Friends General Conference

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Vital Friends: Why do we need to keep talking about the Institutional Assessment on Racism?

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By Vanessa Julye and Marta Rusek, on behalf of the Anti-Racism Implementation Group | 9/23/19

 

Why does FGC need a special retreat for people of color only? We are all one spiritual family!

Calling someone a white supremacist is racist.

FGC talks about the anti-racism work too much. Why not focus more on the positive change that has come from it?



These statements are paraphrased from comments on FGC’s Facebook page, from responses to our monthly online newsletters, and from feedback by Friends who support our organization as donors. In recent months, staff and committee members have noticed an increase in more critical feedback of FGC’s anti-racism ministry work and communications around it, which makes sense when you consider the larger narrative of Quaker history.

There is an ebb and flow in the Religious Society of Friends when it comes to confronting issues around systemic oppression and white supremacy. In the United States, Quakers played an important role in ending slavery and state-sanctioned desegregation, and they were active participants in the civil rights movement. On the flip side, Quakers engaged in the practice of seating persons of African descent in the back of the meeting house, refused to bury Friends of Color in their predominantly white cemeteries, and held the then-biannual FGC Gathering in a sundowner town (a community that openly used intimidation and violence to keep people of color out of the area, especially “after sundown”) between 1916 and 1968.

Before Friends of Color and Friends united in anti-racism work called for an intuitional assessment on racism within FGC at the 2016 Gathering, there were many instances of racial wounding at the Gathering and other programs of FGC that were seemingly addressed, but then forgotten. Several examples of racial incidents spawned by White Supremacy within Friends General Conference are listed in the first few pages of the Report from the Intuitional Assessment on Systemic Racism presented to FGC’s governing body in October 2018. You will find those stories on pages 3-13 in the full report.

Within FGC, a lot has changed institutionally, but a lot needs to be done to become a truly welcoming and inclusive association of Quaker meetings and churches. The feedback we’ve received so far, from Friends who engage with us in-person and online, indicates that our work toward becoming an anti-racist faith community is resonating and needs to keep moving forward. We are not the only community confronting our complicity in supporting the system of White Supremacy. The National Council of Churches also sees this as an important issue to address. For a second year they are sponsoring an event focused on addressing racism. This year’s Christian Unity Gathering titled, Ending Racism: Confronting our past, Revisiting our present and Naming God’s Preferred Future will be held in Virginia in October. More information on the Ending Racism Christian Unity Gathering can be found here.

As is stated in the Institutional Assessment, the system of “White supremacy restricts the creation of a blessed community because it makes it difficult for people of color to be a part of the community.” It is a system that FGC is hoping our meetings will join us in dismantling. Here are five ways you and your meeting can stay grounded and focused when your discomfort with the work becomes more noticeable:

  • Understand that our society has established a system of unequal institutionalized racial power that protects people of European descent from racial stress. Talking about the system of White Supremacy makes many people uncomfortable. Know that your desire to withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize and ignore instances related to White Supremacy is a reaction that you have learned, so it can be unlearned.

 

  • Notice and accept the discomfort associated with an honest appraisal and discussion of the internalized superiority or inferiority by challenging your racial reality. Understand that each person is a racial being with a particular and limited perspective on race.

 

  • Remember that we are human beings who will make mistakes, as has been documented above in the stories from the Institutional Assessment. It is important for us to learn from the mistakes. Our work to dismantle the system of White Supremacy must be ongoing regardless of the level of discomfort it triggers. 

  • Take action by reading books focused on systemic racism such as, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship – written by Vanessa Julye, FGC's Ministry on Racism Coordinator and Friend Donna McDaniel. This book documents the spiritual and practical impacts of White Supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends. Understanding the truth of our past is vital to achieving a diverse, and racially just religious community in the future. Fit for Freedom is available on the QuakerBooks website.

  • Take a Spiritual Deepening eRetreat. Topics like Understanding & Healing White Supremacy and Living Into Wholeness help participants understand how embedded White Supremacy and structural racism are in our society, and how we can disrupt them. Learn more about upcoming Spiritual Deepening eRetreats here. There are is also a collection of resources, activities, exercises, and texts in our Spiritual Deepening Library that can support you in your work to dismantle the system of White Supremacy.

Addressing the wounds and trauma of racism is painful work, and our resources can help guide your meeting’s journey to creating a more inclusive community by confronting and healing White Supremacy.