Other Upper Dublin Friends tell their story
From the editors: Members of East Sandwich (Mass.) Meeting and Upper Dublin (Pa.) Meeting, two meetings criticized by authors in our October issue, have contacted us to dispute the authors’ accounts of what happened. Every article in the October issue—indeed most of the material in Friends Journal each month—is presented as its author’s individual, personal experience. We offer space in our pages for any responses that Friends should wish to submit for publication. A response from a group of Friends in Upper Dublin appears below; this came to us from the co-clerks of the meeting and represents an informal collective response from some meeting members who felt concern with Avis Wanda McClinton’s article, “My Experience as an African American Quaker.”
As Friends, we place a high value on the virtues of truth and integrity, and we look to resolve differences that arise from a place of love and respect for one another. There are not two sides to this story; there is only one—one path we look to walk, at times hesitantly, at times imperfectly. Deep discernment does not come quickly; neither should judgment be hasty. Some work must be done to seek the truth, and this requires that all voices be heard.
Our meeting has been severely damaged by the allegations leveled against us in the recent Friends Journal article. We do applaud the outpouring of support for Avis Wanda McClinton expressed by well-meaning Friends who want to right the wrongs of racism and injustice. However, we are shocked that Friends have been willing to believe the worst about us, without having heard from our other members.
While it is tempting to refute the allegations point by point, we feel that this would not effectively facilitate the healing process for all involved. We know the charges of “racial hatred” made against us are unfounded. Unfortunately, as we experienced over the last few years, Quaker process within committee work, consensus building, and the pace of activities can cause internal friction between members, particularly when perspectives and life experiences can differ so dramatically. We would like to share who we are as people, as Friends, and as a meeting.
Friends at Upper Dublin Meeting have a long history of awareness of racial justice issues. Two of its current members have been active in groups doing racial justice work for almost 20 years. Other members serve on boards and work with diverse populations, enjoying productive and respectful relationships in the community.
Members of our meeting work in Philadelphia, Pa., with the Interfaith Peace Walk, promoting peace through interfaith dialogue and communion among peoples of different faiths, ethnicities, and races. Members work with the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House Hospitality Kiosk at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and with Mothers In Charge in prisons. Members were also part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Ministry for Racial Justice and Equality and traveled around the yearly meeting giving workshops on racial concerns. Members live and work in racially diverse communities. One member has taken Beyond Diversity 101 twice and was trained to facilitate discussions on the book Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
For over 20 years a religious group of African Americans has had access to our meeting for prayer services. We are happy to share our meetinghouse, which they find to be spiritually nourishing.
For at least 15 years, a number of our members have actively worked on racial justice concerns. As part of that work, they made sure Upper Dublin Meeting as a whole addressed issues of race in at least one of our monthly forums each year. We know this made us more welcoming as a group when people of color attended our meeting. When Avis first came to Upper Dublin Meeting, she said we were so much more welcoming than other meetings she had attended.
In 2011, when Avis learned of our history and role in the Underground Railroad and that our cemetery held graves of slaves who died on their journey to freedom, she became impassioned to do something to recognize their lives. She was the spark that initiated the memorial service, obtaining the grave marker for the cemetery and the Pennsylvania Historical Marker. The entire meeting supported her leading. We are a small meeting. We have 29 members and probably fewer than 15 are active. In spite of our size and some life experience differences between Avis and other members, we were able to hold three very successful events over the last two years. Each event was attended by over 200 people of all ages, races, and religious backgrounds. Together we realized Avis’s goals of honoring those who died seeking freedom and those who aided them on their journey. This was no small undertaking for a small meeting, and it could not have been accomplished without much cooperation and give-and-take by all parties.
We would like to put the hurts of the past behind us and move forward with the work we are called to as a people of God. We believe in the Quaker phrase “Let your lives speak” and are committed to having our lives speak of love, peace, and tolerance.
Members of Upper Dublin Meeting
Healing hurts and hearing others
I wish to contribute my gratitude to all who wrote articles for, or contributed in some way to, the outstanding issue of Friends Journal on “Experiences of Friends of Color.” It is a timely issue. I am very grateful for the witness of all of these beloved Friends. If the truths thus revealed are sometimes painful ones, I have great trust that all of us in the Religious Society of Friends are able to reach out to each other, to respond lovingly, and to take constructive actions to help heal the hurt and to prevent further pain. Let us not be afraid of the calls to further spiritual growth that this issue of Friends Journal presents to all of us, but instead take the opportunity to move forward together.
Stephen W. Angell
In publishing the articles relaying individuals’ experiences in Friends meetings, Friends Journal intended, I assume, to provide an opportunity for the largely white readership to hear directly from Friends of color in their own words and understandings. This kind of hearing is one of the steps needed if Friends are to become more aware of embedded racism and the changes of heart and mind that are needed. I hope some will be ready to have their understanding expanded, but the cold reality is that some will have difficulty in accepting the need for change.
It is important that the Friends be able to name the specifics of their experience. I understand the distress that this may cause other Friends involved in the situations described in these articles. However, I believe that attempting to provide a balanced perspective would result in a failure to really hear the experiences of Friends of color; it would bury their experiences in a mix of voices. There is a difference in the way we need to treat the voices of those who have been excluded in many ways and the voices of those who have been in the dominant role. It is true that no single person’s experience of a situation involving a number of people can provide the whole story, but it is vital to highlight the stories of those who have not had much of a voice.
I pray that this and other efforts to address the embedded racism in the Religious Society of Friends in North America will touch many hearts, and help many Friends to grow in recognizing and struggling with racism.
Although some people are still used to the terminology of “people of color,” as shown in your October issue, this phrase has been erased for a long time from academic circles, such as those at Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton Universities. Some people, especially those from Asian backgrounds, feel that this phrase stinks. The word “white” is a color and not a non-color. Why don’t you use the word “non-white” to denote a people that you are talking about, just as the Asians would describe the others as “non-Asian”? That way the rhetoric is more logical and acceptable, and this usage makes Quakerism more universal. Please take my suggestion into your consideration.
Rev. Dr. Naoshi Hinami
Clyde Hill, Wash.
My issue on “Experiences of Friends of Color” arrived last week, and I couldn’t put it down until I had read all the articles. I was in tears many times. I want to thank all of the authors for being willing to share their experiences so openly and vulnerably. I agree with what Gabriel Ehri wrote in the introduction to this issue about dominant culture and the work we need to do. I mentioned at meeting what a page-turner this issue is. I think it will be passed around among many of those who don’t subscribe. We are taking some more steps on the journey of becoming more aware of dominant culture oppression and doing something about it.
Port Townsend, Wash.
On trying to be good
I’d like to add to the conversation on Sharon Goens-Bradley’s “On Being Good” (FJ Oct.). I see harm being done, sometimes by me. I reach out to stop the harming, or to console, but there are times when the truth of my position is in conflict with the desires and self-actualization of the other person. There are limitations: structurally based limits to some good things. Goens-Bradley’s article highlights an under-recognized truth about taking advantage of being seen as good. We Friends will do better when we are not so quick to take advantage of being good.
I urge Friends to accept that there are essential limits. It’s not true that everybody in the world can have a good life (comfortable, long, with unlimited tap water). We may be genuinely called to sacrifice, that another may live.
When we see others mercilessly protecting a precariously privileged position, we do well to hurt with them, to feel their fear of genuine loss, even if the circumstances do not seem to us to warrant that fear.
St. Paul, Minn.
Before I knew I was a man as described in “Transforming Prejudice into Love” (FJ Sep. 2012), I was the “good girl” in my family and acted accordingly. I did well in high school, while my older sister was a solid “C” student and hated school. I was on the school newspaper and in the National Honor Society. When my parents had difficulties for a while when I was in my early 20s, I stepped up to the plate and helped care for my younger brother and sister, put food on the table, and played Santa Claus one Christmas. I was the good girl, after all.
While part of me loved that title, another part of me secretly despised it. I wanted to be the one who could be irresponsible and not have a job and get drunk and just be “bad.” Calling myself a “good girl” contributed to my inability to find my true self, who happened to be a man, not a girl. During my struggles to accept my real self, I ripped the title “good girl” away from myself and refused to title myself a “good boy.” While I know that I am a good man who is doing my part to change the world in my own ways, I’ll not call myself a “good boy” ever. I prefer to think of myself as a gentleman instead.
Rating ourselves in a Quaker points game
I was pleased to see Richard House’s “The Quaker Points Game” (FJ Nov.). I agree that we have a tendency to keep score on others, which can only be damaging. I am probably not the only Quaker who also keeps score on herself! Am I Quaker enough? The world would probably be better served if I focused my energy on living my faith rather than on monitoring how many check marks I can give myself, or how many demerits I’m racking up.
Business is a necessity. Somebody has to do it, or how would the rest of us have what we need to live and move in the world? It’s not a matter of whether people are in business, but how they conduct their business. It’s all too easy to lose sight of this distinction and vilify the very existence of business. We need to be more careful with our thinking and with what we teach our children. Hopefully we can actually encourage some of them to pursue ethical careers in business, and spend some of their profits on our under-funded social causes.
Just as we don’t throw out all business with money-grubbing business, let’s keep the Karma Shave signs that Richard House objected to, but be more judicious with their messages. They are like queries as we walk from one venue to another. And for those of us of a certain age, they bring back fond memories.
I am reminded of some graffiti I encountered years ago that has always stuck with me. First writer wrote: “People who make value judgments are sick.” Second writer wrote: “People who don’t make value judgments are dead.”
We inevitably make value judgments simply as a condition of living, but the issue is what we do with them. In order to distinguish a good job from a bad job, we must make a judgment. That should point toward fixing what is broken and working toward a better world.
It seems to me that the problem is in applying judgments where they don’t belong. Have there been unscrupulous preachers who wore suits? Of course. Does that mean all preachers are bad or that all suits indicate unscrupulous preachers? Of course not. Similarly we might acknowledge that a certain member makes a very good chocolate cake without also assuming they must be a good First-day school teacher or a good Quaker.
We ought to be mature enough—emotionally and spiritually—to recognize and accept all the diversity within individuals and meetings so we can celebrate what is good and assist the not-so-good to be better. The mix of all that incredible expression is part of what makes this divine creation so rich.
I think it is fundamentally wrong to judge what makes a good or bad Quaker; this is a less invasive form of prejudice. People don’t always conform to your norms or expectations. You can’t always tell what is in a person’s heart by what he does (such as drives a fancy car) any more than you can say that because a person has dark skin he must be bad. One of the biggest lessons in a customer service training I took recently was to never prejudge a customer. The neatly and expensively dressed man might not buy your merchandise, but the scruffy, dirty guy who looks like a drug dealer might become your best customer. Judgment is just another form of your ego trying to make you look superior to everyone else.
We support Richard House’s leading “to change Quaker . . . perceptions of the business community,” but we are concerned about the sharp stick-in-the-eye tone of his essay. The Quaker way to change is to assume a positive leadership stance with a clear sense of our shared values and a conscious striving to see the Light in each of us.
Much has been said about the strong business ethics of past Quakers. Before anyone tries to rekindle those wonderful stories, current business Quakers (which also include my spouse and me) need to step up and show the strength and power of their living Light. Staying away from meeting or avoiding the constructive challenges of inappropriate comments is not showing the community your Light. We feel strongly that any real or perceived slights can be discussed within our communities, and decisions can be made about how to move forward, as long as we do so by patiently listening together until we perceive the guidance reflected in the unanimity of the shared Light.
Quakers seem to have turned more risk-averse and less willing to confront concerns within our meetings than did our predecessors. We believe House’s leading to change Quaker perceptions of the business people among us can be realized, and perhaps can serve as a foundation for also addressing other concerns that we have swept under the proverbial rug.
Dan and Jane O’Keefe
Historically, Quaker business owners were sought out by the community for their integrity and fairness and were very well-respected and successful. From Wikipedia:
During this time, other people began to recognize Quakers for their integrity in social and economic matters. Many Quakers went into manufacturing or commerce because they were not allowed to earn academic degrees at that time. These Quaker businessmen were successful, in part, because people trusted them. The customers knew that Quakers felt a strong conviction to set a fair price for goods and not to haggle over prices. They also knew that Quakers were committed to quality work, and that what they produced would be worth the price.
Correction: May 11, 2015
The original layout of Melissa Tibbals-Gribbin’s piece didn’t clearly indicate that the second paragraph was a quotation from Wikipedia.