‘My Quakerism’ Responses, Take II

 

Out of Order

image by Melanie M, cc-by

My Quakerism Will Be Feminist and Anti-Racist or It Will Be Bullshit got shared around on Facebook again after I wrote what I thought was the wrap-up. It’s now sitting at more than 700 unique views, which is, um. A lot more traffic than my blog posts usually get.

The overwhelming majority of the second round of comments got approved. I really appreciate the support, folks. It means a lot.

The comments that got moderated mostly fit into one of these two categories:

1. The commenter wanted to debate the existence of ‘reverse racism.’

Those were not approved because, per the comment policy on the original post, I didn’t want the conversation derailed.

Having to stop and explain basic concepts (like the definition of racism) to every new person who walks in the door is a huge obstacle to those trying to discuss racism beyond the 101 ‘this is a real thing in the real world’ level. If you can see this post, then you have the technology to educate yourself about these issues, using either the links in the original post or your favorite search engine. If you need a basic introduction to racism, I strongly suggest you seek one out.

Why am I spending an entire paragraph telling you to google it instead of just explaining why reverse racism doesn’t exist? Quite simply, because the expectation that I will answer the question is born of white privilege.

As white people, we live in a world that privileges our opinions about race and racism, while downplaying as ‘biased’ and ‘anecdotal’ the lived experiences of those who experience racism firsthand. If someone shows up at our Quaker Meetings and says ‘you guys are racist’ and we don’t want to hear that, all we have to do is ignore them. They can’t do anything to change us or our communities without our participation, so if we don’t want to leave our comfort zone and listen to them, we don’t have to.

People of color do not have the privilege to walk away. Racism affects them every day, in ways both great and small. It’s not something they can ignore when it’s inconvenient or stressful (which it is for them more often, and to a greater degree, than it ever is for us).

When you have the privilege to walk away from a conversation and the other party doesn’t, you control that conversation. You get to decide whether the other person is ‘too emotional,’ or whether or not you like their ‘tone.’ You even get to set the standard of evidence you’ll accept before acknowledging the facts they live with every day of their life.

One of the ways that privilege manifests itself is white people entering conversations about racism and taking it as a matter of course that we can change the subject. If we still need the basics explained to us, we ask, fully expecting that everyone else will stop the conversation they’re trying to have and educate us. If we decide we want to ‘play devil’s advocate,’ we can just start doing it, without even considering whether or not the other party wants to be our partner in an academic debate about the truth of their lived experience. If something that comes up in the conversation upsets us, we can refuse to discuss the matter further until the other party apologizes–which often leads to the absurd circumstance of white folks demanding people of color apologize for saying that racism exists, and that white people perpetuate it. If our conditions are not met, we can just walk away, insisting that the other party is being ‘reverse-racist’ for not considering our feelings.

If you actually care about racism–if you want to be an ally to people of color, and create spaces that are welcoming to them–then step one is not exercising your privilege to walk away. If someone’s calling you out, listen. Think about what they’re saying. Participate in the conversation on their terms. If that takes you out of your comfort zone, then step on out, and accept that discomfort as the gift that it is. Always assume that what someone is telling you about their lived experience is their truth. If listening to that truth makes you realize your actions haven’t matched your intentions, acknowledge it. Apologize. Do better. Do it enough, and your comfort zone will grow. Take another step.

If you listen and you still can’t reconcile their truth with your own, keep listening. Remember that you–and everyone else–has been conditioned to privilege your experience of a situation over the experiences of people of color. Resist the urge to do that. Assume that you’re missing something before you assume that the other person’s truth is invalid.

Early Quakers didn’t speak of the inner light as a warm, fluffy ball of love. They saw it as a hard light–one that shines on us and illuminates our flaws so that we can see and work on them. They acknowledged that spiritual nakedness as a gift from God–and it is. It’s the unwavering belief that every one of us is capable of doing better. Embrace that. Listen. Educate yourself. Don’t hide your light under a bushel on the assumption that you can’t.

Everything I just said also applies to men and sexism (and straight folks and heterosexism, able-bodied folks and ablism, cis folks and cissexism, etc). Which brings us, in a round-about way, to the second category of comment that didn’t get approved:

2. The commenter suggested that I’d be much happier if I’d just [forgive everyone/stop letting assholes rent space in my brain].

The idea that people can’t make us feel inferior without our consent is meant to be empowering, I know. What it actually does is place the responsibility for both hurt and healing squarely–and exclusively–on the injured party’s shoulders.

Recent anti-bullying campaigns have finally started wising people up to the idea that ‘just ignore them and they’ll go away’ is not a winning strategy. It is, as I explained in point 1, a strategy that only works for those with social power, not those who are hurting for lack of it.

Forgiveness is part of the healing process. It’s pretty hard to heal when the wound is constantly being re-opened. My community is hurting me, and I’m not a failure for asking them to stop.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. But I’m not speaking up because I’m angry. I’ve been angry–and silent–for years. I’m speaking up because my silence on these issues does not serve God. I’m speaking up now because I’ve finally found enough grace and trust to believe that doing so will make a difference. I’m no longer willing to pay my faith community the insult of assuming that I have to rise above our failings because we can’t face them.

F(f)riends should be honest with each other.

I honestly believe that Friends can do better.

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One Response to ‘My Quakerism’ Responses, Take II

  1. Betsy says:

    I’m glad that you are finally able to articulate your discomforts, and that you’ve done so so eloquently.

    I hope this can let you start to reclaim something you love.

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