This past weekend I participated, via Zoom, in a series of sessions where mainly White Quakers heard presentations by an African American Quaker woman, Vanessa Julye. Her presentations, and our small group discussions were on the subject of Quakers and racism.
Racism is a difficult subject for Quakers; White, Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC). White Quakers struggle with addressing racism while living in a dominant White culture that provides them many benefits based on the color of their skin.
BIPOC Quakers are wounded by various things White Friends say and do that are expressions of that culture. It doesn’t help to suggest, as is often done, the harm is unintentional, done out of ignorance or lack of awareness.
Vanessa says BIPOC Friends are leaving the Society of Friends (Quakers) daily. Don’t attend their meetings for worship any longer.
It is a tragic dichotomy that a faith community that says there is that of God in everyone, is overwhelmingly White in this country.
The reason I previously wrote that I was disappointed about last weekend’s meetings was actually related to me. I have been led to a clear vision of a path away from racism, from a dominant White culture. But I have not been able to get others to understand, let alone walk down this path with me. I realize this vision requires a paradigm shift.
A White Quaker friend of mine just wrote, related to last weekend’s meetings, “Where do I fit in and what I can do to make a difference in this world about the divisions and inequality and evil of continued racism? I am white….I am stuck in my skin and in an unjust culture.”
She correctly identifies the root problem for White Quakers with racism in this country is feeling “I am stuck in an unjust culture”.
The vision I have been given is to abandon this unjust culture. Systemic racism cannot be addressed by attempts to make improvements to that unjust culture.
I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.
So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”Ronnie James
For the past year I have been immersed in learning about and participating in the concept of Mutual Aid. My friend Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer, has been my mentor. There are just a few principles of Mutual Aid. But what they represent is a paradigm shift.
The main principle is a Mutual Aid group or project must be composed of the people who are coming together to solve a problem that affects all of them. Iowa has very little diversity, but Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) is the most diverse group of people I’ve found. And everyone involved understands those in need are in that position through no fault of their own. That anyone of us might need this help ourselves. So there is no stigma attached to coming for help.
Another important part of Mutual Aid is we must continue to show up for our work together. It is fundamental to build trust amongst ourselves. Every Saturday morning for the past eight moths, I have gone to put together boxes of food with my Mutual Aid community. There are groups that refer to themselves as mutual aid, but they are not if those involved don’t come together to do the work together. Mutual Aid is not charity.
Another principle of Mutual Aid is a horizontal organizing structure. Everyone is involved in making the decisions of the group. As opposed to the vertical organization of White culture today. There won’t be White superiority when there is no vertical hierarchy that allows some people to have authority over others.
While it is simple to describe what Mutual Aid is, it takes time to learn to be in a Mutual Aid group. Most of us are so used to having a vertical hierarchy in every part of our White culture. In government, school, church and family. That means we have to practice being together without that hierarchy.
Building Mutual Aid communities takes time. For now we still exist within the White, dominant culture. But the more we take care of each other and work together with a horizontal hierarchy, the more we free ourselves from the dominant culture.
I’ve been writing a great deal about the details and stories related to Mutual Aid.
see: “mutual aid” | Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)
I’ve been working on the diagrams below. One is of the White, dominant culture, and Mutual Aid is shown below that.
It’s a bold assertion to talk about a vision of a path away from racism. But this is my vision, informed by my spiritual leadings and experience with Mutual Aid. The paradigm shift is realizing we don’t have to remain stuck in an unjust culture.