Our Role as Individuals in America’s (U.S.) Racial History: Atlanta Meeting Looks at Racism

Bert Skellie & Adelaide Solomon-Jordan

Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association

Atlanta Friends Meeting began a discussion group on the topic, “Our Role as Individuals in America’s (U.S.) Racial History,” in November 1997. Through discussions of readings, videos and other personal sharing, we have sought to understand our part in racial history and to support each other in individual and possible group actions against racism. An important concern is to address the work necessary to effect a change in racial sensitivity and attitude, and to effect life-altering behavioral change. An important goal is to make our Meeting more welcoming to everyone.

The title of our group was intended to be non-threatening and indeed inviting. It was intended to convey the personal nature of the work to be done. It was also intended to focus exclusively on racial history in the United States. Our group’s “sense of the Meeting” that we wanted to meet twice a month is also important, showing a significant investment of time.

We have evolved toward having planning meetings in weeks in between group meetings. This encourages members to commit even more time to the work, and makes it easier to incorporate individuals’ concerns into the work of the group and more specifically into the work of each individual.

Early in the process, African American participants had the traditional role of keeping the focus on racism. As the year progressed, non-African Americans have also accepted that responsibility. The desire and need to discuss class, economic impact, gender, etc., is often central for those who have never discussed the issue of “white privilege.” It is not unheard of that in their racial identity development some African Americans may also want to address racism from an economic, class or gender perspective. It is imperative, however, that the group keep its focus on “our role in America’s (U.S.) racial history.”

We have purchased small bound composition books with black and white covers for recording and reflection or personal sharing about racial bias incidents, actions or questions related to racism. The small size (4.5 by 3.25 inches) was selected to make it convenient to carry these emotionally weighty notes around. The black and white cover is symbolic of our focus on Black and White. The books are bound so that any ripped out pages would be noticed by the owner and would eventually result in the book’s falling apart, a sign to the owner that he or she had torn away some of his or her personal racial history. The composition books also allow one to be part of the group when one is “not able” to attend for work, family or race related emotional reasons. Through using these books, a group member can have permission to be absent and yet continue to work.

During the year we have shared our experiences with racism, sometimes quite deeply, sometimes more tentatively. We have supported each other in actions against racism, including joining a picket line in a nearby town where one of our members lives. We have sought together the best response to racist behavior in the Atlanta Friends Meeting, including treatment of individuals and messages in Meeting for Worship. We sponsored several showings of the film, The Color of Fear. Our next major projects include a group retreat and a forum for the Meeting. See our article in FGC’s Fostering Vital Friends Meetings: Resources (Vol. 2) and the abbreviated list of resources below for more information.

Other Resources:
Free Indeed, A 20-minute video on white privilege produced by the Mennonites.

The Color of Fear, an hour and a half video “on the state of race relations in America as seen through the eyes of eight men of various ethnicities.” Stir Fry Seminars & Consulting

Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, Paul Kivel,1996.

Colored People, by Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University.

Skin Deep, by University of Maryland sophomore Joshua Solomon,1996, reporting his attempt to replicate the “Black Like Me” experience.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh, Peace and Freedom, July/Aug., 1989.

Identity and Belonging, by Melanie Ndzinga & Len Singh.

Dismantling Racism: The Continuing Challenge to White America, by Joseph Brandt, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991.

Adelaide Solomon-Jordon is an attender of Atlanta Monthly Meeting, a convenor of the Social Concerns discussion group, “Our Role as Individuals in America’s Racial History,” and Board of Oversight member of the Friends School of Atlanta. She is most proud of being Mom to Windsor, Jr. and Ross and enjoys collecting teapots and anything “butterfly.”

Bert Skellie has served as clerk of Atlanta Monthly Meetings and of the Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association and was co-clerk of Atlanta Friends’ Social Concerns Committee, 1996-98. He enjoys riding his bicycle and learning to play jazz piano.

Translate »