2016: The year racism and fear make a comeback

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,

Chappell said.

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

legal permission.

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

its forms.

"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,

Chappell said.

"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

our country."