November 13, 2017

Guest post: Quakers, anti-racism work, and accountability partners

In 2015, Friends General Conference (FGC) began an anti-racist experiment during its large, week-long annual summer Gathering, which is mostly geared for "unprogrammed Quakers"--Quakers who worship without any paid or appointed clergy (because we're all clergy and we're all laypeople, both) and without any planned liturgy, hymn singing, or other elements that are typical in a mainstream religious worship service.  The experiment was to hold daily afternoon sessions that were for white (European American) Friends who wanted to address racism or who already were doing that work.

I was on the team of facilitators for the first two years, 2015 in North Carolina and 2016 in Minnesota. We did a lot of experimenting with format and activities. We covered everything from microaggressions to white fragility; from talking in pairs to identifying useful resources; from discussing topics in one large group to identifying how systemic racism shows up in our Quaker communities.

It seemed like the Spirit was quickening, and that perhaps a critical mass of Friends was developing a greater sense of what an anti-racist Quaker could be; how we could enact anti-racist principles in our faith communities; and how we could hold ourselves accountable more reliably while building on the work that had already begun when Friends of Color first lifted up their concerns to the staff and governing body of FGC and the Friends they serve.

This past summer, I didn't attend the Gathering, which was held in New York. I did, however, have some contact with this year's team of facilitators, both before and afterward.  Earlier this week, I received an email from a white Friend who participated this year.  She's given me permission to share excerpts from her email.

I just wanted to thank [the co-facilitators] for the most excellent idea of having an accountability partner [AP] for doing my work around understanding and eliminating racism.  You had suggested it that Friday afternoon at FGC Annual Gathering as one of the items to put on our list of 32 things to do.* (Which, technically, I haven't really finished yet because I am constantly adding to it and I don't do them in any particular order.  Plus, that particular page has gotten quite messy, which I guess is actually fitting, since this work is messy, isn't it?)

I just finished my weekly phone call with my accountability partner, and we are both so richly blessed by sharing this together.  I am fairly certain that, if I was just going at this alone, I'd be berating myself all the time about how I didn't cross off the correct number of items from the list this week.  She has helped me to see that it's not about crossing items off a to-do list, but about the extent to which I am engaging in the work. Sometimes I read an article, and then I keep tying it in with other things for the next three weeks, and then I am talking to somebody else about it, and it enters my prayer life as well.  Does this only count as one item from the to do list?  Maybe, but look at how rich it has been.  I have learned so much.  My accountability partner says, "Growth is not linear!" and "Check whether you are allowing the Inner Teacher enough space to work."  I am able to make progress that I never would have without this partnership.

I find myself energized and drawn in as Baltimore Yearly Meeting engages more broadly and more deeply about what it means to be anti-racist, and how to be so.  I have been going to the Working Group on Racism [WGR] meetings for about a year, but in June began to get more serious about it. On Sunday, I sat in on a Growing Diverse Leadership Committee meeting, and offered to help prepare for a workshop and called Interim Meeting that will take place this Saturday, which features this work.  It feels like the balance that I get from my AP's wisdom, and checking in weekly, enables me to move forward faithfully with less effort and stress than I used to.  You so understated how powerful this can be!!!  Thank you--thank you--thank you for suggesting this.

I think that you'd actually given out your email address so that we could ask you to send links to resources.  I would happily take those.  I can also send you what I have... [New England Yearly Meeting] has a fabulous collection, with an index. [Here's one I found on the NEYM website. --Liz]  At WGR we are always sharing what we have read or discovered, like 1960's housewives trading recipes.  You can be added to the list if that would help you.

...Thank you for spending your afternoons the whole week of Gathering making space for working on this.  May you be blessed for your faithfulness.

In the Light,
Donna Kolaetis, Menallen Meeting

*One of the facilitators in 2016 brought to the group an activity where you number a page from 1 to 32, and on each line, you write one anti-racist activity that you'll do that day. (The initial prompt, as I recall, was to answer the question "What will I do today to end white supremacy?") The facilitator explained that he had learned a new behavior is more likely to stick if we carry it out for 32 consecutive days.

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