It’s safe to say there’s a culture of fear in America. Arguably, there always has been. From the time that rebels first overthrew British rule, to the knee-jerk reaction to the rise in global communism, to the present day fear of Islam, it seems there has always been some new menace rearing its head and “threatening” America’s way of life.
Much of this is thanks to the simplistic, divisive way events are portrayed in the media. It’s much too difficult to establish a personal motive for an unsavoury action, and far easier for the media to categorize a person or event as belonging to some “otherness” that is decidedly not like the rest of whatever the media has ascertained to be normal. That's why, for instance, every violent action that is attributed to a Muslim will inevitably be labelled terrorism: It can't be an act of random violence or insanity - it has to be radicalism.
The same idea pops up again and again, creating gems of ideas like “the gay agenda” and “the war on Christmas.” Any person, movement, or idea, should it be different from the established order, will be met with resistance at best, and outright hostility at worst.
Of course, some minority groups have it worse than others, and a 2006 study by the University of Minnesota could go some way toward explaining why. Taking results from a poll of a diverse group of Americans, the university determined, among other things, the groups least likely to fit in with the responders’ vision of American society, as well as the groups that the responders would least like their children to marry.
The answers aren't as shocking as we might like them to be: That said, the results of this study do date back to 2006. Could eight years have done enough to lessen the distrust of some of these groups? Whatever the case may be, here are the five least trusted minorities in America by percentage of people who distrust them.
5 Recent Immigrants
"Does Not Agree With My Vision Of American Society" - 12.5%
“The New Colossus,” a poem engraved on a plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, ends with these words:
“Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment, affirming for all the sanctity of the right of all Americans, no matter their race or creed, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Given that modern America was built by immigrants, and almost every American is descended from immigrants, we'd expect the scope of possibility for foreign nationals to be impressive. That recent immigrants find themselves on the list of the least trusted Americans must, then, just be a tiny hurdle.
Immigration has been a touchy issue in American politics for several years, with everything from a giant wall (à la Berlin) to the presence of the American military suggested as ways to stem the flood of people entering the country illegally. Recent illegal immigrants, often from lower income families, are associated by many with crime, and the idea that jobs that could otherwise go to Americans has been repeated so often that it has become something of a joke.
With politicians making immigration reform into a campaign issue (and being spurred on by media speculation), it’s little wonder that such a difficult issue as immigration has led recent immigrants to become a distrusted demographic.
4 Conservative Christians
"Does Not Agree With My Vision Of American Society" – 13.5 %
"I Would Disapprove if My Child Wanted to Marry a Member of This Group" - 6.9%
In a country that is at the very least 75 percent Christian, it’s interesting to see Christians of any sort feature among the top five least trusted minorities in the country. Then again, considering the way some members of this group interact with other minorities, it’s hardly a surprise.
Consider the backlash surrounding the “ground zero mosque”, the Islamic community center planned for construction a few blocks away from the site of the original World Trade Center in New York City. Consider, too, the continued campaigning against equal rights for LGBTQ couples to marry, and the activities of fringe groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. While conservative Christians may not be reviled by the other traditional Christians, it seems likely that more than a few of the many groups that they distrust might reciprocate that sentiment.
Unsurprisingly, conservative Christians are reacting to this distrust with alarm, declaring their fear of the war on Christianity in America. Still, while other countries around the world may indeed see Christians in the position of being a persecuted minority, a recent Pew Research poll found that Christians, specifically Catholics and Baptists, rank among the best-liked communities in the country. Though conservative Christianity has found itself a place on this list, it seems the group has little to fear from the vast majority of America.
"Does Not Agree With My Vision Of American Society" – 22.6%
The issue of gay rights in America comes up again and again in the media, with many of the devout claiming it would be against their personal religious beliefs for gay couples to be allowed to marry. The aforementioned idea of a “gay agenda” - implying some insidious plot by gay people to corrupt America into allowing gay people to marry and live in harmony with everybody else - is one example of how this issue has festered, creating distrust and painting the LGBTQ community as villains in the eyes of some.
Worse, the distrust of this group has spread beyond the borders of America to countries with fewer quandaries over how best to approach the issue of gays’ supposed corruptive influence in society. Uganda famously passed a law in 2014 outlawing, among other things, homosexual acts, as well as the “Conspiracy to engage in homosexuality,” with prison sentences ranging from seven years to life. At one point, the bill would have seen the death penalty handed out to those who were convicted, though international outrage helped avert that reality.
As pointed out in an interview on Last Week Tonight, American Christians were a big part of why this bill came about in the first place, thanks to talks given by these people to Uganda’s parliament in which homosexuality was demonized. It’s a scary look at where American attitudes could go if left unchecked.
"Does Not Agree With My Vision Of American Society" – 26.3 %
"I Would Disapprove if My Child Wanted to Marry a Member of This Group" - 33.5%
It’s important to note that distrust of Muslims existed even before the events of September 11, 2001. To get a taste, listen to Howard Stern’s infamous coverage of that day and try not to cringe at the number of horribly xenophobic comments that are said throughout. It’s downright sad.
Distrust of Muslims has led to some dark places, including the illegal war in Iraq and the ongoing fear surrounding Iran. Closer to home, the fear manifests itself in smaller ways. It’s in the suspicious looks that Arabs get while on planes. It’s in reports that the FBI taught its counterterrorism agents that "main stream [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a 'cult leader'" (quote from Wired).
That’s not to suggest that there have not been terrorist events linked to Islam. Multiple bombings, including last year’s attack at the Boston Marathon, have been carried out in the name of Islam. The fact, though, that these attacks are linked by the media to Islam as often as they are to fringe terrorist groups is a problem, and one that goes a long way to explain why Muslims are so feared by Americans.
"Does Not Agree With My Vision Of American Society" – 39.6%
"I Would Disapprove if My Child Wanted to Marry a Member of This Group" - 47.6%
They’re lurking among us. They could be your brother, your father, your kooky uncle. There’s no way to tell who an atheist is on sight. Is that why they’re so terrifying?
More likely it has to do with the aforementioned fact that 75 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christian, of which a central tenet is the belief in an almighty creator. For someone to disbelieve that idea - to think that the idea of heaven and hell and an idea of good and evil that has been handed down from on high is a bunch of nonsense - well, that could be a little scary to a believer.
There are other issues associated with this phenomenon. Religious belief, after all, hinges on faith. It depends on a person believing in something just because. Atheists are typically empiricists who tend to approach the idea of spirituality on the basis of evidence. A debate between the two sides, in other words, involves vastly differing approaches to the issue. There’s also a very real split along the lines of education. Psychology Today points out that people with more education are more likely to be atheists, and a Pew forum found that Atheists had the more religious knowledge than any other group of Americans. A modern resurgence in anti-intellectualism, as The Daily Beast suggests is ongoing, could help explain why the idea of atheism, held as it is by a predominantly educated crowd, is so distrusted by many Americans.