neym.org --> M&C Working Party on Racism --> Letter to Meetings
Letter to Meetings
The following was sent in September 2002 from Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel to all monthly meetings in New England Yearly Meeting.
Dear Clerks of Monthly Meetings and Representatives to YM M&C:
Enclosed is a letter addressed to all Quakers in New England that was approved at our last meeting of Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel on September 14. We ask that you share it with your meeting, and that Monthly Meeting representatives to Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel report back to us concerning your meeting's reactions and actions on this issue of racism.
Members of Ministry and Counsel's Working Party on Racism are ready to help your meeting with suggestions and resources. If you would like their help, please contact the clerk of that Working Party:
155 James Circle
Mashpee, MA 02649
A key to racism now being taken seriously is the belief that our own (usually unconscious) racism affects our spiritual well being. Racism can no longer be dismissed simply as a political action issue; we must look within ourselves.
To White Friends and Friends of Color in New England, Greeting That of God in All of Us:
The membership of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States is overwhelmingly white. This has concerned some Friends for centuries. New England Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel has at last taken up the issue of ongoing racism in the Religious Society of Friends. We, the members of this committee, desire now to work conscientiously among ourselves and with you the members of your meeting toward a full recognition of Friends’ racism, both conscious and unconscious, and toward its elimination from the Society. We acknowledge that it is difficult for those of us who are white to confront racism and recognize our own white privilege. We undertake this work with the generous help of Friends of color and upon the advice of our consciences, our instincts for justice, and our belief in the spiritual benefits of working against racism.
We have heard the pain of Friends of color who have explained for years how they must constantly support each other as overlooked minorities in this overwhelmingly white Society. Friends of African, Asian, Native American, Latino, and Middle-Eastern descent, and multiracial Quaker families have cried out to us in anguish about how Friends Meetings are not welcoming places for themselves and their children of color. We have learned how seldom racism is on the agenda even of monthly meetings located next door to communities of color.
Friends have testimonies of equality and peace-making, and Friends are justly proud of their historic witness against slavery and in support of civil rights. But good intentions in the past and in the abstract are not enough and make it easy for white Friends to deny any part in racism, even to deny that racism still exists. Friends’ first step toward racial sensitivity is surely to cease all such denials.
Racism is not merely prejudice and mean thoughts. Racism is part of the American system of privilege and dominance into which that both whites and people of color are born. Racism is deeply imbedded in our daily lives, and whites seldom even realize they are participating in it. Those of us who are white must work to recognize our part in racism and learn to take responsibility for it in our lives and in our meetings.
New England Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel asks New England monthly meetings to begin at once to look into their hearts and minds in a concerted effort to perceive how white Friends individually participate in the system of white privilege and how the power structures of Friends’ institutions reinforce white privilege. Unconscious acts of disrespect on the part of white Friends toward people of color are acts of injustice and inequality, hurting people of color and damaging the humanity of whites. Friends must learn to question everyday occurrences such as a white Friend’s saying to a visitor of color, “May I help you?” (distancing) instead of “Welcome!” (including), or a white Friend’s doubting a person of color describing distress or outrage over some word or act on the part of a white person.
Such awareness can be developed through reading, discussion and workshops, and we can provide suggestions for all three. Our hope is that those of us who are white will push beyond the fear of feeling guilty, and address our ignorance about and our dismissal of cultures of color. Committing the Religious Society of Friends to the dismantling of racism requires reaching into every aspect of meeting life: ministry, eldering, pastoral care, adult religious education, First Day School, fellowship, and outreach, as well as social action. We sense, gratefully, that Friends are being called once again to become a peculiar people, a people who do not participate in the dominant cultural behavior. The rewards are deeper spiritual awareness and a richer life.
We ask you to hold these concerns in the light, consider deeply what concrete
steps your meeting will take to address them, and advise us of your plans and
needs so that we may stimulate and support all Friends in this work.
In peace, and in justice,
Bonnie Norton, Clerk, for Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel
[Top of page] [Working Party on Racism Home Page]