Intolerance and Discrimination in Europe and the US (Part II)

In my previous post, I introduced the Wilson Center’s policy brief, “Why Promoting Tolerance and Inclusion in Europe is in the US Interest,” and discussed a few examples of intolerance in discrimination in Europe.  I want to use this space to demonstrate that the US has its own divisive problems, using similar examples that I gave from Europe- racism and anti-Islam sentiment.

Before I begin giving examples of the problems here in the US, I want to mention that race is still a very controversial issue that can lead to violent confrontations.  Additionally, as a white male, it is difficult for me to understand the plight of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, as well as the other ethnic minorities.  I am not trying to put myself into anybody’s shoes; I am merely trying to give examples of how racism and discrimination still pervade American society.

In regards to civil rights, the first major piece of legislation was the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This was the culminating moment in what had been a long social movement, the beginnings of which could perhaps be traced back to both the abolitionist movement and the fight for women’s rights.  While this was a monumental step in solving the problems related to the discrimination of African-Americans and other minorities, the US still suffers from race-related issues.

In the past twenty years, two high-profile legal cases dealing with race have led to massive riots and demonstrations- the 1992 Los Angeles riots in the wake of the trial concerning the police officers beating Rodney King, and the demonstrations after the 2013 George Zimmerman trial.  Recent Pew Research for Social & Demographic Trends found that “Fewer than half (45%) of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality in the past 50 years and about the same share (49%) say that “a lot more” remains to be done.”  Taking just the reaction to the recent Zimmerman trial, we see an example of the Black community (in this case led by Rev. Al Sharpton) upset with the verdict and calling for non-violent protests.  Since the verdict was announced and the backlash ensued, there have been a number of stories passed around social media by White Americans calling for Black leaders to voice outrage over horrific crimes committed by Blacks against Whites.  The most recent story, for example, involves a World War II vet who was killed by two black teens.

In addition the existence of racist and discriminatory attitudes, the US also suffers from gaps between blacks and whites in areas such as finances, education, and incarceration rates.  According to Pew data from 2011, “The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.”  From the data I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the gap between blacks and whites for high school completion has narrowed but still exists.  Finally, “Black men were more than six times as likely as white men in 2010 to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails.”  For more data, I recommend taking a look at the Pew website, Race in America: Tracking 50 Years of Demographic Trends.

In so far as combating discrimination, the US government established in 1957 the Commission on Civil Rights, “an independent, bipartisan agency charged with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement.”  Additionally, in 1965, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to “[enforce] federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”    While these two agencies are specifically charged with attending to issues of civil rights and discrimination, other federal agencies have resources devoted to address issues related to those problems.

Another topic that Boyer mentioned was the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and how to combat extremism.  Currently, the US is in the middle of a discussion over immigration reform.  Three of the main topics within the debate are- border security, pathways to citizenship, and undocumented workers.  Most people polled by Pew agree that the country needs some sort of immigration reform.  President Obama has issued an Immigration Blueprint, aimed at advancing immigration reform. For more information on the bills introduced in the US House and Senate, I recommend the National Immigration Law Center.

Unfortunately, the topic of immigration, like many other issues dealing with minorities, has led to actions taken by fringe groups.  On the issue of border security, one of the more extreme movements in the past years has been the Minuteman Project.  According to their website, the group is devoted to protecting American jobs and securing the border.  There have also been numerous cases of various vigilante groups patrolling the US-Mexico border.  Additionally, anti-immigrant sentiment has made its way into state legislation, with Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, which basically states that if a law enforcement officer makes contact with a person, and they think the person might be in the country illegally, then they have the right to determine that individual’s immigration status.  According to the ACLU, five more states- Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah- have passed similar laws.

Finally, Boyer also discusses what the US is doing to help European countries deal with their relations with Muslims.  Again, I wonder how the US can be so bold as to say we have solutions in this area when we have experienced our own problems with anti-Islam sentiment, especially since 9/11.  In a 2011 joint report from the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute, we see some interesting data concerning Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims.

In their article, “Attitudes Towards Muslim AmericansPost-9/11,” Mussarat Khan and Kathryn Ecklund assert that since 9/11, “Muslim immigrants, more than any other immigrant group, were met with negative attitudes.”  Additionally, we learn that “increased racial and religious animosity has left Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and those who bear stereotyped physical resemblance to members of these groups, fearful of potential hatred and hostility from persons of other cultures.”  An example of such attitudes can be seen in the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  In the wake of the event, many Muslims hoped that the perpetrators were not Muslim.  Twitter was bombarded with tweets of “Please don’t be a Muslim.”  Once the suspects, however, were indeed identified as Muslims, anti-Muslim rhetoric increased.  The reactions by American Muslims (and Muslims around the world for that matter) are understandable, especially when examining the Hate Crime Statistics from the FBI.  According to the 2001 report, “there were 481 incidents made up of 546 offenses having 554 victims of crimes motivated by bias toward the Islamic religion.”  By 2011, the number of anti-Islam incidents had decreased to 175.   So, while hate-crimes towards Muslims in the US have decreased since 9/11 (although they still persist), we still need to work on improving Americans’ attitudes towards Muslims.

To conclude, my goal for this piece was to illustrate that similar to Europe, the US still suffers from many of the same problems regarding tolerance and inclusion.  It was not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of race relations or immigration policy, but rather to give examples to put Boyer’s policy brief into context.  My question to my readers then, is this: now that I’ve laid out examples of intolerance and discrimination in both Europe and the US, do you believe that the US “has an important story to tell European audiences and many best practices to share?”  I’ll give my own answer to that question in Part III (which will hopefully be written before Wednesday, as that is the day we begin our teacher in-service).  Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Intolerance and Discrimination in Europe and the US (Part II)

  1. Just read a stat that about 40% of whites and blacks in the US say they do not have a friend of another race. Of course, as a now AP Lit teacher, I would argue we should all increase our reading in order to understand the lives of others better. Good post, as always Jason.

  2. Thanks, Kris. That is an astonishing fact. I guess there’s one more benefit of having been in the military- I have a number of friends from different races. Your comment about reading more “to understand the lives of others” reminded me of a book I read for a class on the history of Latin America, “Mexican Lives,” by Judith Adler Hellman. It is a superb book, which might be even more relevant now that we’re having nationwide discussions about immigration.

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