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Will we answer?
Gail Thomas, Clerk, NEYM Christian Education Committee
Fit For Freedom, Not For Friendship is the proposed title for Donna McBride’s and Vanessa Julye’s reworking of the book Black Quakers. It may not be used. It unsettles some Quakers. The title, however, does reflect our ambiguity. Quakers were often in the leadership for emancipation, for equal treatment, for Civil Rights. But, historically, African Americans were not encouraged to apply for membership in our meetings, and, if they persisted, they were assigned their own benches.
It’s hard for many white Quakers to admit they are racist, and I speak as a white Quaker. We are well meaning people; we pride ourselves on treating all people equally, on being color blind. Unfortunately, our denial not only does not change the reality for people of color, but, also, keeps us from recognizing our own racist behaviors. Using Christian language, this is a “sin.” In the Gospel of John we read that the light came into the world and the people chose darkness. Putting aside the irony of using light/dark metaphors, the light is God’s gift. It shines on our dark places, exposes our human frailties, our denial, our closed hearts. Refusing the light, choosing to stay in darkness, is both sin and judgment. The Gospels tell us we can “repent,” with God’s help we can turn and open our hearts and minds to the truth.
Like “a voice crying in the wilderness” there was a plea during consideration of the Long Range Plan at the 2001 Yearly Meeting Sessions to start looking at our own racism and privilege. In many ways we do not see and do not understand, we white Quakers hurt our fellow seekers. It is time we do see and we do understand. As in all spiritual work, our path is both individual and communal. We have a proud history of helping to build on and a sad history of prejudice to overcome.
In the Christian Education Committee we have been working on developing queries for children around racism. We discovered that as an all white committee we have difficulty keeping racism front and center. White people tend to see racism as part of a larger problem of prejudice. Most people of color do not have that option. Our society does not let them forget their “color.” In this work, it is not that one way is wrong and another right. The work is to be aware, to put that light on our blind places so that we can see and not be afraid.
Every country has it’s Grand Narrative. Ours is that our land was empty
before we came and that we have prospered due to our own hard work. In fact,
the land was occupied by Native Americans and our wealth is based on slave labor.
As we strive to create a new story, we must not act from guilt but from love—love
of truth, love of justice and love of our fellow human beings. We are being
called to this work now. Will we listen? Will we answer?
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