There is no question that Quakers strive for racial justice, for their shared history and social beliefs explicitly call for ongoing anti-racist action. Given Philadelphia Quakers' early influence on U.S. governmental framework and their ongoing reputation for egalitarianism, an investigation and critical analysis of the Philadelphia Quakers as an anti-racist group is indispensable. This essay focuses on the anti-racist activism of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), especially within the timeframe of 2000-2004. After analyzing Philadelphia Quakers' history of working for racial justice, we will overview major domestic actions and issues that they have been working on lately. The purpose of this paper is to explore the legends surrounding Quaker involvement in the abolition of slavery and then to compare such standards for righteous behavior with contemporary Quaker work to rid the country of racism, that is, this U.S. system of advantages that has given Whites the power of dominant social group rank and simultaneously has prejudiced Whites against people of color.
[...] As the following overview of Quaker heritage and ethnographic study of current PYM anti-racist work will demonstrate, PYM has many challenges ahead of it in order to realize the racial utopia of which its members speak. In particular, this paper will reveal that PYM's overemphasis on its pro-racial justice heritage and continuing egalitarian language has greatly undercut its potential to educate and mobilize its mostly wealthy and white membership into valuable anti-racist work. However, a closer look at PYM's recent information campaigns, workshops, and lectures about racial equity also point to the fact that many Philadelphia Quakers are in the midst of a valuable process of self-work and unlearning their own racism. [...]
[...] Following Drake's Quakers and Slavery in America (1950) as well as Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye's lecture, “Quakers & African Americans: A New Look at an Old History” (2003), which I attended, we can see that Quakers had a more ambivalent relationship with slavery and only a lukewarm attitude towards Blacks. Though at first economically interested meetings silenced or ousted members who spoke out against slavery, Quakers were among the very first white institutions in the U.S. to corporately condemn slavery. [...]
[...] Given that we know that PYM Quakers are by and large white and wealthy, it is easy to imagine the average Quaker taking a laidback, privileged approach to anti-racism in which subtle acts of racism are ignored or undetected and major acts of racism can be fully considered and analyzed as an abstract, theoretical event. In this sense then, the average Quaker is not in the best position to be the final evaluator of his or her own racial prejudices. [...]
[...] From my perspective as a young but mostly disillusioned Quaker, it seems that Quakers are following the guidance of Ghandi, who advised progressive activists to the change you seek.” As it applies to this group, this teaching would recommend, cannot be an anti-racist organization if you have serious racist tendencies yourselves.” Among the aforementioned education programs one compelling example is an eight month long series of free “Racial Justice” lectures from 2002-2003 that was put on by Pendle Hill, a PYM-sponsored Quaker center for study and education. [...]
[...] It must be stressed here again that the disappointing dearth of Quaker action against racism is only acceptable as part of a gradualist scheme to confront entrenched racial structures, or as Quakers often phrase it, speak truth to power.” Equally, the suggestion of an all-white support group would not be the only means for PYM members to unlearn racism, but would certainly an essential step towards cross-racial dialogue and collaboration. To be certain, my experiences with PYM Quakers have reinforced my belief that there is no such thing as an inactive anti- racist, and I do not include as my allies in the struggle against racism the many neglectful and ambivalent Friends who rely on their religion's legacy of anti-racism and their own meaningless rhetoric of equality in order to consider themselves as anti-racist. [...]
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