Replacing Anti-Racism with Mutual Accountability (Creating Win-Win Solutions)

Baylor University sociology professor Dr. George Alan Yancey

by Christopher Paslay

Everyone must come out of their comfort zone and take responsibility, and roll up their sleeves to do the hard work of finding win-win solutions. 

Correction: When this article was originally published on August 18, 2020, I mistakenly tied Baylor University sociology professor George Alan Yancey together with Emory University philosophy professor George Dewey Yancy. The intention was to write solely about George Alan Yancey, whose Mutual Accountability model I very much admire and respect. I have rewritten the article to correct the mix-up. My sincere apologies to both professors.

In a July 16th article on Patheos.com, Baylor University sociology professor George Yancey wrote a very powerful critique of white fragility and anti-racism titled, “Not White Fragility, Mutual Responsibility,” where he proposed having a true dialogue on race relations, not merely a monologue disguised as a conversation. Named the Mutual Accountability Approach, Yancey suggested using sociological research (Intergroup Contact Theory based in active listening) to unify rather than divide, making solutions win-win rather than win-lose. 

Historically speaking, there have been systems in America that have favored one group over another, and the effects of this are still felt today.  As Yancey states in his Patheos article, “We need to move from these racialized institutions that work better for majority group members to systems that are fair for everybody.”

However, certain aspects of anti-racism including DiAngelo’s White Fragility — in an effort to level the playing field — actually flip the tables on whites, alienating them from the conversation on race and from giving meaningful input on solutions. 

As Professor Yancey writes: “People of color in their zeal to correct racial problems can also go too far and set up unfair conditions for whites. Group interest theory indicates that allowing either group total control of what we are going to do means that this group will create rules that benefit them but put others at a disadvantage.”

This is where Professor Yancey’s Mutual Accountability Approach comes into play. His solution is that we all have the responsibility to communicate and listen to one another. He states, “We have to work with each other to find win-win solutions instead of relying on win-lose scenarios. I need to hear from whites about the concerns and they have to listen to me about mine. Only then can we work towards fashioning solutions to the racialized problems in our society that can serve all of us well.”

Yancey writes in his article: 

Is there research indicating that working together can help us deal with racial alienation? Empirical work suggests that a theory known as the contact hypothesis may offer us answers. It basically states that under the right conditions intergroup contact produces more tolerance and less prejudice. While I do not want to go into all of the conditions necessary, there is research indicating that when we have an overarching identity with those we are in contact with that we move from seeing them as foreigners to seeing them as part of our group. At that point our biases towards former outgroup members tend to become dramatically reduced. . . .

This very process can bring us together and reduce the racial animosity that never seems to go away in our society. But it will be hard work. We will not easily give up the idea that we can get everything we want or that we are right but those who disagree with us have no clue. But if we can overcome these tendencies and learn how to fashion win-win solutions, then we have a chance to move forward.

This is interesting, as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility Theory — as well as many anti-racist approaches — do not allow for this mutual conversation. Again, most modern anti-racists like DiAngelo call for a monologue, where whites are viewed as “racially illiterate” and are expected to “shut up and listen.”

Yancey says this is a recipe for continued problems.  The model may work for a while, but if both groups are not part of solutions, it will perpetuate backlash, resentment, and continue the cycle of inequality.

At the center of Yancey’s mutual accountability approach is active listening — something antiracists do push, but only on whites.  Yancey writes:

If you rely merely on accusation, blaming and canceling to compel whites to support you, we will get what we have gotten thus far. Some whites will respond to that. Others will engage in a backlash. Others will simply ignore us. I run into plenty of whites who are not insensitive to the plight of people of color, but have been called racist one time too many and now want nothing to do with anything antiracists or with ideas such as white fragility. Ironically sometimes I run into these whites after they have read some of my work and are willing to work on race relations again because of my work. It is not that I am magical or anything like that. It is that when I write or speak, I do so from having listened to whites and thus have knowledge on how to reach them. . . . 

If you are still not convinced that working for win win solutions is the best approach, then let me frame this one final way. Think about the whites who want to figure out how to deal with our racial conflict but are not comfortable with just being told to shut up. They are open to learning about institutional racism but not open to not having a say in how to deal with it. So their choice is an anti-racism program where they have no say in the process or to just ignore racism altogether. My experience is that many of them will try to go the anti-racism route for a while but will be called a racist or be asked to turn a blind eye to a person of color misusing his or her cultural power and eventually gave up. Then that person will still be concerned about racial issues but will not accept a “white fragility” path towards a solution. . . .

Will that person move towards ignoring racial issues? That is a possibility. Most likely though that person will not have a solid way to deal with his or her concern about racial alienation or racism. They will probably be paralyzed not trusting the rhetoric heard by anti-racism activists but wanting to do something. I know because I have met these people and heard their stories. . . . 

We need solution that pull us together, not drive us apart. That is the only way we will have sustainable pathways away from the racial alienation poisoning our society. We do not need to engage in more recrimination and name calling. Victories gained by those techniques will face constant challenge and keep our society in turmoil. The way forward is to move forward together. . . .

To summarize, in contrary to the questionable research surrounding White Fragility, research suggests that a common identity and fruitful interracial contact can reduce prejudice. My work indicates that interracial couples and multiracial churches have found ways to solve racial problems with respect and understanding those in other races. Conceptually the mutual accountability approach is more likely to produce unity across racial and ideological groups since it does not force anyone to totally ignore their own group interest – just compromise a bit on them. I choose to head in a direction with empirical support and that is tied to bringing us together. Doing this will be hard. Extremely hard. But why should we be surprised at that? Usually the things worth having are hard.

Amen.  Everyone must come out of their comfort zone and take responsibility, and roll up their sleeves to do the hard work of finding win-win solutions. 

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