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Philadelphia Quakers as an Anti-Racist Organization

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Tenets that Quakers follow.
  3. PYM operations within the general framework of Quaker ideals.
  4. Quakers and racist prejudices and white privilege.
  5. Quaker struggle for racial justice.
  6. Recommendations.
  7. Conclusion.

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. [...]


[...] As previously mentioned, Quakers are proud of their anti-racist heritage, but so much so that the continued struggle for racial justice has been neglected. While it is mostly true that Quakers did treat Native Americans better than did other colonials, and that Quakers indeed worked very hard to abolish slavery of Africans in the U.S., today's Quakers often seem to lose track of the fact that the positive aspects of their heritage do not to exonerate them from racist prejudices and white privilege. [...]

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