What good is it in having a Black president who won’t discuss eliminating the scourge of racism? Isn’t it time Black Americans ask why the U.S. isn’t participating in the latest round of World Conferences against Racism? Of all the racist policies that exist in the world today, why aren’t Black Americans demanding that this nation support honest and direct dialogue on race and racism and its manifestations and consequences? By withdrawing from the upcoming UN Conference on Racism scheduled for September in New York, the Obama administration is mimicking Bush administrations rather than moving forward in the 21st century. The fact that “the president of change” won’t bring himself – or us – to the table for an honest discussion about race says a lot about his willingness to lead the nation on the subject.
The World Conferences against Racism are international events organized as a force to combat racist ideologies and behaviors. Four conferences have been held so far, in 1978, 1983, 2001 and 2009. The 1978 World Conference against Racism was held in Geneva, Switzerland. The major focus of that conference was South Africa’s apartheid policies of racial segregation and discrimination. Curbing “apartheid” continued as the theme during the 1983 World Conference against Racism. However, things got off track during the 2001 conference held in Durban, South Africa. Titled, "World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance," significant time was spent on the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians. Midway through the conference, Canada, the U.S. and Israel walked out over a draft resolution that criticized Israel and compared Zionism to racism. During the 2001 conference, the European Union also refused to accept demands made by Arab states which criticized Israel for "racist practices." Then, the European bloc, led by the U.S. and Israel, decided to boycott the 2009 World Conference against Racism.
World Conferences against Racism have yet to eradicate racism, or its legacies. In the conferences, the Europeans have denied any responsibility for slavery or any role in crimes of colonialism. The Durban Review Conference occurred in April 2009. The tone of the conference was set on the first day when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned Israel for being “totally racist” and accused the West of using the Holocaust as a "pretext" for aggression against Palestinians. When Ahmadinejad referred to the Holocaust as an "ambiguous and dubious question", European Union delegates left the room.
While the Africans and their requests for reparations go wanting, the U.S. and Israel have spent the past 10 years objecting to what, they say, equates Zionism with racism. It’s a deft political move that pleases Jewish groups. “We are gratified at President Obama’s decision to boycott the so-called Durban III,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), said the CBC was "deeply dismayed" by the president’s decision. But, former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has brought widespread attention to the matter by “imploring” the CBC “to spearhead the participation of the U.S. in the United Nations World Conference against Racism.” There is reason for the American Black electorate to join in questioning the administration’s commitment to racial justice and adherence to bygone administrations’ avoidance of mechanisms designed to combat racial discrimination. It’s time the Obama administration moves beyond glib assurances that the U.S. “remains committed to the global fight against racism at home and abroad.”
Racism has been a major American issue since the colonial and slave eras and has existed for centuries. The nation’s institutional system of racism results from the social caste system that sustained, and was sustained by, slavery and social segregation. Although the laws that enforced this system are no longer in place, its basic tenets still stand and result in Black Americans being confronted daily with racism. Instead of daily disregarding racism, we need to increase awareness about racism and demonstrate that it is far from being over. It’s time that Blacks showed similar lobbying muscle as the Jewish lobby in these matters. (William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org)