Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Alexis Tardy is surprised at the number of progressive Hoosiers at the Table Conversations

On August 30th, I attended the third annual Indianapolis Festival of Faiths. I was able to attend the Social Awareness Table Conversations, in which there was eight tables set-up that covered eight different topics. Once seated at each table, there was a facilitator that opened up the conversation with two or three questions, in which we had about twelve minutes to discuss. The first table topic that immediately caught my attention was Community Violence and Racial Tensions, facilitated by Kizito Kalima and Martha Lamkin. It was interesting to talk about this topic in the context of the city of Indianapolis, in which crime seems to have become more and more prevalent.

It was also important to talk about why and how certain neighborhoods have become what they are today. I talked about gentrification, which seems to have taken on a resurgence in recent months. We wonder why there is crime, or loss of jobs, or poverty after we displace entire neighborhoods and a way of life. One woman asked how to go about having honest conversations about race, especially since she only knows other white people. A few of us mentioned that being intentional in having conversations with people who are different from you is a great first step in changing that. Not only in terms of race but background, class, education level, etc. Sameness is dangerous and often has devastating effects when those in power are surrounded by people who are like them, instead of diversifying their views and their experiences. Speaking with and building relationships with people who are different from you can bring not only empathy but fresh revelations.

The next table I choose was Diversity in Religious Institutions, facilitated by Matt Boulton and Michael Saahir. It was really interesting to hear how people who were from different faiths, and who had a leadership role in their institutions or organizations in some way, defined what diversity meant to them. I talked about how diversity is, to me, a pretty vague term, and can depend on who has the power to define it for an institution. Mr. Boulton asked about how to build a safe and comfortable space to talk about diversity in all its forms, in a way that would make people open to talking about it. I mentioned how safety and comfort are two different things, that you can build a safe space and still have uncomfortable, but needed conversations. Too often things do not get done because we are afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations, but it may be those very conversations that push an institution to dramatically change.

Next, I went to the table for The Future of Indiana, facilitated by Fady Quaddora and Rene Stanley. This conversation was in a way a continuation of the conversation we were having at the Diversity in Religious Institutions table. We talked about what needed to change in Indiana and Indianapolis, and the first thing mentioned was our politics. We all agreed that the politics and laws passed by our legislature all too often do not reflect what the people want or agree with. There is a large disconnect. I mentioned that that was probably because a lot of our legislators live in rural areas, then come to the city, which they have absolutely no connection with, to pass laws that are at best not relevant to the people, and at worst harmful. We also talked about gentrification, how we push people, historic businesses, and historic neighborhoods out, and then ask where the heart of Indianapolis is, where is our diversity? We agreed that in Indianapolis you are able to live in your own bubble, with only the people you want to be around unless you are intentional about doing something different.

Lastly, I went to the Hate Speech table, facilitated by Don Knebel and Hazam Bata. To begin our conversations, we were shown several different examples that may or may not be considered hate speech. The first image was “Piss Christ”, in which Christ on a cross was in a jar of urine, displayed at a museum. We discussed whether or not this should be considered hate speech and illegal. Although a couple of us noted that while we would never go see or support this, it is a freedom of speech. One of the images that was also discussed was a sign that said the Holocaust never occurred, a denial that is illegal in Germany. We agreed that that wouldn’t necessarily be illegal in the United States, in which that person would just be considered an idiot, because of the context – we are not in Germany. However, when the topic was changed from the Holocaust to slavery, I changed my vote and said that that should be considered illegal, especially if it was a sign on federal property. America has a unique way of rewriting history, and once a sign like that goes up, it would not take long before rhetoric took over and we would start believing that slavery never happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Social Awareness Table Conversations. I had never been to an event like this before, and I think these conversations are very important to have. Although I was not able to make it to all of the tables, it was great to know that those conversations were taking place. I was also encouraged by the people who live here in Indiana and the fact that there are more progressive citizens here than I realized. I hope that we can continue to have these discussions throughout the city in order to lead to action and sustainable changes.