Is the US Confronting Racism?

By Tammy Johnson Jun 09, 2008

“The positive fact is that I have noticed, confirmed… the fact that the U.S. society is confronting racism.” It’s a statement that raised my brow. But that is what Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia told NPR’s Weekend Edition host, Scott Simon on Sunday. Diene, charged with preparing a report on the state of racism in the US, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Canada and twenty other countries, cited the Democratic nomination of Senator Barak Obama, a black man, as sign that people in the US are finally doing the “internal work” needed to fight racism. He called it “a deep process of transformation.” And so it finally begins, I thought. Here is more fodder for pundits who consistently sweep racism under the rug. “Even the UN has declared that we are beyond race,” they’ll shout from mountaintops. What they ignore is that there is little evidence of this transformation leading to better living conditions for communities of color. But Diene doesn’t stop there. There is some bad news as well. The US is still racially segregated, says Diene; we have abandoned our schools (which directs children of color to a prison pipeline), but this is not news. This was the case six years ago, when the UN held a World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. In ARC’s CERD Report on Race and Education, we stated then that, “What concerns the nation’s almost 17 million students of color and their communities is that, regardless of anyone’s intent, they receive an inferior education.” The nation’s housing woes aren’t new either. As we approach the 40th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we witness the travesty of HUD displacing people from their homes in New Orleans, record foreclosure rates in Latino and Black communities, and rampant gentrification is evident in nearly every major city across the nation. And, that the judicial system is anything but just is old news to people of color. Ten years after the racist murder of James Bryd, we can add Sean Bell and the plight of Jena Six to the list of reasons why communities distrust our judicial system. Are we confronting racism in the US? Well, there is a lot of talk about people dealing with their personal race demons. And maybe that is the place start, but we certainly can’t afford to stop there. The Obama candidacy should be seen as a foot in the door to these discussions but only if we move them beyond the skin color of the man to the racial impact of policies that he and others promote. Until we can raise the discussion to the level of dealing systemic inequity, we are in great danger of navel gazing and getting nowhere fast.