The BlackQuaker Project Challenges Quakers on Racial Justice:
Retrospective/Reparatory Justice and a Justice Testimony--
Necessary Steps for Peace and Equality in the Society of Friends
Can there be peace without justice? Can there be equality without justice? Just as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Board declared in our 2008 proclamation of “peace with justice,” our ministry asserts that there cannot be. Hence, the BlackQuaker Project (BQP) seeks to return justice to its rightful place, front-and-center, in the testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends (RSOF). We also urge the RSOF and fellow activists to implement retrospective justice to atone for the hundreds of years of harm, exploitation, and dehumanization to persons of African descent worldwide.
Drawing from British Friend Adam Curle’s 1981 Swarthmore (UK) Lecture, we agree that justice has a dual meaning: “one, spiritual—righteousness, the observance of the divine law; the other [secular]—fairness, righteous dealing.” We feel justice to be necessary if we are to begin changing the politically corrupt, racialized, and profoundly unequal society in which we live.
Our ministry challenges Friends to place the Justice testimony front-and-center in monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. For too long this crucial testimony has remained out of mind while Friends internalize such acronyms as “SPICES,” which mislead about the essence of Quakerism. First created by the Friends Council on Education, according to Friend Arthur Larabee, SPICES was designed to teach pre-university, non-Quaker students at Quaker schools about the essentials of Quakerism. We feel this acronym is inaccurate as it does not include Justice. As a temporary remediation, we suggest, tongue-in-cheek, the use of “SPICES with JaM,” meaning “Simplicity, Peace, Integrity (Truth), Community, Equality, Stewardship with Justice and Mercy” while we work towards a permanent solution. However, we do not believe that Quakers necessarily need an acronym to summarize our diverse beliefs and practices, and we encourage RSOF members and attenders to move towards eliminating SPICES from our thinking and articulation.
To achieve both equality with justice and peace with justice, we implore Friends to develop and to implement an educational and action program of retrospective and reparatory justice. As defined in our pamphlets, Facing Unbearable Truths (2008) and Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives (2020), retrospective justice refers to efforts to provide justice to victims or descendants of victims of “crimes against humanity” years, decades, or centuries after they occurred. In the case of African Americans, this refers not only to chattel slavery and the transAtlantic slave trade but also to the numerous other horrors of white supremacy which followed, such as Jim Crow, the razing of Black communities (infamously including Tulsa), severe housing and education discrimination in the implementation of the post-World-War II GI Bill, and the present state crimes of police brutality and mass incarceration. To accomplish retrospective or reparatory justice, we recommend the following steps outlined in the 2006 Brown University Report, Slavery and Justice:
The Formal Acknowledgement of an Offense: The Religious Society of Friends needs to acknowledge formally that Quakers have been slave owners, that many Quakers were supporters of the transatlantic slave trade, and that other Quakers and Quaker meetings profited directly from enslavement and the eras of economic exploitation, human degradation, and dehumanization that followed.
A Commitment to Truth-Telling: Friends must remember our original name “The Religious Society of Friends of Truth” as we collectively shoulder the responsibility of telling the truth, in all its complexity. This includes memorializing our history so that we do not forget past injustices.
The Making of Amends: Friends must be dedicated to reconciliation, as well as social, economic, psychological, cultural, and political rehabilitation and healing.
We are heartened that in recent months, USA and UK Quakers have begun to translate their awareness and knowledge of collective Quaker culpability into action that seeks to atone for past misdeeds. On 10 May 2021, Abington Monthly Meeting in Pennsylvania approved a “Minute of Reconciliation,” formally recognizing that the Meeting had profited from the slave trade and committing to reparatory justice (read here). Britain Yearly Meeting has agreed to three goals as they reckon with their involvement in the slave trade: “to be an anti-racist employer; to build anti-racism into the design of work programs; and to support Quaker meetings and communities on anti-racism work.” Additionally, the Rowntree Society of England has launched an investigation into how their charitable trust benefited from “slavery, unfree labour, and other forms of racial exploitation during the eras of colonialism and apartheid.” On 15 April 2021 Rowntree released a preliminary report of their findings (read here). Most recently, Alaska Friends Conference has adopted a Minute of Commitment to Racial Justice, inspired by our 2008 Weed lecture-pamphlet, Facing Unbearable Truths. The Minute can be found as an attachment here. Finally, the American Friends Service Committee, Friends General Conference, Friends Council on Education, and Pendle Hill have created an anti-racist coalition. We wish them well and look forward to learning how they will deal with systemic violence and systemic racism, generally absent in previous Quaker efforts, which tended to deal only with symptoms and not causes.
Write to us at email@example.com with any comments, suggestions, or questions you may have about how F/friends can become involved in the process of retrospective justice, and in the process of putting our justice testimony front-and-center as we aim at acheiving racial justice. For more on retrospective or reparatory justice, see Weaver’s Pendle Hill pamphlet, Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives (Oct. 2020) and our Friends Journal article, “A Proposed Plan for Retrospective Justice” (Jan. 2021). Also consider visiting our website and signing up for our mailing list here.
-- The BlackQuaker Project