Comment on Mark Russ ‘Institutional Racism and Quakerism

The following is a comment on a recent blog post by Mark Russ

Thank you Mark for your ministry.

For me, Quakerism is essentially an experiential faith – witness of Friends past and present is at the heart of how we understand our faith and try to live it out. Ministry is particularly powerful when it speaks from our life to the life of others. Such powerful ministry can also be provided by non-Quakers and can come from unexpected sources. This theology from the benches is often raw and very uncomfortable.

How does this relate to racism and Quakerism? This feels urgent – and therefore the following thoughts are still very unformed.

A year ago today (19 February 2021), a German racist walked into three bars in Hanau near Frankfurt and executed (murdered if you prefer) nine Germans Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar, and Kaloyan Velkov) for the sole reason that they looked ethnically different and migration background. For many German ethnic minority citizens, the events of Hanau robbed them of their sense of safety and identity as German citizens. This week listening to the powerful podcast 190220 on Spotify brought home to me the moral injury inflicted on ethnic minorities living in Germany by those white Germans whose lives were not impacted by the events and ignorance about them. The moral injury occurs because we do not acknowledge the pain and the hurt caused to the identities of ethnic minorities and our lack of imagination.

After the shootings in Christchurch, the ministry in my local meeting was somber. Friends reflected on how glad we were that we could worship without fearing of a gunman breaking in and murdering us while worshiping. The shootings affected us because we were worshiping like the victims of Christchurch. Toward the of the meeting, I relate the tweet of a young Muslim woman working for Quakers in Britain, Sahdya Darr, from the previous Friday about her fear for family attending Friday prayers in Britain, because if such an event could happen in New Zealand, it could easily also happen here given the widespread Islamophobia in Britain. In this tweet, she also spoke of her disappointment about inability of her co-workers to comprehend her pain and the level of moral injury she had just suffered. I learned a lot from her tweet and her subsequent ministry about the event during a very powerful meeting for worship as well as by what happened afterwards including that we all can be racists by our failures to acknowledge the pain and the moral injury caused not necessarily by us individually but by us as co-workers, committee members, a Quaker body and Yearly Meeting.

I regard Sahdya Darr as a friend and therefore have strong feelings about racism she encountered. Her account of the constant micro-aggressions sounds credible. And since this criticism will be made, I will admit that I do not know the full story or the other side of story, but I have reason to doubt any of her statements. Therefore, I am pained that no way could be found to resolve the conflicts between her and her co-workers through some process of mediation or restorative justice and she left Quakers in Britain some time ago.

Her recent tweets have to be seen against the background of the report on the toxic work environment for ethnic minority staff in the charity sector. And raises the question whether the work environment at Britain Yearly Meeting staff is toxic? The recent report to Meeting for Sufferings by Edwina Preat suggest it may well be. For Quakers, this is potentially a big loss, because we benefit from the diversity of staff and the insights that they bring. I feel that we may have a lot of learning and listening to do here. We may well lose predominantly ethnic minority staff in the current restructuring of Friends House staff.

I am not saying that (institutional) racism in Quakerism is confined to Friends House. Racism lives in our meetings – we are often unaware our micro-aggressions and the moral injuries that we often inadvertently commit. There remains much for us to learn and become aware.

Apologies for not offering any thoughts on your theological points.

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