February 13, 2018

You say you aren't a racist but...

I am finding a way to respond to white people who tell me, "I'm not a racist but..."  I am preparing myself to ask them, "Oh? How are you engaging in anti-racism work then?"

Even the most sincere racial justice workers among us who are white realize that we have an unhealed dose of racially implicit bias that we need to address.

I've started thinking about what a true commitment to being anti-racist and doing racial justice work would look like.  In some ways, this list and its general sequence of items reflects my own journey--where I started and what challenges I was invited into.

Ideally, this list wouldn't be a list at all.  It would be an image of a central circle with many spokes coming off of it, like a bike wheel.* Each item on each spoke would have as much weight or importance as every other one.  At least, in theory.  In my own journey, though, what I give weight to has changed, depending on my growing edge, where I fail the most often, etc.

  • It must be everyday. Every day. 
  • It must be a conscious choice.
  • It must be more than belief, attitude, words, or self-education.
  • It must be demonstrated and made visible to others at some point. It is at times public--outer work--as well as private, inner work.
  • It often occurs in connection with others who are also working for racial justice. 
  • It will demonstrate a consistency of involvement with a variety of people of color and indigenous people over time.
  • It will likely build on previous anti-racist actions. If we only go to vigils and marches, or only write letters to elected officials, or only study the history of racism; and if we aren't building new relationships or developing new skills or taking additional risks, we may have become complacent in our anti-racism work. 
  • It must decenter white comfort and decenter white-led groups. It must center the lived experiences of indigenous people and people of color; it must center groups led by indigenous people and people of color.
  • It must align with the wishes of a community, group, or organization that has a majority of indigenous people and/or people of color in its leadership.
  • It will likely challenge the norms and explicitly stated values of white-led or white-majority groups that we are participating in, especially if the group is committed to engaging in anti-racism work. 


*The image is from an online slideshow.

  1. Film I Am Not A Racist, Am I? (I haven't seen it yet.)
  2. White supremacist culture (a PDF)
  3. Annual White Privilege Conference
  4. Facing Race conference (every other year)
  5. Materials from World Trust

February 12, 2018

Advice and Query on Education

Elsewhere on The Good Raised Up, I've mentioned the Advices and Queries from Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative (IYMC).  Recently, Bear Creek Meeting--which holds my membership--asked its members and attenders to consider the Advice and Query on education.

For a number of years, Bear Creek Meeting has had a practice of including its distant members in the corporate practice of responding to queries by using email. Distant members reply to the query in writing and then the meeting reads those responses at the time it considers the query face-to-face.  What's unusual is that in general, IYMC resists the temptation to conduct business via electronic communication.  I'm not sure of the history, but it seems as though these Friends considered what would be lost by excluding a long-time member who had moved out of state had they not experimented with the use of email when that technology became common.  And now that I'm a member of Bear Creek, living 5 hours from the meeting, I participate in their query process by email as well. 

Below is the original advice and query on education; and then my submitted response to that query.

"Friends seek an education which integrates our intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions and enables us to face difficult moral issues with courage.  Friends promote learning throughout life and encourage freedom of thought and inquiry in all educational pursuits. Our complex and changing world demands that we learn to think and act creatively to meet its challenges.

"We learn from our direct experience of situations that surprise us and on which we later reflect; often from interacting with people from backgrounds that are quite different from our own; and from turning to nontraditional literature, media, and other sources of information. The Light shows us parts of humanity that we normally cannot see or seldom consider.

"Friends should be mindful that we rely a great deal on implicit education. Our children and others learn from the examples of how we live our lives, and hearing what we say during meeting for worship and meeting for business.  It would be helpful to newcomers if we were more explicit about our faith and practice with them. 

"While the religious education of our children is primarily the concern of parents, everyone benefits when the entire meeting is concerned with nurturing them. If a spirit of common concern is present, children will gain a sense of belonging to the larger community, and, knowing they are loved and respected, will be able to face the mysteries of life with trust. We encourage the participation of children in the life and work of the meeting."


  • How can we most effectively foster a spirit of inquiry and a loving and understanding attitude toward life? 
  • In what ways can we encourage an educational process that is consistent with the values Friends cherish? How do gender, race and class based expectations affect the goals we set and the way we learn? 
  • In learning about diverse communities, do we look for material that they themselves have written, filmed, or otherwise created and distributed? Do we stretch ourselves to break away from white-centered resources that may unknowingly, or intentionally, reinforce racial or middle-class bias?
  • What are people of color, especially women of color, saying about the way forward? Do we give them as much weight as we do older Friends, white Friends, or long-time Friends?
  • Do we take an active and supportive interest in schools, libraries and other educational resources in our communities and elsewhere? 
  • How do we prepare ourselves and our children to play active roles in a changing world?  What are younger people saying about their educational needs and desires?
  • What effort are we making to become better acquainted with the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, our Judeo‑Christian heritage, the history and principles of Friends, and the contributions of other religions and philosophies to our spiritual heritage? 


My experience among Friends in general and IYMC Friends in particular is that a large part of our education actually doesn’t come from book learning, libraries, and other conventional educational resources.

Rather, we learn from our direct experience of situations that surprise us and on which we later reflect; from interacting with people from backgrounds that are quite different from our own; and from turning to nontraditional literature, media, and other sources of information. The Light shows us parts of humanity that we normally cannot see or seldom consider.

For example, when I think about questions that would draw me out around what I have learned from the movement for Black lives; the nonviolent protests at Standing Rock; the solidarity work in support of undocumented immigrants… Well, this query doesn’t invite that sort of reflection.

Without personal, direct relationship with people who participated in these significant historic actions, my “education“ would be limited to whatever the mainstream media might convey. But my friends of color, and my contacts within the indigenous community, teach me and educate me not just about what happened but also what a just, inclusive community could be like.

A more useful query for myself has been, “What *non-white* sources of information am I drawing on regarding racial tension, social class oppression, etc.? When I worry about an entire group of people’s circumstances, do I look for material that they themselves have written, filmed, or otherwise created and distributed? Do I stretch myself to break away from white-centered resources that may unknowingly (or intentionally!) reinforce racial or middle-class bias? What are younger people saying about the situation? What are people of color, especially women of color, saying about the way forward? Do I give them as much weight as I do older Friends, white Friends, or long-time Friends?”

These questions are not what first comes to my mind! They rise up when people of color insist that their lives matter, their experiences are valid, and we should believe them and support them and learn from them.


December 6, 2017

Requiring membership dues?! and a minute on racism and white supremacy

NOTE: This post is based on something I put in a Facebook group in Eleventh Month 2017. 

For weeks, I have been shaking my head in sadness and disbelief at the fact that at least two monthly meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have insensitively sent letters to low-income Friends, asking (telling?) them that they owe membership dues of several hundred dollars or more. How is this in keeping with the practice of not requiring tithes?

Then I went looking for the "dues" of Abington Meeting, since that is one meeting where I've heard of these letters going out. (I don't know if these fees are called "dues" or something else.)

Before I found what I was looking for on the meeting's website, I had to click on the link about Benjamin Lay. I was so glad to see an excerpt from an approved minute from Quakers in North London in the U.K., naming racism and white supremacy! Such minutes are a start.

Once we name an injustice, we can see the injustice--and vice versa. Once we name and see an injustice, we can begin to respond to it. Once we respond to an injustice, we can begin to work to prevent it. Once we prevent an injustice, we can work toward healing. As we work toward healing, we can build the treasured multiracial community we yearn for.

  • See injustice --> Name it
  • Name the injustice --> Respond to it
  • Respond to injustice --> Work to prevent similar injustice
  • Prevent similar injustice --> Work toward healing 
  • See, name, and build on the healing --> Build multiracial community

But if we are conditioned by our Quaker communities and by the wider society to ignore or make invisible an injustice, let alone never name it and to stay silent around it, we will have lost a bit of our shared humanity.

Here's the language of the minute from North London Area Quakers.

"In the UK, the North London Area Meeting minute, Agreed on 18 November 2017 reads as follows:
Quakers are proud of the times in history we have been ahead of our time on progressive social issues – but preceding those moments, there have often been long periods when we have not walked the path we would later understand to be the just one. At a time when racism seems as present and ugly as ever – both globally and nationally – and the structures of white supremacy are being defended and strengthened by powerful forces in our societies, this seems a timely moment for North London Area Meeting to reflect on its involvement in the struggle for racial justice.
"North London Area Meeting recognises Benjamin Lay’s dedication to equality – and his willingness to repeatedly speak his messages of Truth. We also recognise Benjamin Lay as being a Friend of the Truth – and as being in unity with the spirit of our Area Meeting. We ask our Clerking team to write to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Abington Monthly Meeting and Southern East Anglia Area Meeting (successor to Colchester; Coggeshall Monthly Meeting) to clarify that Lay is in good standing with North London Area Meeting (successor to Devonshire House Monthly Meeting).”


A little more digging turns up the "Basic guidelines for giving" at Abington Meeting. That said, this is such a clear case of good intention ("for the upkeep and continued vitality" of the meeting) and harmful impact (lower income Friends feeling either pressured to give beyond their means or feeling/believing that if they cannot contribute at the "suggested" level, their membership could be revoked--if already a member--or blocked/slowed if they wish to pursue membership in the future.)

It is not lost on me that one meeting within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting listed as an excuse that they terminated its only Friend of Color's membership in part because the Friend didn't contribute financially to the meeting. That sounds to me like requiring a form of tithes, which Friends have eschewed; it goes against the Quakerism I have practiced in the midwestern United States; and it goes against the oft-quoted Scripture about how we are all of one body, and all that we bring to the community are gifts of the Spirit.

The more I see and name injustices, such as implying that members of our meetings "ought" to contribute financially at a certain level, the more I see how Friends carry out injustice in a manner that is not so very different from what occurs outside of our Quaker communities.


November 27, 2017

Queries that help me dig deeper

A few weeks ago, I posted about the queries that Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) uses.  That post was prompted by some writing that my Quaker friend Jeff Kisling has done, especially about the possibility of updating the regional body's treasured queries. On Facebook, as part of a go-around that a few of us were doing to put words to queries that might be more appropriate to today, I replied with this:

When God and I query myself during times of struggle or of spiritual desert, many times the query is 
“Have I experienced something like this before? If so, what helped and what hindered? Am I able to do more of what worked and avoid what didn’t?” 
Another go-to query for me, especially around justice work, has been 
“If I am not clear on the Way forward and yet there is a clear injustice being committed [including inaction/absence of witness], where is the Way open that I might act or address the injustice?” 
One Conservative-leaning Quaker friend of mine often lifts that sort of query up as “What is mine (or ours) to do?”

I also want to be explicit that these personal queries I’ve written here seldom appear/occur/are Given to me in this manner. More often, they are Given to me as a singular piece, in my heart, wordless, until I sit long enough and they exercise me and convict me inwardly.

Along those lines, another query that rises in me from time to time is 
“Where do I understand that my good intentions have had harmful impacts, across race, social class, gender, ability, age, and the like? What is required of me to repair the harm and to help me avoid such behavior and transform such attitudes going forward?”
I’m also aware that queries that work for me and are Given to me may not speak to the condition of anyone else. I think that may go without saying.

So many important, life-giving considerations to hold, reflect on, and act upon, as Way opens...