Race Relations (a Whiter Quaker Fellowship?)
Quakerism: a view from the back benches continued
Copyright 1966 The Back Benches
Race Relations ( a Whiter Quaker Fellowship?)
Our Society is not in unity on our testimony on race relations: honesty insists that we admit that we do not yet all agree on full brotherhood. Our testimony against slave-holding was a brave and wonderful thing, once, but we have been living off the spiritual capital there for a long time, and our bookkeeping is so poor that we scarcely now know that we are in debt to the Negroes who might possibly at one time have acknowledged a debt to us.
The stories are endless. There is the Meeting which turned away Negroes on Brotherhood Sunday; there is the Quaker old folks home which openly advertised “For Whites Only;” there is the Quaker college which was integrated only by the Armed Forces; and there are the Quaker Schools which are barely integrated yet.
Our stand-offish attitudes have so cut us off from the Negro community that most Friends do not know how to begin to understand the revolution for human dignity today. Some of our young Friends would like the Society to join the revolution. But how can we, if we do not even know why it is occurring?
Once Friends knew the bitterness of discrimination. Now we are welcomed. Once Friends knew the anxiety of poverty. Now we are privileged. Once Friends knew the desperation of the powerless. Now we are, many of us, powerful in our communities. Could this be the root of it?
Our continuing concern for Negroes has been for them as individuals. Homes and orphanages were set up by Friends, schools and colleges, social agencies for the colored. We do not mean to minimize the work, the pioneering, and the danger represented by some of these efforts. But the focus was always on the individual casualties of our society and not on the institutions which create the casualties.
Whatever the reason, a number of religious groups are far ahead of Friends in the practice of brotherhood, and we should be thankful for a lesson in humility. We need to ask God for forgiveness and cease our segregated practices. We need to join the revolution for human dignity by throwing our political and economic weight behind extensive social change of the conditions of American Life which breed ghettos and discrimination. At the same time, we must accept interracial marriage, the adoption of children of mixed background, and the fact that our Negro Friends are simply members of our Society who need feel no obligation to be “official Negroes.”
The time has come for another look at Quaker work with the Indians as well. Are we, here too, relying on casework and mission approaches to a problem which is political and economic in its nature? When will we press in nonviolent but powerful ways for the rights of the American Indians?
(to be continued)