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.
9 thoughts on “Quakers, Racism, and the Blessed Community”
Friend Niyonu Spann presents a very good view for white men. We currently seem to have another point of Latino considered in many views on racism across the country. The Latino can be Black, Native American, Asian, or White. Their difference is actually lingual, but not the Latin language. They have a cultural base with a heavy Spanish (or Portuguese) language and Catholic influence from areas of South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands. Unfortunately, the ‘American White (and Black) Supremacy’ base in the United States, wishes to alienate these individuals, because of their differences, instead of accepting the reach across racial lines they have achieved, (not in all areas).
Even some of my relatives have expressed a dislike for Latinos, because of what their friends have expressed to them. After attending a graduate school in Lima, Peru, visiting Universidas de Puerto Rico, and working with concrete crews of Latinos in Virginia, I know they are like the rest of the world, real people: good, bad, and indifferent. I wish my step-son could see that. What he sees is the drug-addict criminal, who fathered his cousin’s daughter and son, plus attacked her. In this situation, his grandmother overcame her dislike for the idea of biracial grandchildren and actually takes care of her biracial great-grandchildren with a Latino father.
We have now reached a point of Global Consciousness. People around our planet can contact each other and work toward saving Earth. Corporate control, greed, and war may be huge problems to overcome in doing that.
The Religious Society of Friends is a community of Faith. We are a community of believers. We are also members of the wider community and of the human family. The social constructs of “the world” have an unavoidable impact on our faith community. When those realities begin to drive the motivations and actions of our meetings we begin to have problems. I don’t question any of the statements made by Friend Vanessa and offer this as an additional thought. The solution and the healing for the wounds we cause and receive is found in Divine Love. In “the world” I and everyone else has much to do to live into the Light of justice and equality. Within our communities of Faith, our meetings, I begin with the assumption of absolute Love, Compassion and Forgiveness. Nothing else matters and nothing else is relevant. Trust to this and healing for any inequity or wound is instantaneous and permanent.
I am tremendously grateful to Friends Journal for all the articles in the October, 2014 issue on race, although it was hard to read at times. My prayer is that those of us of Anglo/European descent can hear the stories and not resort to backlash or denial.This is such a difficult issue for us and we have a long way to go to really reach the blessed community that I think we yearn for. It is a service to us all to engage in the difficult conversations. Blessings, Laura
Thank you Vanessa for addressing this problem with the wider Quaker community. I fully understand the need and intent of your message here. I would heed caution, however, in using the phrase “white supremacy” as the connotation is one linked to the most terrible of hate groups. You defined your use of the phrase as “white dominance.” At risk of putting off those you which to reach in our community, perhaps the use of “white dominance” alone would be the better word choice.
Yes, Thank you Vanessa, for your bringing attention to the Quaker community, a much under acknowledged concern in our mostly European based population of Quaker Friends. I grew up in Oakland, California in a diverse community with ethnic differences and grew to love the diversity and cultural enrichment of my life in the Bay Area as a white woman. My experience with Friends taught me over many years at Berkeley Friends Meeting, while experiencing as a whole Friend’s commitment to practicing faith and theoretically having tolerance and acceptance toward African American, Latin, Asian, and other culturally identified groups, and individuals, I felt an under-current of denial and an attitude of protected class privilege in the expression and thinking of Friends around their Quaker status.
Am a quaker in Kenya.Also secretary Quaker Men International.Always share
Thank you, Vanessa Juyle, for your delicate explanation of how it is.
Babies born white in America are taught to swim in white supremacist waters; Racism is a system of power our country was founded on. It’s invisible to most white people, including the Friends I love, because we look through white eyes with white experiences.
Robin DiAngelo’s concept of the “Good/Bad Binary” blinds us to face white supremacy conditioning because we define racism as bad. And disavow our role in systemic racism because we’re good people. Right? When it’s a system of privilege, an implicit identity, every class born with white skin benefits from.
I was lucky enough to be born with white skin, trying to become an anti-racist, knowing I will struggle against white supremacy conditioning until the day I die.
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