Writing Opp: Race and Anti-Racism

We're less than two weeks from the deadline for writing about "Race and Anti-Racism" for Friends Journal and I'd love to see more submissions. It was two years ago that we put out the much-talked-about issue on Experiences of Friends of Color. That felt like a really-needed issue: no triumphalism about how white Friends sometimes did the right thing as Abolitionists or posturing about how great we are, forgetting the ways we sometimes aren't: just a collection of modern Friends talking about what they've experienced first-hand.

I think it's a good time to talk now about how Friends are organizing to unlearn and subvert institutional racism. It was an important issue before November--ongoing mass incarceration, Standing Rock, and the disenfranchisement of millions of African Americans was all taking place before the election. But with racial backlashes, talk of a religious or nationality-based registries, and the coziness of "alt-right" white nationalists with members of the Trump campaign it all seems time to go into overdrive.

Joan Baez cites Quaker upbringing in presidential endorsement

From the musician’s Face­book page:

My choice, from an ear­ly age, has been to engage in social change from the ground up, using the pow­er of orga­nized non­vi­o­lence. A dis­trust of the polit­i­cal process was firm­ly in place by the time I was 15. As a daugh­ter of Quak­ers I pledged my alle­giance not to a flag or a nation state but to humankind, the two often hav­ing lit­tle to do with each oth­er.

Elmer Swim Club: the heartbreak of autism parents

Elmer Swim Club
Fran­cis at his favorite place in the world: the top of the Elmer high dive

I was ambushed while leav­ing the Elmer Swim Club today by a guy I’ve nev­er met who told me nev­er to return, then told me he’s a vice pres­i­dent of the gov­ern­ing asso­ci­a­tion, and then told me he had papers inside to back him up. Although it was meant to look like an acci­den­tal run-in as we were walk­ing out, it was clear it was staged with the man­ager on duty.

The prob­lem is the behav­ior of our soon-to-be 10 yo Fran­cis. He is dif­fi­cult. He gets over­whelmed eas­i­ly and doesn’t respond well to threats by author­i­ty fig­ures. We know. He’s autis­tic. We deal with it every day. There’s no excus­ing his behav­ior some­times. But there’s also no miss­ing that he’s a deeply sweet human who has trou­bles relat­ing and is mak­ing hero­ic strides toward learn­ing his emo­tions. We dri­ven the extra dis­tance to this swim club for years because it’s been a place that has accept­ed us.

Peo­ple at Elmer — well most of them — haven’t dis­missed Fran­cis as our prob­lem, but have come togeth­er as an extend­ed fam­i­ly to work through hard times to help mold him. He’s made friends and we’ve made friends. The swim club’s mot­to is that it’s the place “Where Every­one is Fam­i­ly” and we found this was the rare case where a cheesy tag line cap­tured some­thing real. Fam­i­ly. You don’t just throw up your hands when some­one in the fam­i­ly is dif­fi­cult and gets dis­re­spect­ful when they get social­ly over­whelmed.

The VP was a control-your-kids kind of guy, clear­ly unaware of the chal­lenges of rais­ing an autis­tic kid — and clear­ly unwill­ing to use this park­ing lot moment as a learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty. I tried to stay human with him and explain why this par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty was so spe­cial. The swim coach­es always cheered our kids on despite always com­ing in dead last — not only that, but even put Fran­cis in relay races! There have always been lots of extra eyes watch­ing him and will­ing to redi­rect him when he start­ed melt­ing down. Most of the time he needs a drink, a snack, or some qui­et sen­so­ry time. To be in a com­mu­ni­ty that under­stood this is beyond mirac­u­lous for autism fam­i­lies. The worst thing is to start to scream or threat­en, which unfor­tu­nate­ly is some people’s default. Some author­i­ty fig­ures know how to earn Francis’s trust; oth­ers just make things worse over and over again. At Elmer the lat­ter final­ly won out.

We first start­ed com­ing to this pool for swim lessons in 2009. After six years becom­ing more involved in this deeply wel­com­ing com­mu­ni­ty, I had start­ed to allow myself to think we had found a home. I’d day­dream of the day when Fran­cis would be 18, grad­u­at­ing from the swim team and peo­ple would give him an extra rous­ing cheer when his name was called at the end-of-season ban­quet. We’d all tell sto­ries with tears in our eyes of just how far he had come from that 9yo who couldn’t con­trol his emo­tions. And we were at the point where I imag­ined this as a cen­tral iden­ti­ty for the fam­i­ly – the place where his old­er broth­er would sneak his first kiss on the overnight cam­pout, or where his younger sib­lings would take their first coura­geous jumps off the high dive.

Julie’s mak­ing calls but I’m not hold­ing my breath. What hap­pened is an breath­tak­ing­ly overt vio­la­tion of the club association’s bylaws. But would we even feel safe return­ing? Fran­cis is eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed. It only takes a few hard­ened hearts at the top who believe autism is a par­ent­ing issue — or who just don’t care to do the extra work to accom­mo­date a dif­fi­cult child.

For­tu­nate­ly for us, for a while we had a place that was spe­cial. The Elmer Swim Club and Elmer Swim Team will always have a spe­cial place in our hearts. Our thanks to all the won­der­ful peo­ple there. Here’s some mem­o­ries:

Update: Our post shed­ding light on the Elmer Swim Club’s trustee mis­be­hav­ior and the board’s vio­la­tion of its own bylaws has now had over 1800 Face­book inter­ac­tions (shares, likes, com­ments) and the blog post itself has been read 9,970 times. Terms like “autism elmer pool” are trend­ing on our incom­ing Google search­es and the post looks like it will be a per­ma­nent top-five search result for the pool. Although our fam­i­ly will nev­er set foot in its waters again, our absence will be a remain a pres­ence. Dis­cus­sions over what hap­pened will con­tin­ue for years.

I share the­se stats to encour­age peo­ple to talk about mis­be­hav­ior in the pub­lic sphere. It doesn’t help civil soci­ety to bury con­flict in the tones of hushed gos­sip. Just as we as par­ents work every day to help our autis­tic son make bet­ter deci­sions, all of us can insist that our com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions fol­low best prac­tices in self-governance and abide by their own rules. Bylaws mat­ter. Park­ing lot civil­i­ty mat­ter. Kids should be held respon­si­ble for their actions. So should trustees.

Mix up a little Evangelical fire and liberal progressivism and you get?

There are a lot of good con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen­ing around Rachel Held Evans’s lat­est piece on the CNN Belief Blog, “Why mil­len­ni­als are leav­ing the church.” One cen­ters on the rela­tion­ship between Evan­gel­i­cals and Main­line Protes­tants. As is often the case, the place of Quak­ers in this is com­pli­cat­ed.

Some his­to­ri­ans cat­e­go­rize the orig­i­nal Quak­er move­ment as a “third way” between Catholi­cism and Protes­tanta­n­tism, com­bin­ing the mys­ti­cism of the for­mer and the search for per­fec­tion of the lat­ter. It’s a con­ve­nient the­sis, as it pro­vides a way to try to explain the odd­i­ties of our lack of priests and liturgies.

But Quak­ers trad­ed much of our pecu­liar­i­ty for a place set­ting at the Main­line Protes­tant table a long time ago. The “Quak­er val­ues” taught in First-day schools aren’t real­ly all that dif­fer­ent than the lib­er­al post-Christian val­ues you’d find post­ed on the bul­let­in board in the base­ment of any pro­gres­sive Methodist, Pres­by­te­ri­an, or Epis­co­palian church. We share a focus on the social gospel with oth­er Main­line denom­i­na­tions.

In a follow-up post, Evans re-shares a piece called The Main­line and Me that tries to hon­est­ly explain why she finds the­se church­es admirable but bor­ing. The lack of artic­u­la­tion of the why of beliefs is a big rea­son, as is the the fire-in-the bel­ly of many younger Evan­gel­i­cals and a cul­ture adverse to step­ping on toes.

One of the peo­ple she cites in this arti­cle is Robert E. Web­ber, a reli­gious Evan­gel­i­cal of anoth­er gen­er­a­tion whose spir­i­tu­al trav­els brought him back to Main­line Protes­tantism. I first dis­cov­ered him ten sum­mers ago. The cross-polination of that book helped me bridge the Quak­er move­ment with the pro­gres­sive Evan­gel­i­cal sub­cul­ture that was start­ing to grow and I wrote about it in the Younger Quak­ers and the Younger Evan­gel­i­cals.

I sup­pose I should find it heart­en­ing that many of the threads of GenX loss and redis­cov­ery we were talk­ing about ten years ago are show­ing up in a pop­u­lar reli­gion blog today (with the sub­sti­tu­tion of Mil­lenials). But I won­der if Friends are any more able to wel­come in pro­gres­sive seek­ers now than we were in 2003? I still see a lot of the kind of lead­er­ship that Web­ber iden­ti­fied with the “prag­mat­ic” 1975 – 2000 gen­er­a­tion (see chart at the end of my “Younger Quak­ers” post). 

Web­ber might not have been right, of course, and Evans may be wrong. But if they’re on to some­thing and there’s a pro­gres­sive wave just wait­ing for a Main­line denom­i­na­tion to catch a lit­tle of the Evangelical’s fire and artic­u­late a clear mes­sage of lib­er­al pro­gres­sive faith, then Friends still have some inter­nal work to do.

Georges And Trayvons

Over on Mobtown­blues, Kev­in Griffin Moreno cops to being George Zim­mer­man. Thank­ful­ly, he’s not: when feel­ing threat­ened in a recent sit­u­a­tion with racial over­tones, he chose to walk away, but it is worth ask­ing how dif­fer­ent we are from the char­ac­ters of this tragedy.

I nev­er had much expec­ta­tion that the tri­al of Trayvon Martin’s killer would find him guilty. A good team of lawyers can con­jure up rea­son­able doubt over most any­thing. As as Alafair Burke writes on Huff­in­g­ton, much of what Zim­mer­man did was pro­tect­ed by Florida’s insanely-crazy “stand your ground” laws. 

But even with­out that, high-profile court cas­es get so politi­cized so quick­ly that they rarely provide any kind of cathar­sis, let alone jus­tice, when stacked again­st hun­dreds of years of racial injus­tices. And just as Zimmerman’s judge­ment was col­ored by his racial his­to­ry and bias­es, so too are ours: our opin­ions about what hap­pened that evening in San­ford, Flori­da, are much more a reac­tion to where we fall in the con­tin­u­ums of priv­i­leges than we might care to admit. 

Martin and Zimmerman, swapped races, via Whileseated.org

Priv­i­lege is unearned oppor­tu­ni­ties con­ferred by how close­ly we fit a par­tic­u­lar stereo­type. When I was in my ear­ly 20s, I was once pulled over by a police­man when I was dri­ving aim­less­ly through a sleepy town at 3 am (no good sto­ry I’m afraid: I was sim­ply bored, with insom­nia). He vis­i­bly eased up when he saw I was white, and he got almost avun­cu­lar a min­ute lat­er when he saw the Irish name on my dri­vers license. I know that almost-forgettable instant could have played out quite dif­fer­ent­ly if I had been black, with a Mus­lim name, per­haps, and a chip on my shoul­der because this was the fifth time that mon­th I had got­ten detained for no good rea­son.

No mat­ter what I do to edu­cate myself, I will always be George Zim­mer­man to (many) strangers on the street, just as Trayvon Mar­t­in will always be a sus­pi­cious house bur­gler for being a black stranger in a hood­ie.

The work that needs to be done – or con­tin­ued, for we need to remem­ber the many times peo­ple have done the right thing – couldn’t be answered by a crim­i­nal tri­al any­way. What’s need­ed is the edu­ca­tion of soci­ety at large. 

One step is all of the con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place on Face­book and around water cool­ers this week. Let’s talk about the fears that sub­con­scious­ly dri­ve us. For Zimmerman’s gun was only one of the trig­gers that killed Mar­t­in. It was fear that gave us Sanford’s gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty and its town watch, along with our nation’s per­mis­sive gun laws and dra­co­ni­an legal con­cepts like “stand­ing one’s ground.” It was that potent mix of sus­pi­cion that set in motion a sit­u­a­tion that left a sev­en­teen year old kid with a pock­et­ful of Skit­tles lying dead face down in the grass. 

Can we learn to under­stand the ways we live in fear? Can we get to know one anoth­er more deeply in that place that breaks down the gates in our hearts?

Trying out iOS 7

It’s prob­a­bly not a good idea to be use bleeding-edge betas. That’s espe­cial­ly true for a tool used dai­ly, like a cell­phone. But I’ll freely admit that Apple’s iOS 7, announced Mon­day, has been itch­ing at me. Cultof­Mac told read­ers straight-out not to install it. But com­menters there and else­where have been report­ing few prob­lems and appar­ent­ly it is pos­si­ble to go back to 6 if prob­lems arise.

So this evening I took the plunge. I used the method out­lined here and signed up at imzdl​.com. It all worked pret­ty well. And so far, so good. The bat­tery looks like it’s drain­ing a bit faster than before, but that’s to be expect­ed of a first beta and it’s not the half-battery that the Chick­en Lit­tles claim. A few apps have bombed on me, but only spo­rad­i­cal­ly. Skype didn’t open at first, but a quick look at their sup­port forums found you just need­ed to delete and rein­stall the app.

Is it worth it? I don’t know. The new icons are still a bit rough, as report­ed, but more than that, their flat­ness looks out of place next to the 3-D icons that most iPhone apps still use. The new quick-settings bar is cool and the par­al­lax effect for back­grounds is cool­er still (it shifts the back­ground as the accelerom­e­ter moves about, giv­ing it all a feel­ing a depth). We’re told that multi-tasking is more robust, but that’s not some­thing one notices imme­di­ate­ly (besides, Android’s had it for years). I’ll update as I explore more. Guess­es are that the sec­ond beta will come in about ten days — I’ll see if I can live with the first beta’s bat­tery hit until then.