Season 5 - Episode 546
What role can a person play in bridging racial divides? In this Baylor Connections, George Yancey, Professor of the Social Sciences, shares insights. Through collaborative conversations, Yancey sees opportunities to find understanding. He shares the qualities of collaborative conversations, examines the impact of language and considers approaches to racial discussions that go beyond colorblindness and antiracism.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are visiting with George Yancey. Dr. Yancey serves as professor of the social sciences in Baylor's Department of Sociology. A widely published author and scholar, Dr. Yancey studies institutional racial diversity, racial identity, academic bias, progressive Christians, and anti-Christian hostility. He came to Baylor in 2019 from the University of North Texas. His most recent book, Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism, came out earlier this year. A lot going on, and we appreciate you visiting with us. Dr. Yancey, thanks for joining us on the program today.
George Yancey:Thanks for having me.
Derek Smith:Well, great to visit with you. And I want to start off by getting sort of an overlook at what you do. I gave a very brief rundown at the top here, but I'm curious, as a researcher, what are the types of questions that most interest you, that most motivate you to pursue in your work?
George Yancey:Well, it goes from time to time, and at different times in my life, I've been driven by different questions. Right now, while I'm doing other research, I'm really driven by the idea of how we can apply collab conversations to our racial hostilities and polarization in order to have better conversations, find better solutions, work together, rather than against each other. And so that's been a major thing that I've been working on right now.
Derek Smith:I'm looking forward to diving into that. And you are in the Department of Sociology. What are some of the different disciplines that come together in your work? It seems like so much of research is interdisciplinary. What are some of the different threads that all feed into your work?
George Yancey:Well, one thing I'm learning is that there's a lot offered in the discipline of communications for me to learn about. I think psychology also has been insightful. I've been working with some... systems and so I've been working with some people in education. So sociology has not cornered the market on this particular research question by far.
Derek Smith:Yeah, it seems like it touches on a lot of different areas as we think about, whether communication or human flourishing and a lot of what Baylor talks about. And I'm curious, you came to Baylor in 2019. What was it that drew you here?
George Yancey:It's just a better situation for me in a lot of different ways. More resources, more support and things that I wanted to do. So, and they made it very easy for me to make the move.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Dr. George Yancey, professor of the social sciences at Baylor. And if we were to visit one of your classes these days, what are some of the things we might hear you discussing with your students? What's really animating those conversations these days?
George Yancey:Well, this semester I'm teaching a qualitative methods class and so it's a lot more methodology. But in the past year, I've taught a lot of race ethnicity. And I think students really are driven by how can we really solve our racial problems? How can we figure out ways in which we can solve our racial problems? And they don't find really good easy answers out there. And so we try to dive into that.
Derek Smith:When we talk about issues of race and ethnicity, sometimes even, well many people can tense up a little bit. How much, when you're talking about this in your class, what are some ways that you try to foster really good discussion and get different viewpoints to where they can come together and understand each other?
George Yancey:Well, I don't hesitate to show both sides of issues. I'm not one of these people who say there's no both sides to issues. There's usually both sides to issues. And so I'll play Devil's advocate to the things that I actually believe. I also make sure that anyone who has a opinion that is, let's say, contrary to a lot of opinions in class, that person gets a fair hearing and I'll protect that person's right to express their opinion. And I say right front in my classes that this class is not a safe space. If you looking for a class where you won't find opinions that you disagree with, this is not the class for you. And I really say that in almost all my classes that this class is not a safe space, because I don't think college should be a safe space from ideas. Safe for other things, obviously, from being harassed or physically threatened, but from ideas, college should not be a safe space.
Derek Smith:Yeah. The marketplace of ideas has some controversy to it in some healthy ways, hopefully, certainly for sure. As we visit with Dr. George Yancey, we mentioned your latest book at the top of the show, Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism. What were your goals in writing this book, first of all?
George Yancey:Well, I just want to present a different way, a different path that a lot of people, I don't think, have really thought about, because I think we get hit by certain forces that say this is the way we solve racial issues. And unfortunately, and the research bears it out. The major ways in which you're trying to deal with race is not working and is not going to work. So I looked at what research has said, I thought about myself, what I think about certain things. My faith came into the play. And I try to lay out what I think would be a better way in order to approach how we tackle racial alienation and polarization in our society.
Derek Smith:What are some of the reasons from your standpoint that it's not working like it could these days?
George Yancey:Well, if I was to boil it down, and I think this is true for those on the right and the left, however you want to define it, I think that the focus is on how can we get people to do what we want them to do? And human beings are very resistant to that. And in a society where you don't have over depression, it's harder to make people to do what you want them to do without convincing them that they should do it. And so I just think that we have to find better ways in which you can talk to one another and solve problems together, rather than, I have a solution, and my goal is to get you to fill out my solution as much as I possibly can. And your goal is to try to convince me, or to browbeat me into your solution. I think there are ways in which we can come at it and we can say, "Hey, I have a different solution than you." But we can actually have better conversations. And we do this all the time. If you're married, you do this all the time. If you have kids, you figure it out. Even with kids, we know that we can't win every single battle without exhausting ourselves. So even with young kids, we figure out how to negotiate things. And yet, when it comes to racial issues, we don't. We think my way or the highway. And I think that that attitude is creating a great deal of polarization in our society.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. George Yancey, and then the title of the book Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism. So we can think along with you on this, how would you define colorblindness and anti-racism? They're two words that on the surface could look very positive and have some positive aspects. But when we think about them in this modern context, how would you define them?
George Yancey:Yeah, I mean, the terms are great. I mean, they sound great. So colorblindness basically is, hey, we're blind to color. We're not going to see color. And it sounds great, because isn't racism about paying attention to color in a way that is very detrimental to people of color? But it doesn't work because what people of color will tell you is that we can't live a colorblind lifestyle. That there are forces, institutionally, structurally, and sometimes even personally, that impact us and our race matters. And so colorblindness, and there's a lot of research showing that the reality for a person of color is different from the reality of a European American. Just one example, one out of a lot of research, is that we know that if you're an African American or Hispanic American, you apply for a job, you're less likely to get called back for an interview, simply because you're African American and Hispanic American. We know this through audit studies. And a lot of audit studies have shown this. So we have a different reality, and colorblindness does not work. Anti-racism is a little bit different animal. What is anti-racism? I mean, and once again, on the surface sounds great. I don't know anyone who says, "I'm pro-racism," in today's age. So we're all anti-racist, right? But anti-racism has a specific meaning. And I read a lot of the literature, the pop literature on anti-racism. And unfortunately, while it has some good things to commend it, one of the things that really does mean is that whites are supposed to do what people of color want them to do. And as I look at the literature, that came out again and again and again. And I've already mentioned, one of the problems we have is we try to force people into our box, and they resist and they fight against us. And we keep fighting, we keep getting more polarized, and the research bears it out. It's not just my opinion. When we try to do diversity programs, they don't reduce prejudice on the long term. They create resentment. When we try to use overt anti-racism measures to increase managers of color, hire more managers of color, we actually get fewer managers of colors in the long term. The research shows again and again and again, anti-racism does not work. So these two things which sound great, who doesn't want to ignore race when it comes to mistreating people, and who does not want to be anti-racist? The way that they are implemented does not work.
Derek Smith:To what extent, when you think about these two approaches, to what extent do well-meaning people utilize these trying to create positive change? And to what extent do, I guess, for a lack of a better term, bad actors try to utilize them?
George Yancey:Yeah. You get both on both sides. There are people who legitimately feel that the best way to deal with racial issues is to ignore race. And you get people who want to use colorblindness because they want to ignore structural racism. And on the other hand, and I can't give you a percentage, but you get a percentage of people who think anti-racism is justice and is the right way. And then, are there charlatans on? Yes, there are. I've seen examples of that. Now, I'm not going to sit here and say 30% or 20%, because no one really knows. But you get both on both sides to manipulate people. And I think is one of the reasons why, rather than trying to force people to do one or the other and exclude the other, we need to have a conversation. Because in the conversation, it's harder for a bad actor to push their way, because they have to learn how to compromise, how to work with other people, how to find solutions that everyone can live with, rather than just push their own solution. So I think that what I'm advocating would reduce the bad actors or at least make it harder for them to manipulate the situation, the ideology. Because a lot of times, bad actors hide among good actors. So whenever you have a peaceful protest, you get some rioters. The rioters can go back to the peaceful protest and say, "Hey, we're peaceful." So you get... Metaphorically, I think that sometimes happens with those who are colorblind and with those who are anti-racist.
Derek Smith:And when you talk about a unifying alternative, what is that? Or what are some of those that we can think about?
George Yancey:So I talk about collaborative conversation, which is conversation, which is we build on each other's ideas, and it's very goal-oriented. So we're trying to find solutions, which means that I have to understand where other people are coming from that disagree with me, and they have to understand me. It means engaging what can be called active listening, which is, I listen so that I can understand, not just for debate, not just for combat. I have to learn how to communicate with others in a way they can hear me. There is research out there on persuasion, and the way we persuade people is not by browbeating them. What you see on social media is not persuasion, for the most part. You persuade people by building rapport, you persuade them by admitting when they have a good point, by finding common agreement. In other words, real persuasion builds community. What we usually see, polarization divides people. So what I'm talking about is working together for community, for collab conversation, to understand others, to find solutions everyone can live with, find solutions that are stable because everyone works with them, work together on them. Here's a great example. From what I've been reading, chances are very highly likely that affirmative action's going to be overturned by the Supreme Court. And why is that? Because affirmative action, and this is not a critique of affirmative action as a plan. I'm just saying that affirmative action has become this thing where people fight over. And now the forces that don't like it have won and they're going to overturn it. Now, what if, instead of affirmative action, we have some sort of solution where groups across the political aisle say, "Yes, that is what we're willing to fight for." So instead of one half of the country fighting against another half of the country, we actually fight together. We lack that in our society today. And what I'm advocating is that we take steps towards that, rather taking steps towards more fighting, more polarization, more of what we see.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. George Yancey, professor of the social sciences in Baylor's Department of Sociology. And Dr. Yancey, what are some of the headwinds out there to these collaborative conversations that you talk about? Because what you describe, in a lot of ways, does sound so counter to a lot of the noise that's out there, and really a lot of the probably most popular mediums or channels in which people consume political information.
George Yancey:Yeah, well, I think you got to stop to identify the first barrier, is I think that a lot of the space is taken up by colorblindness and anti-racism. And so when people want to talk about race, they look for someone who's going to advocate colorblindness, someone who's going to advocate anti-racism, they put them on a channel and they let them fight each other out. And so people don't see this because it's not out there. The major news stations, the major programs aren't interested in this at this point in time. And there's also a barrier in that there is a certain percentage of the population that's deeply wedded to colorblindness, and a certain percentage is deeply wedded to anti-racism, and they don't want to have a discussion. Now, I believe, and I have some surveys to back this up a little bit, that at least half, if not, more than half of the country is neither wedded to either one. They may favor one than the other, but they're not wedded to it, and they're open to that discussion. And part of what I want to see is that half of the country start engaging in discussion and putting social pressure on those who refuse to have a discussion, who only want to force their ideas on others. And I think that we can change the norms and values in our country. Now, that's a long-term project. I fully get that, but I think that's where we have to go. Because, and I've learned this the hard way, that some people simply don't want to have a discussion, and if you disagree with them, you are wrong. So I learned not to try to have a discussion with those folks. I want to have the discussion with people who want to have the discussion, who want to try to figure out solutions, who want to work with me. And I think that's where we have to go. Yeah.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. George Yancey. And Dr. Yancey, as we have these conversations, sometimes words become buzz words or become words that the goalposts can move, or the definition can shift, depending on how someone's using them. I'll just pick two phrases that you've referenced before. Woke, or CRT, critical race theory. How do woke and CRT, how are they used in conversation in ways that maybe don't always help, even when they have potentially something, or really utility to contribute to the conversation?
George Yancey:So the term woke really originated, from my knowledge, in more of the African American community, being awakened to the problems that are out there. I guess you can look at it sort of a Marxian way, as far as false consciousness without the economic materialism. But anyways, now it's been used as a term of derision, that people are talking about people being woke, and in term of derision. I recognize that the term woke refers to certain types of attitudes, but I prefer not to use that term because it's turned into this derision term. And I think that not much happens with that. And so I think we have to be very careful about that. Critical race theory, CRT, it is a body of academic literature. Originally it was to look at our legal realm, and how laws work against people of color. And now it's sort of become a marker term. So if you don't like something that seems regressive, you say, well, that's CRT. Now, the original term woke and CRT definitely have real meaning. I mean, there's a definition to them. They mean something. But that's been distorted in a society where we're looking for shortcuts to say, "You are my enemy, and therefore I don't listen to what you have to say. You are woke. You're doing CRT. I don't listen to what you have to say." So that's part of the problem, this is why we can't have good conversations with one another.
Derek Smith:You've talked about collaborative conversations, and I saw you're talking on Twitter, you were recently working with a group. And you had them engage in conversation on racial issues, and they couldn't use terms like woke or racist. So I'm assuming that if someone said something, even if they thought the other person was maybe being racist, they couldn't just say that. Or if the other person thought that, oh. They couldn't use woke as a pejorative. So I'm curious, how did maybe eliminating those terms shape the conversation? How did it go, basically?
George Yancey:Yeah, I think the conversation went well. I don't know if that and by itself made it a better conversation. But yeah, I did not allow them to say that someone is racist or someone is woke because that is a conversation stopper. And so I do think that we have to rethink about how we have these conversations. I fear that a lot of times, people are talking past each other because they're trying to score points for their team. And our racial polarization is reflective of the larger polarization in our society. And I'm not naive enough to believe that if we dealt with racial polarization, that that larger polarization would go away. I wish it would. But I think if we found tools that deal with our racial polarization, it'll make it easier for us to deal with the polarization otherwise. And so I think those are some of the things that we have to consider as we move forward.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. George Yancey. And Dr. Yancey, as we head into the final couple of minutes on the program here, I want to try to tie it all together, particularly as people of faith. A lot of people listening would certainly consider themselves people of faith. And I'm curious, what can we take away in how we can use these collaborative conversations, or just simply approach these racial topics, in a Christ-centered way?
George Yancey:Yeah, so in my book, I have a chapter where I discuss why I think that this approach is scriptural. And it goes into larger issues of just, not just scripture, but the whole philosophy of Christianity, the philosophy of human depravity. And so I won't go all into that because that'd take probably too much time than we have. What I will say is, if all that we are as a church is taking sides on a larger battle, racial battle, polarization, what good are we? If we're not peacemakers, what good are we? So what I'm talking about is collab conversation, being peacemakers, being different. Don't be like the world, be different. Because the world can always find more warriors for this battle, but what the world needs is peacemakers. And so I'm trying to call the church into a peacemaking function, which I think is what Christ would do.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, the book is called Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism. Well, Dr. Yancey, really appreciate you taking the time to visit with us today and share with us. Thanks so much.
George Yancey:Thank you, Derek.
Derek Smith:Dr. George Yancey, professor of the social sciences, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.