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The Real Face of Discrimination

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Discrimination can be absolutely debilitating for both the body and the soul. Because the impacts of discrimination can be so dire, one measure of a society’s humanity is how it recognizes and combats such behavior.

The results of a recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) should alarm many of us.

First the good news.  When asked if various groups experience “a lot of discrimination in the US today,” Americans, in aggregate, recognize some of the problems these groups face. Sixty six percent of respondents said that Muslims experienced a lot of discrimination, followed by immigrants (64%), transgender individuals (64%), gay and lesbian people (61%), Black individuals (58%), Christians (33%) and White individuals (30%).

And now the bad news. People who self-identified as Republicans had a very different take on discrimination in America. The most oppressed group in the United States, according to Republicans, were Christians (48%) who were tied with transgender individuals. Muslims (45%) were perceived as facing only slightly more discrimination than were Whites (43%). The least discriminated group in America according to Republicans? Black Americans (27%).

And now the worse news. According to the PRRI study, white evangelical Christians “are more likely to say Christians face a lot of discrimination than they are to say Muslims face a lot of discrimination (57% vs. 44%, respectively).”

Many Republicans and white evangelicals apparently have bought into the idea of a “war on Christmas” and the concept that if you are not legally permitted to discriminate against the American of your choice, you’re being denied religious freedom.

But is being encouraged to say “season’s greetings” or to have a gay couple move next door really discrimination?

The 49 people who were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando simply because they were gay experienced a very different kind of discrimination.

The people attempting to pray at the scores of mosques that have been attacked in all corners of the country experienced a very different kind of discrimination.

When Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) describes his experiences “driving while black” and being pulled over seven times in a single year, he’s experienced a very different kind of discrimination.

According to a study conducted by The Sentencing Project, incarceration varies dramatically by race: “African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In five states (Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin), the disparity is more than 10 to 1.” 

All of those people in prison, along with their families and friends experienced a very different kind of discrimination.

The list of real discrimination could go on for far too long citing instances of violence, people thrown out of their places of work or their homes, unequal educational opportunities and so much more.

While it is depressing to think that many among us have a twisted sense of how discrimination impacts people in America, I want to make it clear that although white evangelicals were among the most extreme, there’s very good evidence that their views are dramatically different from those of many religious leaders.

The Clergy Letter Project, the organization which I founded and serve as the executive director, is comprised of over 14,400 US clergy members. Not only do they all support the teaching of evolution in public school science classrooms and laboratories, but they also have steadfastly opposed all sorts of discrimination. They’ve taken a stand against Islamophobia and homophobia, recognizing that we all suffer when we treat some among us poorly.

Many, many clergy members understand what real discrimination is and how much damage it can cause. But, apparently, we have a great distance to travel before more of our fellow citizens understand that important point.

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