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 Part II of their conversation with Dr. Yancey.
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 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 for part two of our discussion with professor George Yancey, who is a professor of Sociology at Baylor University about his book, Beyond Racial Division, a unifying alternative to color blindness and anti-racism. We had a great conversation in part one on this last week. George really appreciate your transparency in talking about your own journey and some of the things that frustrate you and some of the things that you've learned in these conversations about racial issues that you've had. So thanks again for joining us for part two.
George Yancey: Thanks for having me.
Scott Rae: Now, where we left it last time is that obviously you are a strong advocate as a starting place for collaborative conversations, active listening, perspective taking on matters of racial issues, but what's the next step after these conversations that actually leads to solving problems in breaking this destructive cycle that you described in part one?
George Yancey: Sure. So, the definition of collaborative conversations is it a goal or in a conversation. So we're not just talking to shoot debris or even learn about each other. We're talking because we have a goal oriented. And the goal ideally is to deal with some racialized issue. What are we going to do about teaching of race in our schools? What are we going to do about police community relations? What are we going to do about worship styles in our church and how can they become more inclusive goal-oriented conversations? So the whole point of conversations is to get to a goal, to figure out the best way to solve these issues in a way that brings people along together. [crosstalk 00:01:56] I like to be-
Scott Rae: That's really helpful. Let me just clarify that. So we're not talking about conversations that just refer to hearing each other's stories and experiences.
George Yancey: Right, right, right, right. Yeah. There's a purpose behind the conversation. Now there may be times where you engage in collaborative conversations, obviously where you're not dealing with racial issues. I mean, it could be a great thing to do with your kids or your spouse or something like that. But the purpose of it in this context is to solve some sort of racialized problem. And one reason why I think it's a better way is the way we are doing it today, is very polarizing. We have our answer and we're going to do our best to force our answer on you. That is polarizing. Collaborative conversations by the very nature, builds community rather than polarization. In the community, we solve a problem rather than one group dictating the answer to everyone else.
Sean McDowell: George, when we talk about collaborative conversations with race, maybe I'm jaded and it's not because the topic, but I don't have a ton of confidence that a lot of people have the skills and ability to navigate such a conversation together and come to a collaborative solution. Am I mistaken, am misguided here? And if you just shift the attitude and the desire, then the skills come along with it. What's your take on this when some people who aren't skilled in counseling or communication, try to engage in these conversations that take a lot of give and take and listening and other communication skills?
George Yancey: Yeah. I do think that a lot of people are going to have to work on it and learn how to do it. And so that is something that we're have to work towards doing. I don't think it comes naturally to most of us and I think we live in a society that does not train us to do that. So we have to be very deliberate in trying to learn how to do that if we're going to pull it off. So I think your concerns are well founded. I give some clues, some advice in the book on how to engage in it.
George Yancey: In my role as a qualitative researcher, although I do quantitative work as well, but when I do a qualitative work, when I interview people, do focus groups, I've had to develop the skills to engage in active listening and to engage in the communication style I'm talking about. I'm by no means perfect in this. And by no means, am I always engaged in collaborative conversations when I'm dealing with people in my day to day existence or even when I deal with people on racial issues. So it's something that I have to deliberately work at as well. So can we get better? We absolutely can get better. Is going to take some work. Is it going to be hard for some people than others? Yes. I think we have had a change of mindset in our society.
Scott Rae: But you have some good examples in your book of people who engaged in these well. I'm thinking of the example toward the end of your book with a gentleman that by the name of Frank Byers. Tell our listeners a little bit about that example because I think that's a really helpful one.
George Yancey: Yeah. So Frank's an African American man. He was on the staff and as according to his story and from all the things you read between the lines, he was basically let go because he was an African American and they didn't think he fit on this church staff. And obviously this hurt him. Rather than dwelling on his anger, he decided to start engaging in conversations because he felt that people did not understand each other well enough. And so, I believe, he has a website now and he has a Facebook group. And the purpose of his groups is to bring people together, to have honest, open, respectful dialogue, because he's a believer that that is how we're going to get beyond what he calls breaking cycles. He's not referring to the cycle that I described, but Creaking Cycles is the name I believe of his website. If we can engage in these sort of conversations with each other. And so he took what I would define as a racist incident and he manufactured it into making it a positive, I won't say experience, but a positive outcome from that.
Sean McDowell: One of the sections that you cover in your book is about systemic institutional discrimination. And I'm curious on a couple levels. Number one, the case that you make from sociology, but also second in a book titled Beyond Racial Division. Why you felt it was so important to lay out the evidence for this kind of institutional racism in this particular book?
George Yancey: I feel it was important for me to lay out why the notion of ignoring race just does not work in our society. Because once you understand structural and institutional problems that people of color face, then you understand that we don't live in a fair society. Now, if we live in a fair society, then we could ignore race and it'd probably be okay. But if you don't live in a fair society and there are things working against people of color and you don't deliberately try to deal with them, then things will just get worse. It's like a wound. If you leave a wound alone, it doesn't heal itself automatically. You have to take care of that wound in order for it to heal. So I felt like we had to... I wanted to do it in a way that is not, I don't know, too off-putting or anything like that. But I want to be honest that these are real problems, real issues that people of color have to deal with that people who are white may not always see.
Sean McDowell: So help me understand, in the collaborative communication that there are some people who would take a different view on institutional racism, including some black people, non-Christians like Larry Elder. Christians like Voddie Baucham, et cetera. What does that do to the collaborative communication that you're suggesting here when somebody just goes, "I don't see it like that. It's an unfair society, but I see it differently". Can you still move together constructively or not?
George Yancey: Yeah. First, I don't think Voddie Baucham is colorblind. I mean, he's very anti CRT, but I don't think he's color blind per se from some things I've seen from him. But to answer your larger question. Yes. I think that it's difficult if you have a strongly held belief in either colorblindness or anti-racism. But if we acknowledge human depravity and that we can call victim to things such as confirmation bias and that if we're humble enough to realize that we can learn from other people, then we can move forward. Where we can't move forward is when we are not humble enough to realize that we can learn from other people and we're going to hold onto our beliefs, no matter what. We're going to defend our beliefs, no matter what. Then you can't move forward. But it really doesn't matter what those beliefs are, whether it's colorblindness or anti-racism. That's the attitude that I'm really trying to address more than specifically the solutions that each group is offering.
Scott Rae: George, one of the things that I found particularly helpful in the second half of your book, is you touched on a number of different topics that you integrated well into your approach, but are great topics to discuss in and of themselves and have been very controversial. So for example, I'd be interested to hear your assessment of what I think is cultural, at least a very popular concept of white fragility. How do you assess that? And then I'm particularly interested in how you help whites understand the concept of white privilege and what's meant by that.
George Yancey: Okay. So white fragility of course comes from DeAngelo's book. The idea that whites are uniquely fragile, discussing racial issues. They're uniquely defensive in discussing racial issues. And that is the problem. That is why we can't move forward on race. I think it's very problematic and it fits into, I think, the major failing of anti-racism, which is that the role of whites in anti-racism is to do what people of color tell them to do. Now, there's different ways that manifest itself. But when you read the anti-racism books, it's hard to come away from them and not realize that that's the role of whites and white fragility feeds into that. As a scholar, there's no research out there that really supports the notion of white fragility. There's no research that shows that whites are uniquely fragile in discussions of race that I've seen that's acceptable.
George Yancey: I think that white fragility can be... I've seen how it's used to stifle conversations rather than to allow them to happen. So if a white person says something, a person could just say, "Well, that's just your white fragility showing". So it's very problematic in the way it tries to deal with racial issues. And it's definitely in the box of anti-racism. White privilege is a different concept. It's a concept that whites have unspoken advantages in our society that they may not even know about. And it's an invisible knapsack that they carried around. It is developed by Peggy Macintosh. White privilege is a reality. Unlike white fragility, there is evidence that whites do have certain privileges that are in our society that's unspoken of. And so I think that it is a real thing. Now, how we deal with it though, is very important.
George Yancey: There's actual research showing that talking about white privilege does not necessarily make people more accepting of marginalized people of color, but less accepting of marginalized whites. And so if we talk about white privilege in a bad way, in a dysfunctional way, we actually will create less overall sympathy for marginalized people. So it's a real thing. I think that we have to find a way. You ask how I try to deal with it. I try to show people white privilege in ways that are... Try to show examples of how it manifests itself. In my class and how my students talk through it, I try have them talk through it in an honest way. So they're free to say, "You know what, this particular example does not seem much like a privilege".
George Yancey: And I said, "well, you know what, you may be right on that". And I think by being honest and open about it, it allows them to, those who are doubtful of it, allows them to have a little bit more confidence that this may be true. And that's one of the principles that I'm talking about. I have to acknowledge when someone else may be right, even if I disagree with them overall. But they may be wrong on something. And so someone points out to something and say crayons is one of the examples of white privilege given by Macintosh.
George Yancey: So, that's not that big of a deal. They say, "You know what, you might be right on that, that having crayons that match your skin tone may not be that big of a deal on that", and that freeze them up because they know I'm not just going to jump on them no matter what they say. So I try to use the principle I talk about as far as having a more of a collaborative approach rather than dictating them "This is what private white privilege is. And if you disagree with me, then you're engaging in white fragility". Because I don't think that's very helpful.
Sean McDowell: George, I got to tell you, I think that communication an approach as a teacher is brilliant because if somebody's not convinced by an example of white privilege and you just say "that's because you're so privileged", it's human nature to bunker down and get more defensive and have the opposite effect. But if you just simply suggest, like you said, "well, maybe you're right", you've planted a seed of doubt that could lead towards somebody, if that is a case of white privilege you're talking about, really beginning to see it. So just strategically, if we'd stop the cancel culture and just take a step back and let these conversations breathe, I can see how what you're talking about, is so powerful.
Sean McDowell: Now, you're skeptical of diversity programs and Scott and I were chatting before that I don't know that I saw this coming in the book to the level of the evidence that's put forward of diversity programs, mandates, coercions working to help people of color in the workplace. So what is the evidence show why you're so skeptical of that? And then making white people feel guilty about racism is not the right approach either, you say. So what do you conclude on diversity programs?
George Yancey: You know, I just went what the evidence took me. So I approach this. I said, all right, what does the research say about diversity programs? And I saw a couple of articles that cite a lot of different research articles. And so I just started reading some of those and diversity programs just do not work. That's not to say that every single one of them is a failure. And there are certain types of things that you can do to make them more likely be successful. But there's meta-analysis that shows that they do not have any sort of long term effect on prejudice. There's research that shows that diversity programs can trigger backlash against people of color, that they can lead people to believe that, "Okay, all the problems are all solved because we have this diversity program so we don't have to do anything else".
George Yancey: I think you're referring to a study of the Fortune 500 list of companies. But companies where diversity programs was associated with hiring fewer people of color, not more people of color. The empirical evidence, and I wrote this book because I want a book that you give to your non-Christian friend and say, "Here's a chapter's about Christianity. Skip that chapter. The rest of it you can to read". And so I wanted to look at that empirical evidence. Empirical evidence says they do not work and if they're not working, why do we think that we put more of them in there that they're all of a sudden match that they're going to start working now, unless we change the way we're doing it.
George Yancey: And that's why I come down hard because I don't know if people know of the research that out there. I just read something today that shows that diversity programs lead people to fear for their jobs more, so that really helps the work environment. And also encourages people to support firing someone who has the wrong political opinion. So I think there's got to be a better way than diversity programs.
Scott Rae: But you make the point though that mandates and coercion are the difficult parts of those. But you cited examples in companies where they're voluntary. And those [crosstalk 00:16:49] actually work.
George Yancey: Yeah. Voluntary diversity programs, ironically lead to more people of color being hired along with other measures. The measures that lead to more people of color being hired, are measures of when you bring in white managers and say, "Hey, can you help us solve this problem", rather than going to them and say, "You are going to do this". So, that's what works. And we should want what works, not what makes us feel good. And that's why I, yes, I would not recommend a diversity program in any institution unless it has certain elements into it. And if it has a coercive element, then I would think that it would not be very useful.
Scott Rae: I mean, it sounds like you year of the view that they aren't necessarily problematic, but they can be useful if structured in the right way.
George Yancey: Right. When you see a meta-analysis showing that study after study after study shows that they're not having long term effects, then you could say, "Well, there could be programs in there that work, but something about these diversity programs is holding us back". And there are some research that showing why some of it's holding us back. If, for example, we do know that programs that encourage you to do something, a hands-on thing effective, than just having a speaker talk to you for an hour or two. So there are things you can do.
George Yancey: I also know that there's research showing that what I propose having collaborative conversations, I just got turned onto some research on with the called motivational interviewing, which basically collaborative conversations in a therapeutic setting. And they think that this really can change. I mean, there's some talk that this type of engagement, and now this is something that people have to be trained to do, but it has some of the principles are talking about. This sort of engagement might actually help people to overcome things such as sexual addiction. That's how powerful it's. So why not look at things that are very powerful rather than things that just have not worked?
Scott Rae: One of the things that's that surprised me in the book is that I think you only mentioned critical race theory maybe once or twice. You don't talk much about it. Why is that? And I'd be interested just to really briefly hear general take on critical race theory.
George Yancey: It's funny, because when I wrote the book, remember, I wrote the book about eight months ago. And if you remember, eight months ago, nobody was talking about critical race theory. It was not a topic in general. In fact, when I teach my undergraduate race ethnicity class up until recently, I did not bring a quick race theory because it was a esoterical theory that I taught in my doctoral level race ethnicity class, but not in my master's level one. So I didn't have any reason to put it in the book. If I was writing the book today, yes, I would have to talk about it because it is a popular topic. So it just comes down to that. I wasn't intentionally trying to avoid it, but I didn't think it was an important topic. And it wasn't when I wrote the book, but things change.
Sean McDowell: Do you have any thoughts you might include about critical race theory? I realized this is a huge topic, but I hear people on different sides. Some obviously concerned about it assumes a certain view of race and humanity that there's worldview concerns. On the flip side, I also hear concerns that when it's so much focus is on critical race theory, it's taking away from really hearing people and maybe the collaborative conversations that you're talking about, that it's a diversion. Do you agree with either of those? Or how would you approach it and what would you add to this book?
George Yancey: So here's how I would write about it if I was able to put into this book. Rather than engage in the argument about what is critical race theory or not, an argument about critical race theory itself. And I could discuss that, but I think that's less important. What I think is important is critical race theory is, I think, a proxy for racial attitudes. And so people who tend to support critical race theory tend to have certain types of racial attitudes. People who oppose it, tend to have other types of racial attitudes. I think critical race theory is being used as a proxy. So the typical controversy as a school board and people say, "You're putting critical race theory into our curriculum". Now, they probably are not putting critical race theory proper into the curriculum, but that's actually not very important. What they're saying is "you are using certain types of racial attitudes to inform the curriculum that's being taught to my kids".
George Yancey: And that is true. And so you have one group of people who have one type of solution trying to put that into the curriculum and other people that different type of solution to put them in curriculum. My answer would be, "Let's bring people together and talk about it". What is it they want in the curriculum, what is it they don't want. Can we find ways we can include history? Can we find ways to include some of the less than savory elements of our racial history, but also do it in a way that does not feel overly denigrating to other groups? I think we actually could hammer that out if people good all sat down and work with each other. Maybe I'm overly optimistic. If they're willing to work with each other, I think we could hammer that out. But to me, that's the solution as opposed to fighting over what is critical race theory, and are we truly putting it into our schools?
Scott Rae: One of the things I want to just touch briefly on the chapter you have where you include the contribution of your Christian faith to this. And I'm interested, can you summarize the theological contribution that Christian faith makes to the discussion of race, particularly your notion of the doctrine of depravity. How does that help us move this conversation forward?
George Yancey: Well, hope no theologians listen to this podcast. And [crosstalk 00:23:07]. I am a sociologist. Just like when the theologians do sociology, I sometimes cringe. So I hope people aren't cringing. For me, I won't say the biggest, but one of the biggest differences between Christianity and human philosophy is the nature of humans. And if you look at the alignment movement and you look at how it's morphed into humanism today, there's a notion that humans are perfectible. That if we did the right things, if we talk to humans the right way, if we socialize them in the proper manner, we could create a utopia for humans. Humans have the ability to create this utopia. Humans are perfectible. That does not fit with a Christian mindset. Christian mindset looks at humans and knows by human depravity that we are not perfectible per se.
George Yancey: We are falling creatures. That's the core element of our Christian faith, because we're following, we need a savior. So what that leads to human perfectibility is, if you think that humans are perfectible and you have the solution to this utopian society, your job is to get the other humans to buy along with your solution, and come along with you. And this is true in colorblindness, and this is true in anti-racism. So advocates of both approaches, they seek to get people to come along with them by whatever means necessary. But if you have a healthy understanding of human depravity, that can't be your answer and your answer must be "I'm fallen". The rest of us are fallen. How can we fallen creatures work together to figure out what to do?
George Yancey: It brings a humbleness that is often missing in our conversations. And rather than me trying to force others into the solution that I have, I try to work with them because I need my depravity exposed, as well as they need their depravity exposed so we can work things out. So theologically, I think that this is a more Christian approach where you get to these core issues. A more Christian approach than either colorblindness or anti-racism.
Scott Rae: Thank you. That's really helpful. I remember my own mentor used to say that sometimes education, all it accomplishes is turning us into smarter centers. So one final question. I think, to summarize your view, you illustrate the different approaches, both colorblindness and anti-racism with your analogy at the end that you describe as the abusive marriage analogy, which I think was so helpful. Tell our listeners that analogy. I think it summarizes what you're after here, really nicely.
George Yancey: Sure. So I think you could think of our race relations as being an abusive marriage in this sense, that you have had a partner, let's just say a man who's been very physically, emotionally, sexually abusive to his wife, and one day just decides "I'm going to stop". So what do you do with that? Now I know that some people will say, "Well, she leaves him", and hear me. I'm not saying that's the wrong thing to do. I mean, there are situations where a woman needs to leave a man who's doing all that. But of course, we can't do that in this society. We can't ask people of color, "Hey, just go take off". So, even though that is the answer, perhaps that's the answer in a lost situation in the real world. And nothing I'm saying says that's not the answer.
George Yancey: That's not the answer in our race relations. Well, the answer is not to ignore all that abuse that is coming on. I mean, you're not going to have a very healthy relationship, if you say, "Okay, he stopped. So what's your problem, woman"? That obviously is not going to work, nor is the answer though, is to not give the woman ultimate power. Sometimes we assume that people are victimized, that they may obviously need to be listened to and cared for, but they too are falling creatures and people who are victimized can grow up to be victimizers. People who were abused as kids, are more likely to be abusers. So just giving her power and making the man [inaudible 00:27:38], that's not the solution either. Really, if you think about it. I know there's a temptation for that, but that's not the solution.
George Yancey: The solution is he has to take responsibility. She has to work with him in taking responsibility. He has more of the work to do. And I'm very clear that, even though the conversation is mutual, I think that the solutions, whites are going to have more work to do than people of color, but they both are going to have to work at it. If they're going to have a relationship that makes the marriage palatable since they had to stay together in this particular situation. Because once again, people of color can't just leave the country. So I think we have to think about it in that sense. And that explains a lot of why some of the raw emotions we see out there in these controversies, that we have had abusive situation. And even though the types of abuse that we once had, have gone away, the effects of that abuse have not gone away completely.
Scott Rae: That's I think, a particularly helpful analogy that summarizes where we are and the potential solutions, I think really nicely. Sean and I are so appreciative of these two sessions that we've had with you. Thank you so much for the additional time that was involved in getting two specific podcasts on this. I want to commend your book to our listeners. Beyond Racial Division, a unifying alternative to colorblindness and anti-racism by Dr. George Yancey. So insightful, so helpful, and our best wishes to you for the success of this book and for really widespread distribution on it. And hopefully having you on with us will contribute to that. So we're very grateful, very appreciative for your time and for your expertise and we wish you continued success in the work that you do on racial issues in the future.
George Yancey: Thank you for having me.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including the new fully online bachelor's program in Bible Theology and Apologetics. Visit bio.edu/talbot in order to learn more. If you enjoy part two of our conversation with Dr. George Yancey, give us a rating on your podcast app and be sure to share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.