United Nations General Assembly commemorates calls for the elimination of racism

By Doris Abdullah

Dedicating ourselves to combating the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance fully and effectively as a matter of priority, while drawing lessons from manifestations and past experiences of racism in all parts of the world with a view to avoiding their recurrence.” — Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA)

The United Nations General Assembly opened its 76th year on Sept. 21. On day two of the opening, it commemorated the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA), which was adopted in 2001 at the world conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade, apartheid, and colonialism were recognized as sources of much modern-day racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. The victims were/are: Africans and people of African descent; Indigenous people; migrants; refugees; victims of trafficking; Roma/Gypsy/Sinti/Traveller children and youth, especially girls; Asians and people of Asian descent. In addition, religious or spiritual beliefs underly forms of racism that constitute a form of multiple discrimination.

The commemoration followed up on Resolution 75/237, a global call for concrete action for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of DDPA. Recalling previous resolutions and the suffering of the victims, the states were called upon to honor the memory and redress victims of historical injustices of slavery, the slave trade, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, and apartheid, with adequate remedies of compensation, reparations, access to law and courts for racial justice and equity. Reparations and racial justice and equity was the theme of the commemoration.

Doris Abdullah with Rodney Leon at a discussion on the memorial for people of African descent. Leon is the architect of the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan. Abdullah notes, “We go back awhile as he is from Brooklyn and of Haitian parents.” Photo courtesy of Doris Abdullah

Previous United Nations resolutions proclaimed March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and March 25 the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The permanent memorial (Ark of Return) for the victims of slavery and the slave trade, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade, were dedicated on the plaza of the United Nations. And the International Decade for People of African Descent was declared, as was the decision to established the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, along with the appointment of independent eminent experts by the Secretary-General and the efforts made by civil society in support of the follow-up mechanism in the implementation of DDPA were welcomed.

For all too many of the 193 nations, conflicts and disputes lie in racial discrimination and their failures to respect each others’ diversity. Each nation’s president, prime minister, emir, or ambassador came to the microphone bemoaning the failures of the “others” who did not share their spiritual belief and/or racial, ethnic, nationality, cultural heritage belief. Most of the Durban discussion centered on remedies such as reparations from the former colonial powers for past offense for people of African descent.

Little attention was given to the continuous exploitation of the African continent for its natural resources and to the people of African descent in the diaspora for their cheap labor. Just as sugar, cotton, and tobacco drove the slave trade and provided racism ideology for 400 years–while creating the wealth of Europe and the United States–today the mining of minerals such as tantalum (coltan) with cheap labor fuels racist ideologies while creating wealth for multinational corporations and western nations, just as it did the sugar and cotton barons. The minerals are necessary for mobile phones, personal computers, automotive electronics, and other modern technological inventions, but the countries and people of Africa and African descent need peace and not conflict.

The seven billion people of the planet need peace without racism conflicts and hatreds in the present. However, despite the efforts made by the UN, millions continue to be victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, including contemporary forms of hate speech. Discrimination spurred by the new technologies may manifest in violence between nations and within nations.

Some nations did call for the political will to “stand up” but who will “stand up”? Standing up to eliminate racism and racial discrimination calls for bold action, as all the words are spent. The proverb says: “Death and destruction are never satisfied.” We can say the same for racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other related intolerance, for it is never satisfied.

Coming from both the faith community and African descent, discussions of racial discrimination are always fraught with conflict for me. Conflicts in the historical role that my Christian faith community played include introducing racism based on color of skin to the world 500 years ago through–among other means–the Doctrine of Discovery; missionaries who twisted biblical scriptures to further solidify the cruelties of slavery, to the point of decoupling people of color from the human gene pool; laws designed to perpetuate inferiority for one people and superiority for another people. I am a victim of the continuing inferiority vs. superiority theory that places me in a unique position to stand up against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

So I pray for the needed boldness to “stand up” and for my community of believers to stand with me.

— Doris Abdullah serves as the Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations. She is a minister at First Church of the Brethren in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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