Quakers have historically taken unpopular stances throughout history. We favored abolition and freed our slaves before most others did. We allowed women the right to participate in Worship, providing them the agency to contribute vocal ministry from the very beginning. Many women helped establish the Religious Society of Friends (our official name) as well. We revere our First Wave feminist foremothers who were suffragettes and indeed, many Second Wave feminists called themselves Friends as well.
In recent times, Pendle Hill, a Quaker resource and learning center based outside of Philadelphia, has made tentative strides towards a potentially greater embrace of white wealth being transferred to black hands. The details of the proposal are below.
AIMING FOR JUSTICE: RACE REPARATIONS AND RIGHT PATHS
Feb 1-26, 2021 With K. Melchor Quick Hall
This year’s virtual workshop responds to ongoing health, economic, and racial crises by providing a brave space where US-based, white inheritors of wealth can enact partial and imperfect race-based redistributive justice. Honoring the legacy of Black neighborhoods that have been targeted in a white supremacist state, participants will commit and transfer money to legacy Black residents from two neighborhoods impacted by gentrification.
In order for the workshop to happen, registrants must commit $20,000 collectively. Prior workshop participants will facilitate a series of pre-workshop monthly discussions about charity vs. justice (on November 7), the inheritance advantage (on December 12), and preparing for a popular education experience (on January 9). Each discussion will take place 4pm – 5:30pm Eastern Time, with invitations sent to all registered participants. We hope that you will register soon and take advantage of these pre-workshop conversations.
The month-long workshop will involve three 90-minute synchronous web-based meetings each week, organized around assigned readings, videos, and assignments. Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership will be featured texts. Over the first three weeks, participants will develop statements that explain the significance of their race-based reparations before transferring committed funds. In the final week of the workshop, white participants will share prepared reflections and meet legacy Black residents, who will share their stories.
To read a history of this workshop, click here.
To read an interview with Melchor, click here.
Conservatives will cry foul at this program, using paternalist arguments that black people with no prior money management skills, and without the education to know how to properly invest, will not succeed in the long run. They will point to LBJ’s Great Society programs, and label them a dismal failure. And they will base their arguments on the examples of people who win the lottery and then file for bankruptcy shortly thereafter, or professional (usually black) sports players whose athletic prowess wins them huge sums of money, which they quickly run through, often swindled by unscrupulous hangers on, or by putting too many people on the payroll, eventually draining their financial assets totally dry. There’s an excellent ESPN 30 for 30 program called “Broke” that discusses this problem in great detail.
To quote historian Rob Collins,
Liberal paternalist concern with whether the money will be spent “wisely” is traditional, but misplaced. Economists across the spectrum say that cash is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty. Much of our politics is devoted to avoiding the obvious.
As a specific example, in one of the rare cases where poor people have been allowed to borrow for a mortgage on the same terms as wealthier people, they have proved to be better credit risks than their richer peers, and the rich are most likely to default.
We avoid this fact because we want excuses to charge punishing interest and penalties on those least able to afford them. Many fortunes are built on unfair lending and pricing. Keeping the poor poor is urgent for many influential Americans because their business model depends on a relatively captive market.
Taking direct action towards paying reparations, even at a minor level, leaves me ambivalent. There’s a certain counter-intuitive logic in advancing programs like the one described above. Though financial aid is provided for people who can’t afford the $200 or some odd dollars that is the full price of the course, how then would someone with that sort of financial need be able to contribute liberally into a collective fund that totals $20,000?
I noticed this when I lived in Washington, DC. The cost of living there, as it true with many cities on the East Coast, is tremendously high. Those of us who identified as Young Adult Friends complained, justly, that most of us couldn’t afford cars and the luxury of being able to commit to courses this extensive was beyond our stretch. We were too busy working and trying our damndest to pay rent. Naturally, it was taken for granted that we would have the necessary financial resources as understood, and certainly own a car. I should add that one can reach Pendle Hill partially by public transportation, but it is a convoluted trip with many stops, and even then one can’t reach the grounds unless picked up by someone else in a car.
Universal Basic Income, popularized by New York City mayoral candidate and former Democratic candidate for President in 2020 Andrew Yang, is one solution. Pilot studies suggest that all the worries about creating dependence or sapping the will to work and improve oneself are fiction. Among the benefits are reduced stress and improved cognition. When people don’t have to wonder where their next meal is coming from, they become much better long-term thinkers.
Prudent money management is irrational under current conditions of poverty. You’re only saving money for “The Man”. So if you happen to come into a pile of money for any reason, the best thing to do is to spend it before it’s taken from you. That’s how a mom who can’t feed the kids at the end of the month might be seen taking the kids to Disney World. She knows she can’t keep the windfall, but she can use it to create a happy memory—despite the disapproving looks from her self-appointed betters.
In the situation specifically directed at Pendle Hill, what is required is a certain degree of awareness and the elimination of myopia. The argument advancing reparations is a complicated one. It asks us, as liberals and progressives, how committed we are to advancing socialist reforms and income wealth distributions. The United States is still, at last count, 66% white. Polarizing issues like these have been historically opposed fiercely by conservatives and, in particular, paranoid white folks who fear that programs like these are a zero-sum game. Enactment comes at their expense, they contend. Quoting Collins once more, “in this country, it’s more often about the poor giving to each other while the rich give to their alma maters, not even to schools that are struggling.”
Herein lies another great debate. Are Quakers outliers again, or are these rumblings of greater trends and greater changes? Only time will tell.