Reaching out: Bath Quakers met Judy Ling Wong, Hon. President of Black Environment Network, to discuss equality and how to be more welcoming to minority groups.
Have Friends – who are typically white, well educated and middle class – inadvertently become unwelcoming to people of minority groups, or to others who might be less educated or fortunate? Anecdotal evidence suggests it can seem that way.
Equality is a core testimony for Quakers, and we’re committed to it. But our meetings are not particularly diverse. Are we doing something wrong? That was the question we put to Judy Lin Wong at a Meeting on Sunday 24 May. Ms Ling Wong is Hon President of the Black Environment Network, which pioneered integrated environmental participation within a formerly 100% white environmental sector.
Not necessarily, suggested Ms Ling Wong, but it’s well worth asking the question. The cultures of the world awaken us to the full range of the human personality, which is wonderful, even if it can also be terrifying. This can mean new awareness of the wonderful or terrible qualities we are all capable of having.
She unpacked the very British term “ethnic minority”, and described how strange it can feel to find oneself described as such. In a globalized world it is useful to recognise that many of the people we call ethnic minorities are in fact the ethnic majorities of the world.
She arrived equipped with a list of the ethnic minority organisations in Bath – very few of which the audience knew – along with their purposes. Their missions sounded eminently familiar and compatible with our own, which seems a good starting point for engagement.
On reaching out to people from other backgrounds she suggested “Don’t do it as a mission. Do it for pleasure. Relate to other people to make ordinary life work. Just go on a picnic. Perhaps through sharing the pleasures of nature. Doing anything that brings diverse groups of people together around pleasure contributes to peace building through joy.”
The meeting recognised the danger that in thinking about this we get the issue all wrong. “Let’s forget about drawing people to us and hoping they’ll be Quakers; let’s take joy and love in our relationships out to other groups.” This can be done building on all the relationships we already have, and doing the things we enjoy doing and are already called to do.
Ms Ling Wong affirmed that: “It’s as much about you being present in other people’s communities as other people being present in yours.” Her final challenge was to ask whether we felt that what we have as Quakers is sufficiently present in Bath. “Is there enough presence across different classes and ethnicity groups so we feel that what is valuable to you is also available to others?”
“Let’s forget about drawing people to us and hoping they’ll be Quakers; let’s take joy and love in our relationships out to other groups.”