By Dr. Zekeh S. Gbotokuma
In a video speech on global human rights developments during a session of the Human Rights Council on June 21, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated, among other things, “I am calling on all states to stop denying—and start dismantling—racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress.” Her statement is part and parcel of her recent report urging “immediate, transformative action to uproot systemic racism” (OHCHR, 28 June 2021). The Report is consistent with the June 2020 Human Rights Council Resolution 43/1 “to produce a comprehensive report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights, law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests as well as accountability and redress to victims.” Famous and Familiar victims’ names include, for example, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the U.S., Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santo and Joâo Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil), Kevin Clarke in the U.K, Janner Garcia Palomino in Colombia, and Adama Traoré in France.
The report was launched after the most televised killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis white police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020. The direct reference to Floyd is apparent in Bachelet’s statement that, “The status quo is untenable. Systemic racism needs a systemic response. There needs to be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence. We need a transformative approach that tackles the interconnected areas that drive racism, and lead to repeated, wholly avoidable, tragedies like the death of George Floyd.”
It is worth stressing that George Floyd’s “I Can’t Breathe” moment was a catalyst for a global movement for racial justice in general and attention to race-based police brutality in the U.S. in particular. Undoubtedly, this special attention contributed to the international endorsement and legitimization of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), its nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize 2021 as well as the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial, followed by 22.5 year jail sentence last April and June 2021, respectfully. The acknowledgment of BLM is clear in the Commissioner’s statement that, “Black Lives Matter movement and other civil society groups led by people of African descent have provided grassroots leadership through listening to communities.”
Bachelet’s Report “seeks to ramp up efforts to end racial injustice, seek punishment for rights violations by police, ensure marginalized groups who speak out against racism are heard, and hold institutions accountable for past wrongdoings.” It has been argued that ‘reparatory justice’ is the best possible way to deal with accountability for the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism.” The report covers roughly 60 countries including but not limited to the Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia and France, and the USA. According to Mona Rishmawi, who leads a unit on non-discrimination at the U.N. human rights office, “We could not find a single example of a state that has fully reckoned with the past or comprehensively accounted for the impacts of the lives of people of African descent today.[…]. Our message, therefore, is that this situation is untenable.”
The U.S. situation is overemphasized not because the U.S. is the only country where denying racism occurs, but because, I suspect, the United Nations and other member states expect the U.S. to lead by the power of its example, one that is rooted in the self-evident truth that “All men [and women] are created equal.” The international community knows something about the American exceptionalism and the idea of America as the birth place of “the modern democracy,” “the land of the free,” and “the land of opportunity” [for all]. Unfortunately, in the U.S., and elsewhere, some people and organizations are pretend-populists, special interest groups, supposedly nationalists, nativists, and supremacists who continue to deny the reality of racism and its negative impact on the society.
But one cannot logically and honestly deny racism while actively engaging in big lie-based voter suppression laws, some of which are intended to supposedly preserve “the purity of the ballot box.” These laws are “Jim Crow 2.0” laws or, as the 44th POTUS Barack Obama called them recently, “the Jim Crow relic.” One cannot deny racism while opposing bills that are also intended to deal with everybody’s voting right. One cannot deny racism while opposing George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. One cannot deny racism while opposing Critical Race Theory that exposes and decries past wrongs in a concerted effort to overcome, breathe, and Build Back Better together. One cannot deny racism while assaulting #democracyanddemographicsintheusa
Last but not least, one cannot deny racism while defending leaders whose behaviors have contributed to exasperating racial tensions.
The good news is that America is back and there are bright lights at the end of the long and dark tunnel. The 46th POTUS Joe Biden has shown his ability, willingness, and commitment to fighting racism through knowledge and acknowledgment thereof, not through anti-intellectualism, assault on reason, ignorance, ‘Un-Critical Race Theory, and behaviors that are reminiscent of the dark ages of America’s “original sin” and the Jim Crow era. He rescinded his immediate predecessor’s Executive Order banning federal contractors from conducting racial sensitivity training. He believes that “unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies.” In addition to Biden’s leadership on this issue that has become the new talking point galvanizing and unifying conservatives and Trumpublicans these days, the U.S. Army’s Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made a powerful and thought-provoking statement in defense of CRT as being consistent with critical thinking.
Yes, America is back but it has a lot of work to do because of some resistance from the dark forces of status quo that prefer to live in the past and supposedly “Make America Great Again.” I commend the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for the moral compass and courage to speak the truth To Whom It May Concern. May this COVID-ING time be a catalyst for a positive change in the way we live, survive, think, speak, act, react, and interact with each other in today’s spider’s web-like, warming, unequal, complex, complicated, competitive, and hopefully, collaborative world. The call to dismantle racism is a call to acknowledge the undeniable fact that there is only one race, HUMANITY of which Africa is the cradle.
About the Author
ZEKEH S. GBOTOKUMA earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Gregorian University and a post-doctoral diploma in International Studies from the Italian Society for the International Organization, all in Rome. He is the Founder & President of Polyglots in Action for Diversity, Inc. (PAD) & Associate Professor of Philosophy, Morgan State University. He is the author and editor of, among others, Democracy and Demographics in the USA (2020: Paperback: https://amzn.to/2KbcOUV eBook: https://amzn.to/35BsCbN); Global Safari (2015); A Pan-African Encyclopedia (2003)
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