Speaking as a white person, I feel it is in the interests of white people among Quakers to listen to BAME voices. We gain a better understanding of the world when we see it through everyone’s eyes, rather than just a narrow range of privileged experience. Last year, I decided I should be more actively anti-racist, and so have read a little, two books and a number of articles so far. For example, this is clearly racist:
-Where are you from?
-Wellingborough, says my Black friend.
-No, where are you really from?
But racism goes much deeper. That question excludes people, but exclusion can be more subtle. We should consider outcomes: if the proportion of BAME people in our Society is less than in the wider society, that may be evidence that subtler forms of exclusion are at work. A Black Friend at the Quaker gathering on Diversity and Inclusion told me over the decades he had lived in Britain, with a white wife, that a third of white people were supportive, a third hostile and a third could go either way. He needed the support of the supportive third to be able to bear the hostility of the others.
Black people do not have the luxury of being “colour-blind”, so nor should we whites. They are intensely aware of the prejudice and social friction making it more difficult for Black people to fulfill their potential, and so should we be, actively to oppose it. They may also not want whites to be blind to distinctive cultural contributions which can enrich lives.
We had excellent speakers. Edwina Peart, the Quaker diversity and inclusion project co-ordinator, who is Black, introduced Robert Beckford, Professor of Theology and Culture in the African Diaspora, who is Black. She enumerated many of his achievements and cultural contributions: the assumption that the privileged white male speaker is worthy of his platform is not always extended to others. He comes from a Pentecostal tradition where the Spirit moving in the congregation is manifest in movement, speech and song, unlike Quakers where deep feeling may be indicated by a slight tightening of the hands folded in the lap. This announcement brought out some self-conscious whoops from the audience. He explained that Black people do not talk of “Diversity”, which is top-down; rather they talk of “Whiteness”. He is expert in Critical Whiteness Studies. Whiteness is a social construct, which can exclude some of us: the pseudoscientist John Bedloe (sp?) measured British skulls, formulated an “index of negrousness” and decided that the Irish were closest to the Negro. Such hierarchies and sense of superiority underpinned the exploitation, cruelty and destruction wrought by the British Empire.
Professor Beckford went to a new post, and someone approached him to ask if it was his first day there. When he said yes, he was led to the kitchens to scrub potatoes. When he had finished his talk to us, another eminent academic stood to state the insights he shared were replicated in critical gender studies. The sex difference has been invested with cultural meaning, which needs deconstructed.
I am trans, and I am delighted that Trans inclusion was at the heart of the weekend. When our elders stood to welcome us on the Friday evening, they welcomed all genders and identities first, then all ethnicities and languages. After they mentioned “disability” someone talked of “impairment”, which is a physical or mental state; “disability” arises from the way social space is organised, to facilitate or impede all people moving through it, and is socially constructed. There was a long list, including different sexualities, faiths, ages, levels of activism. They said we welcome your emotions, joy, grief, rage, indignation, contentment and disappointment. They offered us a chance to name other diversities, and people named different social classes and backgrounds, and routes into the Society. I named “disagreement”, feeling it important to be able to live with differing views. Someone named Romany heritage.
Quaker history mentions our Abolitionists, and Samuel Galton, disowned in 1795, is less well known. He had been in the Society for decades as a successful gun manufacturer, and refused to give that up, arguing that the whole of British society, including many Quakers’ trades, was based on war and war-preparation.
Edwina Peart introduced intersectionality. Where do we find That of God? Who is erased? If Black men are excluded from an audience for prejudiced fear of their violence, but white men and black women included, we may only prove the discrimination by properly describing it. In Quaker history she could not find celebrated Black Quakers.
What identities can you bring, and which can be named modest-proudly, or need asserting, or might cause nervousness? When someone said they were exploring Paganism I was keen to talk of Quakers interested or involved in Paganism, to make her feel welcome. I want to pass as educated middle class, to fit in and have my voice heard; yet I do not want to deny I am a benefit claimant. When well-intentioned Quakers state “We are all” old, prosperous, middle-class, white, Quakers who do not fit that description can feel excluded.
We should set aside our ego before speaking in Meeting, including business Meeting. We should not have to set aside our life-experience or our personalities.
There was disagreement. Even in the final Meeting for Worship, questionable ideas were expressed which tend to increase prejudice against trans folk, particularly trans women. I stood and remonstrated. I am not proud of all I said, or the way I said it before walking out, but I said that worship had ended for me at that moment. Someone has said to me, many Friends agreed the previous speaker ended the worship. I still hope Quaker processes can find a way to ease this tension.
More on the weekend tomorrow.