George Yancey on Any Hope for Justice Must Begin With Unity First

Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is experiencing a resurgence amidst a national reckoning surrounding issues of racism and its consequences. In consideration of its immense popularity and numerous critics, The Exchange has invited several authors of various backgrounds to engage in a two-part discussion of the merits and flaws of White Fragility. Part one included the initial reviews to the book from five different individuals, with part two providing a platform for others to respond to the book and to these reviewers. You can find my full introduction to this series, as well as a list of all our contributors, here. This week we will be embarking on part two of this series, as we have invited several authors to respond to our initial articles. You can find a summary of part one and an introduction to part two, here.

So far we have heard from Dr. Sheila Caldwell, Daniel Yang, and John C. Richards, Jr. Today we welcome back George Yancey. In part one, we summarized his recent book review of White Fragility, which you can find here. Yancey is currently a professor at Baylor University with a joint appointment in the department of Sociology and the Institute of Religious Studies. His areas of specialization include racial diversity and anti-Christian bias and his body of work includes many articles and several books surrounding these issues. We look forward to our final contributor, Sitara Roden, as we reach the conclusion of this series.

I am grateful for the chance to have my writing reprinted in Christianity Today and to have a chance to continue the conversation beyond that first blog. In promoting collaborative conversations, I believe I have charted a path that is scriptural and effective. That path is in contrast to White Fragility as the ideals promoted in that book are unlikely to succeed in producing Christian unity and justice.

I feel obligated to address an issue not brought up in those essays but nonetheless has come to my attention since the original blog. There are those who deny the reality of institutional racism. I define institutional racism as institutional forces that have a negative impact on racial minorities regardless of the personal intentions connected to the shaping of those institutions. Based on that definition there is plenty of evidence that institutional racism continues to exist.

For example, we know that there has not been any real decrease of racial discrimination in hiring over the past 25 years. There is statistical support for “driving while black” fears. Residential segregation still impacts people of color. Finally, there is evidence of racism in the beliefs and practices of medical heathcare providers. Those who deny the existence of institutional racism are either ignorant of the evidence or do not want to know if institutional racism exists.

Now there may be good reasons why we have rules or norms that have a disparate impact on people of color. True. Blacks are more likely, even after controls for individual characteristics, to commit murder. I do not think we want to rid ourselves of laws that punish murder. But we should still factor in institutional racial factors that may contribute to the disparity of criminal commission, as well as look at potential institutional factors that create this racial disparity. In doing so we may find that we cannot justify many of our current practices and institutions, which can force us to rethink our approaches to those institutions.

I believe the path that I have advocated is a sound way to engage in that type of rethinking. There are whites who have not really listened to the effects of institutional racism and its impact in the lives of people of color. When communicating in a mutually accountable way, we can work together to find ways to meet the needs these institutions address in ways that minimize or even eliminate unfair treatment of people of color. That is part of what it means to do justice.

But the ideas connected to White Fragility are not the keys to addressing issues of institutional racism or finding justice. I have heard people argue that we need to achieve justice before we can be unified. This is backward. We will not gain justice until there is unity. Until we are working together to achieve justice, then we will always have to fight strong resistance to our efforts. I am not talking about unity just for the sake of unity but developing unity so that we can confront our racial problems.

We know that when individuals develop a common identity, we see a decrease in bias and prejudice. Rather than stigmatizing people with claims of fragility, we should concentrate on our commonalities and identities. That would allow people of all races to confront the way they use unfair stereotyping to dehumanize racial outgroups. Only then are we in a position to unite in ways that achieve sustainable racial justice and be in the best position to confront institutional racism.

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Source: Christianity Today