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International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

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21 March each year is the day the United Nations observes International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The day aims to remind people of the negative consequences of racial discrimination. It also encourages people to remember their obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a United Nations observance day and is not a public holiday. In South Africa, the same day is a public holiday as Human Rights Day.

Racism is a problem found in all societies. Oddly, there is often a sexual attraction – probably innate to humanity – for someone seen as ‘exotic’ or different. So the problem can be hard to fathom.

Despite the United Nations brave words, eliminating racial tension is unlikely to ever happen. There are people who will go out of their way to pick on differences, just as there are people who will go out of their way to emphasise their difference.

There are those who set themselves up as a clique with restricted access; when this is done on class lines, class hatred occurs; when the clique is based on race, racial hatred occurs.

Solving racial tension and discrimination, then, must be addressed by those who emphasise their difference. It matters not whether they are the majority or the minority, whether they see themselves as oppressed or not.

There are limits to how far this should ever be taken, however, as being different can add to the lives of those around us. We learn of new foods, new ways of thinking, improved ways to do things.

So tolerance must also be an aspect of everyone, even towards those who emphasise their difference. Particularly if that difference is an inherent trait, such as skin colour, which they can do nothing about. You were not asked if you wanted to be the race you are; nor was anyone else.

Some translations
Arabicاليوم العالمي لمكافحة التمييز العنصري
GermanInternationaler Tag gegen Rassismus
Hebrewהיום בינלאומי לביעור אפליה גזעית
SpanishDía Internacional Contra la Discriminación Racial

Over the years, the United Nations (UN) has celebrated the Day largely through the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by organising events within its offices and through cooperation with the member cities of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR (formerly the International Coalition of Cities against Racism).

UNESCO’s work against racial discrimination, like most things in the feminist organisation, gets muddled with gender politics. However, they work through education for tolerance, and the rejection of racist stereotypes.

That doesn’t always sit well with everyone. Stereotypes are often an (exaggerated) form of an inherent cultural trait of the race. This can be a good (e.g. great lovers, fast runners, innovative) or bad trait (e.g. lazy, violent, stupid). But whichever it is, and so long as it is accurate, it is a part of cultural inheritance. It makes understanding the world easy.

Social Science is gradually coming out with more evidence that stereotyping per se is not bad⇩1Donovan A. McFarlane; A Positive Theory of Stereotyping and Stereotypes: Is Stereotyping Useful?; Journal of Studies in Social Sciences, Volume 8, Number 1, 2014, 140-163; ISSN 2201-4624. We can’t inherit only the parts of our culture seen contemporarily as good: that is cultural elimination and inevitably leads to a weakening of cultural strengths.

Stereotyping – racial or otherwise – is harmful when used inaccurately, or to brand an individual with the traits of a group identity. The kind of racial stereotyping examined nearly a century ago in the USA by Katz and Braly (1933) can have long-term harmful effects, though it’s positive aspects should not also be eliminated.

… a stereotype is simply a generalization about how a group of people behaves.

First, it’s naive to say you can’t use a generalization about a class of people unless it’s universally valid—we use such stereotypes all the time and would be paralyzed without them. Second, working out the ways in which the use of a stereotype can go wrong is important, as is determining when some alternative, like individualized testing, is appropriate.

Why Not All Stereotypes Are Bad; Using Generalizations to Help Make Better Decisions
Case Western Reserve University

Racist extremist movements based on ideologies that seek to promote populist, nationalist, collectivist, and socialist agendas are spreading in various parts of the world. This is fuelling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, often targeting migrants, refugees, and indigenous populations. The racism comes from people of other races as well as within the race being discriminated.

Origins of Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

In 1966 the United Nations declared the first Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to commemorate those who had been killed on 21 March 1960, whilst peacefully protesting against the Apartheid Pass Laws in South Africa.

The Pass Laws were described in an edition of Time Magazine in 1960 as “almost a physical shackle.”

: The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances, was held in Durban South Africa in 2001 - UN Photo/Evan Schneider

In 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its findings on the massacre of March 21, 1960 at Sharpeville. The commission found that “police deliberately opened fire on an unarmed crowd that had gathered peacefully” and that “the South African Police failed to give the crowd an order to disperse before they began firing and they continued to fire upon the fleeing crowd, resulting in hundreds of people being shot in the back. As a result of the excessive force used, 69 people were killed and more than 300 injured.”

All these years later, the horror of that day is remembered and its significance is marked every year through the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.


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