The United Nations is sending a special observer to investigate the role that racism plays in the ordinary life of the United States. With only three weeks, the special rapporteur will have a lot of ground to cover. And the visit comes at a time when America's ordinary denial on issues of racial injustice and inequality are intensified by the presidential campaign. After all, we are the nation which is about to "transcend" race.
The U.N. Investigates American Racism
By Margaret Kimberley
Doudou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, will visit the United States for three weeks in order to “. . . gather first-hand information on issues related to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Diene is a Senegalese attorney and his role is mandated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. His United States visit is just one of many that he has made all over the world and will result in a report to be released to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009.
Mr. Diene has his work cut out for him. Three weeks isn’t enough time to examine the depths of racism in this country. Diene can investigate police brutality and the deaths of people like New Yorker Sean Bell. He can investigate the increased numbers of deportations that have torn families apart. He can look into the policies that have made America the nation with the greatest percentage of its population behind bars. He can investigate why half of those incarcerated persons are black. The theft of what little wealth black people had before the subprime mortgage crisis is another subject he might want to investigate. So much injustice, and only three weeks to find it all.
It is inevitable that Diene’s visit will bring howls of protest, and not just from the usual suspects on the right wing. It is now passe to acknowledge racism or its pernicious effects. In the irony of ironies, the possible election of a black person to the presidency is partially responsible for this selective, deliberate amnesia.
America’s crimes against its own citizens must be exposed to the entire world and there is no group in this country with both the power and the willingness to take on that task. The legacy of manifest destiny and the belief in American superiority and exceptionalism have created a citizenry that is largely incapable of hearing any information about their country that is less than positive and glowing. The absence of true journalism and a compromised political system combine to promote the telling of bald faced lies. Truth tellers are marginalized and consigned to oblivion so as not to disrupt the national discourse.
Only outsiders can tell us the truth, that the United States is a rogue nation by all standards of international law and acceptable moral norms. Yes, we are becoming more and more like the countries we have traditionally thought of as being inferior. Many Americans will be angry that an African representing the United Nations has the nerve to observe anything in this country and worse, has the gall to issue a report on what he sees. It is all to the good that Diene is coming to reveal the ugly but true underside of American life.
Diene’s timing is quite auspicious. Barack Obama’s political rise has worsened the climate for frank discussions about racism. The strategy of Obama supporters, be quiet and let him win, eliminates much needed acknowledgement of the sad state of black America. The unemployment rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates have already been taken off the table in an effort to give one man his dream job and fulfill the well intended but dangerous dreams of millions of others.
Black candidates who campaign in need of support from white voters have always been forced to make those voters feel comfortable. The result of that mollification is denial of the rightful demands for justice. There will be a very high price to pay if the elevation of certain individuals continues to be the sole focus of black political action.
The year of Obama’s political ascendancy is therefore a perfect time for Diene’s visit. His campaign has proven that individual political success often comes at the expense of the larger community. If Barack Obama ends up on the capitol steps with his hand on the bible, it will be precisely because he praised Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy and falsely claimed that black people are “90% of the way towards equality.”
If Diene does even a mediocre job of reporting on racism in America he will prove that the 90% number is nothing more than politically inspired fantasy. So welcome to America Mr. Diene. Tell the truth, and don’t spare tender American sensibilities. There is plenty of “racism, xenophobia and related intolerance” and you won’t have to look very hard to find it.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.Com. Ms. Kimberley maintains an edifying and frequently updated blog at freedomrider.blogspot.com. More of her work is also available at her Black Agenda Report archive page.