Part III: Racism in our Organizations and Institutions
Seeking Racial Justice in Our Organizations

This section provides stories of select Quaker meetings about their efforts to address racism within the meeting. What can your organization or faith community learn from these efforts?

We also provide some queries and an activity that can be used to start the conversation in your organization or faith community.

If you have five minutes...

Read and contemplate this excerpt from Toward the Other America: Antiracist Resources for White People taking Action for Black Lives Matter by Chris Crass, 2015

To become an anti-racist faith community, the key question, for a white/white majority community, is not, “How do we get people of color to join our faith community?” it is, “How can we make a prolonged, spiritually-rooted, engaged commitment to uprooting white supremacy within our community and take on-going collective action to challenge it in society?”

Our goal is not to have white people sit alongside a person of color so as to affirm that those white people aren’t racist. Our goal is to build and be part of beloved community united to end structural oppression and unleash collective liberation in our congregations, houses of worship, faith communities, schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and throughout society. Our goal is to join hands across the divisions of racism in our faith and in our communities, find and affirm our humanity in each other, and join our hearts and minds to the task of destroying white supremacy in every worldview, policy, law, institution, and governing body of our society.

For our faith communities to be places of healing for people of color and white people from the nightmare of racism. For our faith communities to be places of nourishment for people of color and white people about the multiracial struggles of our people to advance economic, racial, and gender justice and the continual process of overcoming oppression within the movement on the journey to end oppression in society. For our faith communities to raise our children, of all backgrounds, to be freedom fighters and practitioners of liberation values. For our faith communities to be spiritually alive, learning from and contributing to liberation cultures and legacies. For our faith communities to be welcoming homes for people of all colors, sexualities, classes, ages, abilities, genders, and citizenship statuses. For our faith communities to regularly be inviting us into and preparing us for courageous action for collective liberation, held in loving community for the long haul. Let our theologies and our faith communities be active agents in the world, to help us all get free, together.

Let us continue to grow and learn through lessons from theory applied to practice, in the messy, beautiful and nuanced reality of life. Let us be expansive while also being grounded. Eyes on the prize, hearts on fire, lead with values, compassion, and a fundamental belief, grounded in history, of everyday people's movements' ability to bend the arc of the universe towards justice and change what's politically possible, to make collective liberation a reality, step by step. At the end of the day, what we call ourselves is less important than how we treat people, the values we practice, the goals and vision that guide us, and the beloved community we are building on the journey to all get free.

Consider these suggestions from Atlanta Friends Meeting, which grew from the meeting's anti-racism work:

Some of the lessons we have learned may be of use to other meetings, since our experience suggests that they are typical for Friends.

First, white Friends need to learn to listen to the concerns of Friends of color without dismissing or minimizing them.

Second, the word racism makes many white Friends uncomfortable and generates defensive reactions, often accompanied by (inaccurate) accusations that someone is “calling me a racist.” Using "I " statements, speaking about a continuum of racism, or talking about why a particular action bothered the speaker may be helpful. In addressing these dynamics, we have tried to distinguish the variety of racisms, sorting out active white supremacy from unconscious stereotyping or exercise of white privilege.

Third, because of the defensiveness about the issue, Friends are in danger of false consensus if those present in threshing sessions are afraid to speak because of their inner fears of "being called a racist." It is essential for growth to create an environment in which white Friends can speak frankly without saying things that are hurtful to people of color. All-white discussion groups are particularly useful in addressing the two needs together.

Fourth, we found that if we wanted to make the Meeting a place that reduces burdens on people of color rather than increases them, that white Friends must take on the learning process themselves and not ask Friends of color to educate them, nor expect Friends of color all to hold one viewpoint on these issues.

Fifth, we learned through painful experience that white Friends might express their discomfort with discussion of racism through actions directed at people of color in the Meeting community. In other words, the work might temporarily make the Meeting less comfortable or safe - in the sense we described above - for people of color.

Sixth, we've learned the importance of intentionality, accountability, and long-term commitment in our anti-racism efforts. Without these, it's easy to fall into old patterns.

Finally, both a small committed group and efforts to bring the whole Meeting into the process have been necessary. The queries to each committee were particularly helpful in broadening the circle of those involved in making the Meeting a more welcoming spiritual home for all. We feel that any Meeting, even small ones, could undertake similar self-reflection.

We are directing our efforts towards becoming a more multicultural community, with greater awareness and respect across a number of types of diversity. Many of us feel profoundly changed by the work, and we hope our change is helping to stimulate change in the Meeting and in our wider communities.

by Susan Cozzens, Susan Firestone, Bert Skellie, and Karen Morris (2007)

If you have twenty minutes...

Take some time to sit with this minute, passed by the Central Committee of Friends General Conference at their October 2018 meeting:

Central Committee resolves that in all FGC decision-making processes during FY 2019, each body shall answer the following query with respect to each decision, “How does this decision support FGC in its goal to transform into an actively anti-racist faith community?”

How might the work of your organization be different if a similar query guided your collective actions? How might your own personal choices be different?

Starting the Conversation in Your Organization

Host a discussion using a variation on these Questions for Understanding Racism and Privilege Among Friends that is suitable for your organization or faith community. An example:

Taking responsibility is not accepting blame. It is empowering. Do we accept the gift of our responsibility for positive change and racial justice?

Or lead this activity as a step toward recognizing how white supremacy and racism show up in your meeting's culture, space, and practices.

Seeing the Whole Picture (30+ minutes)

Adapted from theTeen Racial Justice Curriculum by Lisa Graustein, 2013

  - Tape together four sheets of newsprint so you have a big surface on which to draw and write.

  - Explain to the group that together, you will be creating a picture or map of race, racism and white privilege in the meeting.

  - Draw a square in the middle of the page and then lines diagonally off of each corner 

  - Ask folks to close their eyes and picture the meeting in terms of race, and then say whatever words come to their minds. Write those words in the box in the middle of the paper.

  - In the space to the right, write “Racial Demographics and Images” (you may need to define the word “demographics”). Ask folks to name the racial demographics of the meeting and to describe the racial aspects of any images that they see in the meeting (e.g. the kid in the Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom” painting is white, the poster on the wall in the First Day School room has people of all different races, the meeting retreat photo has people of European and Asian descent in it, etc.).

  - In the section of the paper to the left of the box, write “HISTORY” and ask the group what they know about the racial history of the meeting (e.g. founded by white people, sits on Native land, was part of the Underground Railroad, had African American members in the 1800s, etc.).

  - In the space above the box, write “Interactions with Community” and then write all the things that the meeting does with the surrounding community (e.g. AVP in local prison, serve at soup kitchen, hold peace vigil on commons, volunteer to tutor students at X, etc.).

  - In the space at the bottom of the box write “Messages” and ask folks to name the explicit and implicit messages they get about race and racism from the meeting. What has the meeting said or minuted about race or racism? What have you heard people say in messages in meeting or in conversation? Think about the images on the walls — what messages about race do they send? If the meeting has tutored or done a service project in a community of color, what messages are being stated in that project?

Reflection and Closing (10 min.)

Depending on the size of your group, ask people to share in pairs or as a whole group.

  • What was one thing that really surprised you in this exercise?
  • What are two questions that you have after doing this exercise?
  • What are three things you want to know more about?
  • What are four resources you see within the meeting that could help promote racial justice?

Questions for Conversation and Journaling

In the practices and traditions of our meetings, how does white supremacy show up? Who makes decisions? How might racism influence our worship? Our business practices?

What is authentically "Quaker" and what is a remnant of white culture that we can let go of?