As we move deeper into August schools everywhere are preparing for the upcoming Fall semester. As usual this means faculty members at every level are attending workshops to kickoff the new year. Here in Wake Forest the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is no different. During these workshops professors heard presentations from Dr. George Yancey, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. The subject regarded Yancey’s Beyond Racial Gridlock (IVP, 2006). In this work Yancey evaluates four secular models that attempt racial reconciliation. He does so by sketching a brief history of the position, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, and discussing how Christians have incorporated the model in their own attempts at racial reconciliation. Ultimately, he finds these models to be incomplete and offers a solution from his own Christian worldview. What follows is a summary of Beyond Racial Gridlock. Justice cannot be done to the full weight of his arguments so readers are encouraged to check out the book. I am thankful for SEBTS and their desire to see diversity not only on the campus, but in the Church as well.
Foundational for Yancey’s book is the idea that there are two types of racism. One view is individual racism. Yancey writes, “An individualist understanding defines racism as something overt that can be done only by one individual to another.” (pg. 20) The other; however, is structural. “According to this view, society can perpetuate racism even when individuals in the society do no intend to be racist.”(pg. 22) Of course, how one defines racism will dictate the solutions offered. Yancey points out that the first two models are based on a more individual definition and the final two are based on a structural point of view.
4 Secular Models
Colorblindness: This approach is somewhat self-explanatory considering its title. Colorblindness has has its desire to make race a nonissue in society. Yancey states it this way, “The core argument of the colorblindness model is simple: to end racism, we have to ignore racial reality.” (pg. 29) Yancey goes on to describe this position as seeking “not to take race into account” and having as their goal “to get beyond racial issues.”
Anglo-Conformity: This model desires to teach minorities the proper ways to succeed in life. This includes education, how to find and keep a job, etc. Yancey describes the goal of this approach as follows, “The majority must teach people of color how to succeed, while the minority is responsible for taking those lessons to heart so they can achieve economic and educational success.” (pg. 42) Fundamentally, this approach finds the problem to be socio-economic as opposed to being about race. “Anglo-conformity is a very materialistic model. At its core is the belief that the real source of racial strife is economic disparity between the racial majority and minorities.” (pg. 42)
Multiculturalism: Advocates of this approach long to preserve the cultures of all people and see them as helpful contributors to our world. Yancey equates multiculturism to cultural pluralism; however, he wants to be sure to define the terms properly. Cultural pluralism is not the same as “inegalitarian models of racial oppression (in which cultural separation was dictated to the minority by the majority).” (Pg. 53) Later Yancey states, “Multiculturalism is the practical application of cultural pluralism.” (pg. 53)
White Responsibility: This argument suggests that the problems of racism are primarily because of the “majority group.” Thus, it is the responsibilty of this majority group (whites) to end racism. First, the group must deal with the racism inside them before any progress can be made. Extreme proponents of this position even argue that minorities are completely incapable of being racist. (pg. 65) Yancey writes, “From their viewpoint, racial minorities can have prejudice, but they cannot be racist because racism requires structural power. Since only dominant group members have structural power in our society, only dominant group members practice racism.” (pg. 65)
After discussing each model Yancey discusses why he believes these approaches fail. Consider this quote,
“Each of the four secular models identifies one source of racial conflict and proposes solutions to deal with that source. Certainly each source is at last partially responsible for racial alienation. The strength of these models lies in their recognition of a particular cause of racial tension and in their effort to resolve it. Their weakness lies in their refusal to identify other sources of the problem. At best, these incomplete models can help us correct certain aspects of racial tension, but they will never eradicate the problem.” (pg. 79)
A Mutual Responsibility Approach
With these incomplete models in mind Yancey establishes that the root of racism is sin. Everyone is a sinner-no one is excluded, except Christ. Communicating this with evangelical conviction Yancey writes, “Our sin nature drives majority group members to look for both overt and subtle ways to maintain the advantages of their racial status. Our sin nature motivates people of color to use their victim status to gain whatever they can.” (pg. 80) Yancey concludes that racial reconciliation is a mutual responsibility because of this universal sin nature. In chapters seven and eight Yancey discusses the sin of both European Americans and racial minorities. I would encourage readers to think about what Yancey writes; however, more reflection is needed on my part before I can discuss them here.
After establishing that everyone is mutually responsible Yancey turns to Scripture. He mentions John 4 and discusses the woman at the well and Jesus’ call of Matthew the tax collector. Yancey then points to Jesus as the way and example of reconciliation.
The question thus becomes, what does mutual responsibility look like? It starts with each party being honest about their fears and open to discussing the needs and concerns of others. Using an illustration from his own marriage (pg. 129-131) Yancey shows that the willingness to listen to the concerns of others regarding racism is vital. Mutual understanding can lead to a mutual responsibility of reconciliation. Yancey then offers a starting place in regard to mutual responsibility:
Multiracial churches: “One of the best ways to to heal racial strife is to fellowship with Christians of different races.” (Pg. 144)
Social Networks: “For racial perceptions to be influenced by interracial friendships, we must be involved in social networks that are thoroughly multiracial.” (pg. 146) Later Yancey writes, ” Diversifying our social networks is a Christian was to help heal strife in our society.” (pg. 146)
Political Activism: Here Yancey discuses the tension between Republicans and Democrats. He notes that because Christians are pro-life they generally vote for conservative candidates. Unfortunately, Republicans are less likely to support programs based on race. Yancey makes a good case that Christians should be careful about political activism, but should participate. (pg.147)
Christian Academic Institutions: “Christian colleges’ failure to promote racial reconciliation is particularly distressing because they are the source of our future Christian leaders.” (Pg. 149)
Fully aware that he cannot provide the perfect answer to racism this side of glory Yancey ends his book with a plea for Christians to contribute to a more complete solution. Ultimately, it must be the gospel that does away with racism, but this book provides helpful ways that Christians can contribute in the healing process. The weight falls not on “them” or on “us” but there is a mutual responsibility due to the nature of sin to seek reconciliation because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What more could we ask of an author than that?