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. 

Restoring MLK’s Dream: Valuing Content of Character Over Color of Skin

by Christopher Paslay

Robin DiAngelo mistakenly ties the Civil Rights Movement to identity politics, when in fact the movement was based on universal human values.

Robin DiAngelo, who has made an estimated $2 million from her controversial bestseller White Fragility — and charges up to $40,000 for a half-day workshop — insists all social progress in America has come from identity politics.

“The term identity politics refers to the focus on the barriers specific groups face in their struggle for equality,” DiAngelo wrote in her author’s note to White Fragility.  “We have yet to achieve our founding principle [in America], but any gains we have made thus far have come through identity politics. . . . All progress we have made in the realm of civil rights has been accomplished through identity politics.”

But just as DiAngelo mangles the story of Jackie Robison in White Fragility, she also misrepresents both the concept of identity politics, and the association of identity politics with the Civil Rights Movement.  Her statement that “identity politics refers to the focus on the barriers specific groups face in their struggle for equality” is disingenuous because it’s only half of the equation.  While identity politics does aim to remove barriers to marginalized groups, it also uses identity itself — race, religion, gender, and sexuality — as a source of power.  In other words, it places membership in a social group over the character of the individual, thus turning MLK’s “dream” on its head.

DiAngelo, along with many anti-racists, insist the Civil Rights Movement was a form of identity politics because it advocated very explicitly for a certain identity group — it called for universal human rights, freedoms, and opportunities by focusing on the identity groups who lacked them. This advocacy, however, is not identity politics. It is what Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay call universal liberalism; in this case, “liberal” does not mean left of center on the political spectrum, but refers instead to a well-established philosophical and ethical position which focuses on individuality, liberty, and equal opportunity (conservatives, liberals, and libertarians all employ some forms of universal liberalism).

What is the difference between universal liberalism and identity politics? Both want to end inequality, but use very different approaches, as explained in the article “Identity Politics Does Not Continue the Work of the Civil Rights Movements,” published on the website New Discourses by Pluckrose and Lindsay. “Universal liberalism focuses on individuality and shared humanity and seeks to achieve a society in which every individual is equally able to access every right, freedom, and opportunity that our shared societies provide,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write.  “Identity politics focuses explicitly on group identity and seeks political empowerment by promoting that group as a monolithic, marginalized entity distinct from and polarized against another group depicted as a monolithic privileged entity.”

In layman’s terms, universal liberalism seeks diversity, equity, and inclusion through individuals seeking a shared humanity at the personal level — practicing the kinds of core principles and values that transcend race and other identities; things like friendship, love, respect, and tolerance for diversity are the core building blocks that unite us and provide equal access to rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Identity politics, on the other hand, are rooted in social constructivism — the idea that “truth” and “knowledge” are constructed by hierarchies of power within society.  In other words, universal values and shared humanity don’t exist, and do not transcend identity (race, religion, gender, sexuality). Therefore, civil rights can only be achieved through dismantling so-called power structures in society, which, according to an anti-racist framework, require the disruption and dismantling of things like “whiteness,” “toxic masculinity,” etc. 

As Pluckrose and Lindsay write:

The problems with this kind of rationale are not only that it sets different identity groups in opposition to each other, makes communication difficult, and creates a moral economy that locates social power (immunity from legitimate accusations of bigotry) in perceptions of victimhood or oppression. It also reduces the ability to be able to genuinely empathize across identities if we are understood to have entirely different experiences, knowledges, and rules.

There are three core problems with identity politics, according to Pluckrose and Lindsay:

  • Epistemological: It relies on highly dubious social constructivist theory and consequently produces heavily biased readings of situations.
  • Psychological: Its sole focus on identity is divisive, reduces empathy between groups, and goes against core moral intuitions of fairness and reciprocity.
  • Social: By failing to uphold principles of non-discrimination consistently, it threatens to damage or even undo social taboos against judging people by their race, gender, or sexuality.

Pluckrose and Lindsay also state:

It is generally a terrible idea to have different rules of behavior dependent on identity because it goes against the most common sense of fairness and reciprocity which seems to be pretty hardwired. It is also antithetical to universal liberalism and precisely the opposite of what civil rights movements fought to obtain. Identity politics which argues that prejudice against white people and men is acceptable while prejudice against people of color and women is not do still work on a sense of fairness, equality, and reciprocity but it is reparative. It attempts to restore a balance by “evening the score” a little, particularly thinking historically.

Despite disingenuous claims from DiAngelo, the Civil Rights Movement did not employ the use of identity politics.  Instead, it used the values of universal human rights and the inherent worth of every individual, and did so regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexuality.  If we truly care about diversity, equity, and inclusion in America, we must resist using polarizing identity politics, and instead choose an approach based on universal human values.

Schools Should Not Teach ‘Whiteness’ Is Problematic

by Christopher Paslay

Whiteness is not a problem that needs to be solved, and educators should refrain from pushing this divisive message in schools.

In his fifth edition of Cultural Diversity and Education, research scholar and “father” of multicultural education, James A. Banks, offers an interesting approach to fair and equitable education called multicultural ideology. Published in 2006, it’s less aggressive and confrontational than current 2020 anti-racist educational approaches, which tend to be more accusatory than celebratory; in 2006, mainstream multicultural education focused on unity over dichotomy, which is no longer the case today, as zero-sum anti-racist philosophies — which seek to deconstruct so-called problematic “Whiteness” — are now heavily influencing policies and perspectives.

Multicultural ideology is a blending of assimilation and cultural pluralism, where the American national identity adapts and develops to become more diverse and pluralistic, yet doesn’t abandon the nation’s core values — the fundamental principles that make America unique and one of the most successful countries in the world. In Cultural Diversity and Education, Banks writes that multicultural ideology is reflected in educational policy that is “guided by an eclectic ideology that reflects both the cultural pluralists position and the assimilation position, but avoids their extremes.”

Multicultural educators hope to end racism by celebrating diversity, and by interacting with people through fundamental human values, both at the conscious and subconscious levels; anti-racists hope to end racism by becoming hyper-focused on race and the cerebral concepts of implicit bias and microaggressions in order to end so-called “white supremacy culture.” The former creates a society based on values from the heart, where both racism and the preoccupation with skin color are eliminated using a moment-by-moment present awareness. The latter creates a world where, in theory, racism ends through a highly cerebral “chatter mind” process which analyzes and rejects all forms of bias whether conscious or unconscious, but still leaves us with a hyper-focus on race.

The double-standards at the heart of anti-racism are many. Tragically, the fact that there are one set of rules for whites, and another set of rules for people of color, does a disservice to the very cause of anti-racism — which is to level the playing field and bring people of all races equal access to America’s resources. Believing that “Whiteness” is a fundamental problem that must be solved is not the best approach to opening the minds of whites.

It’s well documented that the provocative approaches employed by anti-racist educators have an adverse effect on white people, as evidenced by Robin DiAngelo’s theory of “White Fragility.” Unfortunately, whites who are triggered by the divisiveness of anti-racism are not offered compassion, because according to DiAngelo, “niceness is not anti-racist.” On the contrary, whites are told to “get over it,” and that their tears are disingenuous ploys for keeping white racism in place. 

The fact that these anti-racist approaches, despite eliciting such adverse reactions, continue to be put upon whites is reminiscent of a concept made popular by Dr. David R. Hawkins called Power vs. Force,” which analyzes “the hidden determinants of human behavior.”  While true power resides from within, force is applied through projection—an outside force trying to impose its will. Force can only work for so long; once it encounters true power, it immediately unravels. Interestingly, many of the emotions cited by DiAngelo as evidence of white fragility — such as anger, shame, guilt, and apathy — are listed by Hawkins as being a reaction to force. Nowhere in white fragility theory can one find positive responses related to true power, such as courage, love, joy, or enlightenment; everything tied to white fragility is zero-sum and is based on dichotomy rather than unity.

But for some reason, unity — as well as universalism, colorblindness, and other concepts which prioritize racial harmony over dichotomy — are resisted by people like DiAngelo. Such things are delegitimized and even stigmatized, and often rebranded by anti-racists as perpetuating racism. This is necessary in part to shock sheltered whites out of their bubbles and bring systemic racism to light. But the simple fact is that America needs more racial unity, and less confrontation. Provoking whites with the notion that they all suffer from implicit bias and are perpetuating racism by default, is limited in its effectiveness. The goal of disturbing a white person’s racial comfort in order to disrupt a racial hierarchy is using force instead of true power. While whites may be pressured into compliance, is this compliance genuine and long lasting? Is insisting that the advancement of people of color depends on the disruption, de-centering, or deconstruction of problematic “Whiteness” ultimately empowering people of color to live independently from the crutch of identity politics?

Educators should adhere to the mainstream definition of “Whiteness.” The zero-sum fallacy of “Whiteness” is inappropriate in American educational settings, as it does little to empower people of color, and is based in resistance and disruption, rather than cooperation and collaboration.