“As a white person, we have to listen”

Mackelmore

Grammy-winning rapper Macklemore’s levelheaded comments about race in an interview on New York City’s Hot 97 caught my attention. Consider this snippet:

“If there’s anything positive that has come out of their [Eric Garner and Michael Brown] deaths—if there’s anything positive—I believe it has brought attention to injustices that have been plaguing America since the jump. Racial profiling. Corrupt judicial system. Police brutality. These are things that now have attention. Now people are talking about these things. Which is great. People are mobilizing. I’ve been inspired by the mobilization.

“For me, as a white dude—as a white rapper—I’m like, how do I participate in this conversation? How do I participate? How do I get involved on a level where I’m not co-opting the movement or I’m not making it about me, but also realizing the platform I have and the reach that I have, and doing it in an authentic and genuine way. Racism is uncomfortable to talk about. White people, we can just turn off the TV when we’re sick of talking about racism. We can be like, ‘Oops, I’m done.’ It does not work that way for everybody, but that’s what we can do. White ‘liberal’ people want to be nice. We don’t want to mess up. We don’t want to be racists. We want to be like, ‘We’re post-racial and we have a black president and we don’t need to talk about white privilege. It’s all good, right?’ It’s not the case. I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said to me, ‘Silence is an action.’ It is my privilege that I can be silent about this issue. And I’m tired of being silent about it. I’ve been silent for a long time about it. Because I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to offend anybody.

“But it is so imperative right now that we have this race conversation in America. If we’re going to progress. If we’re going to move past this. If we’re going to work together—truly work together—we have to get past that awkward stage of the race conversation, step up and just have it. I don’t where that starts, other than just speaking about it. You just have to start talking about it.

“As a white person, we have to listen. We need to listen, direct the attention to people of color on the ground mobilizing, listen to those people, and take some direction on how we can actually make this conversation happen.”


By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates for Human Rights’ communication director

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Ferguson: “Let’s Make a Difference”

ferguson_021_081414The freedom to enjoy human rights without discrimination is one of the most fundamental principles of human rights law. Every human being is equal in dignity and worth and has the right not to be discriminated against. Racism, which limits peoples’ access to rights based on their identity, attacks the very concept of human rights.

However, as evidenced by the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent violent policing of protestors and the ultimate failure to indict Darren Wilson, racism in the United States is a prevalent problem. The events also bring to light additional human rights issues concerning the right to life, the use of lethal force by law enforcement, freedom from cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities, and the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

These are not isolated incidents. Rather they are the ramifications of a systemic racial bias among law enforcement officials, and they evidence a lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the international human rights treaty that comprehensively addresses the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and supports positive actions to promote racial justice and equality. The United States ratified CERD in 1994. As a party to the treaty, the United States is obligated to condemn racial discrimination and pursue a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.

This includes safeguarding human rights in the political, economic, social, cultural, and other fields of public life so that human rights are ensured to everyone without racial discrimination.

Clearly, the United States has a long way to go in fulfilling its obligations to CERD, and issues of racial profiling and police brutality are, unfortunately, only one of the many issues faced by people of color in this country. As one CERD committee member recently stated, “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing.”

These problems did not develop in a vacuum; they result from our nation’s history of racism, slavery, and white supremacy.  Even two generations after the end of legal discrimination, systematic oppression continues to marginalize people of color. Vast racial disparities still exist in wealth and income, education, employment, poverty, incarceration rates, and health.

Racism is part of the legacy of the United States, but it does not need to be a permanent state of affairs. It can be examined, analyzed, and dismantled, both individually and as a society.  As the family of Michael Brown has  stated, “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

By: Emily Farell, program associate with The Advocates for Human Rights

Further resources:
Human Rights Education Newsletter: Racial Discrimination in the United States

Amnesty International Report: On The Streets Of America: Human Rights Abuses In Ferguson

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

CERD Shadow Reports

US Report to CERD

Inequality and Racism Resources