some fears in the minds of people that are going, number one, we have had this conversation, what's the point of continuing it? And others who might say, I don't feel comfortable having this conversation because if I share what I really think, either someone won't hear me, like you said, or I'm going to get canceled if I don't hold the right beliefs. I'm all in with you on the value of conversation, but I know you've thought about this, that there's some fears people have or concerns they have even entering into that to start with.
George Yancey: Right. I think the first thing I would say is, I don't think we've had that conversation very much. Now we've had some conversations. I think we've had a lot of arguments, to be honest. I don't know if we had a lot of conversations as much. We've had some, I'm not saying that no one has done that. That would be arrogant for me to say I'm the first one to say, let's have a conversation, a real conversation.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
George Yancey: But I don't think we've had nearly as much as we think that we have and our conversations tend to be more monologues than dialogues. So I think that's... As far as the fears, I understand the fears and that's why in the book I talk about ground rules for what the conversation needs to look like. I encourage active listening rather than jumping. In fact, the urge to cancel or the urge to shame, you can get short term gains from that. You can engage in shaming and that sort of thing and get short term political gains. But what you don't get is you don't get buy-in and you don't get people who are willing to support you and to support the ideas that you have there. You get people who are going to sabotage those ideas.
George Yancey: So I'm trying to tell folks who really feel passionate and feel that what they're saying is right, and what they should do that if you really want to engage and research backs this up, you really want to engage people to create people who are going to be in your corner because they want to be in the corner not because they're afraid of you, then you're going to have to approach them a certain way. You're going to have to listen to what they have to say. You're going to have to build rapport with them. You're going to have to admit when they're right, because otherwise then you're going to get people who may do what you want in the short term, because they're afraid of you. But as soon they're not afraid of you they're going to rebel.
Scott Rae: George, this is so helpful. And so insightful. We're just scratching the surface here. One thing I want to think about as we think about moving into part two of this conversation for our listeners, which you'll get next week, but being the strong advocate that you are for collaborative conversations, active listening, what we call around Biola perspective taking, I think it is clear that's a critical starting point. But from reading your book, I know that you don't take that as the end point either. That coming out of these conversations, actually we need to start solving problems and problems that are in the interest of everyone as opposed to the interest of one particular group or the other. So I'm curious what I'd like to lead off with when we start part two of this is what happens after these conversations to actually begin solving problems and breaking that cycle that you've described as being so unhealthy. So we'll pick that up when we get to part two coming next time. So, George, thank you so much for being with us here on part one.
George Yancey: Thank you.
Scott Rae: We look forward to continuing this. We didn't even make it through half the questions we have for you. So who knows, maybe there's a part three eventually, but we look forward to continuing this in part two. This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. The think biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology, at Biola University offering programs in Southern California and online, including our Institute for Spiritual Formation. Visit biola.edu/talbot in order to learn more. If you enjoy today's conversation, part one with Dr. George Yancey on his book, Beyond Racial Divisions, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Be sure and join us for part two next time in this conversation. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.