Matters of Race and Witness (2)

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Dear Friends:

My reaction to Zae Asa Illo’s article and the Friends-of-Color Epistle was one of sadness and frustration. How can we have a Friends-of-Color Epistle with a message that could have been written years ago? How can we have an article by an African-American Quaker, which is both personal and authentic yet not surprising?

More than one quarter of a century ago, I wrote an article entitled “Dark Light” for Western Friend (then Friends Bulletin). It could have been written, word-for-word, last week. I quote myself: “Only a blindfolded Friend would dare welcome a guest to meeting and expound our convictions of equality.”

We are quick to ask newcomers, “What do you do?” We dismiss this question as a common introductory inquiry. But barely hidden is a request to know how much education and how middle-class a person is. Or, in essence, how close this person is to the Quaker mainstream of white, educated, and affluent persons.

Seventy years ago, the musicians in symphony orchestras were entirely white and male. Then blind auditions came about and orchestras became gender and race integrated. Not surprisingly, the orchestral performance grew to be superior. The quality of Quaker worship would be superior if our worship was blind.

We don’t need worship-sharings or adult education gatherings to confront racism. We don’t even need the Religious Society of Friends. We need determination. We need a new plan – one that disturbs us. We need new questions and a new approach. We can begin as individuals. Honest and sustained probing of ourselves could be a start. Why am I waiting to grapple with racism? What am I waiting for?

The future is unknown and intimidating. If we have no fear or discomfort, our path towards equality is very likely a dead-end. We must agitate ourselves, with or without the Religious Society of Friends. “I don’t want no peace, I need equal rights and justice.” – Peter Tosh said that. “I don’t want no comfort, I don’t want no get-togethers. I need equity in worship.” – I said that.

– Collin Boyd, Santa Fe Friends Meeting (IMYM)

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