Terry Keleher in YES! Magazine: Real World Answers to Jump Start Racial Justice

By Julianne Hing Jun 18, 2009

We’re five months into Obama’s presidency and racism in its many forms still hasn’t disappeared. That pesky structural racism. Manifesting itself every day in cop killings, hate crimes, the disproportionate effect of the current recession on Blacks and Latinos, racist (and sexist) scrutiny in a certain Latina Supreme Court nominee. It can seem a paralyzing, impossible thing to tackle. How do you eradicate racism? Terry’s got a piece up at YES! Magazine where he examines real-life examples of initiatives that governments can adopt to do this very thing.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided a forum for constructive and candid conversation about historic racial inequalities. The court-like commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, held hearings around the country to investigate human rights abuses, restore victims’ dignity, formulate rehabilitation proposals, and consider individuals’ applications for amnesty. The public airing of the ongoing harm caused by abuses of justice and human rights transformed the country. And the commission sparked nationwide discussion of appropriate responses, ranging from amnesty to reparations.

… While truth commissions have a largely retrospective focus, another model for addressing structural racism from a more prospective standpoint is one that has been adopted in the United Kingdom, known as the “Race Equality Duty.” This is a far-reaching government commitment and legal responsibility to eliminate discrimination, promote racial equality and foster good race relations. Public agencies from federal authorities to local police departments and schools are required to create strategic plans to advance racial equality. And major policy proposals must undergo Race Equality Impact Assessments, a systematic review aimed at anticipating and preventing adverse impacts for any racial group. The U.K. model places government at the forefront not only of eliminating racial discrimination, but of actually promoting equality, opportunity, and inclusion across society. Instead of waiting for discrimination to occur before taking action, government authorities are charged with the duty of preventing potential adverse impacts.

The problems we face as a society are not insurmountable. Terry shows that national and local governments both are starting innovative initiatives that are proactive and thoughtful. He says we need good leadership (you listening, President?) and strong, organized action from people on the ground. Check out Terry’s great piece in full here.