The United States is currently facing a crucial moment in its battle against racism, according to an expert not affiliated with the government.
Between October 31st and November 14th, she journeyed across the United States, starting in Detroit, Michigan and ending at the Louisiana coast. Along the way, she also stopped in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington DC.
After conducting a 14-day investigation, Ashwini K.P., the UN’s Special Rapporteur on modern forms of racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance, stated that mainstream America has become more cognizant of systemic racism due to the widespread racial demonstrations in 2020 and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to enhance racial equality.
However, she was also surprised by the “interconnected and continuous displays of structural racism” that she observed.
In her initial statement, she stated that people from marginalized racial groups have been affected by racism throughout their lives, both historically and through systematic and institutional means.
UN News sat down for an interview with the independent expert after she presented her initial findings at a press conference in New York on Tuesday, telling us “selective amnesia” was an issue in some states when it comes to reckoning with race.
Special Rapporteurs and other Human Rights Council-appointed independent experts are not UN staff, nor do they receive payment for their work. They are independent from any government or organization.
The interview has been edited to improve clarity and reduce length.
What was the objective of your recent investigation in the United States?
To provide context, we have a duty to conduct country missions, which involve independent experts and working groups focusing on various issues. My first official country mission is in the US and my mandate is to evaluate the state of the country in regards to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.
This is a challenging task that involves evaluating the prevalence of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia in the country. It also requires a critical examination of current policies and laws.
The task requires a deep engagement with government officials, along with Civil Society Organizations, scholars, and others involved in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. I have recently finished the mission in the country and it is premature for me to comment on its outcome.
However, I must mention that racism is still very prevalent and has taken on various manifestations. I will provide further details in the report that will be presented to the Human Rights Council next year.
Were you surprised by anything you witnessed?
As someone from the Global South, specifically India, I find the United States to have many similarities in terms of culture and geographic and demographic diversity.
As an individual who has actively participated in various causes and has experience in this field, I am amazed by the determination and perseverance of activists in the United States. I am impressed by their ability to bring attention to important issues and their success in gaining recognition on a global scale, as well as their effective advocacy and lobbying efforts.
I am addressing the incredible organization of marginalized communities, including the Black, Latino, and Brown populations.
This surprises and motivates me.
Disheartened, not surprised
From what I observed and heard from survivors, I was not surprised but disheartened and disappointed by the effects of systemic racism on individuals’ lives.
However, the way activism and academia have tackled racism in the United States has been truly remarkable. This serves as a source of inspiration for oppressed communities around the world to educate themselves and continue this progress.
Can you identify a strong division in the US when it comes to human rights?
I believe that human rights are perceived differently depending on the geographical context, and there tends to be a selective forgetfulness when it comes to prioritizing certain rights over others.
There is a ongoing tendency to prioritize certain human rights issues over others when addressing oppression.
I believe this is where the divide exists in the fundamental story of how human rights are positioned, and also in the promotion of these rights on a global scale. I see this happening not only in the United States but also in many other regions of the world.
However, this has led to a division in terms of how to effectively address human rights on both domestic and international levels.
Is the Western perspective held by many in the Global North a fundamental issue in the way human rights challenges are perceived?
Ashwini K.P: It is crucial for us to acknowledge the cultural variances present in different regions around the world. Human rights cannot be considered separately, as they are closely intertwined with culture. The interpretation of human rights may vary from one state to another.
There are many benefits to Western concepts of human rights. However, it is also crucial to recognize the perspective on human rights in the Global South.
The human rights perspective in the Global South presents a greater difficulty, a livelier atmosphere, and numerous relevant issues that can be brought to the forefront for discussion. This creates an opportunity for collaboration between the Global North and Global South, as there is a noticeable gap in the human rights narrative between the two regions that has led to tension in addressing human rights.
I believe this is a topic that requires discussion. Therefore, we must expand on these stories while considering the political, social, and cultural disparities present in both the Global South and Global North.
Do you believe that social media activism can facilitate discussions about racism?
Ashwini K.P: Great question. Social media is currently at its prime, especially with the advancements in technology.
This has provided ample opportunity for marginalized and historically oppressed communities to voice their opinions and share their perspectives.
Social media has created a large platform for activists and educators to connect with others. However, we must also be aware of both the benefits and drawbacks of using social media.
The recipient of hate speech.
Although activists and young individuals from marginalized communities are highly involved, they are often the targets of hate speech and threats, putting their lives at risk.
The relationship between freedom of expression and hate speech is significant and should be acknowledged.
I believe that social media requires protection and that there should be strict regulations in place for the content that is shared on these platforms. A primary concern is the spread of false or misleading information, which can contribute to the increase of racism, discrimination, hate crimes, and xenophobia.
As advocates for human rights, we must be cautious of the content we share on social media as it can perpetuate religious intolerance and reach a large audience.
Simultaneously acknowledging the potential positive effects of social media narratives, I believe it serves as a powerful platform for activists, academics, and human rights advocates worldwide to come together and drive positive change.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Reworded: In regards to the mission in the country, I have had an incredibly inspiring, challenging, and emotional experience over the past 14 days while engaging with activists, Civil Society Organisations, and various others. These are my final thoughts.
I have had an amazing time. I believe that we should approach the opportunity to combat racism and racial discrimination with a positive and thoughtful attitude.