Book Recommendation: Beyond Racial Gridlock by George Yancey

We are living in troubling times. In the midst of the uncertainties created by a pandemic, we are seeing unrest in our cities and on our local news in response to the death of George Floyd. Our world is suddenly seeming very unstable and unpredictable. But perhaps these disruptions to the status quo provide an opportunity to grow in our faith and our view of the world, so that we can be more useful for God’s kingdom. In the Bible, God repeatedly uses calamities and trials to challenge his people to make changes.

Several years ago, Dr. George Yancey sent me a copy of his book, Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility. We had met at a conference and I had told him how much I appreciated his previous works. I read the book intently and believe that it contains a timely message for Christians in the current moment. Yancey is a professor of sociology at Baylor University, a Christian, an African-American, and an advocate for the unity of the church. He has written a very helpful book on the possibility of building healthy multiethnic churches called One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches.

If you want to begin reading about race in America and how to work toward a better future, I would recommend Beyond Racial Gridlock as one possible place to start. One crucial contribution of this book is its presentation of common secular models. Yancey presents the strengths and weaknesses of four popular models for race relations that we see represented to this day. He discusses colorblindness (ch. 1), Anglo-conformity (ch. 2), multiculturalism (ch. 3) and White responsibility (ch. 4). The second crucial contribution of the book is its attempt to construct a better way forward. He calls this way “mutual responsibility.” It is based on the premise that we are all sinners, no matter what our racial/ethnic identity might be. Here are a few helpful quotations:

“The sin nature is universal for people of all races, but how the sin nature manifests itself is clearly different for majority group members and for people of color. Both groups must stop going down the old paths that their sins created. If either side decides not to participate in repairing the damage, we will suffer the same racial alienation we have endured in the past. In the next two chapters we will look at the unique challenges faced by whites and racial minorities in our struggle for racial harmony.” (p. 86, end of ch. 6, anticipating chs. 7 and 8)

“But more important, at least from my perspective, racism is in me. The society has taught me to be racist and I have learned those lessons well. I cannot ignore the realities of racism in our society, so sometimes, in reaction, I act or think in racist ways. I want to think that racism is something that is only found in those groups or individuals that we tend to think of as bigots. But now I am forced to be honest. It is in me as well” (p. 137).

These two paragraphs hit upon key points of the book. If we are honest (and perceptive), we can all see racism in ourselves. I can see it in myself (a European American) and George can see it in himself (an African-American). In order to work toward racial reconciliation, we have to begin by admitting that we have a problem in ourselves and in our world. We have to listen and understand in order to see the problem. Then, and only then, can we hope to work toward reconciliation. The current moment provides an opportunity. How will we respond?

Follow the Example of Jesus: The Ultimate Example of Reconciliation

Yancey presents Jesus as the ultimate teacher and example of reconciliation (ch. 9). Will we follow his example? What does the next step look like for you and for me? One possible step is to start reading books by well-informed Christians, like George Yancey, and to talk about what we are reading with other believers, especially those of other races and ethnicities. So much of what we see on the internet encourages disunity, anger, and hopelessness. The way of Jesus will always be the better way.

To purchase the book on Amazon, click the image below.