According to published news reports, the U.S. objected to describing slavery as “a crime against humanity” and wanted no talk of reparations. Some European countries objected to offering an apology for slavery and colonialism. India didn’t want any mention of their “untouchables.” And Israel wanted careful mention of Palestinian suffering. What kind of conference on racism doesn’t talk about racism?
Sept. 7 marked the end of the United Nation’s World Conference Against Racism, Racial discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa. One of the objectives of the 8-day conference was to produce a declaration that recognized the damage caused by racism.
But wrangling over language led to continuing disputes and a surprising, as well as disappointing, walk out by the U.S. In the end, the declaration turned into a statement of the obvious and a weak attempt at a useless apology.
According to the Associated Press, the conference acknowledged that slavery and the slave trade are a “crime against humanity.” It also agreed that these injustices are among the major sources of racism and racial discrimination, and that the victims of these acts continue to be victims of “lasting social and economic inequalities.”
But we know this already. Government statistics show that despite societal gains, blacks continue to lag significantly behind whites in employment, income, education and access to health care.
The question is what are we going to do about it? The answer is probably nothing.
According to a story by the Washington Post, dated July 11, 2001, a national survey found that 40 percent to 60 percent of all whites believe that the average black American is faring about as well if not better than the average white American. They couldn’t be more wrong.
The story points out that:
Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to hold lower-paying jobs.
Blacks are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.
In 1999 the median household income for blacks was $27,910, compared with $44,366 for whites.
The poverty rate for African Americans is more than double the white rate.
About 17 percent of blacks have completed college, compared with 28 percent of all whites.
Blacks were nearly twice as likely as whites to be without health insurance.
But because of the mistaken belief that we live in a society of equal opportunity, efforts to close the economic and social gap between blacks and whites have been met with indifference and hostility.
Therefore, the WCAR’s call for governments to “take appropriate and effective measures” to stop and reverse the lasting consequences of racism and discrimination will probably go unheeded.
Recently race-based programs, like affirmative action, have been attacked as reverse discrimination. And although the U.S. has previously paid reparations to Native Americans and Japanese Americans, the mere mention of slavery reparations sparks heated debate.
For some, slavery, legalized segregation and the struggle for civil rights are history, and they urge us to move on. But for the victims, the vestiges of racism and discrimination are a daily reality that cannot be unburdened with an “I’m sorry.” For them to move forward, society needs to move from simple apologies to absolute repentance.