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Three Steps of Retrospective Justice

Published: Aug. 5, 2023


[The following text was abridged from an 8/1/2023 newsletter.

Click here to read the full article.
Click here to learn more about the Black Quaker Project.]

Dear F/friends: [The] most urgent priority within the Religious Society of Friends [should be] Retrospective Justice. . . Drawing on the trail-blazing 2006 Brown University report, Slavery and Justice, we define retrospective justice as “an attempt to administer justice years after the commission of a severe injustice or series of injustices against persons, communities, or racial and ethnic groups.” Our ministry proposes the following three steps to the Religious Society of Friends as necessary for the successful implementation of retrospective justice.

Step 1: Acknowledge an Offense

Friends need to acknowledge formally that Quakers have been slave owners, and, though many were abolitionists, many individual Quakers and meetings supported the transatlantic slave trade and profited directly as slave owners or as inheritors of profits. Furthermore, Friends need to confront and atone for the 400-year legacy of oppression, economic exploitation, and human degradation that affects people of African descent worldwide, such as Jim Crow, colonialism, and apartheid. At the local level, Friends are starting to take tentative steps to acknowledge the truth of the past. . .

Step 2: Commit to truth-telling

The only way to take full responsibility for the actions of our Quaker ancestors is to “create a clear historical record of events'' and properly institutionalize our history so that we do not forget. Praise-worthy examples of non-Quakers include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and The 1619 Project in the USA. We call on Quakers, including Rowntree’s charitable organizations, to be forthcoming, pioneering, and enhancing in truth-telling to the public. . .

Step 3: Make amends in the present

Correcting the injustices of direct and structural violence would entail reconciliation through social, economic, psychological, cultural, educational, and political rehabilitation, healing, and compensation. Attempts to do this have been made throughout history, best known is General Sherman’s promise of “40 acres and a mule” for emancipated African Americans. Successful contemporary examples include the University of Glasgow’s agreement to pay £20 million in reparations to atone for its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, . . Financial reparation is only one–however important–aspect of retrospective justice. . .

To combat all forms of structural violence, we believe the only effective response is “anti-violence.”

from Harold D. Weaver, Jr. BlackQuaker Project (8/1/2023)