How Much Diversity?

When Friends Journal announced last fall our intention to publish a special issue on Diversity among Friends, we gave the following explanation: "This topic is to be understood as broadly as you wish." We had in mind a comprehensive examination of the ways in which Friends are (or could be) diverse. In looking over the table of contents on the next page, one could accurately conclude that this original purpose of the special issue has not been achieved. What you will find—which reflects the submissions that we received—is an emphasis on a few categories, with huge areas missing. There is little on theological differences, little on physical differences (the exception is deafness and hearing loss), and nothing on age, economic class, education, sexual orientation, geography, or the many other ways in which Friends diverge from each other.

Instead—in addition to a few broadly focused comments on how we deal with differences among us (which are very instructive of the dynamics of diversity in general)—the majority of articles explore one area: racial diversity. Given that Friends are exploring this issue in many yearly meetings at present, perhaps this is the one area of diversity most in focus for Friends at this time. Or perhaps Friends, like many in our society, associate the word "diversity" with multi-racialism, particularly relations between African Americans and those of European descent.

This past spring, as we solicited articles on various themes for the issue—including racial diversity—a message with a caution arrived by e-mail (edited for clarity):

I have a problem with a request from any publication that will focus on "diversity" and then speaks of the importance of "racial issues" being included. Part of our discussion needs to be on why we align the "concern" about being diverse with the behaviors of racism. Diversity is a healthy thing or behavior. Articles on racial issues in the Religious Society of Friends that I have read are always articles on racism. Are there some racial issues that show up as something other than that? Racism is not a good thing—in fact, a murderous thing. This is for me not an issue of semantics. I am all for diversity! I am all against racism. As long as we include "racial issues" in a focused publication on diversity it is my feeling we are doing a disservice to a discussion of diversity. I am not aware that, in the history of Quakerism, diversity has ever been a "problem"—it is the racism of the Religious Society of Friends yesterday and today and, if we keep this up, tomorrow that needs not just discussion but action and changes in behavior.

As you will see—in line with this warning—racism, rather than diversity, is front-and-center in most of the articles that we offer on this subject. There is clearly unfinished business among Friends in attending to racial discrimination.

I will not try to summarize the thrust of these writings except to caution you in advance that intricate sub-themes probe down not only to the deeper levels of the consciousness of Friends, but to those of the larger culture. Much that is here is instructive well beyond the subject of racism and racial diversity. These articles will not always make for comfortable reading, but they aim to be truthful. For the Religious Society of Friends today, focusing on cross-racial understanding and appreciation is clearly as important as it has ever been.