More on the U.N. racism conference, post-racial edition

By Michelle Chen Mar 02, 2009

As Roberto Lovato notes in his column, Washington’s potential/probable boycott of the upcoming United Nations summit on racism suggests the U.S. continues to stonewall international action on race issues (namely centering on Israel’s aggression and human rights abuses, the link between religious defamation and racism, and slavery reparations–an issue that cuts deep into America’s own racist legacy). But despite threats by the Washington and the pro-Israel lobby–and the expected political backlash, other dynamics are still in play, and the conference agenda continues to raise questions about the international community’s priorities. Earl Ofari Hutchinson calls the Israeli-Palestine issue a "distraction" and argues for moving the agenda beyond the conflicts that have long derailed efforts to address systemic racism.

Obama should use the Geneva conference as a bully pulpit to press European nations, Japan, and Canada to agree to speed up debt relief, vastly increasing funds for AIDS treatment and prevention programs, pouring more aid into development programs, and negotiating more equitable trade pacts with non-white nations. And not simply shelling out billions to individuals is the best way to repair the damage wreaked by slavery and colonialism. The UN Racism Conference organizers put years of sweat into bringing white and non-white nations together to figure out a way to put teeth into the struggle against global racism. The stakes are too great to let anti-Israel tunnel vision afflicted delegates flush that effort down the drain.

Yet the backdrop of mounting international concern about the Palestinian struggle is too glaring to ignore–as is wariness of the political spin dogging the U.N.’s treatment of race issues. The asymmetry of political power in the debate around the conference agenda reveals just how painfully the international community needs a real dialogue about race–especially on the less-trammeled issues like unequal trade policies, the global health divide and environmental justice. The structure of the international political regime seems to be silencing critical discussions on racism before they even begin.