The International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) sought to commit its signatories to promote and encourage universal respect without distinction of race, sex, language or religion. It was established to promote universal respect and dignity among all human beings and aimed to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in racist organizations by requesting that Member States establish and enact appropriate mechanisms to combat forms of discrimination.
The UN DPI briefing titled “Combating Racism in the 21st Century” commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Convention and celebrated the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The panel was moderated by Corann Okorodudu, NGO Representative and Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies at Rowan University, and included Stephanie Franklin, William Garcia, Dil Bishwakarma Sagar, Manbo Dòwòti Désir and Onaje Muid. The panel discussed issues of space, identity and exclusion.
Stephanie Franklin, founder, president and CEO of the Franklin Law Group, discussed the importance of the Convention and ensuring the United Nations remains a space safe and open for discussion. It has sometimes alienated and marginalized grassroots organizations and activists against racial discrimination in an effort to include actors seen as more relevant or influential in discussions and initiatives. Due to her professional background in social justice work, Franklin was able to share extensive data on the prevalence of racial discrimination in foster care systems and the horrific reality of the medication of African American children in such systems.
Onaje Muid, Lecturer at the School of Social Work in Columbia, discussed the importance of the collective in the worldview shared by many African communities, where the notion that “I am because we are” was held highly as opposed to the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am”. This philosophy helped and continues to encourage the fostering of creativity and spirituality among communities. In order to safeguard all peoples and communities of African descent, it is necessary to ensure that international treaties and conventions such as ICERD are effective and making an impact by advocating for them and creating institutions and legal mechanisms on behalf of the disenfranchised.
William Garcia, a M.A. candidate in Curriculum and Teaching at the Columbia University Teachers College, extended the geographical scope of the conversation beyond the African-American experience to include racial discrimination peoples of African descent face globally, specifically in South America and the Caribbean. He highlighted the exclusion of “Afro-latinxs” from both the Latino and black identity when they immigrate, especially to the United States. They become an “other”, in between blackness and their Latinx identity. Garcia emphasized the importance of bridging that identity gap in discourse, especially when considering the significant and powerful advocacy and work that the Black Lives Matter movements are doing in the Caribbean and South America. Garcia posed policy suggestions and safety measures to ensure the full and safe participation of peoples of African descent in South America and the Caribbean, concluding with the statement, “If black lives have to matter in the United States, they have to matter everywhere.”
Dil Bishwakarma Sagar, President of the International Commission for Dalit Rights, likened the caste system to racial discrimination, describing racism as cultural caste discrimination. The prevalence of this international cultural caste discrimination sets up systems which propagate the violations of basic human rights and dignity. Sagar firmly emphasized that to deconstruct these systems, marginalized and oppressed groups would have to cooperate and eliminate racial discrimination of all forms.
Manbo Dòwòti Désir, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Human Rights Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism, addressed the necessity of spatial justice – that is, creating mental and physical spaces that support discussion and respect the history and cultural of peoples of African descent. She also highlighted the necessity of safeguarding virtual spaces, which she described as the new frontiers for racial discrimination, and using technology to combat that.
The briefing closed on master kora player Salieu Suso’s musical piece, Kaira.
This briefing is available on UN Web TV.