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.
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.
This resource originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Vital Friends, FGC's monthly eNewsletter.