7 Ways Minorities Stood Up For Their Rights in 2016

From combating Islamophobia to the #NoDAPL victory, this was a year that minorities' voices resonated across continents.

President Obama is fond of quoting the all-powerful Martin Luther King Jr. line, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." But after a year like 2016, many people would be hard-pressed to say that that belief brought them solace. The rise of Islamophobia, the legitimization of white supremacy, the emboldening of hatred and ignorance — these movements instigated by the 2016 election cycle have been deeply troubling for those targeted by them. But 2016 has also seen the rejuvenation of minority groups' voices against the powerful that sought to keep them invisible and cowering. 

For nearly every negative political development, every unjust act by law enforcement, every racist outburst in public spaces, every poor decision by powerful executives that spoke to their larger ignorance of minority groups, there has been resounding opposition, a deluge of support, and efforts to seize back narratives.


The unrelenting resistance that met and fought back against bigotry was a space where persecuted minorities could gather to find comfort, empowerment, and take action. For better or worse, for every stumble backward in 2016, it seemed that there was an equally, if not more forceful, step forward. 

1. Muslims against Islamophobia.

This year, Muslims in the west fought back against a sweeping tide of hatred that demonized them and their religion. Muslim women in France protested the burkini ban. Refugees went out of their way to bridge differences and implored others to see them as humans, too. Muslims created guides for non-Muslims to diffuse Islamophobic attacks in public. Khizr Khan proved, in front of an audience of millions, that American values of freedom and pride ran as deep in his blood as they did in his son, Capt. Humayun Khan, who died a war hero.

2. Women against sexism.

During his campaign, plenty of evidence emerged of Trump's history of sexist behavior: him boasting about sexual assault; his appalling treatment of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado; the dozens of women who have accused him of rape and sexual assault. Yet almost 63 million Americans voted for him, dealing a devastating blow to women who thought their country had progressed beyond such sexism. 

Women responded to Trump's victory with a stunning outpour of support for each other and the groups fighting for their rights. On Facebook, they wrote love letters expressing appreciation for the women in their lives. The growing conversation surrounding sexual assault got even louder. Women donated to Planned Parenthood in droves, including under vice president-elect Mike Pence's name as a counter to his policies. And many more are poised to run for office, paving the way to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling of all.

3. Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

After months of peaceful protest that was met with violent provocation from the authorities, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation emerged victorious in their fight for sovereign respect and clean water rights. The Dakota Access Pipeline's route that snaked past their reservation without their input, threatening their access to drinking water, would be rerouted, President Obama announced, just before his administration came to an end. 

Standing Rock's win was a cause for huge celebration; it was the first time in recent memory that Native Americans won against the forces that long neglected and oppressed them. And in a long year of many setbacks, the DAPL protestors' victory served as inspiration for resilience and collaboration. 

4. Latinos against xenophobia.

Latin Americans were one of the most targeted communities in the past year, in large part due to Trump's inflammatory campaign rhetoric. Trump played on rural America's racial and economic anxieties, blaming immigrants, particularly from south of America's border, for many of the country's ill.

But the U.S.' Latino community, a large, diverse population, fought back with creative campaigns aimed at combating ignorance and reclaiming their narratives.

5. Asian Americans against whitewashing.

After decades of being subjected to damaging stereotypes of their people in the media, Asian Americans took Hollywood to task this past year over its habit of whitewashing Asian characters. The entertainment industry abounded with discussions about representation and visibility, with Asian actors and communities leading the charge. And though it seems like executives are still clinging to their whitewashing ways, mounting pressure from the public has led to greater calls for diversity in the industry — and not just as between blacks and whites. 

6. African Americans against racism.

African Americans have long bore the brunt of systemic racism and discrimination against minorities. This year, on top of racial policing and everyday racism, black people have seen a gradual comeback of overt, violent racism, the kind that prompts calls to bring back lynching and encourages racial epithets to be thrown around more frequently. 

White supremacists have felt more empowered than ever this past year. But black activists, authors, and commentators have stepped up their fierce vocalization of their struggles, steering conversations about race and equality against a growing tide of obstruction.

7. The LGBT community against homophobia and transphobia.

The slew of attacks on the LGBT community in 2016 were somewhat subtle, coming in the form of bathroom bills and the appointments of homophobic politicians to positions of significant power. Homophobia and transphobia persist, and GOP lawmakers have launched many attempts this year to legitimize these resentments with the law. 

But equal rights for the LGBT community presses on despite conservative backlash. And figures like Ellen DeGeneres, whom Obama recently awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, continue to contribute to the change in social attitudes about LGBT Americans.

Cover image via Diego G. Diaz / Shutterstock.com.


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