Dominique Day is a human rights lawyer and chair of the Human Rights Commission United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African DescentTon. Verene Shepherd is a social historian, United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Rights experts sat down with UN News to discuss their experiences with racism and why there needs to be a wider acceptance that today’s global economy is built on the oppression of black people.
UN News Dominic, you said “everyday racism has been normalized”. what do you mean?
Dominica Day The idea that I can’t always get a taxi in NYC, my parents go to great lengths to make sure I’m well-educated and able to fight back against the way I might be misunderstood or mischaracterized by a world that sees my skin and who I really are.
UN News So you internalize it, and you say this is life, is that it?
Dominica Day Well, instead of saying “that’s the way it is”, really confront every episode of everyday racism you encounter from teachers, judges, police, ordinary society, and even your friends. The idea that incidental racism is so normalized in our society means that in order for us to survive in it, we actually need to be thoughtful about the way we engage.
For those of us who work with racism, we have an opportunity to advocate and raise awareness. For example, on a country visit, I will talk about racism that I may have experienced in the same country, but may not have faced it directly, because of my sanity, my balance is important.
This everyday casual racism is actually so intertwined in our society that not only are we not seeing it, but there is a very active culture of denial operating across borders.
UN News Do you see the idea of accepting that there may be some form of compensation?
Dominica Day I thought it would be helpful to talk about it just like any other topic. Exciting examples help. People working in many professional fields make new arguments. So discourse is evolving.
UN News Secretary-General mentions transatlantic slave trade in comments on website International Day of People of African Descent. Are you surprised that the transatlantic slave trade is still so active, especially in the United States?
Velen Shepherd Let me say I’m glad it is.
The Mayor of London takes it seriously: I recently gave a speech on the subject at City Hall, my fifth, and it was well attended.
But the first thing I faced was that when I went through immigration, I was fingerprinted as if I were a criminal. I’m really broken. But then I said to myself, some people need to hear what I have to say tonight, so the oppressors won’t stop me from doing what I have to do.
It’s sobering because it says to me that no black person is immune to racism and racial profiling, and I think we have to be realistic about that.
UN News In America, we are seeing a backlash against critical race theory…
Dominica Day This is a threat to white supremacy, a threat to the privilege and power that people gain by commodifying whiteness as a value. We see this even in international development work.
Critical race theory says, let’s look at what created the world we live in today, and let’s look at history critically. It shouldn’t actually be a threat.
We try to look at the world today with rigour and honesty, and when we talk about things like the slave trade, we’re talking about a moment in history, a moment in global history where transnational relationships are being formed, and market economies and credit economies are developing. birth. All these fancy economic terms we use today were developed as trading entities using boldface as collateral in financial and agricultural markets.
UN News So is it correct that the current global economy, as it is now, is based on the oppression of black people?
Dominica Day To be fair, look at the flight routes: if you’ve ever traveled in Africa, if you’re going to a former British colony, you’ll be flying British Airways. If you are going to a former French colony, you will be flying with Air France. Who owns South African diamonds? These are the legacy of colonial relations that continue to dominate not only global wealth, but also geopolitical forces.
I’m not saying racial justice work will mess with this, but maybe being aware of this can spark activity to really right the wrong,
UN Photo/Mark Garten
Velen Shepherd It seems to me that the escalating reparations movement is exposing what people are trying to hide. I think it’s a threat, and that’s why there’s a backlash from those who see the real possibility of this happening.
They think it’s better to have a generation that doesn’t know these things. That way we don’t have to feel guilty about the past.
When it comes to the Caribbean, people are ashamed of the past, which often takes a place that should be occupied by knowledge.
We need to break some people’s shame about the past and use knowledge as liberation.
UN News What should those who benefited from historical oppression do?
UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz
Velen Shepherd I don’t think indemnity justice will only satisfy the victims and those who continue to carry the legacy. If all of us, including those living in Europe, in the heart of the oppressive space, were truly and honestly engaged in a compensatory justice dialogue, I think it would be liberating for everyone.
If you live in a privileged society, if you live in a former colonial country, and you compare the social infrastructure of that country to the social infrastructure of the South, when you connect the dots, you realize that you are Benefiting from the legacy of my ancestors’ suffering, that’s it.
You can’t say it’s not about me, while benefiting from a good education system, a good health system, a good infrastructure. Some benefited from the legacy, while others gained nothing at liberation or independence and continued to struggle to make do.
This is why we see so many universities and religious institutions in the UK studying their role and how they benefit from the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans.
Dominica Day We need to acknowledge the moral wounds racism has inflicted in our society to the point where we can’t even acknowledge that we walk with it every day.
We are all educated. We benefit from enhancing it, and it is also tacitly enhanced in our media, our education, and our intimate lives. This reality is what we need to face.