Ending racism requires more than being ‘politically correct’
Sunday will mark the 42nd anniversary of the United Nations’ observance of “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination”. Since 1979, the United Nations General Assembly has promoted global activities and awareness on this day, which commemorates the massacre of 69 peaceful anti-apartheid protesters in Sharpeville, South Africa, on March 21, 1960.
Nearly a decade after the atrocity, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was brought into force in January 1969. Since then, historic changes in race relations and policy have occurred worldwide, and the international convention has been ratified by nearly all member states.
Yet the need is more pressing than ever for universal awareness and a commitment to exorcising racism from our hearts, minds and social, legal and economic institutions. The unprecedented intersection of a lethal pandemic with the global uprisings against social injustice in 2020 bore witness to the critical need for communities to heal from the destructive impact of racism.
Health, economic and social disparities were highlighted and magnified during that eventful year. Escalations in cultural mistrust, racial and ethnic violence and desperate economic circumstances were reported in many nominally prosperous countries during 2020. Given this, reasonable people agree that clinging to dysfunctions such as racism and racial discrimination will not lead to a peaceful, prosperous community. Disparity is bad for everyone.
So how do we change course? As the elimination of prejudice of all kinds is one of the central tenets of the Baha’i Faith, the Bermuda Baha’i community wholeheartedly supports the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. But even more valuable than a day to acknowledge this noble cause, Baha’is believe that it is our individual duty to strive to promote the “oneness of humanity” on a daily basis within our private lives and circles of influence. Avoiding racial stereotyping, raising our awareness of unconscious bias, promoting multicultural exchanges and socialising and celebrating the beauty of diversity are some of the ways the faithful strive to promote the oneness of humanity.
It is these personal acts of resistance against prejudice that will ultimately lead to the elimination of discrimination in public policy and the institutions of society. Inspiration for this endless work comes from the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, Bahá’u’lláh: “Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness. We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations … that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled.”
March 21 is also the first full day of spring, and for the worldwide Baha’i community, it is the beginning of the new year. There can be no better time to change course in one’s personal life, and in the life of a society. We can make a conscious effort to “course correct” with regard to race relations and racial inequalities. We can vow to pry out and examine our biases, our allegiance to a de facto caste system; we can educate and inform ourselves of the stories of history employing a multicultural approach to fully illuminate world history from the perspective of those who were exploited, colonised or oppressed and not simply from the perspective of the oppressor. And we can promote and develop policies that seek to share society’s bounty, education and economic opportunity equally with all its members.
As the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination implores, we can personally uphold that, “ …all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and wellbeing of societies”.
We can fully embrace human science and reject the “scientifically false and morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous” notion of racial superiority or even the existence of separate human races. (International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination/United Nations)
Healing the centuries-old wounds of racial prejudice and discrimination will take both personal and societal action. It is more than being politically correct in one’s speech. It means being morally correct in one’s thoughts and actions.
• Cheryl Peek-Ball is a member of the Smith’s Parish Baha’i community, and an adherent of the faith since 1990. She was the Government Chief Medical Officer from 2013 to 2020