2016: The year racism and fear make a comeback
Men embrace after taking part in a prayer circle July 10
following a Black Lives Matter protest in the wake of multiple
police shootings in Dallas. (CNS/Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
WASHINGTON It began with the fatal shootings of unarmed black
men and women by police. It was exacerbated in the summer when,
on July 7, a gunman in Dallas opened fire on police during a
march, killing five officers in a presumed act of retaliation.
Catholic church leaders such as Archbishop Wilton Gregory of
Atlanta in August called on others "to resolve to address the
issues that lie beneath these acts of violence." But no one
imagined then that frustrations about race and racism in the
United States, which began with the police shootings, were
about to get worse in the later part of 2016.
At a news conference during the U.S. bishops' general assembly
in Baltimore in November, Gregory said the reaction to the
presidential election had added to an existing tension this year
over matters of race in the country.
Those who work with multicultural communities, such as Jordan
Denari Duffner, a research fellow at Georgetown University's
Bridge Initiative, which studies Islamophobia, said comments
made during the campaign led to "a general kind of anti-otherness
that has emerged." When it comes Islamophobia, she said, anyone
who "looks Muslim," be it because of the color of the skin or what
they may wear, can evoke a reaction from others that can lead to
attacks, she said.
This kind of "anti-otherness" in the air, some say, has resulted
in a rise of hate and racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center said
that 10 days after the election, almost 900 reports of harassment
and intimidation from across the nation were recorded. Many took
place in public places or places of worship, at work, at schools
and even in grocery stores.
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In a recent column for Catholic News Service, Gregory said "the belief
that one group is superior to another due to race -- is a grave moral
disease whose recurrence, aggressiveness and persistence should
frighten every one of us." Racism has "clearly not been cured in our
nation," he said.
He warned that "whenever one can play on the fears of some people and
depend upon the ignorance of others, racism flourishes. As a political
strategy, such taunting may win votes, but it destroys national unity
and our future."
Economic inequality, which plagues different communities, he said, has
been used to pit one group of people against another and "when one group
is made to feel that its economic situation results from the coddling of
another, the reaction is often a racist response," Gregory said.
That's when a country starts seeing attitudes such as "immigrants are
taking our jobs" and "public aid only rewards laziness," and "poor and
struggling white people have been forgotten," he said.
He added that "conditions necessary for the transmission of racism were
thoroughly mixed with such attitudes during the recent election process.
Left untreated, the prognosis is bleak."
Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said this
election "showed the racial but also economic polarization that our
country is in the midst of" and which had become apparent earlier in the
Chappell, who is black and is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, said she
has never seen the level of violence and hatred against so many groups --
Muslims, immigrants and others -- as she saw during the election and which
has caused much concern.
Even in times of strife, those like Chappell and Duffner say, some positive
things have come about.
Duffner said solidarity between groups that have been targets of hate, such
as between Jews and Muslims, or the black community and those who have been
victims of Islamophobia, is visible. She noted that members of the Catholic
church need to do more to reach out to and humanize groups that were demonized
during the election.
She cited figures from a 2016 Brookings Institute and Public Religion Research
Institute poll that showed the difference between white Catholics and Catholics
of other ethnic and racial backgrounds. It showed that, even as the church
becomes more diverse, certain biases persist and are based on a person's racial
The summer 2016 Brookings/PRRI poll showed that more than half of white Catholics
said discrimination against whites is "as critical as discrimination against
non-whites." More than half supported a "Muslim ban" and said immigrants were a
burden on the country because "they take jobs, housing and health care." The
figures were in contrast to Latino Catholics, the second largest ethnic group in
the church. They said, by 62 percent, that "discrimination against whites is not
as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities in the U.S."
Latino Catholics overwhelming rejected a "Muslim ban" on immigrants, with only
25 percent were in favor. They also overwhelmingly (74 percent) said immigrants
strengthen, not burden, the country.
"As Catholics, we need to be aware of racial and religious biases," Duffner said.
For its part, Pax Christi USA has renewed its commitment to work for racial justice
and equality, Chappell said, will continue educating others and speak out against
injustice. She added that to say that in order to "make America great again,"
one must ban Muslims from the United States and attack immigrants and minorities,
which "is not the way to develop relationships" that can help the country or humanity,
The Trump campaign, she said, has to acknowledge comments made that played into the
fears of others and that helped propel some in the white supremacist movement.
During his campaign, he called for a pause on admitting Muslim refugees into this
country until, as he described it, a system was in place for "extreme vetting"
of them. He talked about deporting immigrants who are in this country without
President-elect Donald Trump has on several occasions said he is not racist and
his transition team released a statement Nov. 29 saying he denounces racism in all
"To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united
Americans from all backgrounds," the statement said. "For anyone to conclude these
senseless acts are the result of the election is disappointing and gives an excuse
for their appalling behavior."
But just to look at his Cabinet and administration picks, and one doesn't get the
sense that Trump or his picks are allies of people who are marginalized and oppressed,
"I don't see signs of him reaching out to those communities that traditionally continue
to suffer from oppression," she said. "I hope he will. I am hopeful ... I want to hold
him at his word and so for me right now, we have to wait and see."
"I question his motives," she continued. "But on the other hand, I have faith, and I
have to trust and wait and see how he responds in terms of really moving toward
unifying America. I think we have to find a way as a country to again embrace that
all are welcome, all have place and we just have to find a way to pull together
because we are all brothers and sisters."
Gregory said the new administration "must recognize and address the deadly impact
that racism and racist behavior continues to inflict upon our nation and its people.
Racist words and slogans can inflame violence and do great harm to the fabric of