Carolyn Lejuste and David Etheridge | 11/02/20; 1/04/21; 1/29/21

Part One: Preparation

For over 400 years, our country and our Society has been burdened with the shame of slavery and systemic racism. Our Quaker ancestors were owners of Black bodies, abolitionists fighting the institution of slavery, segregationists, and civil rights activists. We have not been one or the other; we have been all. Today some of us are speaking out against racism, police violence against Black and brown bodies, and the systems that perpetuate economic, educational, and health inequalities. But Friends have different understandings of how and where to stand up, speak up, and resist. Is it enough for one to believe they are not racist or is it imperative, as the author Ibram X. Kendi states in How to be an Antiracist, that we actively work to end racism?

Our testimonies of integrity, equality, community, and peace guide our anti-racism actions. But our testimonies are understood in different ways by various Friends. What does it mean for Quakers to align themselves with People of Color who find it necessary to have an armed security force at their rallies, as they did recently on the steps of the Michigan Capitol? What does it mean to challenge Quaker traditions when they seem to work better for white Friends then for Friends of Color? What is the obligation implicit in the examination of white privilege and the lie of white supremacy to take specific action to change? Further, is this an individual obligation, a communal obligation, or both? 

To be meaningful it is necessary for Monthly and Yearly Meetings to do the work of preparation before any Quaker body decides to take the long-practiced Quaker tradition of passing a minute to actively become an anti-racist faith community. Here are eight ways to prepare Friends to enter discernment regarding such a minute.

  • Consider hiring an outside resource person to lead anti-racism workshops for the entire Meeting.
  • Create book discussion groups using books by authors of color. Quakerbooks can order them for you.
  • Hold monthly education conversations where Friends can learn and discuss the specifics of racism and how it works in our country. 
  • View and discuss films about race and racism. Notice the difference between films written and directed by white filmmakers and those written and directed by Back, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).
  • Establish a working group to help Meeting lower existing racial barriers to involvement in the Meeting.
  • Implement a Meeting-wide Inclusion Assessment. Seek and take seriously feedback from Friends of Color.
  • Add information in the newsletter about activities from Friends of African Descent as well as FGC Ministry on Racism.
  • Fund Friends to attend anti-racism conferences and workshops. Establish a space for these Friends to bring information back to Meeting.

The work of anti-racism can be costly in ego and in resources. It takes critical humility to look directly at the roots of racism and how we perpetuate it. It is spiritual work that Quakers are familiar with. When we examine our lives and the life of our Meetings through the lens of our testimonies, our experience of the God within us grows and the beloved community thrives.

Part Two: Writing a Strong Anti-Racist Minute of Concern

Since the times of George Fox, the Religious Society of Friends has acted at the intersection of internal spirituality and social action. In worship, Friends seek moral guidance of how to live our lives, to “let our lives speak.”

In the past five years, Friends General Conference, as well as various yearly meetings and monthly meetings, have understood that living into our testimonies of integrity, equality, and community demand action to end racial injustice in North America and throughout the world.

When a meeting intends to become an anti-racist faith community it records a Minute of Concern. Adapted from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice (2018), elements of a strong anti-racist minute of concern include:

A description of the issueThis description often has an emotional impact on the reader that pulls them into wanting to join the project. It is a plain statement of the truth. Here’s an example from Red Cedar Monthly Meeting: “America has never repented of its original sin: genocide and slavery.” Hopewell Centre Friends Meeting minute begins, “We abhor the death of so many people of color. We abhor the constant diminishment of the humanity of people of color…We believe we are in a revolutionary moment where change is possible and justice may be realized.  We must recognize that our history and our culture have betrayed us, and we must take steps to build a Beloved Community.”

Statement of what is being asked of public bodies. This might be to support a specific bill. Name public officials. State what change is preferred. A minute might say: “Our Quaker Meeting demands Congress pass the Justice in Policing Act to curtail protections that shield police officers accused of misconduct from being prosecuted and impose a new set of restrictions on law enforcement officers to prevent them from using deadly force.” 

Santa Barbara Friends Meeting “calls…on our elected officials, including the mayor and city council of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County Supervisors, State Assembly, and Senate members, to prohibit the use of lethal and non-lethal weapons by the police against demonstrators and the continuing disproportionate use of violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We call on our leaders to redirect police funding toward new investment in communities of color, toward mandatory civilian oversight, and toward alternative emergency response programs.” 

A partial list from the Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting includes: “We call for the immediate end to police violence…We demand the dismantling of current policing and criminal justice systems that enable and perpetuate racism.”

A set of one or more action stepsThe actions can have both internal and external focus. The steps might address both individual and corporate action. A longer list of actions offers every Friend something they can take part in.

The minute from Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting continues: “We recognize that our peace testimony cannot mean passivity, that we will stand up in advocacy and not remain silent on issues of injustice…We recognize the unequal burden Black, Indigenous, and people of color have suffered historically and presently in this racist society. We commit to providing reparative funds to begin to compensate for this inequity…We commit to promoting, supporting and participating in individual, local, and yearly meeting wide continuing education about Black history, colonialism, white privilege, and police violence…We recognize that words without action accomplish little. We commit to taking tangible action. We proclaim with American Friends Service Committee that ​we won’t stop until we dismantle the whole racist system​.”

A public declaration of moral concern may include publishing the minute in a local newspaper or posting it on a social media platform. You may also want to share it with other Quaker Meetings within the Yearly Meeting, use it to speak to representatives in the state or national governing bodies as a way to open conversations on a variety of efforts to reform systemic racism, or offer it to Friends Committee on National Legislation to be used in national advocacy efforts.

The minute could commit a Meeting to seek alliances with community organizations who carry the same concern. It is an opening to live into our testimony of equality and stand with Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities. It may also be used to commit Friends to reflect on our own unconscious racism, and to join together to learn about racial history and white supremacy using discussion groups, or book and film groups. 

A statement of accountabilityFew of the anti-racism minutes reviewed for this article include phrasing about accountability. Friends have good intentions in our anti-racism statements, but without a clear way to hold ourselves accountable, the fog of white supremacy can overtake our commitment to become the Blessed Community. Here are a few ways to keep the work actively in front of Friends:

  • A meeting may direct each of its committees to answer the question: “In what ways does this decision support our intent to become an anti-racist faith community?” Friends can read through committee minutes for evidence and ideas about answering that question.
  • The annual State of the Meeting report can include anti-racist activities and actions.
  • The Meeting newsletter can publicize community anti-racist activities in which Friends might participate.
  • The Meeting can encourage individuals or groups to form “anti-racism buddies,” where Friends share their leadings and are encouraged to act upon them.
  • Each Meeting for Business can include a report of anti-racist activities.
  • The committee or group that proposed the anti-racism minute could commit to returning to Meeting for Business six months or a year later to assess how meeting and its members have done in fulfilling the commitments made in the minute.

Friends, the momentum for white people in this country to find a way through the fog of racism is upon us.  Let us join this “second wave” of abolition, where our lives speak of justice lived into the Light.

Part Three: Navigating What Comes Next

“God sometimes takes us into troubled waters not to drown us, but to cleanse us.”

– LeCrae, Hip Hop Artist

When Quakers are called by Spirit to address racism both in our day-to-day lives and within our Meetings, the waters will be troubled. Addressing racism as a community is difficult and chaotic work for both Friends of Color and white Friends. Whether the troubled waters churn during the discernment of taking on the work or after the commitment to become an anti-racist faith community is made, there are predictable responses and behaviors that occur. 

Expect strong responses, in meeting and online

Don’t be surprised if there is shame and bullying of one another (though it’s important to interupt these behaviors, and encourage everyone to use “I statements” when sharing their thoughts and feelings). Don’t be surprised that Friends step away from Meeting, both Friends of Color and white Friends. Don’t be surprised that Friends’ understanding of Quaker testimonies are individual and conflicting. Don’t be surprised when discernment seeps into social media (a place better built for education, not for the process of decision-making). Don’t be surprised that in times of struggle it is suprisingly easy to spread rumors (“this Friend told me…”). Don’t be surprised when leaders are attacked. Don’t be surprised when white fragility stops progress. None of these are fatal, and we owe it to our loved ones who are hurt most by racism to work through them.

Anti-racism conversations will expose important topics our Meeting may have avoided  

It may be helpful to view these conversations through the lenses of trust and conflict. Here are some questions to ask for each:

Trust:Do we trust each other to do our own work, especially when your work looks different from mine? Can you trust when I challenge a statement that I am not calling you a racist? Can we commit to an open conversation where we both listen to and hear one another’s experiences, knowing that we may not agree? Can we trust a third way might emerge if we turn to Spirit? Can we trust moving through the chaos will contribute to the work at hand?

Conflict: Can we find ways to engage in conflict without demeaning each other? Can we agree that to change we must become comfortable with conflict? Can we do this work without blame? Can we listen to anger without becoming defensive? Can we stay at the table when things get emotional? Can we trust white Friends who have had difficult histories regarding race and racism to do their personal work wherever it takes them, even if that is outside of the Quaker Meeting?

Always be ready to listen and hear

White Friends, this part in particular is for us. As white Friends, can listen to and hear the experience of Friends of Color without defensiveness?  Can we understand what we think of as normal life experience is not necessarily the normal experience of Friends of Color? Can we listen to the experiences of our Friends of Color with acceptance, rather than skeptism or disbelief? Can we receive the telling of that experience as a sacred gift?

White people live with a kind of cognitive dissonance of being lied to about racism in this country. Our fragility makes us ambivalent about practicing anti-racism. It is easier to profess “I am not a racist” then to integrate anti-racist action into our everyday life. If you are white there is work to do, whether you are just beginning to notice racism is not just an issue affecting People of Color or if you have been aware and working on race and racism much of your life. It takes humility to do this work. Once a white person recognizes how we have been deluded by the myths of equality and justice in our culture, we know our very soul is at stake if we don’t do the work.

At the same time, Friends of Color have their own paths to follow, their own work to do. Malcolm X said: “America’s greatest crime against the Black man was not slavery or lynching but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.” People of Color are not divorced from the damaging influences of white supremacy culture, within and outside the Religious Society of Friends. Healing from internalized oppression, understanding intersectionality, and surviving institutional inequality happens when people with shared experiences listen to and hear each other. In our sacred faith community, when Friends of Color ask for a place of their own to worshop and have fellowship (virtually or in-person), all Friends must respect and protect that space.

Reflect on: What is Spirit asking of us?

Be aware of our language. Use the first person (I and we) rather than you and them. Allow space for each Friend to do their own necessary work. Provide multiple ways for Friends to engage with the work. This might be a monthly discussion group, a Meeting wide retreat, a book club, accountability buddies, writing letters, Showing Up for Racial justice (SURJ) or joining Black Lives Matter activities. Pastoral Care might offer individual conversations with Friends who are struggling or help form care committees. Bottom line, be appreciative of Friends who are courageously engaging with the work of becoming an anti-racist faith community no matter where they begin.

Remember the words of Isaac Penington

“…praying one for another and holding one another up with a tender hand.”

Transformation is not an orderly, neat thing; God will begin working with each person where they are. And our “learning edges” are wildly divergent. So, something that’s new and tender for one person will blunder into something uncomfortably obvious to another. The only constant will be that the challenges we present to each other will threaten identities (professional, personal, and relational) that most white people have built over lifetimes following what we now recognize as mistaken assumptions. But who are we if they’re not true? The tenderness and patience to accompany each other in frightening inner work has to be balanced with the urgency of the need to end newly glimpsed injustice. 

A recent message given in Meeting speaks to understanding racism as a chronic disease. A Friend spoke of her teen age boy with asthma. He is an athlete who runs cross country. It is his passion. To do this, he must use the medical tools at hand. He must always carry an inhaler to use before and after a run.

Like this beloved child of the Meeting, we must find our inhalers, the tools available to us to become anti-racist. It takes inner strength of courage, trust and love to build muscles to paddle hard through troubled waters to find justice in our Meetings. This work, done with integrity, will deepen the Spiritual life of individual Friends and of our beloved community.

Carolyn Lejuste is a member of Red Cedar Friends Meeting in Lansing, MI. She served on FGC’s Institutional Assessment on Systemic Racism Task Force from 2016 to 2018 and served on the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee from 2019 to 2020.

David Etheridge is a member of Friends Meeting of Washington in Washington, D.C. He serves on the Friends General Conference Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee.

Translate »