Noticing Patterns of Oppression & Faithfulness

Story author
Lisa Graustein
Friends at Noticing Patterns workshop

Photo: Kathleen Wooten

During a conversation about leadership among Friends, the gathered body at Sessions in 2018 yearned for ways to better understand how subtle bias and systems of oppression operate among as. After some discussion and a threshing session, the following minute was brought to and approved by the body: "the Yearly Meeting [will] develop a practice of appointing people who will observe, name and reflect back to us long-standing, unseen patterns and practices that result in our complicity in oppression. Development of this practice should proceed under the care of Ministry and Council." (For the full minute, go here and scroll down to 2018-53.) 

This fall, a working group was formed by Yearly Meeting Ministry & Counsel to help us develop a practice and name some people to help us do this work. The Working Group for Noticing Patterns of Oppression & Faithfulness held a workshop on March 9th at Wellesley Friends Meeting. Fifty Friends from throughout NEYM, and of all generations, attended. The morning began with naming places we felt seen and a sense of belonging, and moved into an interactive embodiment activity in which we greeted, welcomed, and prayed for each other without using words or sound as a way to help us reconnect with the part of ourselves that can know and understand without words. This also served to remind us that even if we feel new to the work of noticing patterns of oppression or faithfulness, we often can still tap into that gut sense that tells us when things are off or rightly ordered.

Working group members then led a reflection on what faithfulness requires of us and how we can see and name patterns of oppression. We defined patterns of oppression as learned behaviors and ways of being that seek to diminish the humanity of different groups of people. We are taught these patterns, explicitly and implicitly, throughout our lives. While we have often been conditioned to these patterns, when we can name and recognize them, we can interrupt them by acting in ways different to how we have been conditioned and in ways that seek to affirm the humanity of each person.

We spent the afternoon acting out different situations from our Quaker communities, naming the patterns of oppression at play and practicing different ways of interrupting them. Below are two scenarios we used. What are the patterns you see? How might you interrupt or change these moments?

At Rise of Meeting:

Longtime Member #1 “Kathy”: “Welcome! What brings you here?”

Young Adult Friend (YAF): “Actually, I’ve been coming here for over a year.”

Longtime Member: “Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t realize this. I can’t believe I never noticed you. I’m so embarrassed. I’m so sorry.”

YAF: I...

Longtime member #2: (without looking at or acknowledging YAF) “Kathy, I’m glad I caught you. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about….”

The longtime members turn towards each other and start talking, ignoring the YAF.

The YAF walks away.

Committee Work

The meeting committee working on racial justice puts together a program on microagressions. At the rise of worship a couple weeks before, we announce the workshop and are transparent/explicit in our welcome to all, while also saying something like—we also understand and respect that Friends of Color might choose not to attend. A few Friends of Color are upset that we had not involved them in developing or planning the workshop, or in some way checking in with them, that as white people we were going off in our direction without accountability.

Throughout the day, Friends were invited to reflect on all that we were learning, exploring, and unpacking. We used simple sentence prompts to help us name some of what was going on:

I see . . . .
I feel  . . . 
I hear . . . .
I know . . . 
I wonder . . . 

We invite all Friends to try out these prompts between now and Sessions. Take a few minutes during your business or committee meeting to invite this reflection, share the prompts after watching somethings with your children or friends, or bring them into your prayer time and worship.

This summer at Sessions, we will be offering different ways that we can all set more fully into the work of naming and interrupting patterns of oppression and lifting up and strengthening our patterns of faithfulness. Check out future news letters for more information about and opportunities to join in this work.

Quotes from Friends who attended:

"To learn once again, how easy it is to inadvertently exclude someone. The examples we worked on as a group were very helpful in illustrating the ways in which we can diminish others without even realizing it.. . What a wonderful introduction to Patterns of Oppression! I left not feeling inadequate (there is so much to learn about oppression) but feeling like I better understand Faithfulness and its importance to eliminating unintentional oppression. Thank you for the safe and inclusive environment. Great facilitation team." ~ Friend Elizabeth Reuthe

"This was carefully sequenced, with everyone made welcomed and included. The afternoon section on interrupting and refocusing was particularly useful and powerful." ~ Friend Andy Harrington

"I have come away with a more visceral feeling from noticing oppression and a commitment to pay more attention to that anxiety in my stomach when it arises. " ~ Friend Maureen Lopes

"It was a gift to be a part of this day on naming patterns of oppression. One thing that struck me was how obvious the fruits of the Spirit were in our time together. There was much laughter and levity paired with reverence and vulnerability. So often, it seems that when we are confronted with the ways that we have participated in patterns of thought and behavior that have been wounding, it can feel overwhelming, and we can shut down, feel shame, and deny the truth. My experience of this day was that the facilitators created a space of honesty and vulnerability and the worship helped us all feel held in God's love, and experience the grace and mercy that is available as we face the many ways that we fall short of God's vision for us as a whole people, and try (with humility) to live more fully into what is possible. I hope we can all continue to engage in this work with this life-giving orientation." ~ Friend Honor Woodrow

"The facilitators brought an incredible gift to the group of participants for the workshop. Friends in New England are being invited into an exciting opportunity to learn and grow together, and the activities brought to this workshop deepened relationships and skills. During the workshop, we were brought back to our physical bodies and our intuition, regularly reminded to think about ways we are already being faithful, practiced ways of interrupting harmful patterns with care and love, and grew deeper as a community. ~ Friend Hilary Burgin