Friends General Conference

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Vital Friends: How Intersectional Theory informs what FGC means by “an anti-racist faith community”

By Eppchez Yes, member of the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee | 12/19/19


Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of the prejudices they face. This theoretical framework, originally coined as a legal term by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, hoped to make space in our courts for discrimination against Black women to be recognized when it could not fit neatly into sexist discrimination or racist discrimination.

Today, the term has come to be used more broadly to highlight the common sense concept that every person exists at the intersection of many different identities. FGC’s Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee is approaching our work with a commitment to pay attention to the implication of intersectionality. Because the nuances of intersectional oppression are simply part of many people’s experience, everyone in an anti-racist community must become comfortable hearing, believing, and ultimately making space for the complexity that an intersectional framework highlights.

A conversation with one Friend at FGC’s Central Committee meeting in October highlighted for me how thus far in our work, the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee has not been explicit enough that an intersectional approach to anti-racism is foundational to our understanding of how to become an anti-racist faith community. And we have not.

This Friend, who is black, gay, and lives with disabilities expressed that the query recommended by the Institutional Assessment (How does this decision support FGC in its goal to transform into an actively anti-racist faith community?) which was written in large letters at the front of the meeting room during Central Committee is frustrating for him because often among Quakers it is not his racial identity, but his other identities that Friends often fail to accommodate. Our focus on racism made him feel that the wholeness of his experience was not considered.

This is exactly why becoming an anti-racist faith community cannot mean addressing racism at the exclusion of other forms of marginalization. To be anti-racist must also mean a rejection of ableism, classism, queerphobia, sexism and all the forms of oppression that people might be experiencing in as compounded with racism. We know that someone’s race affects their experience of the world, but race does not complete a picture of who someone is. Neither can race act as a proxy for understanding the discrimination someone faces due to the overlapping nature of their various identities. Only authentic connection can do that.

In implementing the findings of the Institutional Assessment on Systemic Racism, we are called to hold all of this complexity. We center our work, including the recommended query, around anti-racism in large part because it is FGC’s struggle with racism that precipitated the need for an Institutional assessment to be undertaken. But this is no mistake and it did not occur in a vacuum.

It is our intention that as we become a more anti-racist community the process will create more space for the needs of people who experience other and overlapping forms of marginalization to be addressed. To become an anti-racist faith community we must learn to resist the narrative that marginalized groups are in competition with each other for in-group acceptance. And resist believing that we have a limited capacity to accommodate the needs of Friends.