January 10, 2008

America’s Racism is a Human Rights Violation

By David A. Love
Published in
Black Commentator
January 10, 2008

In 1964, Malcolm X called Uncle Sam “the earth's number-one hypocrite” on the issue of human rights. It's nearly four and a half decades later; some things never change.

On December 10, 2007, International Human Rights Day, a broad coalition of 200 human rights groups and social justice organizations sounded the alarm on the state of racism and discrimination in America.

According to a report by the US Human Rights Network (USHRN), which includes such groups as Amnesty International, the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, America is failing to comply with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Race Convention).

The Race Convention, a United Nations treaty ratified in 1969, defines racial discrimination (art. 1, paragraph 1) as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” The convention is enforceable as a part of U.S. law. But you wouldn’t know it, looking at the conduct of the U.S. government.

Pointing to such events as the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, the nooses hanging in Jena, Louisiana, and the epidemic of hate crimes on college campuses across the country – not to mention continuing racism in voting rights, housing, health and education, and a hostile environment to immigrants - USHRN says that the Bush administration’s track record on race has been an abysmal failure. And the group notes that the U.S. government whitewashed its report to the UN on its compliance with the Race Convention (or lack thereof). For example:

  • The U.S. government’s report, issued by the State Department, chose to ignore the racially-tinged issue of police brutality.
  • Failing to comply with the convention by providing statistics on racism at the state level, the government report only provided full information on Oregon, South Carolina, Illinois and New Mexico, and chose to ignore states with large populations of immigrants and people of color, including New York, California, Texas and Florida.
  • The report pointed to programs that encourage sensitivity by law enforcement to Arab and Muslim communities, yet failed to acknowledge the racial profiling and targeting of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians by law enforcement in the post-9/11 era.
  • The State Department report failed to address the “school to prison pipeline” that funnels Black and Brown children into prison through discriminatory policies and under-funded public schools. And the government report dared to suggest that the wide disparities in the criminal justice system (African Americans and Latinos are 60 percent of the nation’s prison population) are not due to the effects of racist policies, but are “related to differential involvement in crime.”

Certainly, those who oppose equality and justice for all, including the Bush administration, are inclined to say that people of color should stop complaining and learn to take personal responsibility. They should top whining, stop playing the victim, and learn to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the argument goes.

And certainly, the fox has been known to lecture the residents of the henhouse on the virtues of personal responsibility.

The Bush administration has proven itself unable and unwilling to promote equality in America, to make the land whole. On a regular basis, this column and others provide a detailed account of the crisis of racial injustice in America, and the ways in which this administration, in criminal fashion, has stoked the fires of racial hatred, trampled on the civil rights and voting rights of people of color, and encouraged the widening gap of inequality in the land of the free. This country has failed to come to terms with its devastating legacy of genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, and its present-day incarnations.

Although USHRN calls on the U.S. to address this abysmal track record and to take action to bring the U.S. in compliance with its international obligations, it does not seem likely that much can be expected in the final year of the Bush regime. Perhaps we can begin to heal the land once the “compassionate conservative” crowd in Washington leaves the White House and takes their white sheets and brown shirts with them.

America, your record on racism drips with hypocrisy. As the self-proclaimed beacon of human rights, yet a chronically habitual human rights offender and purveyor of wolf tickets, now is the time to clean up your act and practice what you preach. International standards demand no less.

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