WHAT WE THINK
August 31, 2001 | Page 3
THE FIRST United Nations (UN) World Conference against Racism is scheduled to begin August 28 in Durban, South Africa. But the country that has the most to answer for won't be sending a delegation.
Ever since discussion began over the topics to be addressed at the conference, the U.S. government has complained and threatened to walk.
At issue for the U.S., as well as for Canada and some European nations, is the conference's core objective--a declaration that "solemnly acknowledges the wrongs of the past, notes the current manifestations...and commits States and peoples to moving forward together in the fight against racism."
What's the problem with that?
The Bush gang is angry that the conference might dare to put reparations for slavery and the Israeli government's racism against Palestinians on the agenda. The U.S. doesn't want the conference to call the slave trade a "crime against humanity"--for fear that this might form the legal basis for reparations.
Perhaps a country where some state governments are still debating whether to fly the Confederate flag could benefit from a conversation about slavery. As David Brion Davis wrote recently in the New York Times, "The United States is only now beginning to recover from the Confederacy's ideological victory following the Civil War."
"Though the South lost the battles, for more than a century, it attained its goal: that the role of slavery in America's history be thoroughly diminished, even somehow removed as a cause of the war."
Likewise, a little inspection at an international conference might be in order for a country that shamefully uses the death penalty against Blacks and other minorities in vastly disproportionate numbers. But the U.S. government not only wants to bury its racist past, but deny its racist present.
That goes for U.S. foreign policy as well. When representatives of several Arab countries called on the conference--taking place in South Africa, where apartheid reigned for half a century--to address the apartheid conditions endured by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories today, Bush lost it.
"We will have no representative there so long as they pick on Israel," Bush said. "If they use the forum as a way to isolate our friend and strong ally, we will not participate."
The connection between U.S. racism at home and its racist policy abroad is no coincidence. As the only superpower in a world based on exploitation and oppression, the U.S. is the linchpin of a system that dooms hundreds of millions of people of color in developing countries to horrific poverty and suffering.
While the UN conference will discuss the effects of racism, the point is to challenge its roots in the system itself--in the U.S. and around the world.
The Black revolutionary Malcolm X made just this point shortly before he was assassinated in 1965. "It is incorrect," he said, "to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter."