Book Recommendation: Understanding Racism and Racial Reconciliation with Help from George Yancey

How should we as Christians respond to racism that we see in our communities, in our churches, and in ourselves? A response that will have long-lasting and transformative effects will be based upon truth and aim for nothing less than true love. Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us (John 13:34). In order to love one another, we have to care for the whole person and consider how best to overcome the obstacles to love that have been created by human sin. One of those obstacles is racism. It is something that all people in the United States struggle with. Racism is a hot topic in the news right now. Rather than reading news story after news story and giving in to despair or defeat or becoming calloused, this is a good time to reflect, seek godly wisdom, and ask God for direction on what to do next.

A helpful source of godly wisdom with plenty of valuable points for reflection is one of the early books of George Yancey, Beyond Black and White: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation. Yancey is a professor of sociology at Baylor University, a Christian, an African-American, and an advocate for the unity of the church. If you have done little reading on racism outside of what you find on the internet, this book is probably the most accessible place to start. The book is balanced and fair-minded, with plenty of challenges for those from the majority culture (European-Americans) and for minorities (with a special focus upon African-Americans).

Beyond Black and White is a book with a very helpful setup. It is divided into 31 chapters that are about 3 to 5 pages long. Some chapters will be more helpful to you than others. I would recommend reading through one chapter a day for a month.

What will you discover in Yancey’s book? In our society, we rarely have good, thoughtful conversations about race with one another. Think about this book as 31 conversations about race with a Christian who has reflected on the topic carefully and prayerfully. His answers to racism in our culture will not generally surprise you, but they will challenge you to seek out racism in your own heart and help you to see it in your world. The book’s calls for repentance and change are friendly pleas from a fellow pilgrim. If you read this book seeking understanding and with an open heart, you will make several steps toward being a more effective instrument for racial reconciliation both in the church and in the world.

One of the most valuable aspects of the book is its appeals to pursue understanding, repentance, and reconciliation. Here are a few quotes from chapter 29, “Breaking the Cycles of Hate.” In order to “break the cycles of hate,” we cannot ignore that racism exists. Yancey writes:

This tendency to ignore problems of race belongs more to whites than to racial minorities. Minority parents may be guilty of allowing a racist ideology to go unchecked in their children or even of feeding that ideology, but rarely are such parents unaware of the importance that race plays in our country. This is because racial minorities have been forced to account for race most of their lives…All it takes is losing a job, a friendship, or an opportunity because of race. Since most of the positions of power are occupied by whites, I constantly have this issue of race on my mind as I move from encounter to encounter. A white person may suffer an occasional racist experience in his or her life, but race will probably never become a central issue of concern. (p. 148)

In order to pursue racial reconciliation, everyone will need to recognize that racism exists and seek to put an end to it. How should racial minorities respond to the existence of racism? Yancey says,

What I do with those reminders [of racism] is the challenge that I and other racial minorities must face. Will we teach our children that we should seek an eye for an eye? Or will we adhere to Jesus’ teaching and instruct our children in the art of forgiveness with lessons from the one who forgave us far more than we deserved? If we choose the latter action instead of the former, we can be part of the process of racial reconciliation. (p. 148)

Then, how should the racial majority pursue reconciliation? Yancey says,

Whites too must be part of the process of reconciliation. But often they must first take the painful step of acknowledging that severe racial problems exist. This may be painful as whites honestly look at the ways their race has oppressed minorities and how they themselves may have benefited from that oppression. If they pretend that a color-blind society exists today, they encourage the cycle of hatred to go on unabated, dooming their children to repeat the same mistakes. (pp. 148-9)

What should we all do? Yancey advises, “We must live out our commitment to equality, treating all people fairly, taking every opportunity to teach our children lessons of tolerance, and honestly assessing where our own biases may lie” (p. 149). He goes on to talk about how we can work together to root out racism in our society and in our world. His points are well worth noting. Chapter by chapter, Yancey builds a case for how the church can be a unique instrument for racial reconciliation in a world that gravitates toward division more naturally than toward reconciliation and peace. Reconciliation and peace are the fruits of the work of God and demonstrate the advance of his kingdom in the world.

To purchase the book, click on the image below: