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The movie “12 years a slave” rather brutally reminded us not only of the raping, lynching and public lashing our ancestors suffered, but also of the sheer humiliation of being stripped naked in public that they endured. America’s revered creed – the self evident truth that all men are created equal – did not apply to them. “A Black man has no rights a White man is bound to respect” was the law of the land as established by the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the landmark 1857 Dred Scott case. 

Coming on the heels of “12 years a slave,” another movie, “Selma,” took us back down the memory lane of recent past of what our parents suffered. We are barely two generations removed from the daily humiliation of institutional racism, not to mention the physical attacks by cattle prods and police dogs. The lesson we draw from the two movies is not how far America has come in exorcising its racial evil, but the institutional racism its Black citizens suffer still.

Some would want us to focus on the progress made, not on the continued breach of America’s allegiance to racial equality and justice. The needle on the Richter scale of racial injustice has undoubtedly moved down progressively, but that is not the issue. The issue is that institutional racism is tolerated, if not perpetuated, by our government in 2015. The intergenerational pain continues to flow uninterrupted from slavery to Jim Crow and from Selma to Obama. 

President Obama often speaks of “the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still.” I am here to tell the President that at the World Bank, the third largest employer in our nation’s capital, African Americans are reminded daily that his high-minded words lack moral resolve behind them. The World Bank, where Blacks are seen as mere numbers without human dignity and rights, serves as a metaphor for our government’s lack of moral resolve to show zero tolerance for institutional racism.

Dr. E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress for Black Women, highlighted in a recent article: “A simple Google search will confirm the breathtaking racial injustice , producing several pages of articles with shocking titles that seem to describe another era or a faraway place. The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s column in the Chicago Sun Times entitled ‘Apartheid Avenue two Blocks from the White House’ is one example. ‘World Bank puts Blacks at the Back of Bus’ is another. For those who prefer French or Spanish there are ‘Apartheid a la Banque Mondiale’ and ‘Discriminación racial en el Banco Mundial’ to start with.”

Three indisputable facts demand emphasis. First, the World Bank is unapologetic. Its own six reports have documented that Blacks are “rated inferior” and acknowledged that Blacks are paid race-based salaries, consigned to low profile assignments, segregated in one building, and denied access to an independent and impartial justice system.

Second, the US government is well aware of the systemic racial discrimination. In 1999, a report by the US government found that victims of discrimination in the World Bank were denied access to justice. In 2003, the US Senate Appropriations Committee accused the World Bank of defending accused managers rather than protecting aggrieved staff. Neither the US government nor the World Bank took action to remedy the situation.

Third, the World Bank is hosted by the US government. The US has more voting power on the World Bank Board than France, Germany and the UK combined. It is the only country that wields veto power in critical areas of the Bank’s governance. Since the Bank opened its doors in 1946, every World Bank president has been an American citizen. Most importantly, as the largest fund provider to the World Bank, the US has significant financial leverage to influence the institution’s governance framework and operational decisions. But it lacks moral resolve to expend its political and financial capital to protect the rights of its Black citizens.

Residing in the blind spot of conservatives and enjoying unconditional support from liberals, the World Bank has become a legal and moral no-man’s-land where institutional racism is financed by our tax dollars. In 2014, America’s leading civil rights organizations and leaders of over 500 faith-based organizations joined the chorus of outrage demanding justice, but all to no avail.

Why not sue the World Bank? The World Bank enjoys absolute immunity from US laws. It is answerable only to an internal Tribunal whose judges evidently believe that “Blacks have no rights that other races are bound to respect.”

In 2009, an African filed racial discrimination complaints with the Tribunal after he was told that he could not become the global manager of a high profile international program because “Europeans are not used to seeing a Black man in a position of power.” The first question he was asked by one of the Tribunal judges was “What was it being designated Global Manager that is so magical to have led you to this stage where you think it was a loss to the rest of the world?” The staff member’s lawyer interjected politely – “May I ask a clarifying question?” The judge snapped: “Asking me? No. You can’t ask me questions, obviously. That’s not permitted.” During the same hearing the Bank’s lawyers were allowed to ask clarifying questions. Since its establishment in 1980, the Tribunal has rejected all racial discrimination claims it has reviewed with such utter disregard for the due process rights of Black complainants.

In 2010, the US Treasury and the US Board of Directors to the World Bank approached the Bank’s senior management to resolve an egregious racial discrimination case through external arbitration citing the Lugar-Leahy Amendment (2005). The Amendment required that World Bank staff have access to external arbitration. The Bank rejected the request. The Treasury sent the aggrieved staff member a note stating:

We believe that further engagement in your case with the World Bank would not be productive… We are continuing to explore the possibility of pressing it to look harder at external arbitration…”

The Treasury’s statement speaks volumes about our government’s unwillingness to protect Blacks from institutional racism half a century after the end of Jim Crow.

Since 2010, the US has passed two more laws – the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2012 and 2014. The two Acts stipulate without ambiguity that the US would withhold its financial support to the World Bank as leverage to ensure that its staff are granted access to independent adjudicative bodies, including external arbitration. The World Bank is also on the record stating without ambiguity that it will not comply with US laws.

In a twist of irony, the Bank is currently run by President Obama’s appointee and golf buddy, Jim Yong Kim. The Korean American uses his minority status both as a shield to fend off his critics and as a sword to subjugate Blacks. Under President Kim the problem has gotten worse, as documented by Frank Watkins, public policy director for Rainbow/Push Coalition, in an article titled “Has the ‘Asian Takeover of the World Bank’ Worsened Discrimination Against Blacks?” In 2014, President Kim rejected many requests from Black applicants for external arbitration, without losing a penny in US financial support.

The problem for not enforcing the aforementioned laws resides with the US Treasury and the Department of State. There is no chance in hell that Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Jacob Lew would have breached their legal obligations to enforce the above noted US laws had the victims of institutional segregation been Irish or Jewish Americans. No chance in hell, as well, that President Kim would have allowed the segregation of Asians without legal remedy.

As an American citizen, a descendent of slaves and as a current victim of institutional discrimination, I demand that my government accord me access to justice now, not some time in the future.