On October 26th, 1966, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 2142 (XXI), proclaiming March 21st as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. Proclaiming the Day in 1966 which signifies the struggle to end the policy of apartheid in South Africa, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
I am late with this post, for yesterday was March 21st, but it doesn’t really matter if it’s a day late, for every day should be a day for eliminating racial discrimination. Recent events here in the U.S. – the brutal murder of George Floyd and countless others by police, and more recently the hate crimes against Asian-Americans – have shown us that we have much to do to end racism.
While it is crucial to end racial prejudice in public agencies such as police, social services, and even at the highest levels of government, the problem starts on a more basic level – with us. We haven’t been listening for the past 50, 100 years. Oh sure … we protested in Civil Rights marches in the 1960s, and that led to laws such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and more, but then we clapped our hands, dusted off our knees, went home and said, “Well done!” and moved on without a backward glance. And now look … 43 states are busily writing laws that would invalidate the Voting Rights Act.
I cannot speak for other countries, but I do know that racism is alive and well today around the globe, more than it was, say, two decades ago. In part, this is as a result of a surge in migration due to the Arab Spring, nations were unprepared, and it has led to a new level of racial discrimination around the globe. But more specifically here in the U.S., I have not seen this much blatant racism in the past 50 years. But it’s been there all along. Our Black friends knew it, for they lived it. They tried to tell us, but we weren’t listening. And now, the racism has spread to Asian-Americans, largely as a result of public figures blaming China for the coronavirus, calling it “China flu” and worse. Since 11 September 2001, there has been an expansion of racism here against people from Middle Eastern countries … even though the attacks on that day were carried out by only 19 people and directed by one man, not the entire Muslim world.
I don’t have answers to the question of how we end this, but I do know that each one of us has got to look inside ourselves and understand that we are not superior in any way to anybody else … not Blacks, not Muslims, not Asians, not LGBT people … NOBODY!
Here is the text of President Joe Biden’s statement released yesterday (I may be a day late, but Joe was on time!):
One of the core values and beliefs that should bring us together as Americans is standing against hate and racism, even as we acknowledge that systemic racism and white supremacy are ugly poisons that have long plagued the United States. We must change the laws that enable discrimination in our country, and we must change our hearts.
Racism, xenophobia, nativism, and other forms of intolerance are not problems unique to the United States. They are global problems. They are human problems that we all need to recognize, name, and dismantle. Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, all nations and people should recommit to the fundamental truth that every human being has inherent dignity and deserves to be treated with fairness. We must recognize the ways that racism, gender discrimination, and other forms of marginalization intersect with and compound one another. And, we must all strive to eliminate inequities in our policies, remove barriers to full participation in our societies, and push for open and inclusive processes that respect all people everywhere.
Under my Administration, the United States will lead the conversation on these painful issues—at home, in international institutions, and around the world. That is why, on my first day in office, I signed an Order establishing a whole of government approach to equity and racial justice. We will not shy away from engaging in the hard work to take on the damaging legacy of slavery and our treatment of Native Americans, or from doing the daily work of addressing systemic racism and violence against Black, Native, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color. Neither will we fail to speak out against the horrific mistreatment of the Rohingya in Burma, the Uyghurs in China, or any racial discrimination we see in the world.
Hate can have no safe harbor in America. It should have no safe harbor anywhere in the world. We must join together to make it stop.