Tuesday, March 21, 2006

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

"None of us is born to hate. Intolerance is taught and can be untaught. We must not tolerate the creeping rot of routine discrimination," - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Didya know it was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? Did you even know there was one? I didn’t. Today is actually the 40th International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was established by the UN in 1966, following the March 21, 1960 Sharpeville massacre of peaceful demonstrators protesting against apartheid laws in South Africa.

[A]pproximately 7,000 anti-apartheid demonstrators assembled to march to the Sharpeville police station in South Africa. They had gathered peacefully to protest a law that required all black Africans to carry a Passbook, which allowed the South African government to restrict and monitor their whereabouts. Any black South African found without a Passbook could be arrested and detained for up to 30 days! The black Africans who were part of the protest on March 21, 1960 were to leave their passbooks at home and present themselves at the police station for arrest.

A heavy contingent of police met the demonstrators when they reached the police station. Then the police opened fire. Within minutes, the police had killed 69 demonstrators, including 8 women and 10 children, and an additional 180 people were injured. More than 80% of the people killed were shot in the back as they tried to flee the police bullets. [more here]

So I’m wondering in the past forty years how far have we come. Impressions? A couple of years ago I think I would have said something like: Clearly overt racism is not accepted the way it was in the past. People on the whole seem to have enough sense or at least sense of shame not to be blatant about their racism even if they don’t have enough shame to try to overcome it. But systemic racial discrimination is still a major problem and possibly one that is in some ways harder to combat because of its facially neutral appearance. And I think this is still true in a lot of ways. I can’t imagine walking into a restaurant with a black friend and not being seated or worrying about him being lynched. But I am not sure I can say the same thing about dining with a middle eastern friend. It seems like it is open season on Muslims, and immigrants in general. All that ugly hate and rage and fear is surface level in our politicians, our sunday news shows, our community.

I don’t know how far we really have come or even if we are still moving forward at all…

- A. Monkey