Q: Tell me about the New England Yearly Meeting’s (NEYM) Noticing Patterns Working Group and the practices you’ve developed.
PA: We’re under a particular charge from the yearly meeting: to develop practices for appointing people to observe, name, and reflect back patterns [of oppression] and to grow the capacity of the yearly meeting to engage that process.
BJ: As we’re meeting, we’re checking in to see if we’re being faithful in our practices and doing anything that’s exclusionary. We’ve come up with workshops and developed a curriculum.
Q: What are some examples of how you’ve seen these practices change people and communities?
BJ: Our initial charge was to be noticing patterns of oppression. Really early on, we [realized] we have to name what we’re moving into.
PA: We want to be lifting up the patterns of faithfulness as well. For example, lifting up the faithfulness of our clerk, who is willing to model mistake-making; to be invited to see a pattern while he’s clerking a business meeting; and then to be able to acknowledge it, make a clear apology, and learn from it.
BJ: Over the years, I have seen that more people are willing to name something and to stop.
Q: What connections do you see between internal anti-oppressive practice and external anti-oppressive activism?
PA: Quakers are involved in a lot of different activist spaces. If I have not thought about the ways in which my identities matter, I’m going to bring that into that space. It’s not about my needing to be perfect, but if I’m not understanding assumptions or patterns at play, I’m going to do harm when in those spaces. And I’m not going to be able to leverage my power because I’m not actually bringing my full self. If all I’m doing is bringing my unexamined patterns, that’s not my full self, that’s my socially conditioned self.
Q: What are some obstacles you’ve encountered engaging Friends in the work of noticing patterns?
BJ: For shorthand, I’d say white fragility. The unwillingness to listen, to take in, to hold the possibility that I might not have all the answers yet or that I might have some room to grow ends up harming one another.
PA: There are patterns of people from dominant identities still not valuing the experiences that people from marginalized identities express. There’s that doubt, or different versions of “prove it.” There’s also a lot of confusion that we’re judging people individually in this practice.
Q: What does progress toward a transformed, more faithful, more inclusive Religious Society of Friends look like to you?
BJ: We’d be naming more faithfulness while being honest about the patterns of oppression we’re still enacting. And it would be a community of mutually held accountability, not just a few people naming patterns. And “we” would mean everybody.
PA: There are some markers of change for me—that we don’t just say “you are welcome” but that we do things to include you and value all parts of who you are. We can pay attention to what people of different identities need. How are we willing to change to make this a place you want to be, that is a faithful community for you? We both came into Quaker spaces and found a sense of being at home. I want more people to feel that.
Polly Attwood and Becky Jones are members of the New England Yearly Meeting’s Noticing Patterns Working Group (www.neym.org). Interview by Bobby Trice.