Category Archives: equality

No Justice, No Peace!

Today is the International Day of Peace.

Do we deserve peace without justice? Do we?

We have been trained to see black people in public as suspicious. As threats.

As runaway slaves.

The police used to catch runaway slaves.

We claim race doesn’t matter. We claim to “not see it”.

But if you have not put in the work–if you have not peeled back that layer in yourself that tenses up when you see a black person you don’t know walking down your street–if you are reading this and getting defensive that you are a “good person” who judges no one by outward appearance–

You could have been the white woman who shot the black man whose car broke down. I could have been her.

This is life or death for black people in America. The unexamined fears of white people like you and me have real consequences for black people.

So I ask us: do we deserve peace? Why do I deserve peace any more than a black person in this country?

We are addicted to racism. And the first step is accepting we have a problem. And then, we get to work, and AT BEST we will be recovering addicts.

This is never something that can be won. It is only something that can be made better.

And we MUST try.

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Filed under equality, leadings, racism

“Meet Others on Equal Ground”: A Slogan Post

I started my day by reviewing comments I’d made on a facebook friend’s post to see if I’d been contributing to anti-blackness (anti-blackness is a more nuanced term for prejudice against people with dark skin; this term includes concepts of racism and colorism). The discussion was a challenging one; this friend was calling out white Jewish people who attempt to deny their prejudice against black people by saying they’re not white, they’re Jewish. This friend is black and had been hurt by pale-skinned Jewish people in the past.

This kind of conversation has many layers of prejudice that can be in play at any time. As someone involved in “social justice work”, when I come to a conversation, how do I “meet others on equal ground”?

To me, this means I need to be aware of the privileges I bring to any interaction and try to limit the effects of those privileges. 

My ethnicity is half Armenian and half European, but I have white privilege, which is why I’ve started openly identifying as white online. My dad’s family’s culture may not always be white American, but in interactions with the public, in general, I am given the benefit of white privilege. So, in conversations with black people, I try to “check” my white privilege. What does this mean? What does “checking your privilege” mean? It means that I do my best to make sure I’m not coming from a place of assumed superiority in interactions. It means I’m willing to listen and let them lead the conversation. It means, in short, doing what I can to reduce the effects of my privilege for this conversation by not claiming the power white people generally have in interactions with black people. It means doing my best to meet them on equal ground while being aware that society has done its best to prevent that ground from being equal. 

That’s one example. Another privilege I have is neurotypical privilege. This is something I am still learning about. But in interactions with autistic people, I try to give them the space to control the interaction. Or at least accept that my perception of a social interaction may be vastly different than theirs, and that theirs is no less valid than mine.

This leads me to another aspect of meeting others on equal ground: the acceptance of their truth as real, even if their truth is completely different than my own experiences. On another blog, I wrote about how disabled people are often questioned and doubted about the validity of our experiences as disabled people. About how “I believe you” can be life-changing for us to hear, because we exist in a constant challenge to prove our health conditions are real (particularly those of us with conditions that primarily affect women, such as fibromyalgia). 

This need for lived experiences to be believed is not unique to disabled people, however; as this article shows, black people also are routinely doubted and questioned when they share their lived experiences of racism. I believe that any marginalized/oppressed group will have similar experiences; that when a marginalized group tries to explain how their marginalization affects their lives, that people who aren’t part of the group, who have no experiences that match those, will tend to express skepticism.

This is also a way of the non-oppressed group to exert its control. “Oh, racism is over, thus we white people don’t need to change anything or do anything differently because you black people are just exaggerating.” “Oh, your pain can’t be that bad. I’d kill myself if I had to live your life.” “There are gay couples in TV and movies now; what do you mean representation is still a problem?” “Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, so clearly transgender people are now accepted by society.”

Etc. Denying the experiences of an oppressed group can be a method of abuse called gas-lighting

We need to listen. We need to be sure we’re not contributing to oppression in our interactions with people who are oppressed (and oppressed people, we are not blameless here; just because we’re oppressed in one way doesn’t mean we can’t participate in the oppression of other groups). “Meeting others on equal ground” may not always be possible. We may have internalized prejudices, or they may (yup, oppressed people often end up believing the stereotypes about their group; disabled people can have internal ableism, etc.). We may not be able to fully equalize the ground we’re meeting on; in fact, chances are, in a meeting between an oppressed person and a member of the oppressing group, we won’t be able to reduce the effects of our privilege enough to have it be a fully equal conversation.

But the first step has to be listening. It has to be believing the “other”, whoever that “other” may be, when they tell us about their life experiences that are different than ours. (For example, if a black person is telling a white person about a negative interaction they’ve had with police, that the white person’s positive interactions with the police does not negate the black person’s experiences or mean that they are seeing racism where there isn’t any. It means that they, as a black person, have had a difference experience than the white person has. That experience is no less valid just because that person is black while we are white.)

We need to accept that being aware of differences is not the same thing as being prejudiced. Because those differences matter, and the differences are not what’s bad–it’s the discrimination and oppression that is. And if we aren’t aware of this, we may never have the opportunity to meet someone from a different social group on truly equal ground.

“Meet others on equal ground”. When the ground that society has laid out isn’t equal, how do our interactions support or lessen this inequality? In what ways do we deny the truth of others different than us? In what ways are we supporting and empowering others? In what ways are we failing?

As a Quaker and a Buddhist, today’s slogan is a challenge, and one I know I need to keep working on. 

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Filed under buddhism, discernment, equality, oppression, practice, racism, slogans, speak and listen with love

I’m Not Okay.

I’ve been trying to stay silent about what’s been happening in Missouri.

Because I wasn’t there. Because I don’t know the facts. Because there seem to be no unbiased, perfect perspectives. Because the 18 year old who was shot and killed by police may have had a gun. May not have been totally innocent. 

But you know what? I’m not okay with this. I’m not okay with the idea that a black person has to be totally innocent for people to care they died. I’m not okay with police occupying a neighborhood. I’m not okay with a tank going down an American street.

I’m not okay with crime. I’m not okay with neighborhoods all but abandoned economically, educationally. 

I’m not okay with black people being killed by police who, more often than not, face little to no judicial or employment consequences for the death of a person. I’m not okay with cops fearing for their lives, and I’m not okay with the crimes that makes their jobs necessary. 

I’m not okay with poverty used as a means of controlling groups of people. I’m not okay with redlining, with segregated neighborhoods and schools, with communities who close schools and then open more prisons.

I’m not okay with for-profit prisons. 

I’m not okay with transgender people being murdered and the defense that “they tricked me” is still considered a legal excuse. I’m not okay with trans and LGBQ kids being kicked out of their homes, told they’re going to hell and will be damned, forced into conversion therapy, and rejected by the people whose love matters the most to them–their parents.

I’m not okay with any of this. 

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Filed under compassion, equality, GLBT rights, leadings, lgbt issues, ministry, oppression, racism

Until ALL Love Wins

I spent most of yesterday morning and early afternoon celebrating the SCOTUS decision… And then sat down to watch the Reverend Pinckney’s funeral. I still have an hour and a half left to watch, which I hope to finish today. 

And this morning in Charleston, a brave black woman removed the Confederate flag from its place of “honor”. And was promptly arrested. And the flag was raised again for the 11am white supremacist rally.

And last time I checked, 4 black churches had burned since the Charleston terrorist attack. 

So until LGBTQIAA POC can fully celebrate yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling, my joy at that ruling is bittersweet. Until black lives matter no longer needs to be said, until phrases that end in “while black” (walking while black… sleeping while black…) are a distant remnant of the past, I will stay woke and dream of the day when ALL love wins.

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Fellowship

I remember watching in horror as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. As adults and children were trapped inside that Superdome for days. People waving from the rooftops for help. Which did not come. I watched. I could do nothing else.

I watched as Trayvon Martin’s killer was deemed “not guilty”. I began to speak on facebook and with friends and family. I began to see the hard work of racial justice, as some friends reacted negatively to my posts and took to George Zimmerman’s defense. I began to read books like “The New Jim Crow” to educate myself on modern institutional racism, and I helped organize a discussion about “The New Jim Crow” at my Meeting. But mostly, I just watched.

I watched Eric Garner die on camera. “I can’t breathe”. I shared the video of his death and was immediately met with backlash from friends. “We don’t know the facts.” “Why are you so anti-cop?” I ended up deleting the video. I wasn’t ready yet. I was only ready to watch.

I watched as the story of Michael Brown’s final moments emerged. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. But no, he had a record! The cops said he was charging them! 

I watched as Black Lives Matter rose to prominence. And I began, slowly, to speak. To speak not in spite of those who disagreed with my posts, but because of them. I joined several facebook anti-racism groups and found the support I needed to keep speaking.

But I did not do anything but speak, read, and watch. I did not attend any rallies, though I wanted to. I had good reason to stay home: I’m disabled and have a weakened immune system, making being around large crowds potentially dangerous to my health… and, last fall, I was also recovering from ankle replacement surgery

I watched as Freddie Gray died from a “rough ride”. I watched as Baltimore, the city I go to for my joint surgeries, protested.  But I stayed home.

Then, last Thursday morning, I woke. I lay in bed reading the news about the Charleston white terrorist attack on the Emanuel AME church. The 9 people who were slaughtered after spending an hour with the killer talking about the Bible. The 5 year old girl who survived by playing dead. I couldn’t stop crying.

Watching was no longer enough. When I pulled myself out of bed and left my house that day, I drove past 4 black people and saw each of them: 2 teenage boys riding their bikes down my street, 1 black man riding his bike and looking at his phone at the same time a couple of miles from my house, and 1 older black man staring at his phone in shock, standing at the side of the road. Seeing them made me tear up again, and I struggled to stay calm enough to drive safely. I wanted to let them know that I saw them and was so sorry about what had happened. But while driving is not the time to reach out to people.

I live in a town that is 70% white and 20% black and still mostly segregated, the way most American communities are. When my husband and I were looking to purchase our first house 10 years ago, I made a point of finding a street that was not all-white, and that was harder than it should have been. My neighborhood is probably about half black; and one of my neighbors is a widowed black woman, who is surrounded on all other sides by houses owned by family members. I felt a great need to reach out to the black people who live in my town. And I also felt a great need to worship this Sunday, instead of staying home and resting; but I knew that if I attended my Quaker Meeting, my thoughts would be with Charleston’s Emanuel AME church. I wondered if there was an AME church near my home, and a quick Google search revealed one not 2 miles from my house. 

I gave myself up to discernment, trying to find what I was led to do. I did not want to intrude upon a community in their time of mourning. I did not want to make the parishioners feel fear in their house of worship. 

But the leading did not go away. So, Sunday morning, I left home to attend worship at my local AME church, accompanied by my husband. My intention in going was to show solidarity with them and to worship with them.

We arrived early, and the front doors of the church were locked. A black woman arrived and asked us if we were there for the service. She was warm, friendly, and inviting. We said we were, and she showed us the side door that was unlocked and explained that there was praise before the service started and that the youth group was leading this service.

We walked into the small church, two white people left alone in their sanctuary. We did not want to make a spectacle of ourselves by sitting in the front pews, but we were also aware that we didn’t want to appear we were hiding in the back, either. So we sat in the center pews, visible and vulnerable. The church was small and sparsely-decorated, but not bare like Quaker Meetinghouses tend to be or overly-lavish like the Catholic churches I attended growing up. Nearly empty, I felt like the church was waiting for its people to fill it and give it purpose.

We were alone for a good 20 minutes before the congregation began to filter in. Now I owe you readers an apology, because there is no way for me to accurately describe the worship we participated in.

There were several aspects of the service that surprised me. First, it was women-led. The Reverend was a black man, but his primary participation in the service was to deliver the sermon… which occurred more than 2 hours into the service. Three black women seemed to lead the service, and I truly appreciated the ministry they gave, both in their words and in their actions. One of the three was the woman who had greeted us so warmly when we were searching for a way inside the church earlier. Second, the music was… all-encompassing, yet not a distraction from worship, but a manifestation of it.

The longer the service went on, the more comfortable I felt. After the first of three hours, I began to feel a fellowship with the other worshipers and the kind of deep centering I’ve only felt before at Meeting for Worship. Like Meeting for Worship, the service felt Spirit-led: it was fluid and unpredictable, and there was space for the congregation to participate as they felt led.

There was some grief, but mostly joy. The sermon was about the first 10 verses of the 2nd chapter of Job, which I’ve read more than once, but the sermon the Reverend gave made me consider it in a whole new way. I was raised Catholic, and the overwhelming lesson I learned from Mass and CCD was that God and Jesus loved you, and that made them worthy of worship and praise because you were a sinner and not worthy of their love. This sermon instead asked us to take the place of Job, who is described as perfect and upright. It was about keeping faith, no matter what happened. It was about the pride, joy, and determination involved in doing so. It was about gratitude to God for waking up this morning, for being able to attend this service. It was about not knowing what could happen, who could walk in the church doors, but worshiping God all the same.

I am really not doing this service justice at all. It was communion—with God and with each other. It was authentic and seemed to allow each person there to be both true to and proud of themselves while at the same time encouraging them to be better than they were.

At some point during the service, I realized that fellowship with these people—true fellowship—could not happen during just one service. I need to return, if the congregation is comfortable with me doing so. I felt blessed to be there and grateful they welcomed me in.

It has been two days now since my attendance at the local AME church, and I am still… encompassed by it. I am still thinking about it. I am, surprisingly, missing it. I am eager to go back. While I have no intention of joining their church, I am hoping to become a regular visitor.

And next Sunday, I hope to attend Meeting for Worship and bask in that same “infinite ocean of light and love” through silence and vocal ministry instead of through the music and sound of last Sunday.

[EDIT: This post has also been published on Friends Journal.org and in the September 2015 print edition of Friends Journal.]

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Filed under catholicism, christianity, christians, compassion, different faiths, discernment, equality, leadings, racism, worship

No Justice, No Peace: The Armenian Genocide and Black Lives Matter

Does anybody hear us pray?
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray
Peace is more than the absence of war …
If there ain’t no justice
Then there ain’t no peace.

Over 100 years ago now began what has been called the “first modern genocide”. It was the genocide for which the term was coined. It was the genocide that inspired Hitler.

And we whose ancestors suffered that genocide still wait for justice. We still wait for acknowledgment that it was a genocide.

When a people are denied justice, they are denied peace. They are denied humanity. They come to understand implicitly that their lives don’t matter to the world. They can’t move on. They are stuck in the trauma.

On April 24, 1915 began the deportation of Armenian intellectuals in Ottoman Turkey that would begin the Armenian Genocide. Over the course of the next few years, more than one million Armenian men, women, and children would die.

The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.
from wikipedia

The official Turkish stance was that it was “civil war”.

“A lot of women, variously estimated from 60 to 160 in number, were shut up in a church, and the soldiers were ‘let loose’ among them. Many were outraged [raped] to death, and the remainder dispatched with sword and bayonet. Children were placed in a row, one behind another, and a bullet fired down the line, apparently to see how many could be dispatched with one bullet. Infants and small children were piled one on the other and their heads struck off… Aurora… told Apfel… how her pregnant aunt, who was trying to protect her two-year-old son, was killed. ‘The Turks, they took a knife and cut open her abdomen. They said, this is how we are going to end all you people. They pulled out a fetus from her. Put it on a stone. They took the end of the gun that they had, which was heavy, and started to pound and pound and pound her baby.'”
from Peter Balakian’s “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response”

That is not civil war. That is slaughter.

Not all of the deaths were so violent, granted. Likely most of the deaths from the Armenian Genocide occurred during the forced marches, where entire Armenian communities were exiled from their villages and forced to walk to their “new homes” in Syria. They were provided no food, no water. When they fell from exhaustion or starvation, they were killed or left to die.

And now, in the USA, in the country I’ve lived in my whole life, in the country who worships freedom:

  • One black man died one week later from injuries sustained during a half-hour ride in a police van.
  • One black man died after being strangled to death on a sidewalk in NYC.
  • One 12 year old black boy was shot while holding a BB gun, only seconds after the officer saw him.
  • One 7 year old black girl was shot while sleeping during a botched raid.

This is not a complete list. (More names can be found on this website.)

The families of these victims still wait for justice (though some trials are still pending).

As an American with white privilege, I have a choice. I can ignore the pain, suffering, and fear of black Americans. I can assume that these deaths were justified, that the police never kill black men, women, or children “unnecessarily” or “without due cause”. I can assume that black Americans are exaggerating their fear of the police, that it’s without cause. I can choose to believe that everyone in the US is treated equally, despite the evidence I discussed a few months ago.

But as an Armenian, I cannot. I cannot ignore their suffering, because I know what the lack of justice does to a community.

So, to black Americans, I say loud and clear: your lives matter. YOUR LIVES MATTER. Full stop. And I will keep saying that until there is justice. And I will open my eyes to your suffering until true peace exists in our country.

And to the Turkish government, and to governments which allow Turkey to continue denying the genocide by refusing to acknowledge it for fear of alienating a strategic ally—I’m looking at you, American government, and you, President Obama—we will not stay silent. We will not forget. We will not call it a “massacre” or a “civil war”. We will not pretend our ancestors deserved to be butchered.

Because without justice, there is no peace.

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Filed under armenian genocide, equality, racism

We Can Do Better.

Let’s take this as a given, that the color of someone’s skin does not determine the content of their character. In other words, that the premise of racism is inherently false, and people cannot be accurately judged by their race.

Now consider the following facts:

These facts point to systemic racism in American institutions. If you deny that racism is still a problem in America, I challenge you to offer another explanation for these statistics.

In the aftermath of the recent Michael Brown shooting, I want to share the following thoughts. First, the protests happening now are not only about the death of Michael Brown. They’re about the statistics listed above, that people are tired of losing family members to violence simply because they happen to have the wrong skin color. Second, the comment that “Well, at least things are better now than they used to be.” White Americans, surely we can do better than slavery, segregation, Jim Crow? Surely we can do better than that!

So let’s do better. Let’s call out racism when we see it, in our personal interactions with people and in institutions. Let’s stop standing by and watching when African Americans get shafted. Let’s LISTEN when black people try to talk to us about their experiences with race in America and not express disbelief that maybe they don’t really know what their own experiences are.

Let’s educate ourselves. Let’s live with our eyes open, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Because our discomfort is not comparable to the suffering our willful ignorance allows to occur.

So… let’s talk. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s be brave in our interactions, but not cruel. Most of all, let’s be willing to learn.

Let’s do better. Let’s be better.

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Reflections from Discussions on Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”

A Friend and I organized a discussion series at Third Haven Friends Meeting about Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”. (See here for a link with information about the discussion series.) What follows are my reflections at the end of the discussion series, written to share with my Meeting.


  • “The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” pg. 6
  • “One in three young African American men will serve time in prison if current trends continue…” pg 9
  • “Between 1980 and 984, FBI antidrug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. Department of Defense antidrug allocations increased from $33 million in 1981 to $1,042 million in 1991. During that same period, DEA antidrug spending grew from $86 to $1,026 million, and FBI antidrug allocations grew from $38 to $181 million. By contrast, funding for agencies responsible for drug treatment, prevention, and education was dramatically reduced.” pg. 49-50
  • “When the War on Drugs gained full steam in the mid-1980s, prison admissions for African Americans skyrocketed, nearly quadrupling in three years, and then increasing steadily until it reach in 2000 a level more than twenty-six times the level in 1983… The number of whites admitted for drug offenses in 2000 was eight times the number admitted in 1983… Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.” pg. 98
  • “The racial basis inherent in the drug war is a major reason that 1 in every 14 black men was behind bars in 2006, compared with 1 in 106 white men… One in 9 black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five was behind bars in 2006.” pg. 100
  • “African Americans were more than six times as likely as whites to be sentence to prison for identical crimes… African American youth account for 16 percent of all youth, 28 percent of all juvenile arrests, 35 percent of the youth waived to adult criminal court, and 58 percent of youth admitted to state adult prison.” pg. 118

This is the truth we have been hiding from: that our United States prison systems are mostly full of young African American men; and that they are full not because young African American men are more likely to commit crime, but because they’re more likely to be arrested and incarcerated because of crimes committed. This is particularly the case with the “War on Drugs”, which has been used disproportionately against African American males to imprison them in federal courts with mandatory minimum sentencing, whereas their white counterparts are instead more likely to be tried in state courts, where mandatory minimum sentencing rules may not apply.

Michelle Alexander’s book, “The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness”, argues that incarcerating young African American males through the “War on Drugs” was done intentionally as a method of control for African American males after the Civil Rights movement. While some may find her premise difficult to believe, what is made abundantly clear in her book are the statistics that show African American males are being imprisoned for the War on Drugs at an obscenely high rate compared to their white male counterparts. For anyone who cares about equality, justice, peace—which I would hope would be all Quakers everywhere—the system has to be changed.

The question then becomes: what can I do? What can we do?

The first step, as always, is education and conversation. Nothing will change if we are unwilling to discuss race in our criminal justice system. We at Third Haven took this first step during our book discussion group on “The New Jim Crow”. L.A. and I will continue to make ourselves available to any who wish to discuss this issue further or who were perhaps unable to attend the discussions. Other recommended books include:

  • “Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin”, an African American Quaker who was instrumental in organizing the March on Washington;
  • “The Soul Knows No Bars” by Drew Leder, a Baltimore Quaker who teaches philosophy in local prisons;
  • “Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights”;
  • and “Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice” by Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye;

all of which are available in Third Haven’s library; and “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson, about the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to the North and Midwest, which is not available in Third Haven’s library, but is available through the Maryland library system.

But what next? As individuals, there are two kinds of actions we can take: local and federal. Federal actions may include: rallies for social justice, emailing Congress and lawmakers to change the laws that support racism in our justice system. There are several non-profit organizations directly involved in ending mass incarceration and the racism in our justice system. They are:

  • Drug Policy Alliance: See this link for a flier that contains a brief summary of “The Drug War, Mass Incarceration, and Race”.
  • Center for Constitutional Rights: They’re the group that sued the NYPD for racial profiling in their Stop & Frisk policies.
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): Since the publication of “The New Jim Crow”, the ACLU has become more involved in ending mass incarceration and racism. See this link for information about marijuana prosecution in Maryland.
  • The Sentencing Project: This group is primarily involved in research about mass incarceration and racism. They’re the group that funds the kind of studies that provide the statistics Michelle Alexander uses in her book.
  • All of Us or None: Supports people in prisons and those released from prison, particularly those with children.

Local actions may include: investigating local policies regarding the War on Drugs, petitioning local agencies to become more aware of racial bias, encouraging venues to sponsor events about the subject, writing letters to the editor, supporting our local prisoners by donating books to the prison library or becoming involved in groups such as Alternatives to Violence, and more.

We can take any of these actions as individuals or collectively, as a Meeting. But what it all comes down to, Friends, is that we must care. We must open our eyes to the racial reality of our society. We must be willing to acknowledge race before we can confront racism. As Michelle Alexander says,

“Seeing race is not the problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem. The fact that the meaning of race may evolve over time or lose much of its significance is hardly a reason to be struck blind. We should hope not for a colorblind society but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, and do what we can to respond to each other with love. That was [Martin Luther] King’s dream—a society that is capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love. That is a goal worth fighting for.”

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Diversity

There’s been a lot of chatter on the Quaker blogmass recently about things like classism, racism, heterosexism, etc. What it boils down to, ultimately, is that American Quakers seem to have a problem with diversity.

I asked the question in one of my earlier posts about this topic whether it’s our theology or our practice of worship that could just not appeal to certain classes. Jeanne rightly pointed out that the question I was posing itself was biased. Looking at it now, she’s absolutely right. The core assumption of that question was that an entire group of people would find the same things appealing or not appealing. That’s prejudice, pure and simple.

When she pointed this out to me, I denied it at first, saying that wasn’t really what I meant. I had to go out immediately after; during that car ride I felt extreme discomfort because I realized that what she was saying was true. I don’t know if I’m still prejudiced against working class people or not; I’d like to think not. But her shining that Light on me, making me see something I didn’t want to see, was helpful.

As Quakers, I offer us a challenge: when you meet someone new, don’t make any judgments about that person. Don’t assume you know anything about that person’s race, class, sexual orientation, level of education, even sex… The only assumption we are, in fact, called to make about each and every person is that they, like us, are in possession of part of the Light. They, like us, have that of God in them. They, like us, can communicate directly with the Divine.

If we as Quakers could live up to that challenge, I think we’d have fewer problems with diversity.

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Testimonies

I think it is easier for me to live out our Quaker testimonies vicariously, through the works of other people (i.e., by donating to charities), than it is for me actually to live my live according to those testimonies. This is something I’ve been trying to work on recently, with varying degrees of effort.

First, the Testimony of Integrity. This one has got to be the hardest testimony of all of them; because before one can live a life of true integrity, honesty, and openness, one must first know who one is. And then, having found out who one is, one must figure out a way to share that with the world without starting unnecessary conflict (which would be against our Testimony of Peace). This Testimony is the hardest one for me to follow, partly because I’m bisexual in truth, but heterosexual in appearance. My Monthly Meeting was nearly torn apart several years ago, before I started attending, by a gay couple who wanted to be married under the care of the Meeting.

But today is National Coming Out Day. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered the Human Rights Campaign’s “Coming Out Kit”, expecting a pamphlet or two, receiving dozens of pamphlets, a small poster, bumper stickers, even balloons! I checked with the Testimonies and Concerns committee about whether it’d be alright for me to leave the extra pamphlets and bumper stickers and such in the common room; they said it’d be fine, just announce it after Meeting for Worship.

I was so nervous about leaving these pamphlets in our common room that I decided to put them there before Meeting for Worship, hoping that would allow me time to worship instead of worry. (Instead, I spent a good bit of time worrying about what exactly I was going to say and trying to remind myself to let go and let the Holy Spirit guide me.) I made the announcement without incident; now I’m worried that the pamphlets might have been removed by Meeting for Worship this Sunday.

This brings me to the Testimony of Equality. To me, this testimony says: “You are not God’s only child. You are not the only one worthy of God’s love [when I can get past my pride, I also realize that I’m not the only one receiving God’s love who does not deserve it.] You are not more important than anyone else.” A more positive way to say that would be: “You are part of God’s loving family. You are one of many who receives God’s love, regardless of if you deserve it or not. You are just as important as everyone else.” I try to live out this testimony by treating everyone with as much love and openness as I can (especially people I don’t know or who are societally different than me), and by being a kind, courteous driver. Every time I drive, I try to ask myself: am I driving in such a way that would make other drivers happy, or annoyed? Things I try to do: if I can safely move over so someone can merge onto the highway easily, I do; if someone wants to cut me off, I let them and don’t retaliate; I make left turns without causing fear or worry in people on the opposite side of the road; and I always (again, if I can safely) stop for people who want to cross the street.

The Testimony of Peace has been playing a large part in my life right now, because of what’s been going on with Jamie. To me, peace is not about avoiding conflict, but about dealing with conflict in a way that allows everyone to be who they truly are. And a large part of peace, which is often overlooked I feel by Friends (who tend to focus on things like being anti-war or our government’s aggressive foreign policies), is personal peace. How many of us can say we are at peace with our lives, with our behavior, with who we truly are? And, to take that one step further, how many of us have families who are not at peace with one another? Peace isn’t an outside-in process, but an inside-out process.

And finally, the Testimony of Simplicity. Every time I get sick or am otherwise unable to use my computer for several days, it always feel like work for me to catch up on all the websites, forums, and communities I frequent daily. I’ve made a friend from one of those communities named Ivy. Ivy is what I think of as a serious Jew. What I mean by that is that she takes her faith very, very seriously. I admire her greatly for trying to keep kosher in a world that, frankly, doesn’t make it easy financially or otherwise to do so. I admire her living up to her faith when it’d be easier for her not to. And one of the things I’ve learned about Judaism through her is that that faith has an awful lot of days of rest, reflection, and fasting. It got me to thinking: “I dedicate one hour and change to God per week. Yes, I try to keep him always in my thoughts, but most of the time I’m too busy with whatever it is I’m doing online.” So, I decided to start keeping Sundays holy again: all of Sunday, not just Meeting for Worship. I’ve made a resolution not to turn on my computer at all on Sundays. And it has been one of the best changes in my life I’ve made in a long time.

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Filed under daily life, equality, faith, family, integrity, leadings, peace, practice, quakerism, simplicity