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"The Year’s Political Opportunities,"

by Mirjana Najcevska January/February 2011 issue of Poverty & Race

Why, precisely, a Year for People of African descent?

Recently, I heard that the term race and racism should not be used. The justification is that there is only one human race and use of the terms “race” and “racism” just perpetuates the problem. It was suggested that we would make significant progress toward eliminating the problems of prejudice if we avoid the use of those terms.

At first glance, this sounds very appealing and in accordance with the concept of all human rights for all. Even more, it makes people feel uncomfortable when linking certain terms with belonging to a specific race (for example, pointing out a specific connection between race and exclusion and marginalization of people of African descent).

And, at the same time, it is absolutely untrue.

Andrea Cork captured the essence of racism in her poem “Racism: It’s in the Way.”

It’s in the way you patronise
The way that you avert your eyes
The way that you cannot disguise
Your looks of horror and surprise

It´s the assumptions that you make
On my behalf, and for my sake
And in the way you do not hear
The things we tell you loud and
clear ...

The social construct of race exists even if genetics suggests the contrary. The problem of racism is connected with privilege and power related to race. It is connected to a feeling of superiority that persists regardless of how you label it. Or, according to very interesting research by Jennifer Eberhardt: "Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us… African Americans are still dehumanized; we're still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover."

The source of discrimination against people of African descent is hidden in an enormous heap of prejudices which lie at the heart of stereotypes, screened by the contemporary definition of culture and divided into the different spheres of everyday life.

At the same time, discrimination against people of African descent can be recognized in the repeated conclusions from the Working Group’s country visits. From one such: "During their visit, the members of the Working Group found that the challenges faced by people of African descent in this country related mainly to disproportionately high levels of unemployment, generally lower income levels than the rest of the population, access to education (especially to higher levels of education) and quality of education, problematic access to quality health care services and the high incidence of certain health conditions, electoral disenfranchisement and structural issues in the administration of justice (in particular, incarceration rates)."

What we are expecting from a Year for People of African Descent?

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent proposed to mark the year under the title “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development.” And this is not by chance.

This is the Year in which we need to bring up the issue of recognizing the role of people of African descent in global development and to bring up the issue of justice for current and past acts of discrimination that have led to the situation today. We need to talk about the past and present race hierarchy that exists is societies and to encourage countries to become involved in development through positive action that will ensure equality for people of African descent.

There is a need for this Year in order to:

1. Achieve a concentration of events that will serve as “eye openers” in the discussions regarding discrimination and racism. To show that discrimination against people of African descent is not a remnant of the past, but is something that is happening today and that feeds on itself and grows of its own accord.

2. Dispel the myth that discrimination against people of African descent ended when classical slavery disappeared from the world and recognize that institutions are products of history and often reflect traditional power relations.

3. Not only recognize the consequences of continual discrimination, but also to identify the tools to combat it.

4. Recognize the role that people of African descent play in global development.

5. Share both positive and negative experiences and use them in building equality.

2011 is the year in which we need to collect and compare data, share knowledge and put controversial topics on the agenda. This Year should be used to propose far more intensive measures for eliminating, or at least seriously reducing, structural discrimination. It means having the courage to discuss some banned topics, such as measures based on a policy of redistribution of resources according to a compensatory formula, sometimes viewed as reparations for past discrimination, or to contemplate the possibility for large-scale social therapy and healing projects.

To accomplish such a move, there is a need for a concentration of activities that we expect will happen during 2011 through the active participation and support of the international community, institutions, non-governmental organizations and individuals.

And it must not end there. The search for the source of discrimination against people of African descent is only just beginning. This journey will take not one year, not two years, but at least a decade of concentrated and persistent work.

Mirjana Najcevska is Professor at the Institute for Sociological, Political and Juridical Research - "Saints Cyril and Methodius" University, Skopje, and Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

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