March 21, 2014, marks the annual observance of the International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The history behind this annual event dates back to a tragedy in 1960 when South African police in Sharpeville, took the decision to shoot civilians that were protesting the South African apartheid ‘pass laws’ (Pass Laws were laws that stipulated that each race in South Africa were to be segregated through an internal passport system). As a way of condemning this violent act, this observance day was officially set into place by he United Nations in 1966 with the passing of resolution 2142 (XXI).
Today, South Africa has abolished its apartheid system. Unfortunately, racial discrimination continues to occur. Indeed, in regions such as the Americas, citizens who have native and/or African decent are often still the victims of racial discrimination.
Notable anti-racism activists
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865): American president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declaring “that all persons held as slaves [within the rebellious states]are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013): Mandela was an anti-apartheid leader who spent more than twenty years in jail for his objections of the apartheid system in South Africa. In 1994, he was elected the first president of a democratic South Africa.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968): A non-violent civil rights leader. Famously known for his ‘I have a dream’ speech’: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
Racism in Latin America, Africa and Europe
Although racial discrimination is illegal in many American nations, it still exists today. The de facto sort of racism existing in Latin America and around the world is the toughest to deal with since it involves negative feelings towards those who are not of the same race. It can also affect an individual’s decision-making processes such as hiring or housing someone of a different race.
Around the world, however, racism and intolerance has led to more serious forms of injustice such as mass genocide, which mainly have been in Africa in nations such as Rwanda in 1994.
In industrialized nations, a wide range of racism, intolerance and prejudice in regions such as Europe where Eastern Europeans, Gypsies and Muslims have been particularly targeted.
The United States has been known for being one of the first multi-cultural and multiracial nations to defeat racial inequality. Unfortunately, racism is still embedded in many people’s minds. To highlight this issue, Jane Elliot, an internationally recognized teacher and diversity trainer, created a controversial exercise in the 1960s called the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise”. Although it began in the 1960s, Jane Elliot continues to practice this exercise today and has found that even the new generations do not fully understand the complex and prejudicial nature of racism, and how embedded it is in US culture.
To view the class demonstration of this exercise, please click here.
Questions for the Reader
- After watching the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise” video on YouTube, do you feel that racism and prejudice is more than just ‘black and white’?
- How does your country deal with racism? Is there a need to improve how people in your country treat others of a different race?
- Have you been affected by racism? How can all of us help to end it?