January 28, 2022

Be Our Guest / Noah DeMoss

Gaining a new understanding of racial equity and racism

Noah DeMossThe protests that occurred in Indianapolis in the summer of 2020 after Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd motivated me to increase my understanding of the racial inequity experienced by Black Americans.

As the protests wound down, my parish—St. Thomas Aquinas in Indianapolis—began a series of virtual meetings designed to foster learning and discussion around this topic. I give thanks to Patrice Payne, Pearlette Springer and Tim Nation, who each contributed to organizing, leading and providing resources for these discussions. Through the leadership of these individuals, I received the opportunity to expand my knowledge of our nation’s history, as well as to hear stories from members of my parish with experiences that differ from my own.

I began these discussions with the following understanding of racial equity in our society: the practice of slavery was wrong and immoral, but was ended by the Union’s victory in the Civil War. According to my understanding, the state of racial relations had generally improved since that time, largely thanks to the actions of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

I tended to interpret any racially-charged incidents in my lifetime as isolated events perpetrated by lone actors. I also thought of racism as an individual problem, a mindset adopted by individuals who held animosity toward individuals of a race different from their own. While this understanding served me as a young white man for the first part of my adult life, the year 2020 would end up leading to a fundamental change in my view of the state of racial equity around me.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began to hear about the disproportionate spread of illness and death among the Black population. As I learned more about these discrepancies, the brutality of Chauvin’s attack on Floyd served as a wake-up call, underscoring the existing inequities of the country.

Motivated by these two events, I chose to take the opportunity provided by my parish to learn from members of my community with experiences much different than my own.

I heard stories of acts of overt racial discrimination committed against fellow parishioners on the streets of Indianapolis. I listened to alternate interpretations of both current and recent events from the perspectives of community members whose skin and culture place them within a separate set of public expectations from mine. I collaborated on an exercise to revisit the sweep of colonial and republic history of the United States through the lenses of white supremacist oppression and resistance to that oppression.

Through these discussions, I found myself coming to terms with a new understanding of racial equity and the concept of racism. I realized that racist acts could not exist without a support system that justified and perpetuated its underlying ideology.

One name for this support system is “white supremacy.” As an example, I learned through one of the history exercises about Bacon’s Rebellion in the 17th century, which united slaves and servants of multiple races—both Black and white—against the wealthy upper classes.

Once the rebellion was put down, the colonial government began passing laws that limited the freedoms of Black individuals in order to drive a wedge between the Black and white members of the lower economic classes. In this instance, the concept of a distinction between the races was used to justify

preserving the established economic order by incentivizing the lower-class white inhabitants to enforce the new laws against their Black economic peers.

I also learned more about the many other ways in which white supremacy has manifested itself throughout American history to protect and preserve racist practices and institutions. These historical tactics include the formation of the Confederacy, the end of Reconstruction, the passage of Jim Crow laws, the practice of “red-lining” and the growth of the modern prison population. Similar efforts continue to this day, and I have made it a priority to stay up to date on how the confrontations over racial equity are changing in our country.

I also found encouragement in these discussions to put my learning into practice. I serve on the finance committee for my parish, and I work for a public accounting firm. In both arenas, I have the opportunity to exert influence and determine how authority and resources are utilized. Through the parish-led discussions, I reflected on the influence I hold as well as ways in which I could use this influence to advocate and work for racial equity.

I also took steps to focus my family’s financial giving on individuals and organizations who work to restore racial equity within our community and country. I recognize that my own efforts every day impact the people and systems in my life to either further or hinder the increase of racial equity.

Thanks in large part to the discussions hosted by my parish, I am committed to working to undermine white supremacy and bring about a more perfect society within my community, my state and my country.

(Noah DeMoss is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis.)

Local site Links: