Are We Ready for Anti-Racism?

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Let us love, not in word or speech,
but in truth and action.
(John 3:18)

Seven years ago, with leadership from Brown and Black attenders, Multnomah Friends Meeting in Portland, OR, started a “Friends for Racial Justice” (FRJ) committee. Since then, we have offered many educational opportunities for Friends in our meeting. These have included movies and discussions, book groups, and art installations, like an AFSC installation called “39 Questions for White People” and an exhibit of photos with quotes from Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. We have also sponsored day-long and multi-day experiential anti-racism workshops, two with Vanessa Julye and one with a local organization called Resolutions Northwest. Finally, we have sponsored monthly “Race Talks” before Meeting for Worship for Business.

Besides organizing anti-racism educational events within our meeting, FRJ has also supported anti-racism efforts in our local community. We have purchased books for two local elementary schools that feature Black and Brown protagonists. We have made monthly, budgeted donations to Black- and Brown-led organizations.

Have these efforts been welcomed whole-heartedly by our meeting? No, but they have not been entirely rejected, either. Silence has been a frequent response, but struggle has been, too.

In 2017, Multnomah Friends united around a Racial Justice Minute that began with the question, “Where is [racism] in me?” In 2021, thirty-six Friends in our meeting (which has about a hundred members) attended a threshing session to examine whether our Racial Justice Minute was merely performative or whether we really meant it, and if so, how did we plan to live it going forward. We decided that, yes, we do mean it.

However, after that threshing session, two proposals were made at different business meetings that revealed we still hold conflicting viewpoints. In the first proposal, our White Friends Anti-Racism Study Group suggested that $100 per month be entered into the next annual budget for donating to an indigenous-led community group. The meeting quickly united around this proposal.

The following month, FRJ made an essentially identical proposal, except this time, the recipients would be a Black-led community organization. This time, there was push-back. Several objections were raised, including, “If we say ‘yes’ to putting this small amount in the budget now, what’s to stop Friends from asking for a larger amount in subsequent budgets?” The proposal was seasoned for a month, and ultimately, the meeting did unite around it.

However, feelings ran high when that second proposal was introduced. There has been little effort to resolve them since. One Friend asked in our meeting’s newsletter if this struggle was an expression of institutional racism. Some people withheld their usual contributions to the meeting, donating instead to those Black-led community groups. One family started a new worship group dedicated to anti-racism and radical inclusion.

I find myself wondering whether Multnomah Friends are ready to labor together to bring this moral wound to light. Are we ready to be abolitionists again, expecting to be led by a spirit of love and justice?

I invite you to share any helpful experiences your own Quaker meeting has had in its anti-racism journey. I am working with Western Friend to publish stories like these. Please contact: Tommee Carlisle, 928-499-9023, ktommeecarlisle@gmail.com  ~~~

Tommee Carlisle has worked the last twenty years in adult education, serving immigrants, incarcerated, and formerly incarcerated people. She attends Multnomah Friends Meeting in Portland, OR (NPYM).

[For a collection of minutes on racial justice, approved by Quaker meetings in the West, see: https://westernfriend.org/media/minutes-racial-justice]

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