Vanessa Julye, co-author of Fit For Freedom, Not For Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice discusses overcoming racism in the Religious Society of Friends.
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- In the video, Vanessa Julye says that “White supremacy is restricting our way of creating a blessed community because it is making it difficult for people of color to be a part of the community.” How can you imagine that the Religious Society of Friends could change to be more accessible for people of color?
- Part of white supremacy culture, Vanessa says, is “its invisibility to European-Americans in this country, because if you don’t see a structure and feel that that is normal, then there’s no need to change it.” What would it take for European-Americans to peel back the veil and what changes would happen if they could see what Vanessa is talking about?
In the blessed community, for me, it would include all the members of our human species. I see that as a goal for Quakerism. That is something that we strive for within the Religious Society of Friends.
I’m Vanessa Julye. I live in West Mount Airy in Philadelphia and I work with Friends General Conference serving as the Ministry on Racism and Youth Programs Coordinator.
The Blessed Community
What is the blessed community? Well, for me, its a community where everyone has value and that we’re actually able to see that of God in each person and to be able to live in community, sharing the gifts that God has given us with each other.
White supremacy is restricting our way of creating a blessed community because it is making it difficult for people of color to be a part of the community.
What is White Supremacy Culture?
What I mean when I say white supremacy is white dominance, essentially. In this culture, what is considered “American” is really European-American culture. If you are a part of that culture and fit into that culture, you don’t notice it and so things don’t seem different for you.
A part of the white supremacy culture is its invisibility to European-Americans in this country, because if you don’t see a structure and feel that that is normal, then there’s no need to change it.
The Revolutionary Aspect of Quakerism
One of the things for me within Quakerism is it feels its alive and that its alive because it can be responsive. The revolutionary aspect for me of Quakerism where we have stood up against the status quo and there have been times that we haven’t, let me be clear. As the author of “Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans and the Myth of Racial Justice” I’m not putting Quakers up here on a pedestal and saying we did things perfectly. Quakers have had—and still have—issues around racism. It’s still very much a part of the Religious Society of Friends, but we were the first religious group to say, “No, we will no longer enslave people of African descent.”
Eliminating Racism in the Religious Society of Friends
The next step for me in the Religious Society of Friends in using our continuing revelation in addressing the issues of white supremacy and white privilege in the Religious Society of Friends is for us to be able as individuals, as Meetings, to admit that this does exist and that race is an issue in this country that needs to be addressed, and for us to educate ourselves about what white privilege and white supremacy is for us.
Once you are able to see some of the systems, then it becomes astonishing, and it is going to be hard, and it is going to be challenging, and there are going to be moments where its going to feel like, “I just can’t do this. This is too hard. This is too overwhelming.”
One of the benefits that the Religious Society of Friends has is the structure that we have support systems through support committees. If you are going to—either as a Meeting or as an individual—decide to start doing this work around identifying what white privilege and what white supremacy is… to have support as you’re doing that.
If we’re able, as some of us are beginning to do around climate and looking at the issues of climate change, of saying, “Ok, this country, we do need to make a change” and that we do need to be aware of our white privilege and the white supremacy so that we can make changes to create more of the Blessed Community that we’re looking for.