At the level of an individual family, an abused person can walk away from their abuser; they can start a new life elsewhere. That is also possible in a Quaker meeting or even in the Society of Friends – abused members of our Quaker family can leave, and they do. But it is not possible for abused members of the human family to leave the human family, even when humanity is twisted into morbid cycles of cruelty.
“Institutional,” “systemic,” “historical,” “generational” – Every person is bound up in humanity’s shared memories and shared imaginations. Our common understandings of our common lot have real material consequences for real people. But although our common understandings are real phenomena, they are not objective; they are intersubjective, and therefore, we can change them. We have real grounds for hope.
Isabel Wilkerson documents in excruciating detail the actual destruction of human bodies and human psyches wrought by our common delusion that “superior” and “inferior” classes of people exist. For all who have been hypnotized by the delusion of caste, “it must be understood in every interaction that one group was superior and inherently deserving of the best in a given society and that those who were deemed lowest were deserving of their plight.” Here is where “systemic” comes into “systemic racism,” which is the American brand of caste: “The only way to keep an entire group of sentient beings in an artificially fixed place, beneath all others and beneath their own talents, is with violence and terror, psychological and physical, to preempt resistance before it can be imagined. . . To dehumanize another human being is not merely to declare that someone is not human, and it does not happen by accident. It is a process, a programming. It takes energy and reinforcement to deny what is self-evident in another member of one’s own species.” (Caste, 2020)
Today, Friend Harold D. Weaver, Jr., is admonishing us, “Just as a doctor must treat the root causes of an illness, not merely the symptoms, so must we act similarly as social, progressive, analytical activists. We must be ‘antiviolent,’ not merely ‘nonviolent.’” (Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice, 2020) This resonates with Wilkinson’s reminder, echoing a cloud of witnesses, that “Evil asks little of the dominant caste other than to sit back and do nothing. All that it needs from bystanders is their silent complicity in the evil committed on their behalf . . .”
When a spouse or a child or an elder in a family is abused by someone they love, that abuse tends to stay well hidden. Only with great courage and desperation will the target of such abuse seek help. Family support services will place top priority on protecting the safety of the victim. Next priority will be to seek some sort of justice from the abuser. Last might come an effort to heal everyone involved.
With increasing frequency, Friends of Color are speaking publicly about abuses they have suffered for centuries under the authority of white Friends. Naming abuse is the first courageous step toward healing in a family. Next comes work for white Friends, who know – from the restorative justice programs that many support – that their work will involve apology, changed behavior, and restitution. Moreover, to go beyond the work of justice and into the work of healing will “entail a commitment to a massive development effort,” says Weaver, “similar to the U.S. government’s Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, and would aim at reconciliation and at social, economic, psychological, cultural, and political rehabilitation and healing.”
The Religious Society of Friends was christened with the words, “Be patterns and examples.” We can take some pride in the respect Friends in general have earned from the examples of work toward racial justice done over the centuries by many individual Friends and meetings. At the same time, we can admit that our own white majority has tended to push Friends of Color to the margins of our religious society – and worse. The efforts we make to heal our committees, meetings, and organizations from the harm that has been done by this abuse can serve as new patterns and examples of our faith. Each of us contributes something to the shared imagination of the human family. Let’s help envision and demonstrate antiviolent remedies for the abusive dynamics of systemic racism. ~~~