Forum February 2015

The lost opportunities of chosen poverty

I disagree with Seres Kyrie, the author of the article “Choice Poverty” (FJ Dec. 2014). From my point of view, poverty has nothing to recommend it.  When this way of life is practiced by a family with children, it is especially detrimental. Children do not choose poverty; their parents choose it for them, and as a result, poor children miss out on many important life experiences. I am glad that my parents were able to live a middle class life and to give us many meaningful opportunities such as music and dance lessons; visits to museums; sports; Scouts; summer camp; and most important of all, a college education without debt. Those who want to live at poverty level in order to avoid paying federal income taxes should do so only if they have no children or have grown children.

Judy Kessinger
Mill Creek, Wash.

The article on “Choice Poverty” has been bothering me since I read it very soon after receiving Friends Journal.  While I fully understand the writer’s position of not funding the military, she seems to be unaware that many of the benefits her family has are paid for by paying income tax: roads, schools, Medicaid, to name a few. Having cars that are 30 years old certainly produces more air pollution than do newer cars. Will they homeschool their two children? Where will they get the books needed for the children’s education? Who will pay for the medical care if something major requiring hospitalization happens to one or more of them? Then there is the certainty that they are breaking the law by not reporting their “under- and over-the-table gigs.” Are their parents helping with the expenses they cannot afford? I have many more questions, but this is enough for now.

Sheila Bach
Harpers Ferry, W.V.

Many paths of simplicity

Thank you for Chuck Hosking’s persuasive story (“Sustainable Simplification Shuns ‘Shoulds’ and Sacrifice” (FJ Dec. 2014). I just want to remind your readers that it is not necessary to criticize the simplicity approaches taken by others in order to offer your own. More than half of the cars in our Friends meeting parking lot are fully electric or hybrids. I do agree that some people who adopt technological mitigations may, as a result, over use them to the point of canceling their benefits, but I believe those are rare birds.

I believe that God loves us all and that the resources we need were put here so that we might become all that we can be.

Reed Hardy
Green Bay, Wisc.

Margaret Fell Fox?

I not sure that I had heard before that George Fox was married to Margaret Fell. At least I don’t remember hearing or knowing it before reading Maggie O’Neill’s “Sleeping with Margaret Fell” (FJ Dec. 2014). I wonder how she wrote her name? And would it be better in some way if we referred to her as Margaret Fell Fox? That would make the marriage more obvious for those not steeped in the details of Quaker history.

Jill Hurst-Wahl
Syracuse, N.Y.

Living within our means

Thank you for Daniel O’Keefe’s interesting article (“Confessions of a Tired Accountant,” FJ Jan). I have also spent my career in finances and accounting. I have experienced many of the frustrations he lists, as well as others. Unlike him, I have spent the vast majority of my career in nonprofit financial management. I chose to work for nonprofits because they have a mission motive instead of a profit motive. However, one of the things that frustrates me the most is when nonprofits operate at a deficit. In my mind, there should only be a deficit when investing in a new program that intends to have long-term viability. Unfortunately, I have experienced several Quaker organizations operating significant deficits year after year. To me, it is immoral to deplete savings because we don’t want to face tough decisions (often personnel based). This is the equivalent of pushing those tough decisions into future years only to have a reduced number of options because the savings accounts are gone. I quote the band Rush: “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Rather, I believe it is our moral obligation to live sustainably within our means today, so that our Quaker organizations are viable seven generations into the future.

Lola Georg
Wallingford, Pa.

Looking within ourselves

I am deeply touched by Ron McDonald’s courage to give words to this behavior that we, as white Americans, seem to deny (“White Narcissism,” FJ Sept. 2014). I know that institutional slavery exists, but we, the people, comprise the very institutions that continue to incarcerate people of color at alarming rates, deny bank loans, and harass in inhumane ways. Institutional slavery has given white Americans a place to stand that removes us from responsibility and guilt: a social smokescreen, if you will. And, we react with intense anger when we are called on this and can no longer deny that we are part of the problem. Thank you for articulating this issue with such clarity and sensitivity.

Jane Clark
Cornwall, Pa.

Quaker Saints

Something sparked in reading John P. Corry’s Viewpoint in the December issue. It put me in mind of a recent chat with a weighty Friend, one who was related to “Quaker saints” and who had lived and worked with others. I was surprised by an offhand comment that seemed to suggest that Friends needed their saints in order to do their best work. This surprised me because over the years, I have realized that the heart of Quakerism lies in its democracy, and that starts with our democratic view of divinity. Fox and his followers shed the image of God as “king of kings and lord of lords.” Meetings avoid hierarchy. Our unprogrammed worship form recognizes the value of each person as a conduit of divine light. But I would suggest that we actually go a step further. When we recognize “that of God in everyone,” we are acknowledging that divinity comes into being when we are gathered together. Even Fox, or Fell, or Rufus Jones were catalysts in a greater whole that needed the rest to make it complete. I once suggested a called meeting with musical messages rising from the silence. A Friend was doubtful, saying that he could not sing. However, what good is singing if there is no one listening? All the messages in a worship service are a message as are the silences.

Chris King
Sherborn, MA

Ron McDonald

I want to express my thanks for Ron McDonald’s thoughtful article on white narcissism. There is much in it to ponder.  For example, how can I train myself to notice instances of the daily advantage conferred by being white?  I am not by nature a keen observer.  How can I keep myself from feeling entitled to privilege, and yet have a healthy amount of assertiveness?  (I grew up feeling shy and afraid to speak up.)  I appreciate that the article does not assign guilt, but instead supplies some helpful and constructive reflections.

Judith Inskeep
Gwynedd, Pa.

I am happy to see that you shared these views with a wider audience. Ron McDonald’s thoughts on the subject of white narcissism and white privilege represent a shot across the bow of benign denial, which though not malicious still impedes the freedom you write about. You are courageous and visionary to tackle this topic head on. Don’t let it go. I hope the conversation has a ripple effect. If the nation ever is to become a truly post-racial society, white Americans will have to take greater ownership of racial reconciliation beginning with the kind of honest reflection and introspection that shines through in your commentary. It would be great to see a series of seminars focused on this subject held across the country. Taking a critical look at one’s self can be difficult. But it can also be liberating; at least that is what I have found.

Anthony Hicks
Memphis, Tenn.

Dare I say I’m a racist? No, I don’t use racist language, really do value my friends of all colors (and sexual orientation), am polite and well-mannered, and am well aware that a set of words are just not part of my vocabulary.

That’s the outside picture. But there’s another story that is quite disturbing. Too often (and once is too often!) I’ll see somebody of color, and an inward voice asks: “What is he [or she] doing here?” Another inward voice quickly responds, “He [or she] belongs here. Get off it, Arthur!”

That first voice is the voice of the racist society in which I grew up. Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan had no (zero) black residents. During the day, I saw black maids, nannies, and workmen—but no black professionals. The lesson was pretty clear: blacks had no place in my middle class life. Even with parents, teachers, and friends offering another lesson, this is the one that I learned most clearly.

The second voice is that of civility, acceptance, community, and compassion. It speaks a lesson that I’ve adopted, and want to believe is deeply ingrained in me. All my work for social justice, against racism and homophobia, is an expression of this voice.  I’d hope that this voice is so strongly grounded in me that the first (racist) voice is lost.  Unfortunately, that is not so.

That the inward dialogue persists is evidence of the strength of the racist context in which I grew up. I remember clearly my first business trip to Birmingham, Alabama, when I was in my late 20s. Although I should have known better, I was genuinely surprised to find myself working alongside so many skilled black professionals. That’s an uncomfortable confession for me to share, but it is true.

No, I’m not the kind of “racist” who acts out in crude and unacceptable ways. My racism may feel subtle and self-contained, but I do believe it’s still visible to most people of color. And I also believe that the malady I’m describing here is very common.  It’s a racism that is stubborn, persistent, and pernicious. And it’s a racism that won’t subside just because I’m appreciative of our high skilled black president, or because I’ve many black friends whose creativity and leadership are so inspiring.

Be honest with yourself. Have you ever seen a person of color when you’re alone in an urban space, and felt afraid, more afraid than you might have felt had you encountered a white man or woman? If your answer is “yes” than we share a common bond, an unpleasant racist heritage that you learned and that probably gets in the way of your compassionate life.

How important is this, you might ask. If I treat people of color with dignity and respect, is there still a problem? Absolutely! Inward racism is like a sore, and it heals very slowly. It’s an illusion to believe that we filter it out and don’t bring our racism into our daily lives.

Any denial of our racism will appear especially thin to those of color, those who may be the first to pick up the duality of our attitudes and actions. And such a denial (“Of course I’m not racist”) may well be received as an inflammatory insult.

In too many recent events (and, again, one is too many!), racist attitudes—perhaps even unconscious attitudes—have resulted in tragedy and death, and these actions need to be accountable in a court of law. I do believe that all of us, including our police, harbor some racist attitudes, and need to consciously recognize and compensate. Even though we may not be outwardly obnoxious, we must attend to any inward lack of total clarity about our testimony of equality.

Arthur Fink
Peaks Island, Maine

Correction (move to be around bottom right of p7)

When we edited David K. Leonard’s January Viewpoint, “Our fear is killing us,” we trimmed details of a section on race and homicide to read in a way that the author has shown us is technically accurate but deeply misleading. When Leonard wrote that perpetrators of homicides against whites are six times more likely to also be white, he included these additional statistics: “Of course, there are more whites than there are blacks here, so this might be expected. Nonetheless even when we adjust for the smaller portion of African Americans in our population, it is still true that a white in the United States encountering a white has a slightly higher chance of being killed by him (or her) than when dealing with a black. Over a year’s time a white person in this country has a 1.05 chance out of 100,000 of being killed by another white. The comparable figure for black-on-white homicide is 1.03.” We apologize for trimming an important part of Leonard’s argument.

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