MEGAN BASHAM, HOST:It’s Friday the 7th of August, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Two weeks ago we aired the first part of a two-part Culture Friday discussion on racial division and the church.
Today we return to the topic with a different perspective from George Yancey, a professor of sociology at Baylor. He’s also the author of Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility.
BASHAM: Professor Yancey believes systemic racism is a serious issue in our country. He believes white privilege is, too. Where he parts company with some on the secular left is that he understands the theological concept of human depravity.
Writing for The Gospel Coalition, he takes issue with a highly popular secular approach because in his view it’s “not lessening our racial hostility—but … may be making that hostility worse.”
Professor Yancey, thank you so much for joining us.
GEORGE YANCEY, GUEST: Thanks for having me!
BASHAM: So to start with I’d like to play a soundbite from Glenn Loury. He’s an economist at Brown University.
And he’s been critical of ascribing disparities between white and black people mainly to systemic racism. Because, he says, it doesn’t take into account other cultural factors.
LOURY: Attributing the situation to something called to systemic racism a) avoids addressing the behavioral underpinnings which are problematic in and of themselves and b) de-normalizes so that the ability to make a judgment about behavior becomes undermined as we in effect look askance, avoid the reality of the underlying differences in behavior…
It seems that Professor Loury is making a distinction between racism and racial inequality. How do you respond to that?
YANCEY: Yeah. I would agree that not all differences are connected to institutional racism. And there are probably people who are deterministic about that. What I think some of them are. You know I think of you look at something such as racial segregation. It has been well-documented that the fact that we have racial segregation in our neighborhoods and the history behind them and why we have that is institutionalized. That then has a negative impact on the educational and income opportunities of people of color.
So, yeah, but to say that all racial inequality is due to institutional racism, no, I wouldn’t go that far. But some percentage—and not a small percentage—of it is.
BROWN: One of the things I really appreciate in your writing on this subject is the idea of “mutual accountability.”
It brought to mind something I’ve heard from Tony Evans. He says black evangelicals are in a unique position to mediate the beginning of a new era of mutual benefit and integration among Christians who are culturally different, yet spiritually one. He says black evangelicals (I would consider myself in this group) to varying degrees live in two worlds and possess a double-consciousness—partaking of the black heritage, history, and experience while at the same time absorbing the biblical and theological influences coming from the white evangelical world.
So he’s suggested black evangelicals make that first move.
What do you think about that?
YANCEY: Yeah, I think that there’s something to his notion of double-consciousness that if you’re a black evangelical—and, I guess, by definition I am one since I’m an evangelical—that we understand what it’s like to be in both the black and the white world. As far as making the first move, that’s probably scriptural. The reality is that a lot of black evangelicals are probably waiting for whites to make the move because they want to see if whites are truly honest about a desire to deal with racial issues. So, I don’t think that’s going to happen as much as he might hope it to be. But I think if black evangelicals are ready to engage, that’s all I’m hoping for. That when whites are ready to truly engage and tackle institutional racism and rebuild our fallen race relations that we are willing to engage, to listen, to compromise where necessary and move forward. So, that’s where I would go.
BASHAM: This might be a funny question, but bear with me. A pastor friend recently read an interview with singer Alanis Morisette, and he was struck by one of her comments. She said, “We have to change everything: systemic racism, systemic misogyny, systemic everything has got to be dismantled.”
This pastor messaged me, “Well, that’s called sin. When everything is systemic injustice, the sin is always someone else’s issue, not mine.”
I’ve heard similar things from other pastors who say their churches have long ministered to the disadvantaged, but that’s not enough now. They worry that what we’re seeing recently places burdens on believers the gospel doesn’t.
What are your thoughts on that?
YANCEY: Yeah, I mean, I think there is a danger by making everything institutionalized because by definition “institutionalized” means that a person does not have to be individually racist for it to be a problem. And so I do think there’s a danger when we talk about institutionalized racism that where there is truly racial bias and racism that that would seem to blow it up. Or if not negative bias just a non-caring of what happens. I’m not a person who says that there’s one cookie-cutter way in which all Christians are supposed to tackle any given issue. I think there are some Christians who are supposed to do more in dealing with the systemic problems. I believe there are Christians that God has not called them to deal with it as much as others have. And so I’m hesitant to tell another Christian, “This is your calling.” I think that each Christian has to figure that out.
I think we need to get the information out there to let them know that this is a problem and it is a problem that Christians as a group have not engaged in that. And if you as a Christian are convicted about that, then perhaps you are called to deal with that.
I would also say that Christians need to be careful even if they choose not to actively engage in dismantling institutional racism that they are not perpetuating it, that they are teaching their youth and their children on tackling and being concerned about the least of these. So I think that Christians should be—even if they don’t feel called to, say, get involved politically, things of this nature—I do think that they are called as a community to think out ways in which they have unwittingly perpetuated some of the racial inequalities that we see.
BROWN: Finally, I think one of the things many of us struggle with as we discuss these questions of privilege and power is a lack of specifics. Many prominent Christians argue that white Americans possess structural power they should share with black Americans. If you agree with that, what, specifically, would be the process for that sharing? And what would the outcomes look like?
YANCEY: That’s a great question. I think one of the problems we have dealing with this is, alright, what do you want me to do? What I’ve been pushing is before we decide what we’re going to do together, let’s communicate with one another. I think white Christians need to understand why African American Christians feel the way they do and what sort of issues are coming up that they’re tracking with. Consequently, African American Christians also need to know about whites and where they’re coming from and how they feel when they have racism placed upon them in ways they feel are unfair. So, what I’ve been advocating is engaging in active listening and learning how to engage in cooperative communication so that we can find win-win situations, so we can look at a situation, see the racial disparity, see the institutional discrimination or racism that’s there and figure out a way in which we can move together to solve that problem together rather than one group saying this is what we need to do and you need to come along with us.
So, I don’t know what that’s going to look like, exactly. And even if I did know exactly what it was going to look like, if I was to come here and say, “This is what we need to do,” the problem is people would go, well, that’s what you want to do. You’ve not really asked me what I want to do, so why should I follow you?
That’s why cooperative communication is so important, that we work together to find the solution, so we work together to implement them. And then I think we’ll find solutions. I think the solutions are going to look more at how we can aid people of color than aid European Americans, but to get there we’ve got to bring in European Americans and listen to them as well as them listen to us. And so it’s a both/and, not either/or type of mentality that we’ve got to start thinking about.
BROWN: Well, George Yancey is a professor of sociology at Baylor University and the author of Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility.
Professor Yancey, thanks so much for being with us.
YANCEY: Thank you!