By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
Today, March 21, the world observes the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme this year is Youth standing up against racism. The UN says the theme “engages the public through #FightRacism, which aims to foster a global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination and calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes…
“COVID-19 has heavily impacted young people, including those from minority backgrounds. Many are now grappling with an increase in racial discrimination, in addition to severe disruptions to their education; diminished employment prospects; and limited ability to participate in public life, which stymies their individual and social empowerment…Racism, xenophobia and intolerance are problems prevalent in all societies. But every day, each and every one of us can stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes. Be a human rights champion” (UN).
In his address during his weekly general audience at the Vatican on June 3, 2020, Pope Francis called racism a “sin” and said that “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
He was speaking about US protests in reaction to the killing of George Floyd. He called for “national reconciliation and peace” to stop “the disturbing social unrest.” At the same time, he warned “nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost.” Our AEC Bishops also issued a statement on this issue (See CN June 5, 2020).
On August 30, 2020, CCSJ partnered with the Faculty of Law, UWI, to organise a virtual symposium on racism titled ‘A Time for Healing— Understanding and Reconciling Race Relations in Trinidad and Tobago’.
Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean, Faculty of Law, UWI said that in recent times, “we have witnessed a display of race hostilities that enveloped Trinidad and Tobago during the election period and is continuing. It is certain that these incidences of racist conduct have deep underpinnings in our diverse society.”
She said if the situation is not managed properly, “racial tensions could deteriorate and have far-reaching, damaging impact on our pluralistic society”.
Professor Rhoda Reddock noted that, “We understand almost everything through the prism of race. Race becomes an explanation for all failure, achievement, economic decisions, marriage decisions, educating decisions, employment decisions and, of course, voting decisions…”
She said politicians need to be more aware “of the ways in which…racialised and generally divisive politics affects citizens. Even when overtly racialised statements are not made, the viciousness of the language and the imagery creates deep wounds. Attacks on political leaders become attacks on the people of those ethnic groups and perpetuate feelings of shame, anger, victimhood and even hatred, on which ethnic tensions and conflict are built.”
Another speaker, Kwasi Mutema – Servant Political Leader of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), said: “Racism has been founded on the principles of falsehood and deception. Therefore, a major weapon in its destruction must be truth and honesty.”
He quoted from NJAC’s People’s Declaration of Policy for a new Trinidad and Tobago (The Blue Book): “There are very real tensions existing in the society and an essential part of overcoming them is tracing their origins and projecting a path for the future that represents a fundamental change of principles, a change in direction. Our history must be used for the cultural purification of the society.”
During my many years living in the UK, I was involved in the forefront of the anti-racist struggle e.g., as Co-Chair, with the then Mayor of London, of Britain’s Anti-Racist Alliance; Vice-Moderator, Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland: Churches Commission for Racial Justice; Vice-President, National Assembly Against Racism; Inspector of Schools for multi-ethnic/anti-racist education etc.
The words of Githu Muigai, former UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, uttered way back in 2010, are still pertinent today: “Racism and xenophobia still ravage contemporary society and no state is immune to their effects.”
He warned that racism may lead to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. How true.
He rightly noted that fighting racism requires more than the enactment of anti-discrimination laws. “Overcoming racism also requires addressing public and private attitudes which justify and perpetuate racism at all levels and in all areas of life” (UN News).
We have much work to do to promote mutual respect, peace and harmony among the diverse ethnic communities that populate T&T/the world. Humanity is one.
Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State. (38)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee