Wherefore Art Thou, Quakers

Wherefore Art Thou Quakers

The world, and the United States, need far more Quakers.  Immediately. I have now lived long enough to have seen the major cities of my country in flames again and again over the last 60 years of my life alone. Watching rioters once again trash and burn Los Angeles and multiple other US cities is the worst kind of déjà vu one can conjure. 

This is Hate in the Time of Cholera

Granted, we have a global pandemic.  Yes, we’ve all been locked up and pent up and masked up and, as entitled moderns, we are not used to this by any means.  But the rage and the anger and the utter helpless frustration that the black, brown, poor, and the marginalized among us feel is something more.  It is the cumulative effect of the original sin that our country, and many others, was founded upon; slavery.  

Our forbearers started this atrocity and we are now, and have been, paying the price for their avarice and profiteering in flesh ever since.  These demonstrations are nothing new. Watts, Rodney King, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Trayvon Martin, and now George Floyd join the ignominious ranks of those murdered on the altar of society’s neglect.

This time though, there is an extra something in the pot; a special spice, a hot sauce of hatred which springs from the repetition of a disrespect that echoes through the ages.  The themes of these demonstration cum riots have always been the same; violence, springing like a viper from the suppression of people of color and the almost completely tone-deaf reaction of the population at large.

Now though, we have the perfect potion for the ultimate poison.  People have been trapped in their homes with nothing but CNN to numb their bored and rage-filled minds into submission with a repetitive tat-a-tat of the same stories over and over and over again.  That alone is Stockholm Syndrome enough but throw into the mix yet another police murder of a black man, on tape, with the complicity of his gang of thugs-in-uniform, and the explosion was inevitable.  And that, too, is broadcast to death, with death, and now the destruction in its wake.

I hear my white friends and relatives say the same thing, “I can understand their frustration but burning and looting? How does that help their cause?”

In that simplistic summation is the heart of the problem.  It is not their problem, it is our problem, it always has been.  It is not their cause, it should be our cause, it should always have been.  The separation of the races evident in these statements is really a complete severing of our concepts of humanity.  “They” are less educated the “we”. “They” live differently than “we”. “They” are less human that “we”. 

The issue is that “we” should have all been “they” from the start, in is enshrined in our founding documents, but because of the flaws of our founders (slave owners all), the lens with which our country has always viewed people of color has been a cloudy one at best.  Even upon examination of the 3/5ths theory of counting slaves there is mud in the water, from the Constitutional Accountability Center:

“Counting the whole number of slaves benefited the Southern states and reinforced the institution of slavery. Minimizing the percentage of the slave population counted for apportionment reduced the political power of slaveholding states.

Denigration of the Constitution is not restricted to committed demagogues.

It is complicated. We can talk about reparations.  We can study and teach social justice in classes and universities.  We can up-fund traditional black institutions (reparation-light) but none of these really do anything to solve the problems endemic in our law enforcement, courts, jails, schools, and neighborhoods.  And nothing we can impose can change the minds and hearts of those whose opposition to equality seems bread and baked in.

Enter the Quakers.  Quakers forbade owning slaves in 1776.  They petitioned Congress 14 years later for the total abolition of slavery. It is in Quaker DNA to not discriminate.  It has everything to do with their deep-rooted belief in not taking human life; they are granted conscientious objector status by our government during times of war and draft because of this tenet of their belief’s coda.  This humanity flows down through the ages and the souls and the people of Quaker faith.  Equal is Equal.

I know this because I have lived this.  I was raised in a small, rural, community just outside of Washington, D.C.  It was founded by Quakers in the early 1600’s. Our local stores, shops, blacksmith’s, and businesses were owned and run by our black neighbors and friends.  Their land, their homes, their businesses were not only sold to them by former slave owners, but the Quakers who freed them and sold them their entrée into equality also patronized their businesses and raised their families in conjunction with theirs. That was over two centuries ago.

I was the beneficiary of that humane doctrine hundreds of years later.  I attended a Quaker high school for several years.  I went to the quiet Quaker meetings often.  My first piano recital was in the Quaker Meeting House that still stands today in my hometown.  When I was back in the public school nearby in the late 1960’s, it was fully integrated and had been…….since it was established……in 1906.  We saw no difference in the kids we were schooled with, black, brown or white.  We hung out together, we knew each other’s lives and families.  We really had no concept of racism or “other” except from the news and frankly, without CNN, back then Walter Cronkite was an elite, white, New York City dude.

It was not until just a few years ago that I stumbled upon a student documentary, “Growing up in the Time of Segregation”.  It was only then, in that moment, where it all came together in my own head; why I had no concept of the hatred and racism that seems so prevalent in our word today.  I was not raised that way.  Watch this documentary and you will see just what impact the Quakers and their Community of Friends has had upon their immediate world and how it literally passes through the generations, on both sides of this divisive issue, into a better world with people the better for knowing them.

Wherefore Art Thou Quakers, we need more of thee.

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