Chapter 23 » 23.36

Social justice

Discrimination and disadvantage

At the centre of Friends’ religious experience is the repeatedly and consistently expressed belief in the fundamental equality of all members of the human race. Our common humanity transcends our differences. Friends have worked individually and corporately to give expression to this belief. We aspire not to say or do anything or condone any statements or actions which imply lack of respect for the humanity of any person. We try to free ourselves from assumptions of superiority and from racial prejudice.

We must constantly ask ourselves whether we are living up to these ideals, not only in international relations but also in our individual and corporate relationships within Britain – which has become and will remain multiracial and multicultural. To liberate ourselves from pervasive attitudes and practices of our time and social environment requires new perceptions and hard work.

There is incontrovertible evidence that people who belong to ethnic minority groups, especially those who are readily identifiable by their appearance, are subject to a variety of disadvantages. They face more obstacles than others, first, in gaining education commensurate with their abilities, and then in securing employment which reflects their qualifications. They are less likely to be promoted, and often earn less than others with similar abilities. As a result of legislation passed by both Labour and Conservative governments which restricts the right to live and work in Britain, people from ethnic minorities may be asked to justify their claim to equal rights by anyone in authority at any time. In addition to discrimination, intended or unintended, by employers and by the law, our fellow-citizens are often subjected to abuse, harassment and violence.

The Religious Society of Friends has a duty to play its part in ending these abuses. Being aware of injustice and doing little about it condones that injustice. Friends kept slaves until John Woolman persuaded them that it was wrong to do so. Should we not ask ourselves if we are in a parallel situation today?

Discrimination also takes more subtle forms. It may occur, and feelings may be hurt, by unthinking assumptions and lack of sensitivity. Being a Friend does not confer automatic protection against this, either as giver or receiver. In our dealings with members of minority groups in our daily lives and also within the Religious Society of Friends we may sometimes be less thoughtful and sensitive than we should be.

Meeting for Sufferings’ Statement of Intent on Racism, 1988

The use of language in the passage above gives the mistaken impression that in 1988 all Friends in Britain were white. By 1994 we were aware that such usage was exclusive and were committed to inclusive expression, based on respect and celebration of diversity among Friends in Britain.

← 23.35 23.37 →