Op-ed: WORLD’S ANTI-RACISM DAY 2021: The color line is also the problem of the 21st Century

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By Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma

For many people in the United States and some other countries where the year is divided into four seasons –winter, spring, summer, and fall – March 21 is the first day of spring. But did you know that March 21 is also the United Nations-designated Anti-Racism Day, or THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION? [Día Internacional Contra la Discriminación Racial, in Spanish]. The purpose of the Day is to remind people of racial discrimination’s negative consequences. It also encourages people to remember their obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination.

The Day was established in 1966 or six years after the Sharpeville tragedy or Sharpeville massacre in South Africa when apartheid was still the law of the land. This tragic event involved police opening fire and killing 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa, March 21, 1960. Like George Floyd’s #ICantBreathe moment last May in Minneapolis, Sharpeville massacre shook the world’s conscience. It led the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to call on the international community to increase its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.  The UNGA proclaimed March 21 as a UN Day of observance in 1966. More important, the UN also called on all world states and organizations to participate in a program of action to combat racism and racial discrimination in 1983. In 2001, the UN held the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. As we commemorate Sharpeville massacre and celebrate the World Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/un/world-day-eliminate-racial-discrimination), let us join the UN in fighting against all forms of racial intolerance in the U.S. and elsewhere. To this end, it is imperative to express our condolences to the families and friends of the eight people who were killed in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, 2021. This matter is still under investigation. However, the fact that six of the eight victims are women of Asian descent leads to speculate on the possibility of hate crimes. It is worth noting that there has been an exponential increase of hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the U.S. mostly due to the Wuhan-originated COVID-19. From March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, there were 3,795 anti-Asian hate incidents, 68 percent of which were against women compared with 29 percent against men, according to a recent Stop AAPI Hate Report. The report shows that hate crimes against Asian-Americans rose by 150% in 2020. The incidents consist of verbal harassment (68.1%), shunning or the purposeful avoidance of Asian Americans (20.5%), physical violence (11.1%), civil rights violations (8.5%), and online harassment (6.8%) (Brittney McNamara, Teen Vogue, March 17, 2021). These incidents have led to the STOP ANTI-ASIA RACISM NOW campaign and the March 21, 2021 rally at Huyler Park in Tenafly, New Jersey. Demonstrators carried signs that read, among others “STOP ASIA HATE” and “HATE IS A VIRUS.”

Believe it or not, and unfortunately, the 45th POTUS’ toxic rhetoric has also contributed to this problem. For example, Trump has frequently referred to COVID-19 as “China Virus,” or “Kung Flu,” etc. This kind of language is dangerous because leaders’ words matter. According to the aforementioned Stop AAPI Hate report, many anti-Asian incidents have used that Trumpian anti-Chinese rhetoric. This trickle-down racism is reminiscent of Trump’s July 14, 2019, tweet with unfortunate “Go Back” racist comments directed at “the Squad” or four female members of the 116 Congress, all of whom are women of color, namely Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Ayanna Presley of Massachusetts, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Trump’s followers responded to his “go back” comments with the “Send Her Back” chants during an early reelection campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina. From that event, it was clear that ‘Southern Strategy” or racism was going to be the campaign strategy. Shocked and outraged by the “Go Back” Tweet, the 116th Congress adopted a Resolution “Condemning President Trump for racist comments directed to Members of Congress” (H.RES.489). Inarguably, this Resolution was a good example of some of the steps that can be taken to combat systemic racism. This is also a perfect answer to the UNGA’s call to action regarding our collective obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination. It is an understatement to say that Trump’s reelection defeat was also due, among other things, to his disastrous handling of COVID-19 and the racial tensions following the killing of George Floyd. The Trump administration failed to act quickly to deal with the pandemic because of the belief that COVID-19 was “a blue state problem” that was going to mostly affect blacks and browns. Trump called Black Lives Matter “thugs” and a racist organization. His toxic rhetoric in dealing with these two crises were some of his self-inflicted wound. Consequently, to some extent, Decision 2020 was a rejection of racism and xenophobia in the United States, the land of the free, the land of opportunity, and a nation of immigrants whose motto is, “E Pluribus Unum.” Decision 2020 was, as the title of my book indicates, a vote for “Democracy and Demographics in the USA.”

Let us Say No/Non/Nein/Hapana to Racism 

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STOP ANTI-ASIA RACISM NOW!

We Shall Overcome.

HAPPY ANTI-RACISM DAY!

Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma, (Courtesy Photo)

Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma, Associate Professor of Philosophy Founder & President, Polyglots in Action for Diversity, Inc. (PAD).  Author, “Democracy and Demographics in the USA” (Amazon Kindle 2020); “Global Safari (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015).

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