From White privilege to The joy of being a Quaker
It seems clear that the word ‘privilege’ in the context of ‘white privilege’ may be causing confusion. It is too closely associated with wealth, celebrity and high social status, and in my view calling it ‘rank’ doesn’t help – not in our class-ridden society. People addicted to drugs and sleeping rough – or ‘homeless junkie street-beggars’ as Peter Bolwell (2 September) charmingly calls them – are obviously not privileged in any everyday sense.
But the fact that the label is confusing (to some) does not mean that it’s empty dogma with no reality behind it. The phenomenon it attempts to name does exist – sadly, it represents lived and painful experience. To say that it’s ‘mythology’ because white people at the bottom of the social heap are also unprivileged is like arguing that because some women are as tall as the tallest men, it’s a ‘myth’ that women are generally shorter than men.
There is abundant evidence that people of colour in general are routinely subject to worse treatment than white people in general – more likely to be abused by strangers, far more likely to be stopped by the police, more often shunted into low-status jobs or passed over for promotion, frequently assumed by white people to be of low status and/or low intellect even when in skilled professions, and on and on. Those of us who are shielded by our white skins from these daily pinpricks (and worse) may find it hard to see for ourselves what is going on and, as a result, be unwilling to acknowledge it exists when we’re told about it and defensive about the idea that we ourselves may have better lives than our black counterparts simply because of our colour. So we need to listen carefully and respectfully when black Friends are brave enough to share with us what they know from their experience, otherwise we risk inflicting the worst abuse of all – our disbelief.
I am writing in support of Penelope Putz’s letter (9 September) on the importance of outreach. With the decline in our membership we must surely realise the importance of people knowing of our existence and what we stand for. More funds to Britain Yearly Meeting for outreach would therefore be welcome.
My own spiritual journey to Quakerism began many years ago with an advertisement in one of the national newspapers (it must have been Quaker Week). It simply said ‘Quakers – silent worship, simplicity, peace, equality and truth’. What struck me was the silent worship bit as I was beginning to find free church worship far too wordy. So a seed was sown. Years later I was on a walk down the east of England taking time out to find a way forward in my spiritual journey. I saw a Quaker Meeting house and decided to go in. It was an hour’s ‘silent worship’ with two pieces of vocal ministry. Someone read a verse from one of the psalms and someone else read from the Hindu scriptures. Silence and openness – I was hooked. My journey to Quakerism had begun, but it really started years before with that advertisement.
Surely with our dwindling membership Quakers must agree on the importance of outreach. At the moment people do not know that we exist.
Fundamentalist churches and religious groups seem to thrive so why don’t we? Why is this? I am not advocating that we proselytise, simply that we make more of an effort to ensure people are aware of Quakerism, and not just in Quaker Week.
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