An Important Letter from Black Friends
I recently received the following open letter to Friends everywhere from Black Friends who attended New York Yearly Meeting in Silver Bay this year. I have not yet seen it mentioned in other blogs, though I certainly hope it will be. Meanwhile, I offer it here for whatever exposure this blog can give it.
P.S. Further posts in the dialog about Quakerism and Christianity are under preparation (lest anyone think I've forgotten).
An open letter to Friends everywhere:
Language has been used to identify our people since the first one of us was captured, shackled, and shipped in bondage to America. We have been “nigras,” “niggers,” “Negroes,” “colored,” “African-American” and “People of African descent.” But always we have been bound together by our Blackness. For us, living in the United States has meant living in a country with racism at the core of its laws, belief systems, language, and religion.
This summer, in a spirit of love, we attended the 310th New York Yearly Meeting. We came, in the words of Vanessa Julye, our African American keynote speaker, to “seek God’s will together as we cracked open the seed of racism.” We heard stories of interracial childhood friendships and of scientists attesting that we are all one. We affirm these stories. We also experienced some difficult but healing conversations. However, what we want to lift up in this open letter is the reality of racism today.
Some Friends in NYYM are not aware of the history of racism among Friends and how that history impacts us today. Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel, authors of Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, focus on the relationship of Quakers of European descent and African Americans in North America from the pre-colonial times to the present. They write “Research has revealed ambivalence and ambiguity in Friends’ relationships with African Americans throughout their history.” And that “North American Friends who, even as they strongly advocated for the freedom and education of enslaved African Americans, were reluctant to invite African Americans into membership into their own Society.”
We strongly urge Friends to invite Vanessa (email@example.com) and Donna (firstname.lastname@example.org) to visit their meetings.
Working on increasing Friends’ awareness of racism, as a step toward its eradication, is difficult, exhausting and painful. As Black Friends, we experienced much pain and anger at this summer’s Yearly Meeting sessions. Nevertheless, we still want to continue to address these issues. In order to nurture our continued participation in Yearly Meeting sessions as we do this work, we are asking that in 2006 Friends of Color have a time and place to discuss concerns with each other in an area that is separated from other Yearly Meeting activities.
We want to include the Yearly Meeting’s children in this work. They are our future; they are more flexible and less set in their belief systems and behavior. The sooner we can increase their awareness of racism, its effect on all of us and the importance of eradicating it to restore our humanity, the sooner it will happen.
In New York too many young people locked up in detention are children of color charged with non-violent offenses. They come from the poorest neighborhoods and the lowest performing schools. The New York State Court of Appeals has ruled that the state has been short-changing city pubic school funding for years. Governor Pataki is contesting the ruling.
Although New York State is majority White (62%), its prison population is majority Black and Hispanic (82%). They too come from the poorest neighborhoods with the lowest performing schools. Most have substance abuse issues. But instead of being treated in drug rehabilitation programs they are incarcerated in upstate New York prisons. We can also follow the shackles from the plantations to the projects to the prisons in Connecticut and New Jersey.
In drawing state legislative districts, New York uses Census Bureau data that counts the state’s urban Black and Hispanic prisoners as residents of the mostly White and rural prison counties rather than as residents of the home communities in which they resided prior to incarceration, and to which they will return to. According to the National Voting Rights Institute:
This practice has an historical parallel and bears a striking resemblance to the original ‘Three-Fifths” clause of the United States Constitution, which allowed the south to obtain enhanced representation in congress by counting disenfranchised slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional apportionment.
We will continue to work on removing the shackles that bind us and we invite all Friends of Color to contact us at email@example.com. We encourage Friends of European descent, who are led to participate in this work, to contact White Friends Working to End Racism at firstname.lastname@example.org. We ask that the NYYM Black Concerns Committee compile a resource list that Quakers can use in advancing this work. We ask that the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent post our open letter on their website. And last, but certainly not least, we ask that those gathering for the August Many Gifts One Spirit Retreat for Friends of Color, pray for Friends working to achieve a blessed and whole community.
Maria Arias (Brooklyn Meeting)
Ernestine Buscemi (Morningside Meeting)
Frederica Azania Clare (Fifteenth Street Meeting)
Charley Flint (Rahway & Plainfield Meeting)
Cora Mighty (Unadilla Meeting)
Stanford Mighty (Unadilla Meeting)
Tracy Parham (Rahway & Plainfield Meeting)
Leroy Mahesh Thomas (Scarsdale Meeting)
Helen Garay Toppins (Morningside Meeting)