July 26, 2010

Packing interrupted

I'm forcing myself to interrupt my preparation for the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) so that I can spit out a blogpost that's been sitting with me recently.

I've been reading a few pages a day of Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. Some of it is truly educational, at least for me, like the two competing abolition movements among Friends: one that advocated for the gradual ending of the slave trade--first by prohibiting the importation of Africans to the colonies, then moving into requiring the freeing of enslaved Africans and African Americans--and the other advocated for immediate emancipation of all those who were enslaved.

Other parts of the book--at least, the first few chapters--have been rather horrifying and ego-busting, like just how few Quakers of European descent truly worked for abolition and how many Quakers were reluctant to give up their privilege of "owning" one or more Africans. ....I'm pretty sure if I had been an adult back in those days, I would have been among those who enslaved my African brothers and sisters. ...though I'd like to think, too, that I would have been opened by the Spirit and would have lent my help in some regards to the Underground Railroad or other elements of the abolitionist movement, but it's hard to know for sure. After all, these days I'm still slow to act when I see an injustice occur...

And still other parts of the book are kind of a mirror for today. Back then, there were extremely wealthy Quakers of European descent who could direct enormous sums of money to efforts like the establishment of schools for emancipated African Americans. It makes me reconsider just where am I directing my surplus money? Am I sacrificing enough? It can't possibly be rightly ordered for me to hold onto my financial privilege, so how hard will it be for me to surrender to just what is rightly ordered?

This book is not just about debunking "the myth of racial justice." It's also about allowing God to transform the book's readers by way of seeing how Friends from earlier times either turned from the Light or heeded it.



Anonymous said...

"It can't possibly be rightly ordered for me to hold onto my financial privilege"

This is incorrect thinking. For whatever reasons, God has given us each different talents and resources. We are to use them for good purposes; we are not supposed to feel guilt about them. We each use the resources given to us according to our values. Give away your money to the poor if you must. But if you invest it wisely and use it for good purposes, more good will come than by lamenting. Your wealth is also a responsibility, as well as a privilege.

Pat Schenck said...

God gave us our talents. An unjust society gives us our resources. It makes a big difference what part of society you grew up in. It is a lot easier to have sufficient resources if you grew up in a home with financial and educational resources and didn't have to face discrimination in getting a job.

Pat Schenck said...

God gave us our talents. Our resources came from an unjust society that favors some over others. We don't need to feel guilt or lament, we need to work for an even playing field.

Liz Opp said...

My apologies for responding so very late to Anonymous... Pat's comment that appeared only recently touches on my thoughts:

An unjust society gives us our resources.

I would add:

...or restricts us from having them, depending mostly on our skin color, and on other things like educational level, and financial standing.

I recently participated in a workshop that addresses privilege and oppression from a societal framework. One of the key concepts presented was that many White Americans--of which I am one--have been unknowingly indoctrinated to believe things like:

I deserve what I have.
I worked hard for it.
(In my case, I didn't: I come from generations of wealth.)
Others should work hard for it.
It's not society's fault that some get ahead while others fall behind.
I should spend my energy working for what I want, supporting the rules and systems in place.

What the workshop reiterated for me is that as a White person, I have been trained--as have generations before me--to reinforce a system that rewards/advances people with white skin and punishes/restricts people with brown, red, or yellow skin.

The presenter nicknamed that meta-system Super Whitey. And now that the system has a "name," it's become much easier for me to get a handle on the system that tilts the playing field to one group's advantage and another group's disadvantage.

To Anonymous, I would say that your assertion that "This is incorrect thinking" is part of Super Whitey whispering in your ear that it's okay to have the privileges I have.

That said, I appreciate the reminder that lamenting the privilege I carry doesn't move social change along.


P.S. There are many resources online that address whiteness as a social construct and power as it relates to skin color. Here's a pdf of an article by Paul Kivel.