“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
― Audre Lorde
What is our work?
In 2008 many of us were witness to, if not active participants, in an electoral movement for “change”. We hoped this change would help the nation finally enter into uncharted conversational waters around equity and justice for all; an authentic conversation the nation has avoided. And yet, only twelve years later, the nation is no farther along with that conversation then it was in 2008. In fact, the data shows that our society has taken steps backwards specifically as it relates to equity and justice. This means that the elephant in the room has always been in the room. That elephant is racism and it is still in the room even as some of us condemn the “rioting and looting” that is happening in response to or as a result of police violence. As a Friend of Color my observation of late has been that many peace-minded people are quick to judge those who are protesting.
At a time when many difficult realities surround us such as an important election, a potentially deadly pathogen, the rush to open up the nation without the resources to insure safety against this pathogen, and the news about the murders of Ahmaud Abery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, RayShard Brooks, and countless others that have received less national attention, stirring the hearts of many communities of color throughout the nation, it may seem hard to cope with the state that things are in.
This is understandable. It is, in fact, very human. And if you are a White person who sees themselves as an anti-racist, or as an ally or an accomplice in the struggle for racial justice we ask that you center the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) when seeking to understand the violence that has emerged in the recent days in many US cities.
This could look like inviting and paying a BIPOC individual who is well versed and knowledgeable on their oppression, to come to your organization or your Meeting to share knowledge about race and racial inequities. This could look like deferring to BIPOC led organizations for resources and news. You could also ask yourself some crucial questions before stepping into a space to speak or a platform to express thoughts or opinions:
- When can I recognize a platform is available for me, but should be used by someone else?
- When can I leverage my voice to remove a barrier that is a hindrance to someone marginalized?
- When and how can I decenter myself and my narrative in order to listen to and begin to understand the experiences of others instead?
Civil Rights activist and Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay McKesson has commented about the recent events in many cities, and particularly in Minneapolis, that “the only violence he has seen is police violence.” He has not seen protestors and even non-protestors being violent; rather he has only witnessed police violence. He witnessed people damaging property and noted that there is a significant difference between looting a store and committing acts of violence against Black bodies. Our culture, however, often reveals that difference to be that property is more important than lives, and some lives are less important than others.
Dr. King, shortly before he died, developed a crucial analysis on what we call riots in response to acts of oppression:
“Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena [he told the assembled crowd of mostly white doctors and academics]. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”
As an organization we are sad to see the damage being done to property. In many places that damage will have a residual impact on the lives of others. We are called to hold the space for understanding the conditions and violence that Black and Brown people (if we are not those people) must wrestle with and face daily. We will also, without restraint, continue to value human life over property or monetary loss in our communities. Our work is to be willing to live in our pacifism without negating the painful response that may come as a tool of some sort in their liberation or as grieving and expressing one’s resistance to their oppression.
We ask our Friends and supporters to continue to engage with the concerns being expressed by Black and Brown people in the United States and to consider that many of those concerns are generations if not centuries in the making. How will you center equity as we work for justice?
For ideas and resources about figuring out “What is your Right Next Step” in working towards racial justice follow this link for resources as your discern how to be engaged as individuals and communities.
*Resources and Ideas about de-centering Whiteness credit to: Shana V White
*Photo used for cover art taken during an Atlanta protest by Catherine Clark
Oskar Pierre Castro (he / him / they / them)
Director of Equity & Inclusion / Philadelphia Coordinator
Oskar is an artist / analyst / non-violent activist / father & husband with over twenty years of service in the nonprofit sector working on youth development, career development, peace activism, and labor rights. Oskar is a 1992 graduate of Rowan University where he majored in Law & Justice. The human rights part of the Law & Justice curriculum stimulated his belief in the need to work for social justice when it is absent. Oskar’s nonprofit experiences include things like leading a national office program at the American Friends Service Committee and helping talented youth-of-color navigate corporate America with INROADS, Inc. A member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, he is originally from South Jersey. Oskar moved to Philadelphia in 1994, and as a multi-faceted artist there he employs music, poetry, and graphic art to creatively communicate his ideas about the world. Oskar is married to a like minded soul, has two awesome children, the best dog ever, and the cutest maniacal cat in Southwest Philadelphia.