Racism in International Context: Ethnicity, Ethnocentrism & Nationalism in Africa

There is an engaging story about a 17-year old monarch of the Tooro Kingdom in Uganda who has been King since he was a toddler. The story is particularly interesting because the reporter waded into issues of ethnicity and nationalism that have dogged African nation-states since independence.  A CNN reporter writes that:

“Many Africans, like the people in King Oyo’s realm, identify themselves as a member of a tribe or ethnic group first and as citizen of a nation second.” Tension between ethnic groups within the same country often has flared into violence around the continent. In Uganda, the central government outlawed kingdoms in 1967, but the president reinstated four of them in the ’90s on the condition that their leaders focus more on culture and less on national politics.”

This reporter was relying on conversations with a history professor at Makerere University in Uganda to inform the account; according to the professor:

“The monarchies are based on ethnicities, sparking concerns of a setback in national integration efforts… Ugandans identify themselves first with their tribes and kingdoms, then as citizens…This works in most African cultures because people have lost faith in the government, and tribes and kingdoms provide a nucleus around which an identity can be forged.”

I have written on the intersection between ethnicity and nationalism here before and I have relied on representative (probabilistic) surveys that gauge the national mood regarding identity in Africa. What we know from current data is that the issues of ethnicity and nationalism are more nuanced than reported in the CNN article. This paper is not a rebuttal of that article that appeared a few days ago; I want to render a contemporaneous account of what we now know about ethnicity and nationalism in Africa.

Our scholarship has long established that tribal associations or tribal unions based strictly on ethnicity posed a threat to emergent post-colonial nationalism; ethnic patronage did not have a place in the new nationalism and the newly independent countries fostered the progressive ideal of a community of diverse ethnic groups. But, our scholarship has also documented the social realities of ethnic patronage that have strained the progressive ideal; an authoritative study, among several others, is Crawford Young’s (1994) paper titled: Evolving Modes of Consciousness and Ideology: Nationalism and Ethnicity. Whether the ethnic tensions were stoked by former colonial powers or not, our taken-for-granted reality has been that ethnic allegiance continues to undermine communal development – take for instance what is happening in Jos, Nigeria, where the cycle of murders and revenge murders is unrelenting. Some analysts have argued that these tensions are also religious and socioeconomic in root, and that there’s an intersection between economic inequality and ethnic conflict.

As social scientists, it is difficult (sometimes near impossible) to conduct true experiments (with pre- and post- moments) to ascertain causality – for instance, we cannot conduct a true experiment to identify how ethnic identity singularly causes these violent tensions. At best, what we have are correlational models to identify the likelihood of outcomes based on certain conditions (credit eric). So we must not discount the fact that economic inequalities may have something to do with these conflicts as well. But even with these methodological limitations, we can say with some confidence that the one important correlate we have in all of these violent conflicts is that of ethnicity or tribal group; in Jos, it happens that the groups killing each other also largely practice two different faiths.

Recent events in Nigeria reinforce the taken-for-granted reality of the role of ethnocentrism in communal conflict. Among all the countries I examined using data from Afrobarometer surveys from round 1 (1999-2001) and round 2 (2004) more Nigerian respondents identified ethnically than respondents in other African countries (in round 2, about the same proportion of Batswana identified as such). (In Kenya and Zimbabwe most respondents did not identify first with their tribal or ethnic group). In round 4 (2008) of the Afrobarometer surveys, the majority of respondents (≥70%) in all surveyed countries including Nigeria (but except Malawi) relied on their nationality as an identity descriptor or identified equally with their nation and their ethnic group.

A review of the pattern of response in these surveys uncovers substantive issues related to data collection that have to be taken into account in interpreting the results: (1) In-person surveys are susceptible to social desirability bias. I wondered whether the tendency to choose national identity in rounds 1 and 2 in all the surveyed countries (except Nigeria) was due to respondents providing answers that they felt was the most favorable based on the public mood – after all, the nationalistic identity descriptor is the progressive ideal. If so, we should expect respondents in Nigeria to be susceptible to the social desirability bias as well. (2) The question: “I feel equally national and ethnic” was a new item in round 4, and so it is impossible to examine change from previous rounds. I wondered whether the introduction of this item has diluted the ethnic identity and ethnic attachment social reality. Without this item, I wondered whether more respondents would have chosen ethnicity as their primary identity. (3) Data on ethnic identity from round 4 may indeed indicate, auspiciously, a maturation of civil society in these countries. Over time, we may expect more citizens to embrace the nationalistic vision when compared to earlier periods as the nation-state becomes more stable. This is the hope – even as we witness conflicts, many of which arguably involve some elements of ethnocentrism in every region of the continent. We should expect subsequent rounds of these surveys to show more respondents reporting a national identity due to the maturation effect.

Nonetheless, the intersection of ethnicity and nationalism yields peculiar ground truths: consider that in Ghana, the newly elected national chairman of the opposition party paid homage to the King of the ethnic group to which he belongs. The national chairman used the occasion to urge the youth of his ethnic group to take up leadership roles. I wondered; why would the national chairman of a national political party address only the youth of his ethnic group? Shouldn’t he be addressing the youth of the country regardless of their tribal identity? By the way, this particular national chairman doesn’t even speak his native ethnic language! Also, consider President Zuma of South Africa who has just married his third wife as allowed by his Zulu traditions, even as he admitted recently fathering a child out of wedlock! What a contrast between President Mandela and the current South African president! But whether his traditions allow for multiple wives or not, what image does a democratically elected president project when he fathers a child out of wedlock even with a surfeit of spouses? Is this possible only in Africa?

To return to the case of Nigeria and the cycle of killings of Jos; we must take into account the sinuous power struggle unfolding in the country. The frail and un-well President has not been seen in public for 4 months or more; the acting President has dissolved the cabinet to purge it of loyalists to the President. And the security forces in the State of Jos seem powerless to stem the cycle of hate and killings. One African autocratic leader has the temerity to call for dividing Nigeria into a Moslem North and a Christian South. With a history of ethno-religious tensions and a civil war that claimed over one million lives, and ongoing violent unrests in the Niger Delta region of the country, the recent killings in Jos are just a manifestation of the uniqueness of the Nigerian situation.

~ Yoku Shaw-Taylor, PhD is a Research Scientist in Washington, DC.

More on Haiti: Will Racism Hinder Relief?

There’s a lot of good news about relief efforts to Haiti.  As just one example, Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean’s online and mass media efforts to help his home country have raised $400,000 in the first day.  Yet, at the same time, there is a strong current of racism directed toward Haitians that may hinder relief to this devastated Island nation.

In a conversation with Dr. Goddess on Twitter yesterday, she brought my attention to the casual racism of this individual (if her profile is to be believed, a young, white female who loves both beer and Jesus in equal measure):

Twitter_Haiti_racism

But surely, I can hear the objections now, this is just the misguided rant of an uneducated person.  This young woman is surely an outlier, the exception, rather than the rule.   Perhaps.    About the same time, I heard the reports of Rev. Pat Robertson explaining what had happened in Haiti:

“…something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, Napoleon III, or whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you get us free from the French. True story. So the devil said okay it’s a deal, so the Hatians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since then they have been cursed by one thing after another. Desperately poor, the island of Hispanola is one side, on the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts et cetera, Haiti is in desperate poverty. They need to have, and we need to pray for them, and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.”

So, rather than a proud history of resisting colonial oppression, Haitians are – in Robertson’s mind – aligned with the devil.   This seems rather stark racism, in my view, but certainly coat-and-tie racism.   While it’s easy to dismiss Robertson as a crank, his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has a global television audience.  CBN was at one time the largest supplier of 24-hour cable programming in the world, claiming to reach 66 foreign countries through 150 local stations, 2,500 satellite cable systems, and even through the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Network.  Although the influence and reach of the network has declined in recent years, it would be a mistake to underestimate Robertson’s influence on his audience.    The Haitian Ambassador, Raymond Joseph, offered an eloquent rebuttal to Robertson’s nonsense on Maddow’s show last night, saying:

“I would like the whole world to know — America especially — that the independence of Haiti, when the slave rose up against the French and defeated the French army — powerful army — the U.S. was able to gain the Louisiana territory for $15 million. That’s 3 cents an acre. That’s 13 states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slave revolt in Haiti provided.  Also the revolt of the rebels in Haiti allowed Latin America to be free.  So, what pact the Haitian made with the devil has helped the United States become what it is.”

Unfortunately, Maddow and the rest of MSNBC do not hold much of the audience share compared to conservative outlets, such as Fox. So, while this thumping by the Haitian Ambassador is getting lots of play by liberal and left-leaning bloggers, it’s not making much of a dent in the conservative reverberation chamber.

And, that brings me to the largest (ahem) conservative pundit of them all, Rush Limbaugh, sometimes referred to as the de facto chair of the Republican party.    Limbaugh seems to be the hands-down leader so far in efforts to use racism to hinder relief efforts to Haiti.  His recent remarks on the earthquake:

“In the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentleman, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, ‘we have another crisis simply too good to waste,'” the conservative talk show host remarked. “This will play right into Obama’s hands, humanitarian, compassionate.”

“They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, in the light-skinned and black-skinned community in this country,” Limbaugh added. “It’s made to order for them. That’s why he could not wait to get out there. Could not wait to get out there.”

In fact, as Allen McDuffee points out at his blog, Governmentality, it’s right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, that are eyeing the Haitian earthquake opportunistically.

Limbaugh also suggested falsely that the U.S. has “already donated” to Haiti through U.S. income.   Limbaugh, like Robertson, would be easy enough to dismiss were it not for the large audience his show commands and the rather remarkable political power he wields.

And, then there is the liberal racism of mainstream television shows that obsessively report about white, Western victims of the earthquake while spending comparatively less time on the majority of indigenous, Haitian residents, as if whiteness is the sine qua non for personhood and empathy.

Whether or not racism – from the crass Twitter comments, to the racist propaganda of Robertson and Limbaugh, to the white hegemony of television talk shows –  will hinder relief efforts to Haiti, only time will tell.   My hope is that this crisis will, in the words of Ferentz Lafargue, prompt us to think not only “about Haiti’s plight today, but to whatever extent possible two years and two decades from today” (h/t @dumilewis, @DavePurcell).

Earthquake hits Haiti, causing destruction to an impoverished nation

As you no doubt heard by now, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale has hit Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its epicenter was just a few miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Large buildings in Port-au-Prince, including the National Palace, built by the US Marines in 1915, and the United Nations headquarters, have been destroyed.   Many large cement structures are now piles of rubble.   The extent of the damage remains unknown, as communication between Haiti and the rest of the world has been difficult since the earthquake hit.

Haiti is a country of ten million people, and some reports estimate that at least 100,000 have died and three million people have been affected directly by the earthquake. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is home to nearly three million people, many of whom are recent migrants to the capital and who live in substandard housing.

Thirty years ago, Haiti was self-sufficient in terms of food production, particularly rice, one of the staples of Haitians. Unfortunately, over the past three decades, trade and aid agreements between the US and Haiti have created a situation where rice farmers can no longer make a living in Haiti.  A prime example of this is when rice, grown by subsidized farmers in the US, is dumped on the Haitian market, pushing Haitian farmers out of production. Because of these and other US and IMF economic policies over the past three decades in Haiti, people from the countryside have been unable to make a living in rural areas, and have migrated to the capital.

Many of these urban migrants live in houses made of cinderblock or other substandard materials that are very susceptible to earthquake damage. The fact that so many people live in inadequate housing structures adds significantly to the destruction caused by the earthquake.

Haiti was founded in 1804, and is the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.   Haiti also boasts a proud history of a successful slave revolt.    Despite its noble beginnings, Haiti’s history has been fraught with violence and poverty, and the United States has played a significant, contributing role in the lack of political and economic stability in the tiny island nation.

Haiti was occupied by the United States from 1915 to 1934. In 1994, Aristide Bertrand was democratically elected by the Haitian people – the first democratically elected president of Haiti. Eight months later, he was ousted by US-backed forces.   Following this, the US occupied Haiti.   Haiti was occupied again by US and UN forces in 2004.

Hurricanes have hit the island regularly over the past decade, adding to the troubles faced by the people of Haiti. The recent earthquake is the worst to hit Haiti in 200 years. The earthquake, with its fires and the massive destruction of buildings, “seems like the abyss of a very long history of natural and political disasters” (Edwidge Danticat, January 13, 2010 on Democracy Now).

When Haitian citizens have left their own country to come to the US (a form of forced migration), the US government has systematically discriminated against them.   Currently, there are currently 30,000 Haitians being held in immigration detention centers in the United States.  Subsequent to the most recent hurricane in Gonaïves, Haiti, immigrant rights activists mobilized to request that Haitians not be deported to Haiti, because of the destruction wreaked by the hurricane. These demands for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were denied. In the aftermath of the present disaster, it would be inhumane to send deportees from the United States to Haiti.

President Obama has promised to help the Haitian people get through the present disaster. Given the troubled history between the two nations, and the extensive corruption involved in foreign aid in Haiti, Obama will face many challenges in delivering this much-needed assistance. Granting Haitian immigrants presently in the United States Temporary Protected Status would be a crucial first step in the effort to help Haiti get back on her feet.

If you’re interested in helping the people of Haiti, Dumi Lewis has a good list of organizations over at Uptown Notes.

Update from admin 1/15/10: U.S. Suspends Deportations to Haiti.

~ Tanya Maria Golash-Boza teaches at the University of Kansas and blogs about her research on the consequences of mass deportation at http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com/

Societal Equality Means Better Health and Wellbeing

I just got this notice about a CDC presentation on how inequality/equality shapes major aspects of every society:

The Division of Violence Prevention and the CDC/ATSDR Social Determinants of Health Equity Work Group invite you to attend a presentation: “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” by Richard Wilkinson Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology, University of Nottingham and Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University of York (Tuesday, January 5th – 9:30-10:30AM, Chamblee 106, 1A-B).

The summary of their presentation is suggestive of deep structural issues:

Among high income countries, comparisons of life expectancy, mental health, levels of violence, teen birth rates, child wellbeing, obesity rates, the educational performance of school children, or the strength of community life tend to be fairly consistent: countries which tend to do well on one of these measures tend to do well on all of them and countries which do badly on one, tend to do badly on all. What accounts for the difference? The key is the amount of inequality in each society. The picture is consistent whether we compare rich countries or the 50 states of the USA. The more unequal a society, the more ill health and social problems it has. This presentation will provide an overview of the theory and evidence for how income inequality affects well-being and examples of strategies that are being adopted based on these research findings.

Richard Wilkinson has a recent book, written with Kate Pickett, called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009). He is also a founder of The Equality Trust “to increase public understanding of the damaging effects on societies of large inequalities in income and wealth (www.equalitytrust.org.uk).”

One review of The Spirit Level on Amazon notes that in the book:

Wilkinson and Pickett lay bare the contradiction between material success and social failure in today’s world, but they do not simply provide a diagnosis of our woes. They offer readers a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society. The Spirit Level is pioneering in its research, powerful in its revelations, and inspiring in its conclusion: Armed with this new understanding of why communities prosper, we have the tools to revitalize our politics and help all our fellow citizens, from the bottom of the ladder to the top.

Moving to class, racial, and gender equality means moving to healthier societies.

Celebrating Human Rights Day — Accenting Non-Discrimination



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights website celebrates today, Human Rights Day, with this statement on some sixty years of efforts to end many kinds of UN Reflection
Creative Commons License photo credit: FantasticBabblings
discrimination across the globe.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. These first few famous words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established 60 years ago the basic premise of international human rights law. Yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe.

“Our main objective is to help promote discrimination-free societies and a world of equal treatment for all,” says the High Commissioner [Navi Pillay] who this year will mark Human Rights Day in South Africa. She encourages people everywhere – including the UN family, governments, civil society, national human rights institutions, the media, educators, and individuals – to seize the opportunity of Human Rights Day 2009 to join hands to embrace diversity and end discrimination.

The realisation of all human rights – social, economic and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights – is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent. Yet everyone of us can make a difference. You are encouraged to celebrate Human Rights Day by advocating non-discrimination, organizing activities, raising awareness and reaching out to your local communities on 10 December and throughout 2010.

Human Rights Day [examples]:
South Africa: * Students from around the world will take part in the first World Human Rights Moot Competition organized by the University of Pretoria with the support of the OHCHR. They will argue a fictional human rights case on the principle of non-discrimination before the High Commissioner presiding over a panel of high level judges. New York: * UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will open, “Race, Poverty and Power: A Panel Discussion on Discrimination in Development” (PDF). This event will provide a forum for a critical examination of the relationship between ‘race’ and development.

… All human rights work can be viewed through the non-discrimination lens. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status.

I have recently summarized some relevant history here:

The struggle to deal with the Nazi Holocaust, together with ongoing struggles for human rights by people in many countries led to the pathbreaking Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in late 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly with no negative votes and eight abstentions. This important international agreement stipulates in Article 1 that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and in Article 7 that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.” Article 8 further asserts, “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy…for acts violating the fundamental rights,” and Article 25 states that these rights extend to everyday life: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing.” Since 1948 numerous international covenants on economic, social, and political rights have been signed by most United Nations members, and agencies like the UN Commission on Human Rights have been established to monitor human rights globally. The UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), put in force in 1969, specifically requires governments to make illegal the dissemination of ideas of racial superiority and the operation of organizations set up to promote discrimination. This convention, first ratified by some nations in the 1960s, was ratified by the United States only in 1994. Today CERD commits the U.S. and other governments to “adopt all necessary measures for speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations.”

In the mid-1970s two additional agreements–the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—were approved by many countries and added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to create an what is often termed an International Bill of Human Rights. However, while the ICESCR was signed by the U.S. government in 1979, it has not yet been ratified by the U.S. Senate. The U.S. Senate did ratify the ICCPR in 1992, but with fourteen reservations, declarations, and understandings, so many that much of that Covenant was thereby invalidated for the United States. Nonetheless, these United Nations covenants represent major international responses to, as Judith Blau and Alberto Moncada suggest, “genocide, oppressive labor practices, the antiapartheid movement, national independence movements, liberation movements of colonized people, and atrocities committed against civilians” and to the “civil rights movement in America, the feminist movement, and the newly empowered voices of indigenous groups and landless peasants.”

Criminal Alien Program Results in Racial Profiling

“A top priority for ICE has been to target the “worst of the worst” in the illegal population—criminal aliens incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails; those who may pose a threat to national security or public safety” ICE Annual Report FY 2008 [pdf].

Sounds reasonable, right? Of course Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should ensure national security and public safety by deporting criminals. No wonder the Homeland Security Committee allocated $180 million to this program in 2008 to ensure that incarcerated non-citizens are deported.

However, a new report from the UC Berkeley Law School finds that ICE “is not following Congress’ mandate to focus resources on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal histories.” Instead, it is encouraging local police to engage in racial profiling and to arrest and deport people who engage in minor infractions of the law such as kicking over traffic cones or public urination.

Racial Profiling? Under the Criminal Alien Program, local police have the authority to call immigration on anyone who they suspect to be undocumented. Turns out that Hispanics are the ones police are most likely to suspect are undocumented. In a study of arrest patterns in Irving, Texas, the UC Berkeley Law School found that 96% of the people held under this program were Hispanic. Moreover, police were more likely to arrest Hispanics for minor offenses once the city began to participate in the Criminal Alien Program.

Not all Hispanics are undocumented. In fact, most Hispanics living in the United States are legal permanent residents or citizens. In Irving, Texas, however, once police began to co-operate with ICE, discretionary arrests of Hispanics for minor traffic offenses rose dramatically.

In 2006, ICE began a partnership with the city of Irving, which enabled ICE to investigate the immigration status of people held at the Irving Jail. Under this partnership, if Irving police arrest someone they suspect to be undocumented, they contact ICE to determine their immigration status. Of course, police officers can’t tell someone’s immigration status just by looking at them. In fact, in September 2007, of the 269 individuals Irving police officers referred to ICE, only 186 were turned over to ICE. The others were lawfully present in the U.S.

“Worst of the Worst”? Most of the people detained under the Criminal Alien Program in Irving, Texas were arrested for misdemeanors. In fact, only 2 percent were charged with felonies. The Berkeley report provides “compelling evidence that the Criminal Alien Program tacitly encourages local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses.” For example, in Irving, Texas, in April 2007, ICE agents began to offer 24-hour access to their services to the local police. Immediately thereafter, the rate at which Irving police arrested Hispanics for minor arrests began to rise. In April 2007, Irving police arrested 102 Hispanics for Class C misdemeanors. That number rose continuously until September 2007, when they arrested 246 Hispanics for Class C misdemeanors – minor offenses for which the maximum fine is $500.

It looks like the $180 million Congress appropriated to ICE is not enhancing public safety. Instead, it is encouraging local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses and deporting people for offenses as minor as driving with a broken tail light.

This study of one city in Texas resonates with work I have been doing with deportees in Jamaica and Guatemala. Deportees I have spoke with consistently tell me that they were stopped by police for a minor offense and subsequently placed in deportation proceedings.

A deportee I met recently in Guatemala told me this is exactly why he does not plan to apply for re-admission to the United States, even though his daughter still lives in the US. He does not want to live in a country where he will be arrested for minor traffic violations and hassled by police on a regular basis. Who does?


[Note from blog admins: ~ This is a re-blog from here.  Professor Golash-Boza will be joining Racism Review as a regular contributor, writing about her research in Jamaica, Brazil, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic where she is interviewing people who have been deported from the U.S. for a book she is writing. ]


Global Racial Inequality Keeps Children Away From School

Around the world, children from ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities are being left behind in the quest for universal education, according to Lauren Feeney, multimedia producer for PBS’s documentary television series, Wide Angle.   Feeney explains that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets for international development agreed to at the turn of the millennium, call for universal primary education by 2015.  While some progress has been made towards that goal in the last decade — today, nearly 90 percent of children are enrolled in primary school, compared to 85 percent in 2000.

Even as that is a victory to celebrate, there remain 75 million children are still out of school; and of those, the majority are children from racial and ethnic minority groups.  Although the U.N. doesn’t track progress based on racial or ethnic criteria, but a new report from Minority Rights Group International estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of out of school children are from minority and indigenous populations.

This kind of racial inequality exists around the globe, in Latin America, in Australia, in Africa, in India and in Europe.  As Joe wrote here recently, the treatment of Roma in Europe is one that is steeped in racism that few are willing to face.  Indeed, speaking out about their treatment prompted crowds to boo pop-icon Madonna for speaking out in support of them.  When it comes to the treatment of the Roma, and how Roma children are doing meeting the Millennium Development Goals, it’s difficult to tell.   Fenney writes that most reports on the Millennium Development Goals don’t bother to track progress in highly developed countries such as those in the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007. But Snjezana Bokulic, the Minority Rights Group International program officer for Europe, says that conditions for the Roma minority are “comparable to sub-Saharan Africa,” so, while European countries are likely to surpass most of the goals, “a segment of the population will be left out.” As for the goal of universal primary education, only 31 percent of Roma in Romania complete primary school, and Roma comprise between 2 and 10 percent of the population (depending on who’s counting), so the goal is unlikely to be met. “It’s an issue of mathematics,” says Bokulic.

Extrapolating from the non-data-collection on Roma in Europe, I assume that these reports are not being collected on indigenous and racial/ethnic minority groups here in the U.S. either.  That would be a worthy research project for someone to do is find out what percentage of indigenous and migrant workers children are enrolled in school.

In a rather striking example of what happens when you fail to take into account intersections of race, class and gender, the Millennium Development Goals include a specific provision calling for an end to gender disparity at all levels of education, but there is no similar targeting of disparity based on racial or ethnic difference. One observer from the Minority Rights Group calls this a “glaring omission.”  Maurice Bryan, who contributed the chapter on Latin America to the Minority Rights Group International report, says that no one realized it at the time, and goes on to say this:

“People didn’t used to think that you should pay special attention to women but once they realized that it was necessary, there has been progress on the gender gap. Now the racial gap is the new kid on the block.”

I found that a remarkable quote.  While it’s pointless to try and say which is “more” or “less” necessary – it’s both and – I was just found it interesting that at least according to Millennium Goals the idea of addressing of gender is more established than the idea of addressing racism and inequality.  If it’s still the case that 50-70 percent of the world’s children who are not in school are from ethnic or indigenous populations, then it seems long overdue to start addressing this form of inequality.

Racism, Empire and Torture, Pt.1

P1010072The news today is filled with reports about torture, but there is no discussion of the many ways racism and empire are implicated (Creative Commons License photo credit: cudmore).  As I wrote five years ago when the photos of prisoner torture began appearing from Abu Ghraib, I know this is about racism (“When is Prisoner Abuse Racial Violence,” ZNet, May 24, 2004).  Torture is also about empire.   To understand the torture debates, reinvigorated through yesterday’s speeches by President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney, we must once again confront the ghosts of Abu Ghraib which return to haunt us in uncanny ways, reminding us that the imprinting of colonial power on their corporeal form is a central way in which the abstract concepts of white supremacy and empire are made concrete.

Empire, where a superior civilization defends its values from barbarians through annihilating them, is evident in torture talk, whether pro or con, whenever the idea is invoked that an all powerful America confronts an especially savage, culturally different enemy from which it must defend itself. Long ago, Michael Taussig pinpointed the racial divide that lies at the heart of the contest that is imagined as one of savagery over civility. 

Writing on the culture of terror of colonialism, Taussig ventured that neither the political economy of rubber nor that of labour accounts for the brutalities against the Indians of the Putumayo in Peru during the rubber boom. Terror, he reminded us, is the mediator of colonial hegemony par excellence, an “inscription of a mythology in the Indian body, an engraving of civilization locked in a struggle with wildness whose model was taken from the colonists’ fantasies about Indian cannibalism” (Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987, p.27).

Despite a persistent belief that torture is instrumental – designed, that is, to extract life saving information from an enemy who would not otherwise divulge it, torture is intrinsically about the staking of identity claims on the bodies of the colonized. Because torture is Continue reading…

U.N. Anti-Racism Conference

eleanorroosevelthumanrightsThe U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva adopted a consensus resolution yesterday that demands action against racism and xenophobia.  The resolution is not without controversy, however, and this rather lengthy post is meant to serve as a review of some of the key issues surrounding the controversy that developed it.  First, a little history.

U.N. Declares Freedom from Racism a Fundamental Human Right

The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed in 1948 largely due to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured here holding a copy of the declaration, image in the public domain from Wikimedia), includes in it language that reads:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Article 2).

That commitment to human rights in general, and racial equality in particular led to a series of conferences sponsored by the U.N. on racism, the third of which was the first U.N. World Conference Against Racism in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.   This conference is widely referred to by the shorthand “Durban,” or the “Durban Racism Conference.”  That first conference was intensely controversial for the kind of extreme antisemitism it attracted, as the Christian Science Monitor recounts in a recent article:

Some pro-­Palestinian supporters passed out fliers containing a photograph of Hitler captioned, “What if I had won? There would be no Israel and no Palestinian bloodshed.” Thousands of NGO delegates approved a document that branded Israel guilty of genocide, apartheid, and other war crimes.Then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson found the forum recommendations so toxic she refused to “forward” them on to the governments.

Yet, as the CSM goes on to point out, often forgotten is the fact that the gathered diplomats stripped out the most incendiary anti-Israel language even though it did make reference to “the plight of the Palestinian people,” a reference which many objected to as anti-Israel if not a veiled antisemitic attack.

Antisemitism & Racism: Disaster from Disaster

Given this context of overt and extreme antisemitism at the first Durban conference, the second conference had a lot of disadvantages at the start.  The second conference, known as the Durban Review Conference (April 20-24, 2009), is still in process and yet many have already declared it a “disaster,” such as 

“There has only ever been one United Nations conference on racism before and it ended in disaster. The second begins in it.”

Part of what prompts Ms. Philp to call the Durban Review “a disaster from disaster” is the extensive boycott by many of the invited nations, led by the U.S.:

“The boycott, begun by the United States and Israel, has snowballed so far across the Western world that any official international consensus on dealing with racism and xenophobia now looks near pointless. “

It’s true that the U.S. has led the way in undermining the Durban Review conference, and to the extent that this has been about taking a stand against antisemitism this is a very good thing.

In fact, the U.S. deciding to boycott the Durban Review was responding to the 2001 Durban resolution.  Here’s the CSM article again on this issue:

“In a statement released Saturday, the US State Department cited the 2001 Durban text in explaining its withdrawal from this conference. That document “singles out one particular conflict and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians,” it said. And since the draft document for this meeting is based on the previous meeting’s, the US could not participate.”

And, as if there needed to be any more confirmation of the overt antisemitic intentions of some of the key players involved at the Durban Review, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech that was more a hate-filled screed than a stand against racism.  Clearly, what Ahmadinejad and other hate-mongers have done is seize upon this opportunity to fight racism in order to advance their antisemitic, (not to mention homophobic – but that’s another post -) and hate-filled agenda.   You can begin to see why some would call this conference a “disaster,” but I’m not quite ready to write it off.   

Protesting & Monitoring the Geneva Conference

durban_review_protest

Fortunately, Ahmadinejad’s intolerance did not go without protest and a number of world leaders, as well as NGOs and unaffiliated citizens, walked out of his speech (image of unidentified protesters in Geneva courtesy of DurbanReview).

In addition to the protests, some people have been closely monitoring the Geneva Conference.  For example, Andre Oboler launched on a news service April 2nd 2009 about the conference called DurbanReview (http://www.durbanreview.org/).   Durban Review is a volunteer project supported by a number of NGOs with people on the ground in Geneva and Oboler coordinating information and news gathering several time zones away in Australia.

One of the useful bits at DurbanReview is the piece on the sponsoring nations, aka “string pullers,” and Gregg Rickman’s piece on what’s problematic about this roster.

Hope for a Stand Against Racism and Antisemitism?

As Matt notes,  the conference started on Hitler’s birthday – certainly a bit of inauspicious scheduling on someone’s part – and yet he writes that despite that he’s heartened by the protests to antisemitism:

If people and nations are unwilling to accept antisemitism, there might be a chance to keep it from spreading. Perhaps the antisemites of the world will be radicalized, but if enough nations are willing, we can deal with that.

I agree, I do think there’s hope in that.  And,  I think that the example of being at the conference, and thus, being able to walk out on Ahmadinejad’s speech is more powerful than not attending the conference altogether. As Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, points out:

Nations that attended this conference in good faith proved that it’s possible to reaffirm the global commitment to fight racism, despite efforts to derail the process. The adoption of this document by consensus only a day after Ahmadinejad’s divisive speech is a clear message against intolerance.

To me, part of the real disaster here is that the extremists like Ahmadinejad have given the West, and particularly the U.S., a very good excuse to stay away from the conference and to continue the pattern of not participating in the global fight to combat racism.   Perhaps foolishly, I remain ever hopeful that this can change and the U.S. can, eventually, step up and do the right thing when it comes to fighting racism not just here but around the world.  And, the Geneva Conference still provides such an opportunity.

Following the passing of the resolution, de Rivero called for the governments that boycotted the UN racism conference to now endorse the conference declaration and thereby demonstrate their commitment to fight racism.   If the U.S. wants to stand against antisemitism and racism, it will heed this call and endorse the conference declaration.

Updated: You can download the Durban Review Conference Outcome Document here (.PDF).