I’ve been thinking of write about equality, but there are so many aspects that I could consider, inside and outside the Religious Society of Friends – housing, earning, learning, race, gender, sexuality, disability – the list of areas where people are not treated equally seemed endless.
Then I was reading Qf&p as part of our current ‘Reading Quaker faith & practice’ exercise when I came across this passage.
Quakerism need not be defined exclusively as white, Christian and middle-class, and such culture need not be adopted as the culture of those who are convinced. When this does happen the inequalities and unequal power dynamics of our society are reflected in our meetings and in this way Black people are discouraged from fully participating in worship.
Our Society is often blind to the gifts and richness of other traditions and this cultural chauvinism impedes its development. Racism within the Society of Friends is perhaps more damaging because it is unconscious and springs from stereotyped assumptions: ‘And no harm is meant by it. Harm may be done but it is never meant’.
Epistle of Black, white, Asian and mixed-heritage Friends, 1991
Quaker faith & practice 10.13
I was shocked to realise that that it was written in 1991. It seems to me that we have not made a lot of progress in the 25 years since then. We still appear to be white and middle-class, though there is increasing doubt expressed about the label Christian. I am aware of those who feel they don’t fit when it is assumed that everyone has had a university education, or that everyone has a well paid job, or more probably an occupational pension, that allows them to live in middle-class comfort and indulge in a wide range of pleasant activities. I have heard of Friends who used derogatory terms about people of colour without even realising that a Black person in the group would be offended by that. As it says in this quotation ‘And no harm is meant by it. Harm may be done but it is never meant’.
I look round my local meeting on a Sunday morning and I might see as many as three people of Black, Asian or mixed- heritage. Remembering back to about 1991 I would probably have seen two, two of the three who regularly worship in my local meeting. We are usually forty to fifty gathered on a First day morning. There really hasn’t been much change. I live in a large town with a thriving multi-cultural population.
I’m somewhat at a loss as to how to change this. I can’t undo being white, or my Christian and middle-class background. Our meeting house is in one of the most affluent parts of the town, but it isn’t easy to change that.
Clearly we all need to be more aware of the harm we do that we don’t mean to and of how we cause it. Perhaps with awareness I will begin to see how to avoid it, how to change.