FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Real Heroes of Durban

by NADIA HIJAB

Barack Obama feels able to counsel others — most recently Armenians and Turks — to work through their pasts “in a way that is honest, open and constructive.” Otherwise, he cautions, unresolved history “can be a heavy weight.” And yet Obama decided to leave his own country’s past unresolved by boycotting this week’s international conference in Geneva convened to review progress (or otherwise) since the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.

This is a big step back from engagement with the international community, which the Obama administration had seemed to be promoting quite vigorously. And the U.S. move has encouraged other Western nations to boycott, further weakening what should have been an important forum.

All peoples of all colors have practiced slavery, race, oppression, and/or discrimination with varying ferocity. These are uncomfortable subjects at the best of times, but that’s no reason not to talk about them. Otherwise, they are indeed a heavy weight.

Besides, by boycotting the conference, the United States is unlikely to stop the international movement for justice for the Palestinian people or end African American demands for reparations for slavery — two of the main reasons why the administration is said to have decided not to go.

Even though the U.S. administration is not participating in the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Americans and others can still take a moment for some personal reflection.

Why does racism still lurk within so many of them? Or, rather, within so many of us — few members of the human race are immune. And what actions can people take when governments don’t act?

A first step in dealing with the racist within is to become more conscious of the use of language.

Among Arab Americans, for example, it is common to hear the expression “She’s pretty, even though she’s dark.” Or “Whiten our face,” meaning, “Do us proud.” When the implications are pointed out to them, some resist the accusation; others do change their speech and behavior.

At the same time, Black Americans account for the largest ethnic group among Muslims in America, some 30% of the total. The religion’s openness to embrace races and ethnicities is an aspect of Islam that is not sufficiently acknowledged in the U.S. public sphere.

Among Black Americans, a shared experience of oppression does not necessarily translate into race-free relations. There are tensions between diverse ethnicities; different values are attached to skin shades and hair types. As her husband’s race for the presidency grew more serious, Michelle Obama’s hair grew straighter, part of a makeover grounded in a belief that Americans still ascribe a lower value to “kinky” hair.

The truth is, even as people struggle valiantly against slavery, racism, and colonialism, the features of the oppressor can insidiously come to be seen as superior. Conscious effort is needed not just to promote emancipation and end Jim Crow laws but also to change social mores.

For many peoples, the struggle against colonialism has created a strong sense of solidarity. In a recent example powerful for its symbolism, South African dockworkers in Durban, outraged by the attack on Gaza, refused to offload goods on a ship from Israel.

Many Black Americans have also supported the Palestinian struggle, some putting their careers at risk to do so. Although Arab American organizations reach out to Black, Latino and other communities, the Arab American community itself does not yet express sufficient understanding of and support for Black, Latino or other minority causes.

Prison would be a good place to start working on shared solidarity. The United States has the world’s largest prison population — over 2.3 million people are in jail. Black Americans account for a disproportionate number of prisoners: one of every 15 Black adults is in jail.

Palestinians could certainly resonate to these data. Some 11,000 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli jails. It is said that nearly a quarter of the population has been jailed by Israel during its 42-year occupation.

As both communities know to their cost, the larger the number of the people oppressed, the more invisible they are. Many people know the name of Israel’s sole prisoner in Palestinian hands; hardly anyone outside of their families can name one of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners.

And people find it far easier to blame the victim than the perpetrators or the conditions that create victim hood. Racist explanations abound as to why so many Black Americans are in jail.

Discussions of race and oppression are often divisive and disruptive, but the road to freedom and real equality begins there. The Obama administration, which speaks so often of seeking justice at home and abroad, has set us all back with the roadblock it erected on the road to the Durban review conference. The real heroes of Durban are the South African dockworkers.

NADIA HIJAB is a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail