Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF) is only a few years old. Not that long ago, most of us were members of Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM). After a lengthy conflict, we were informed that we no longer had a place at the family table. To its credit, NWYM chose to acknowledge that we’d made a contribution to the yearly meeting – sometimes over many generations – and decided to share some of their accumulated wealth with us. We won’t know the dollar amount until next year, but for a fledgling yearly meeting with few expenses, whatever we receive will seem like a windfall.
In this context, our Equity and Inclusion Committee has been helping us examine the real source of that wealth. The first Quakers in Oregon settled along a tributary of the Willamette River in the 1870s. They became Oregon Yearly Meeting, which begat Northwest Yearly Meeting, which begat Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends. We are the wayward stepchildren of thrifty and sober Quakers who settled on the lands of the Kalapuya and Atflalati people. Stolen land set the stage for our wealth.
Many of us were taught the narrative that Quakers prospered in this “Garden of the Lord” because of God’s provision and our own good qualities. It’s probably true that those thrifty and sober Quakers made some good choices along the way. The more salient truth is that our neighbors of color have been denied housing, healthcare, and educational opportunities for decades. Such government policies and social norms have created an enormous wealth gap. Our windfall is a sign that we’ve been operating on the privileged side of that gap.
Sierra Cascades has embraced the idea that we should dismantle the legacy of racism by shifting wealth away from ourselves. We approved a Minute for Black Lives at our annual sessions in June. Part of that minute states:
“We recognize the unequal burden Black, Indigenous, and people of color have suffered historically and presently in this racist society. We commit to providing reparative funds to begin to compensate for this inequity.”
Our Equity and Inclusion Committee invited Friends to attend an online workshop on Anti-Racist Giving on November 19, 2020. The workshop was presented by two Seattle-area organizations, Social Justice Fund Northwest and the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites. If our yearly meeting wants to do the work of reparations, then we will need to learn some new skills. Friends were invited to attend the workshop as a step in that direction.
I found the workshop to be most helpful in naming ways that giving can actually perpetuate racist patterns. Giving can be a way for those of us at the top of the wealth gap to reinforce our own sense of generosity, wisdom, and success. Instead of dismantling systems of inequity, giving can actually perpetuate a scarcity mindset: Only the most deserving can be rewarded. We see ourselves as getting to determine the ones who are most deserving. Learning to surrender control is a key part of anti-racist giving. If we assume that a donation gives us authority to make demands, then our gift is just another way of asserting dominance.
Giving away some of the windfall we receive from NWYM will be the easy part of our journey. Harder will be to change our perceptions of giving.
Mike Huber is Director of Program for Quaker Voluntary Service and a Co-Clerk of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.