Where do we go from here?

By Guest Columnist Dec 11, 2007

International Human Rights Day was marked by the release of bold and telling human rights reports on the state of racial discrimination in the United States. But will the reports be just another testament to centuries of human rights violations in this country or will we all pay attention and make this moment a turning point in race relations in the U.S.? No social justice activist, advocate, or sympathizer can continue to do their work without considering race and human rights as a central element to their work. On every human development indicator, from education, to health, to employment, people of color are fairing way worse than our white counterparts. There is no doubt that social mobility has allowed many of us to move into the middle class, thanks to affirmative action, but there are plenty of people that want to roll-backs these very programs. Our mobility is fragile. One does not have to be personally affected to see the affects of inequality, just look at the numbers. African Americans and Latino/as make up 60% of the over 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, but less than a quarter of the population. Poverty rates for people of color are twice that of whites and have been for decades, segregation is worse today than it was twenty years ago. Progress has been marginal for people of color yet we continue to believe that we all have an equal chance to attain the American dream. The denial of reality is not just a middle America phenomenon; middle-class people of color participate in the denial just as equally as whites, allowing the U.S. to replicate the equality myth as truth. The U.S. State report submitted earlier this year to the U.N. committee that oversees the race convention blatantly overlooks and under-represents the problem of racial disparities and structural discrimination. It writes off Katrina as a race neutral phenomenon and blames Blacks/Latinos for their over-representation in the criminal justice system as a result of their overrepresentation in criminal activity. The U.S. usually transmits its report to Geneva without any public scrutiny but this year the U.S. Human Rights Network submitted a 600 page report detailing the manifestations of racial disparities in the U.S. and activists are gearing up to go to Geneva in February for the U.S. review. This kind of energy will hopefully begin to blaze a new platform for dealing with human rights and racial injustice in this country. Where we go from here will depend on how we collectively respond to and put pressure on the U.S. to address persistent racial equalities. We must begin to organize and analyze our predicament from a human rights based platform for change. We must reach out to those who believe that race is no longer an issue. The reality is simple, racial discrimination affects the future of this country, both in the global market and the stability of our own economy. The quality of our collective lives is affected by the persistence of racial discrimination, so whether you live in the Bronx or Pacific Heights race better be on your radar. Ramona Ortega is the US Human Rights Network’s national trainer for the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). She was the former director of the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center in New York and has been involved in ICERD implementation since the 2001 review. She is also the founder of Cidadao Global, a national organization working with Brazilian immigrants.