U.S. Reports to U.N. on Ending Racial Bias, With No Plan of Its Own

U.S. says it can do more to address racial injustice. Civil rights group agree.

By Brentin Mock Jun 14, 2013

The U.S. State Department submitted a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the state of racial injustice in America. The U.S. government says in the report that "more can and should be done in many areas" regarding their commitment to race discrimination. They also admit that "more can be done" for "strengthening understanding and respect for human rights."

The report helps the nation fulfill its obligations under the U.N.’s international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD. The State Department writes, "This Report shares our progress in implementing our undertakings under the CERD and on related measures to address racial discrimination."

The ACLU is calling the report "a step forward," but says there’s still much work to be done.

"With its submission of this report, the Obama administration makes the critically important point of acknowledging that racial discrimination still persists in the U.S.," said Chandra Bhatnagar, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program. "However, the report glosses over how certain federal policies, such as those allowing state and local involvement in immigration enforcement, have been vehicles to enable racial discrimination to occur. Further, the report doesn’t address the pressing need for a national plan of action to end all forms of racial discrimination, which many other countries have already created."

In March, the US Human Rights Network along with dozens of racial justice organizations sent a letter to President Obama requesting that he develop a "National Plan of Action for Racial Justice" that would bring the nation in full compliance with its commitments under the U.N. convention. 

"Despite a strong civil rights legacy, race disparities linked to institutionalized and structural forms of racism continue to exist in almost every sphere of life in the United States," reads the letter, which lists examples of present-day unresolved racial discrimination:

  • In the 2009-2010 school year, 74 percent of African-American students and 80 percent of Latino students attended majority minority schools, where most of their classmates are nonwhite. An outcome of the deeply segregated and racially and economically isolated American education system is severe achievement gaps between students of color and white students.
  • Indigenous Peoples, African Americans, and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated in the United States. Two-thirds of the two million prisoners in the United States are African-American or Latino. The disparities can be linked to improper policing practices like racial profiling. Drug policy and drug sentencing also contribute by disproportionately targeting African Americans and Latinos.
  • People of color and Indigenous Peoples are also more likely to live near hazardous waste facilities with nearly half of all people of color in the United States living within less than two miles of a hazardous waste facility.

There’s also the recent HUD-sponsored investigation that found people of color are less likely to be shown housing units by real estate agents and landlords than white people — findings that HUD apparently isn’t prepared to resolve anytime soon, as Seth Freed Wessler and ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones recently reported on (which won the National Low Income Housing Coalition Media Award for Hannah-Jones).

It should also be added that the Voting Rights Act’s Section Five, which prevents racial disenfranchisement intentional and unintentional in areas with a history of racial discrimination, and also race consideration in affirmative action policy are both in danger of being deleted from the law books by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who is helping defend both of those issues in the Supreme Court, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times today saying, "If there is public discomfort, it is precisely because race still does matter, because it still resonates so powerfully in American life."