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Becoming More Whole


Becoming More Whole

Liz Oppenheimer

by Liz Oppenheimer

Over the years, I have often heard the statement, "Racism hurts everyone."

I've been confused by that, since I myself am not a person of color and I didn't see how I was being hurt.

In 2010 and 2011, I attended the annual national White Privilege Conference and that statement--Racism hurts everyone--has worked on me. But it wasn't until the intersection of two things coming together that my heart and spirit opened to that Truth.

First, a local Quaker friend pointed me to the words of Philadelphia Friend Arlene Kelly:

We are not a homogenous group seeking to become more diverse; we are an incomplete organization seeking to become more whole. --Friends Journal, October 2010

The second thing was that I began reflecting on Quakerism's understanding of the Inner Light.

The more we listen together, and the more we hear from different individuals gathered in worship as to their own discernment and understanding of God's guidance, the closer we get to understanding the full Truth of what God has for us.

When I fail to listen to, worship with, and befriend people different from me--people of color, immigrants or "new Americans," people who are poor or working class--when I disallow those connections, I cut myself off from the Love and Truth that my brothers and sisters in the Spirit have for me and for my white, middle-class, U.S.-born peers.

The whole of the Truth cannot be understood without the Whole of people.

If I am regularly worshiping with and seeking Truth primarily with only some of God's children, then I am likely not able to know the Truth that others who are different from me hold, because I won't have access to understanding their experience of the world and of the Light.

In that case, the Truth itself is less than whole, particularly as white Quakers strive to undo racism, understand the complexity of their privilege, and work for justice in the world.

As that awareness began to sink into my heart, I felt a lot of energy and space open up within me. It was as if all those spoken and unspoken cautions about watching out for "this group" or for "that group" just floated away.

While I was "being socialized without my consent"* and without my knowledge, to keep "those people" at arm's length and in a box labeled "CAUTION: Others," I didn't know that I myself was also being boxed in with messages of what I was supposed to think, what I was supposed to say, and how I was supposed to be.

When I came into the Truth that all of us are needed in order to know the Whole of God, I indeed felt freed. And I have never looked back.


*I have looked for a source for the concept of "being socialized without our consent," which I first heard at the White Privilege Conference in 2011 (WPC12) but haven't been able to find whom to attribute it to.



Working for racial justice and understanding whiteness is a journey.  The vantage point I had in 2011 when I wrote this piece is far different from the view I have today. A household trip to Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after Mike Brown’s death forever changed how I view systemic and structural racism—how individuals with decision-making power resist change and how interconnected systems work in sync, such as the police, the courts, and government. The road that we need to travel in order to transform society is long and the journey is humbling.  But along the way, I have caught glimpses of another world that is within reach, where we treat one another not as stranger but as family.