Thinking about Race

2015 Items

More from “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates (December 2015)

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book, Between the World and Me, is written as a letter to his 15-year-old son. From pages 90-91:

“This need to be always on guard was an unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of the essence. It contributed to the fast breakdown of our bodies. So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block [“the street”], and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.”

Serena Williams (October 2015)

I asked how winning felt for her. I was imagining winning as a free space, one where the unconscious racist shenanigans of umpires, or the narratives about her body, her ‘‘unnatural’’ power, her perceived crassness no longer mattered. Unless racism destroyed the moment of winning so completely, as it did at Indian Wells, I thought it had to be the rare space free of all the stresses of black life. But Serena made it clear that she doesn’t desire to dissociate from her history and her culture. She understands that even when she’s focused only on winning, she is still representing. ‘‘I play for me,’’ Serena told me, ‘‘but I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that. So ultimately, when I am out there on the court, I am playing for me.’’….

Because just as important to me as her victories is her willingness to be an emotionally complete person while also being black. She wins, yes, but she also loses it. She jokes around, gets angry, is frustrated or joyous, and on and on. She is fearlessly on the side of Serena, in a culture that that has responded to living while black with death.

From The New York Times Magazine, August 25, 2015, “The Meaning of Serena Williams: On tennis and black excellence,” by Claudia Rankine.

Anne Braden, Civil Rights Activist (September 2015)

“I never knew anybody who really got active because of guilt. Everybody white that I know that’s got involved in this struggle got into it because they glimpsed a different world to live in… Human beings have always been able to envision something better… All through history there have been people who have envisioned something better in the most dire situations. That’s what you want to be a part of.” Anne Braden, quoted in the Facebook page, “The Other Tennessee,” (

The Other Tennessee is part of a regional online campaign of Southerners stepping up against hate and racism in response to both Black liberation movement on the move and the presence of hate groups in our towns and cities. We're building on and expanding the white anti-racist tradition in the South. See the coalition's full statement at

from Waking Up White -- and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, 2014 (Summer 2015)

Author Debby Irving will spend two days at Friends School of Baltimore in September. Over the summer, Trustees and faculty of Friends School, and perhaps also parents and students, will read Waking Up White in anticipation of her visit. The book is divided into 9 parts and 46 short chapters. Titles of some of the parts give a sense of what she covers: “Childhood in white,” “Midlife wake-up calls,” Why didn’t I wake up sooner?” “Inner work,” “Outer work,” and “Reclaiming my humanity.” Each chapter ends with queries to answer or a statement to reflect upon, and she encourages readers to journal their responses and reflections. Here are the queries at the end of chapter 6, “From Confusion to Shock:”

“The late historian Ronald Takaki referred to the history taught in American schools as ‘The Master Narrative,’ the version of history told by Americans of Anglo descent. Think about what you did not study. Did you learn about Lincoln’s views on enslaved black people? Anti-immigration laws of the nineteenth century? America’s laws regarding who could and could not gain citizenship? The Native Americans who had once lived on your town’s or school’s land?”

Continuum On Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization (June 2015)

In March 2015 the Clerks of Baltimore Yearly Meeting and of BYM Interim Meeting announced that the Yearly Meeting had accepted a grant of $250,000 from the Shoemaker Fund to address, in part, “…how can our Meetings at all levels be more inclusive and welcoming to all and build multi-cultural community?” They explained, “What we are contemplating is no less than a profound culture change that will permeate all we do and change us forever.”

The BYM Group on Racism is looking forward to helping all of us in the Yearly Meeting discern how to live up to these commitments. One guide that can be helpful is a chart entitled “Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization” and developed by the Crossroads Ministry of Chicago, Illinois,

That chart describes what an organization looks like at each of six points along that continuum. The chart does not tell us how to move along that continuum. We all must discern that together. It does, however, help us understand where we are now and the changes needed to move us to the next point on the continuum.

A beginning query: where would you place your Monthly Meeting now along this continuum?

Unconscious bias: an example (May 2015)

The Hero’s Fight: African-Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State, by Patricia Fernández-Kelly, was published Feb. 1, 2014, by Princeton University Press. See If you click on the link, you may be struck by the unconscious bias in one sentence in the summary: "While ordinary Americans are treated as citizens and consumers, deprived and racially segregated populations are seen as objects of surveillance, containment, and punishment." It is easy to infer that, by "ordinary Americans" the writer means "white Americans," since "racially segregated populations" clearly means populations of color. We (whites) still tend to think of ourselves as the "ordinary" Americans. Even this blurb writer has fallen into that trap. One can only wonder what Fernández-Kelly thinks of that description of her book, if she has noticed it. One can also wonder how often any of us fall into that same trap.

Showing up for Racial Justice by Shan Cretin (April 2015)

The Winter 2015 issue of Quaker Action, published by the American Friends Service Committee, focuses on “Where Do We Go From Here?” In it, Shan Cretin, AFSC’s General Secretary, tells about her efforts to support the Black Panthers through teach-ins and demonstrations in New Haven, CT in the 1970s. She writes, “…one of the Black Panthers with whom I had been working took me aside. He said, ‘I know you mean well, but if you want to do something about the conditions you see in this community, you need to work in your own community. We can take care of ourselves—we black folks can take care of ourselves. The real problem is with the white folks, and I really wish you would go work there.’

“That message helped me understand my responsibility to end racism, not by ‘helping’ disadvantages African-Americans, but by working with those with privilege and power. I realized that white people need to talk about race first – as uncomfortable as that is – so that we can begin as a whole society to actually achieve racial justice.”

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (March 2015)

Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson published Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption in October 2014. In February 2012 he gave a TED talk on this topic – The TED introduction to the talk says that Stevenson “shares some hard truths about America's justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country's black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America's unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.” At about minute 7 into the talk, Stevenson says this:

“Our system isn’t just shaped in ways that are being distorted around race, but also around poverty. We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We have become disconnected.”

Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (February 2015)

Through MAJR legislative initiatives in 2015, let’s make a difference in

  • Alternatives to incarceration (mediation, restorative justice, diversion)
  • Screening of low-risk offenders for more effective corrections
  • Prisoners’ employment and rehabilitation resources
  • Pre-release support for jobs and re-entry services at detention centers
  • Employer incentives for post-release job placement
  • Awareness of collateral consequences re: guilty pleas
  • Second Chance--shielding records for misdeameanors
  • Parole Board final decisions for “lifers with parole”

The Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, MAJR (, is promoting 8 bills in the 2015 MD General Assembly, bringing together legislation under one umbrella from varied organizations: Annapolis Friends Peace and Justice Center, Job Opportunity Task Force, MD Restorative Justice Initiative, Uniform Laws Commission. Alliance partners include interfaith groups, churches, Quaker meetings, and criminal justice reform organizations such as: Committee of Concerned Citizens, Maryland CURE, Out for Justice, People for Change, Friend of a Friend, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, and the Community Conferencing Center.