QUAKERS HAVE TAKEN A STEP towards becoing an actively anti-racist church by ceasing to name a room in their London offices after William Penn.
Naming public rooms in Friends House shares the story of Quakers with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the building each year. Rooms are named after Quakers who have made a difference in the world. Penn, born in 1644, founded the state of Pennsylvania. He was an avid writer, defending religious freedom, democracy and pacifism. His writings and preaching led to his arrest in 1670. The case led to the right for English juries to be free from control by judges. However, he also owned enslaved people.
Quakers were totally immersed in the slave trade – both as owners and abolitionists – and are working today to understand how early Quakers like Penn reconciled their values with benefitting from the barbaric trade.
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said, “Racism today is rooted in the trade of enslaved people. We are committed to tackle racism and to build an anti-racist culture. Commemorating William Penn by having a room named after him is incompatible with that.
“Some might say we’re rewriting history. Rather, we’re completing history, by telling the whole story and deciding not to commemorate someone who had a direct involvement in slavery. Part of telling a complete history is to acknowledge how it might previously have been understood from a limited perspective. We owe it to those who live with the legacy of slavery to take steps to redress this.
“We need to unlearn and dismantle the prejudice we are taught as we grow up in a culture which has racism embedded within it. Learning and unlearning on deep cultural issues can be a long process but we see this as an important step.”
Last week, Meeting for Sufferings, Quakers’ representative decision-making body, heard a progress report on their commitment to becoming an actively anti-racist church.
Trustees’ commitment is three-fold: to be an anti-racist employer; to build anti-racism into the design of work programmes; and to support Quaker meetings and communities on anti-racism work.
Quakers in Britain reject the findings of the Sewell/CRED report. Quakers contributed evidence which has been disregarded. In signing an open letter to the prime minister they assert that the report should be withdrawn as it fails to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
* Read the open letter to the Prime Minister here.
* Source: Quakers in Britain