THINKING ABOUT RACE (Oct. 2008) – Following are excerpts from correspondence about whether the 2009 Baltimore Yearly Meeting annual session might cover the topics of BYM history and of racism, past and present. The voices here are those of white Friends and Friends of color, members of the BYM Program Committee and of the BYM Working Group on Racism:
– BYM doesn’t talk about its own vast history much, but past Friends have far more to teach us than platitudes and pleasantries. Our own largely undiscussed literature includes our 19th century Books of Discipline, Bliss Forbush’s BYM history, monthly meeting published histories such as Little Falls, Hopewell, and others, and Alexandria Friends Meeting historical material. Topics include forced migration from slavery-drenched communities, setting up a successful slave-free community/economy in Virginia in the 1840s, Monthly Meetings as “extended families” discussing slavery for years and not giving up or giving in; reading (often wealthy) slaveholders out of Meeting, and more.
– Sometimes I think BYM Friends don’t go further into looking at racism because “We freed the slaves, end of story,” “so it’s not my issue,” and that we lose a lot by doing so.
– As useful as the historical approach is for challenging our complacency, dealing with the subtlety of current racism is at least as important. In general, white people tend to treat racism too much as a historical problem, which dismisses it in the present. Much easier to groan over our forebears’ sins and limitations of vision — “creatures of their times” — than to explore our own blindness.
– Can we identify someone [within BYM] with a leading to make it his or her business to study slavery among Friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting? A review of both primary and secondary sources on Quaker history within our Yearly Meeting for anything that bears on how Quakers addressed slavery–especially when it had legal sanction–would give us much to think about. I also think doing a respectable job of that would be a huge job. I am reminded of how long it is taking to get Fit for Freedom But Not for Friendship completed.
– I believe we need to move lovingly past the exceedingly careful (perhaps sometimes too careful) efforts to move this issue toward action that have been characteristic of our work around racism up to now. (I know there are those who would disagree and who are still very tender and feel the “shame and blame”; however, I am not sure we can always move tenderly or slowly enough to avoid some people feeling this tenderness.) … addressing racism and its sequelae is not something that just happens on an intellectual plane– it must occur in our spiritual/emotional being as well if the change is to be meaningful and underpin changed action.