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We Must Be Proactively Anti-Racist to Fight Racism, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Observance of International Day

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarks to the General Assembly’s observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, today:

I am pleased to join you for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This observance commemorates the day in 1960 when police in South Africa killed 69 people who were part of a peaceful demonstration against racist apartheid laws.  Today, apartheid lies dead.  But, sadly, racism lives on — in all regions and in all societies.

Much of today’s racism is deeply entrenched in centuries of colonialism and enslavement.  We see it in the pervasive discrimination and exclusion suffered by people of African descent.  We see it in the injustices and oppression endured by indigenous peoples and other ethnic minorities.

We see it in the repugnant views of white supremacists and other extremist groups.  We also see racism and discrimination in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the mistreatment of some minority Christian communities and other forms of intolerance and xenophobia.

And we see racism in recent abhorrent violence against people of Asian descent, unjustly blamed for COVID-19.  We also see it in the biases built into the codes for facial recognition and artificial intelligence.

Last year, people around the globe took to the streets to protest racial injustice.  They recognized racism for what it is.  A vicious global pandemic.  Dangerous.  Abhorrent.  Ugly.  And everywhere.

Racism is a deeply rooted evil.  It transcends generations and contaminates societies.  It perpetuates inequality, oppression and marginalization.  Our duty, as responsible global citizens, is to eradicate it.

Wherever we see racism, we must condemn it without reservation, without hesitation, without qualification.  This includes looking into our own hearts and minds.  Each of us needs to ask:  Am I and my society racist?  And what must I do to correct it?

Addressing racism is not a one-time exercise.  Racism is a complex cultural phenomenon.  To fight racism, we have to be proactively anti-racistThat is why, last year, I launched a system-wide discussion led by the United Nations Task Force on Addressing Racism and Promoting Dignity for All.

Part of its efforts are to engage staff on issues related to racism, conscious and unconscious bias, and how to create an anti-racist organization in the United Nations.  This is a responsibility we all share.  It is a problem all of society must confront.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.  It offers an important opportunity to make an honest assessment of where we stand and where we need to go.

Racism manifests in many forms — conscious and unconscious.  Combating it demands action every day, at every level.  It is especially important to recognize that historical injustices have contributed to poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion and instability for both people and countries alike.

It is time to acknowledge and repair longstanding wrongs and reverse their consequences.  Reparatory justice is essential for reconciliation, prevention of conflict and the creation of societies based on fairness, equality, respect and solidarity.  It can help mend the social contract between people and the State.

As societies become ever more multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural, we need greater political, cultural and economic investment in inclusivity and cohesion.  We need to harness the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat.

This year, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination highlights the important role of youth.  They have been in the forefront of the fight against racism.  Young people’s attitudes and behaviour will dictate the future shape and look of our societies.

Only by understanding and rejecting this deep-rooted phenomenon can we end it.  So, today, I appeal to young people everywhere, as well as leaders and educators.  Let us teach the world that all people are born equal.  Supremacy is an evil lie.  Racism kills.

On this day, and every day, let us work together to rid the world of the pernicious evil of racism so all may live in a world of peace, dignity and opportunity.


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