Working Group on Racism Interchange Reports
Thinking About Race –
Conscious and Unconscious Biases
From The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, pp. 106.
“A survey was conducted in 1995 asking the following question: ‘Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?’ The startling results were published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a black drug user, while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups. These results contrast sharply with the reality of drug crime in America. African Americans constituted only 15 percent of current drug users in 1995, and they constitute roughly the same percentage today. Whites constituted the vast majority of drug users then (and now), but almost no one pictured a white person when asked to imagine what a drug user looks like. The same group of respondents also perceived the typical drug trafficker as black.
“Decades of cognitive bias research demonstrates that both unconscious and conscious biases lead to discriminatory actions, even when an individual does not want to discriminate.” You can explore Implicit Bias tests at this website. The BYM Working Group on Racism meets most months on the third Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, usually at Bethesda Friends Meeting or Friends Meeting of Washington. If you would like to attend, on a regular or a drop-in basis, contact clerk David Etheridge.
Quite a few Meetings within BYM have formed study groups to study the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Some groups have had one meeting, some as many as seven to discuss the introduction and the six chapters. Still others have discussed two chapters at each meeting.
In some cases, a Meeting has moved on to lobbying for change. Annapolis Friends Meeting’s group, held in conjunction with St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, proposed a task force to study Maryland’s entire criminal justice system and make proposals for reform to the 2015 General Assembly. Senator Joanne Benson from Prince George County has agreed to be lead sponsor for the bill. Maryland Friends are urged to support this proposed legislation, which would consider alternatives to incarceration as well as fair sentencing and other issues. All Friends are urged to consider what action could follow study of the book. The BYM Working Group on Racism is planning opportunities to consider next steps at Annual Session.
The annual “White Privilege Conference” (WPC) is coming to the East in 2016 for the first time since its founding in 1999! Friends General Conference has invited the conference to Philadelphia in the spring of 2016. For the past few years, FGC has negotiated a discount for Quakers attending the conference. Now, they are helping to bring it closer to home. The 4-day event takes place between mid-March and mid-April—exact dates for 2016 to be determined. This year (2014) it will be March 26-29 in Madison, WI; see http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com. FGC is seeking collaborating organizations and has contacted the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Working Group on Racism to invite BYM’s collaboration. We need to determine whether anyone within BYM – an individual or a team – is available to organize this collaboration. For details on what collaboration both entails and offers, please contact Elizabeth DuVerlie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The BYM Working Group on Racism asks Friends in each Meeting to form groups to read and discuss The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. That book describes how the “War on Drugs” dramatically expanded both the U.S. prison population and the incarceration rate among African-Americans far above the incarceration rate among white people even though studies show that people of all races use and sell drugs illegally at remarkably similar rates.
In addition to the loss of liberty that usually comes with a drug conviction, there are lifetime consequences. It is legal to deny employment and housing to those with a criminal record. Many states also deny voting rights to convicts. Black people who have been convicted experience life much as their ancestors did during the time of Jim Crow--hence the title of the book.
Michelle Alexander leaves us with two difficult questions: first, how can we address the unjust racial impact of the War on Drugs and, second, even if that impact is successfully addressed, what changes can we make so that our society does not continue to create systems that create Jim Crow-like conditions for black people?
Now is an especially good time for Friends to read this book and discuss the issues it raises because we have good company from outside our Religious Society. Many other faith groups are doing the same work right now. Questions about the fairness of criminal justice system to Black people are on the minds of many more Americans than before due to verdict in the George Zimmerman prosecution. As Quakers we have an opportunity to bring our discernment and leadership to an important moral issue just as Quakers have done throughout our history.
At this time of year, families with college-bound students are attentive to admissions issues. A New York Times editorial on November 19, 2012, addressed “Class-Based vs Race-Based Admissions.” Here are excerpts:
“To maintain or build the levels of racial diversity on selective campuses, it is necessary to maintain race-conscious admissions.
"For colleges and universities committed to diversity, the right way to think about class- and race-conscious admissions is as complements rather than alternatives. Both are essential for a truly diverse campus.
The Working Group on Racism meets most months on the third Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, usually at Bethesda Friends Meeting or Friends Meeting of Washington. If you would like to attend, on a regular or a drop-in basis, contact clerk David Etheridge.
Here, the narrator is attending a concert at Carnegie Hall.
“Again the oboist played an A, and this time the woodwinds tuned, and they were joined by a flurry of strings. At last a signal came from the stage, and a hush fell on the hall. Almost everyone, as almost always at such concerts, was white. It is something I can’t help noticing; I notice it each time, and try to see past it. Part of that is a quick, complex series of negotiations: chiding myself for even seeing it, lamenting the reminders of how divided our life still remains, being annoyed that these thoughts can be counted on to pass through my mind at some point in the evening. Most of the people around me were middle-aged or old. I am used to it, but it never ceases to surprise me how easy it is to leave the hybridity of the city, and enter into all-white spaces, the homogeneity of which, as far as I can tall, causes no discomfort to the whites in them. The only thing odd, to some of them, is seeing me, young and black, in my seat or at the concession stand. At times, standing in line for the bathroom during intermission, I get looks that make me feel like Ora Benga, the Mbuti man who was put on display in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. I weary of such thoughts, but I am habituated to them. But Mahler’s music is not white, or black, not old or young, and whether it is even specifically human, rather than in accord with more universal vibrations, is open to question. Simon Rattle, smiling, his curly hair bouncing, came onstage to applause. He acknowledged the orchestra, and then the lights dimmed further. The silence became total and, after a moment of anticipation, Rattle gave the downbeat, and the music began.”
The Baltimore Yearly Meeting Working Group on Racism meets most months on the third Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, at Bethesda Friends Meeting or Friends Meeting of Washington. If you would like to attend, on a regular or a drop-in basis, contact clerk David Etheridge
During an interview, Tim Wise, a white-anti-racist activist, responded to the question “What would a racially just society look like?” His answer: “It’s hard to know, because I’ve never seen one. I imagine one indication would be when I could look around a neighborhood and not be able to tell—by virtue of which businesses were there and which were not, and what the houses looked like—who lived there. Because right now I can recognize signs of economic deprivation and apartheid and racial inequity almost immediately. When I can no longer do that, I will know things have changed.” (This interview, by David Cook, appeared in The Sun Magazine, July 2009)
The Baltimore Yearly Meeting Working Group on Racism meets most months on the third Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, at Bethesda Friends Meeting or Friends Meeting of Washington. If you would like to attend, contact clerk David Etheridge.
On the morning of November 19, some 80 people from Baltimore Yearly Meeting visited the Sandy Spring Slave Museum, just a short way Route 108 from Sandy Spring Friends Meeting. We found the museum impressive in its collection and presentation. One person wrote afterwards, “it was an amazing and memorable visit.” The variety of visuals helped all generations readily get a sense of the real history of African Americans in this country and in the Sandy Spring area. The museum head, Laura Anderson Wright, conducted our tour. She is an outstanding speaker and docent. We especially appreciated her emphasis on celebrating the progress and accomplishments of African Americans. The story of the formation and founding of the Museum, how it attracted community support, and how she and her family have continued to invite people to share their history, touched us deeply. We encourage others who did not make it on this special visit day to contact the museum to make plans to see it.