March 27, 2015

Questions about Whiteness, race, and racism

Dear long-lost readers...

I find that I am still writing about my journey as a Friend, but just not here. I want that to change.  I also want to be transparent and explicit:  my journey as a Friend is now closely entwined with my growth as a White anti-racist and as someone who is working for justice in my area.

My hope is to engage a different practice of writing, one that would basically "cross-post" from things I write on Facebook or share via email or Twitter.

Now, I realize that many White Friends may be more mystical than hands-on-for-justice- or activism-oriented.  I was much more mystical than I am now, and in hindsight I also didn't feel as whole or as connected to a wider group of people as I feel now.  At least, that's where I am currently, on this "journey to be faithful" in the face of my own humanness and the humanness of those who I meet along the way.

So--

For a good many months now, I have been receiving emails from a White Conservative Quaker friend of mine who is involved in both environmental justice and racial justice.  Jeff sends out emails with updates about his experiences. He's inspired me to send emails out as well, especially to keep my long-distance care-and-accountability committee updated as I go more deeply into anti-racism work.

I feel rather clear to be engaging in White-on-White conversations among the Quaker community.  Sometimes the conversations are about Whiteness, race, and racism. Sometimes the conversations are about why the person cares about an issue as much as they* do.  Mostly, I use the conversations to build community around something that inspires us to do a tiny bit more on this earth to bring about justice and fairness.

We who believe in freedom and justice cannot rest.  We must continue to evaluate how our own lives and Quaker practices--and sometimes even our cherished Quaker mysticism--can get in the way of being effective in working for freedom and justice.

My friend started off his most recent group email by sharing this webpage, about "Where White people should start."  In the course of the email exchange among a few of us, I came up with a list of possible questions for Friends to consider, a few other "starting points."  Then I realized I didn't want to hijack or derail the original focus of my friend's original email; and I didn't want to overwhelm my friends with my list of questions.

That's when I reminded myself of my new/renewed intention with The Good Raised Up, and so I post these questions below.

WHERE WHITE QUAKERS MIGHT START

  • When did you first become aware of Whiteness as a race?  How did that awareness get started?
  • How often is Whiteness mentioned in vocal ministry or in committee meetings? Are there code words used for people of color? If so, why?
  • If some of your ancestors are not native (ie not indigenous), what did your ancestors have to give up in order to be considered "White" in this land?
  • When did you first become aware of White privilege?  How did that awareness get started?  
  • When did you first become aware of systemic racism?  How did that awareness get started?
  • Is there anything in your calendar, your email account, your bank account, or your friends list that would indicate your active involvement in working for justice?
  • How often are constructs and concepts like White privilege, White supremacy, or systemic racism mentioned during worship or committee meetings? 
  • What does "socialization" mean to you?  How are White Quakers socialized to think about Whiteness, people of color, racism, equality, etc? Is it different from how "everyone else" is socialized or conditioned?
  • Does our Quaker faith socialize us or otherwise prepare us to get involved or take action against injustice? What helps us get involved? What hinders us? 
  • How do we respond when news of racially based violence comes into our lives and into our meetings? 
  • What is the benefit of exploring these sorts of questions, actions, and topics?  What's the risk of doing so?  What's the risk of not doing so?

Well, those are more than just a "few" questions!

I will say that I feel much more in touch with a sense of Divine Wholeness since I started paying attention to how God was speaking through people of color. I feel like I'm reclaiming a long-lost part of my humanity--a sense of mutual humanity and dignity for long-lost cousins, neighbors, and friends who have been historically oppressed...

And if religion allows for a re-membering of a fragmented body, a reconnection of life in the Spirit, then this justice work certainly has been a doorway for me into that Wholeness.

Blessings,
Liz

*I use the pronouns "they," "them," and "theirs" in order to avoid the clunky "she/he," "hers/his" construction.  These pronouns are being used more frequently within the transgender community, including their supporters/allies.

3 comments:

Jeff Kisling said...

I'm glad you're back. We Friends really need to work amongst ourselves with these issues. I think your questions could be very helpful in stimulating discussion

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hmm...Your post will give me a different view to reflect about. While we do need to be ever vigilant against racism (am aware that most Friends meetings are white, that there is still prejudice throughout human societies), it seems that race has become too much a code word.

One of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes:
Daybreak in Alabama
When I get to be a composer
I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.

:-) I love those lines-- "black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers..."

Liz Opp said...

Jeff, thanks for the encouragement!

Daniel, I haven't read enough poetry by African Americans, but among the few I've been exposed to in recent years--mostly the two or four poems that are shared during "Black History Month"--have left me with images and feelings that I want to return to.

Blessings,
Liz