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Author Q&A with George Yancey

Christ Animating Learning blogger George Yancey is coming out with a new book in March by Intervarsity Press entitled, Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism.  We were able to ask George some questions about this new book.

  1. In your introduction you suggest there are two main paths people tread when it comes to racial conversations before suggesting our need for a third. What is it about these two paths—colorblindness and antiracism—that makes them so appealing to people? What is it about the third way—mutual accountability—that makes it so unappealing?

Although they are very different in what they emphasis, both colorblindness and antiracism rely on the idea that they are correct and the solution is to pressure others to accept their chosen path. So for colorbindness the task is to convince others to ignore race. For antiracism, the concerns is tied to the acceptance of ideas connected to antiracism. The mutual accountability approach is built on the notion that none of us have all the answers and we have to bring everyone to the table in an effort to find workable sustainable solutions. So this approach is inclusive of conversation while the other models exclude those who disagree with them.

  1. One of the greatest challenges in this conversation is a growing sense of apathy by those who are beset by the question, “What difference could I (alone) possibly make?” How would you respond to a person in this situation? What new insight or resource does mutual accountability model bring to this conversation?

One person by his or herself can only do so much. But that person can learn how to listen to those of different perspective and look to learning from them. If enough of us do this then we can change our current dysfunctional racial culture.

  1. In your theological chapter, you state the following: “I am both a Christian and a social scientist. I have found that good theology and good science generally go together; they are not in competition with each other. When they seem to contradict what I generally find is that there is either bad science, bad theology, or sometimes both” (p. 109). In light of this claim, what advice would you offer Christian graduate students in the social scientists as they navigate their faith and their discipline? How can good theology lead to good science?

I would say to the Christian scholar to try to go where the data takes you and minimize the biases that may lead you astray. If our Christian path is right then we will discover more about what is right about that perspective. Being open also helps us to make corrections as necessary to our belief system.  

  1. What would you say to detractors who claim that your “mutual accountability” approach is mere “starry eyed idealism,” and that the time for collaboration and compromise has now passed?

This may be idealism. However, there is a generous amount of research that supports the notions behind this approach. It is the best way forward. It is not like colorblindness or antiracism has been working despite the billions of dollars thrown at those efforts.

  1. What promises and perils await us on the path of mutual accountability model?

Because it may not deliver immediate results there is a problem of impatience and an eagerness to stop doing such conversations if we do not have immediate results.

  1. Upon completing your book, what are some of the practical next steps you would hope your readers would take?

Consider joining my organization to support research in collaborative conversations – Baylor Program of Collaborative Conversation and Race). Talk to our religious and political leaders about an approach other than antiracism and colorblindness. Work on listening to others in your own live. That would be a good head start.

We also encourage you to check out George Yancey’s upcoming online event sponsored by Heterodox Academy. He and a co-host will examine 1) how the frame of “religious liberty” can unite conservative Christians and religious minorities; and 2) how shared religious commitments can provide a platform for interracial engagement and reconciliation.

George Yancey

Baylor University
George Yancey, Ph.D., is professor of sociology at Baylor University. He’s author of Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (IVP, 2006).