SHIFT HAPPENS: 
CONTEMPORARY RACISM AND AFRICAN AMERICANS

By Clarence Lusane, Ph.D.
International Possibilities Unlimited/American University

Paper presented at the "Toward the World Conference Against Racism:  Racism and Racial Discrimination in a Globalized Era" Symposium.  Sponsored by the Ralph Bunche Institute on the United Nations, and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Graduate Center, City University of New York, November 28, 2000.

Race and racism continue to matter in U.S. society.  The legacy of racism and an ongoing racial divide qualitatively shape the socio-economic and cultural status of a wide range of collectivities of people of color.   Since the 1960s, a paradigm shift has occurred in how racism is viewed and addressed.  In the period of mass and sustained activism against racism, roughly 1955-1975, a popular consensus had been won that white racism was the problem, it was institutionalized and systemic as well as individually expressed, and the state had a moral and political responsibility for its alleviation and for remedial solutions.  In the intervening years, this view shifted to its polar opposite.  As political scientist Thomas Kuhn has noted, "the decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another." The new paradigm on racism maintains that, to the degree racism still exists, is mostly practiced by individuals (of all colors); the state should play a minimal ameliorative role, if any at all, in addressing the issue; and whites as a whole should not be held responsible for the sins of their ancestors.  Racial remedies, such as Affirmative Action and minority set-asides, which potentially or realistically challenge white privilege and authority, should be avoided at all costs, and individual merit is the only gauge by which a person should be measured.  Sociologist Stephen Steinberg appropriately refers to this paradigm shift as a "turning back," a retreat from the broad goal of racial justice. In the new dispensation on racism, to even discuss the issue of race is racist. 

It is not just conservatives, however, who embrace these ideas.  Moderate integration, corporate and liberal multiculturalism, and color-blind discourses embrace disingenuously the egalitarian goals of the anti-racist movement while masking the reality of racial power.  The most insidious dimension of this approach toward racism is the effort to reduce racism to the predilections of a few lone individuals, incidents, and instances that prove the rule of racial tolerance by their exceptionality.  Individual acts of racism against Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Arabs, Native Americans, and other people of color the killing of James Byrd in Texas, the shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York, attacks on people of Arab descent after the Oklahoma bombing, and the murder of Vincent Chin in Michigan, to name a few of the most well-known incidents have been given hyper-attention in the past few years.  However, the equally, perhaps even more, critical systemic and institutional forms of racism have been ignored by the media, policy-makers, and, sometimes, even anti-racist and human rights activists themselves.

These sentiments are echoed in the U.S. report to the Committee for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).  The report asserts, "While the scourge of officially-sanctioned segregation has been eliminated, de facto segregation and persistent racial discrimination continue to exist. The forms of discriminatory practices have changed and adapted over time, but racial and ethnic discrimination continues to restrict and limit equal opportunity in the United States. For many, the true extent of contemporary racism remains clouded by ignorance as well as differences of perception."

I argue that racism in the United States must not be simply seen as personal and individual, but rather as institutional and systemic.  Institutional racism can be defined as the organic implicit or explicit manifestation of racial prejudice and discrimination, whether intentional or not, in social institutions and structures designed originally to promote and defend white power and advantage.  State otherwise, as political scientist Robert C. Smith notes, "Institutional racism is observed when the normal, accepted, routine patterns and practices of society's institutions have the effect or consequence of subordinating an individual or group or maintaining in place the results of a past practice of now illegal overt racism."  From this vantage point, impact is given priority over intent.  This definition is more narrow and U.S.-centric than the one embodied in Article 1, Sec. 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that focuses on "racial discrimination."  In that Article, racial discrimination is defined as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

I also contend that it should also be viewed as intersectional, i.e., it traverses the boundaries of other systems of oppressions such as class, gender, and nationality.  These crisscrossing associations operate in a dynamic matrix of relations where it is impossible to disaggregate any particular social relation and understand it in isolation from these others.  This framework is necessary in order to grasp not only the complex meaning of racism across society as a whole, but also the internal politics, conflicts, and discourses functioning within "racial" groups themselves.  Quite often, for example, when manifestations of racism are being discussed, in reality, it is race and class oppression together that is under scrutiny.

It is important to underscore that there have been tremendous gains in the struggle against racism over the years.  The grassroots and elites-based anti-racist movement has won important legislative and policy battles, as well as an ideological fight that has made open and overt public racism unacceptable to anyone seeking political legitimacy and broad support.  These gains should not be minimized.  However, neither should we harbor illusions of Clinton's "One America" or a peaceful, uncomplicated multiculturalism.  An honest appraisal of the current political atmosphere easily demonstrates that racism has not been eradicated, but merely transformed into a more subtle, fluid, and consumable mode requiring new strategies, tactics, and programmatic thrusts. 

In this paper, my focus is primarily on the contemporary experiences of racism black Americans.  What I want to do here is, first, a survey of some of the expressions of institutional and systemic racism to present the broad scope of the problem and the resistance to it.  Second, I want to conclude by offering a perspective on the significance of the upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR) to the struggle against racism and anti-blackness in the United States.

Manifestations of Systemic and Institutionalized Racism

 There are a number of broad social areas where racism is seeded and more or less functions on automatic pilot.  Studies and reports demonstrate systemic and institutional racism is pervasive in the areas of criminal justice, social needs (health care, education, housing, the environment), economic life, and political participation.  These areas usually only receive sporadic and sensationalized investigations in the popular media that generally ignores the important scholarly and research work that has been and is being done to identify the roots of the problem rather than their most egregious outrages, and the movements that have arisen to challenge these venues of power.  More importantly, too often no link is made between the different areas that recognizes that, for example, an education system that is bias and fails many minority children directly feeds into the discrimination against black and Hispanic youth by the criminal justice system, and both of which undermine political participation, particularly given the disenfranchisement of those convicted of felonies in many states.

Exacerbating an already problematic situation has been the successful and increasing attacks across the country on Affirmative Action and other programs of racial remediation. The effort through Affirmative Action, in the key areas of education and employment, to address what have been long-standing racial disparities is being systematically undermined as conservatives argue that social racism has been eradicated and the character, skills, and talents of individuals should determine opportunity.  They contend that it is individual acts or will that perpetuate discrimination, not institutions or political systems, therefore, making Affirmative Action not only unnecessary, but a part of the problem.  This line of argument, of course, also allows for a spurious case to be made that people of color can be just as racist as whites, and that reverse discrimination is just as prevalent as the classical version. 

Criminal Injustice: Prison Populations, Police Brutality, and the Death Penalty

 Perhaps no arena is more egregiously embedded with structural racism than the criminal justice system.  What has been institutionalized are laws, policies, and policing practices that operate beyond the individual acts of police brutality, prejudicial rulings by judges, or putting innocent individuals on death row.  The seemingly endless reams of data documenting racism in the system are a measure of the degree to which these institutions and structures support, sanction, and perpetuate racial oppression that often takes the form of individual behavior.

The U.S. prison and jail systems house more than two million individuals.  Many more millions are on probation or parole.  More than half of those numbers are African Americans and Hispanics according to the U.S. Justice Department.  This translates into about one out of every thirty-five black Americans.  For African Americans, the rate of incarceration is over 700 per 100,000, which is seven times more than for whites.  Many more African Americans are involved in the criminal justice vise in other ways.  According to the Sentencing Project, 23 percent of all black males between 20-29 are incarcerated, on parole, or on probation.

In some states, such as New York, the race-crime connection has been nothing short of stunning.  In New York, the prison population grew more than five-fold from 12,500 in 1971 to over 71,000 by 1999.  While African Americans and Latinos makeup only 25 percent of the state's population, they constitute 83 percent of all state prisoners, and 94 percent of all those convicted on drug offenses, according to scholar Manning Marable.

The undisputable fuse for the current prison explosion, and particularly the million man march of African Americans into the system, is the nation's war on drugs that has been a stable of both Republican and Democratic administrations since the Nixon era, but escalating exponentially since the Reagan years.  According to a study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, although African Americans constitute only 14 percent of all drug users nationally, they are 35 percent of all drug arrests, 55 percent of all drug convictions, and 75 percent of all those who go to prison for drug offenses.  The drug laws that emerged out of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the 1988 Anti-Drug Act, and the 1994 Crime Bill set in motion processes that disproportionately targeted African Americans.  Congress passed different penalties for those arrested on crack cocaine charges versus those arrested on cocaine powder charges.  Those who were caught with five grams of crack received a five-year mandatory sentence while it took 500 grams of cocaine powder to achieve that level of punishment.  This 100-1 ratio had a harsh racial impact in that African Americans disproportionately were likely to be caught with crack while whites were disproportionately found to be users of cocaine powder.  Despite years of protest against these disparities, it was only after Clinton had been in office for more than six years that serious proposals to change the law were proffered.

Police brutality remains a critical concern of the African American community.  Barely a month passes when there is not a new case of an unnecessary black or Hispanic civilian homicide or beating by the local police.  Although the cases receiving the most public attention have take place in major cities, such as Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, instances of police brutality are happening in small and middle-size cities and towns also.  The U.S. Department of Justice has on file thousands of cases of citizen's complaints about police brutality.  As noted by the World Organization Against Torture, this includes cases that involve "use of excessive force (e.g. beating, shooting and torture of civilians while in police custody); racist and other offensive language and racial harassment; arrests and searches based solely on race and ethnicity; overuse of police checkpoints and roadblocks in communities of color; the arrest of minority group members, particularly youth, for "quality of life" crimes such as loitering; racial profiling the stopping of individuals because of their race or ethnicity; and racial discrimination and reprisals against police officers of color by other police officers."

Human Rights Watch conducted a study, titled "Shielded From Justice:  Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States," of police brutality in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  The study found that "that police brutality is persistent in all of these cities; that systems to deal with abuse have had similar failings in all the cities; and that, in each city examined, complainants face enormous barriers in seeking administrative punishment or criminal prosecution of officers who have committed human rights violations. Despite claims to the contrary from city officials where abuses have become scandals in the media, efforts to make meaningful reforms have fallen short."

Finally, the death penalty has long been determined to embody racial biases. It nationwide suspension from 1972 to 1976 was initiated by documented accusations of racism in the system against African Americans.  Studies, both private and governmental, have shown that the death penalty is more likely when the perpetrator is African American, or the victim is white.  In other words, whites that commit the same crime are liable to receive a lesser sentence while black victims are seen as less worthy of demanding the death penalty for their murderers. Groups such as the National Committee Against the Death Penalty have exposed these biases in the system through grassroots education campaigns.

Since 1976, when the death penalty was restored, 657 people have been executed in the United States as of the Fall 2000.  Of those executed, 45 percent have been people of color including African American (36%), Hispanic (7%), and Native American and Asian (2%).  Additionally, there are 3,682 inmates currently on death row.  Over half (54%) of those current on death row are people of color including African American (43%), Hispanic (9%), and Native American or Asian (2%). Since 1988, the federal government has sought the death penalty in 92 cases. Of these, 56 defendants (61%) were black, 11 were Hispanic, 5 were Asian, and 20 were Caucasian.

One important argument against the death penalty is that it does not work.  Most recently Raymond Bonner and Ford Fessenden in their September 22, 2000 New York Times article, "States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates," reported that in the states that did not resume the death penalty after 1976 can claim a lower homicide rate than most states that did. 

In 2000, the inmates who sit on Death Row are mostly people of color, unquestionably poor, and it is very likely that more than a few of them are innocent of the crime for which they have been convicted.  The rate of discovery of the innocence of death row inmates is such that of every seven people executed, since 1976, an eighth condemned and convicted person has been found not guilty.

There is very little prospect for institutional reform given that the two major party candidates who ran for president in 2000 are both supporters of the death penalty.  Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush has the distinction of being governor of the state with the largest number of executions in 2000, 38 as of mid-November, and the overall largest number of executions of any state, 236 out of 677, since the death penalty's 1976 reinstatement.  Hundreds sit desperately on Texas' death queue waiting to die.  As of November 2000, this included 161 Whites (36.2%), 180 Blacks (40.4%), 100 Hispanics (22.5%), and other people of color (0.9%).

    The involvement of millions of African Americans in the criminal justice system not only in and of itself constitutes a hardship; it also drains resources and human capital from other areas.  This is why some black organizations, such as the Black Radical Congress, have launched efforts such as their "Education, Not Incarceration" campaign.  As demonstrated above, the racial disparities in the system are institutional and not merely the whims of individuals.  Complete overall of the criminal justice system is necessary.

Racism and Black Social Needs:  The Health Care Gap

More than 40 million Americans lack health care including 7.4 million African Americans.  In 1996, 19 percent of black children below 18 had no access to health care compared to 11 percent for white children.  From the underfunding of AIDS research and health provisions to the disparities in debilitating and fatal diseases, African Americans are at the bottom of the list.  Class is a major determinant and poor Blacks are health poor across the board.

In a compelling editorial, "Racial Injustice in Health Care," in the April 6, 2000 issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, physicians Harold P. Freeman, and Richard Payne argue that the medical system operates detrimentally to the health interests of African Americans. In their opening lines, they write, "A growing body of compelling and disturbing evidence points to inferior medical care for black Americans, even if they are on an equal economic footing with whites. Differences in access to treatment and the quality of care are at least part of the reason why the rates of death from some diseases are higher among blacks than among whites."

They note, for instance, "black and Hispanic patients with severe pain are less likely than white patients to be able to obtain commonly prescribed pain medicines, because pharmacies in predominantly nonwhite communities do not carry adequate stocks of opioids."  Even though some pharmacists claim that they have fears about theft in certain neighborhoods, studies have shown that when controlling for crime rates the lack of opiods still existed.  And, although African Americans have a higher incidence of cancer and, therefore, related pain and suffering, evidence indicates that they receive far less treatment for pain than whites.  In fact, a number of studies they found showed that African Americans and Hispanics consistently received less pain medicine in other circumstances such as in emergency room service and postoperative followup.

The discrepancies in medical service are often deadly.  One recent study cited by Freeman and Payne found that "the lower survival rate among black as compared with white patients with early-stage lung cancer is due largely to a lower rate of potentially curative surgery among blacks. The two groups did not differ significantly with respect to socioeconomic status, insurance coverage, or access to care."

Freeman and Payne end their editorial with sobering words.  They warn, "We believe the common thread in these findings is a subtle form of racial bias on the part of medical care providers. The level and extent of this problem are unknown, but it is real and potentially harmful, even though predominantly unintentional. Americans, we believe, perceive, value, and behave toward one another through a lens of race. This lens can create false assumptions that result in unintended but serious harm to members of minority groups -- especially those who are powerless and vulnerable."

One tragic area of racial difference is in terms of infant mortality rates.  Racial disparities in infant mortality rates have been documented from the 1940's through the late 1990's.  During this time, these racial disparities have worsened. In the late 1990's, African American infants died at more than two times the rate of white infants.  The black infant mortality rate of 14.2 percent per 1,000 live births is more than double that of the 6 percent per 1,000 for whites.  The former is on par with rates in the developing world according to the United Nations Development Report. The disproportionate death rates of minority infants is the result of discrimination by the federal government in the provision of a wide range of services, which leads to extreme poverty and inequitable access to economic and social resources. What this means in concrete terms is that minority infants in the United States are dying at a disproportionately high rate as a result of racial discrimination in medical care, housing, education and employment. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infant mortality rate for babies born to women in households with incomes below the poverty line is 60 percent higher than for babies of non-poor women. This has led the CDC to conclude, "poverty raises infant morality rates as much as smoking during pregnancy or inadequate prenatal care."

Racism and Black Economic Life

The U.S. economy has undergone important structural changes in the recent period that have had a significant racialized impact on the U.S. labor force.  The shift from manufacturing to services and knowledge industries accompanied by a reconstructed labor force that is more contingent, flexible, and vulnerable disproportionately affects negatively black and Hispanic workers who enter the "new economy" already marginalized and insecure.  Official low employment and the creation of million of jobs hide the unstable and unequal nature of the economy as the so-called boom era is celebrated and cheered.  The black unemployment rate as of October 2000 was 7.3 percent.  This compares with the Hispanic rate of 5.0 percent and the white rate of 3.4 percent.

Changes in the economy notwithstanding, there are a number of critical elements related to the position of black labor and economic life that remain constant.  Black poverty, while down from a previous high of over 30 percent in the early 1990s, is about 23.6 percent as of October 2000.  This is after more than 600,000 African Americans fell out of the poverty category between 1996 and 1997.  Although any drop is welcome, the black poverty rate relative to white poverty is still more than three times the white rate of 7.7 percent, a relationship that has not changed in five decades.  For black and Hispanic children, the poverty rate hovers around 40 percent each compared to about 10 percent for white children.

The situation does not get much better at the other end of life.  In a recent study by john a. powell, executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty, he demonstrates the racialized impact of the Social Security system and its harm on older African Americans.  powell argues that the system is unfair toward African Americans in a number of ways.  First, because everyone making under $76,200 pays the same rate of 12.7 percent, the tax is regressive and costs the poor more who disproportionately are African American.  Second, the system is discriminatory because on average African Americans pay less and, therefore, get less in return regardless of need.  Third, since African American life expectancies are lower than whites, the former enjoy benefits for a shorter time meaning that the black elderly poor are paying for others.  As powell notes, black male life expectancy is only 65 years-of-age compared to 73 years-of-age for white males.  These factors are compounded by the fact that retirement benefits comprise the most important, and often the sole source of income for the black elderly.  In the debates that have evolved around reforming the Social Security system, these concerns have not been raised, certainly by neither of the candidates running for president in the 2000 election.  This is especially stark in terms of Gore who received 87 percent of the vote of African Americans over 60 according to the New York Times (November 12, 2000).

Racism in other economic institutions also persists.  In a recent study done by the NAACP on the banking industry, widespread discrimination was discovered.  Fifteen banks were surveyed and given an overall rating of "C-" meaning that the banking industry is in need of serious improvement in its service and relationship with African Americans.  The banks included in the survey included Bank of America, First Union, Chase Manhattan, Wachovia Corporation, Bank of New York, Bank One Corporation, PNC Bank, National City, U.S. Bancorp, Mellon Bank, Fleet Boston, Key Corporation, Citigroup/Citibank, Wells Fargo, and Suntrust, which did not return the survey.  The banks were graded on employment, community reinvestment, advertising/marketing, vendor development, and charitable giving.  The report concludes that the multi-billion dollar banking industry needs to make sweeping improvements to be more responsive to African American consumers and businesses.

 Welfare reform has also had an impact on the economic well-being of many including many African Americans.  According to a report by the Children's Defense Fund, "Welfare to What?:  Early Findings on Family Hardship and Well-Being," while some ex-recipients are faring better, the other side of the story is "an increase in extreme childhood poverty nationwide; a proliferation of inadequately-paid employment; and signs of rising hardship for many families" who have left or are leaving welfare.  Some of the most disturbing facts uncovered by the report are that only a small number of the new jobs forced on recipients pay above poverty wages; many families that have left the welfare rolls are losing income; and many families are struggling to get food, shelter, medical care, child care, and transportation.  This situation confronts many black families as well as many white and Hispanic ones.

Obstacles to Political Participation

Despite the passage of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, major systemic obstacles to full political participation still remain.  As the 2000 election for President has demonstrated in ways unimaginable by even the most ardent voter reformer, illegalities are normal and irregularities are quite regular.  Overall, the most fundamental obstacle to achieving full and fair voting privileges resides in the contradiction between federalism and states' rights.  As long as each individual state, and counties and cities within those states have the authority to create relatively independent voting systems, fairness and access will simply be unfulfilled dreams.  At a minimum, there needs to be federal consistency in voter registration guidelines, a common deadline for registration, consistency in ballots designs, a goal of universal electronic balloting availability, and tabulation procedures.  These reforms would benefit all citizens, but especially African Americans, Hispanics, and the poor, who have been disproportionately harmed by the states' rights approach.

More specifically, there are many other situations faced by black voters that must be addressed.  In the 2000 election, as reported by Tom Bayles in the Sarasota, Florida Herald-Tribune, African Americans reported being turned away from polls, being harassed on their way to vote, having their votes tossed out for spurious reasons, and ballot boxes being left behind in predominately black polling sites.

Yet, perhaps to his everlasting chagrin, Gore championed and defended Clinton administration policies that led to the disenfranchisement of over a million potential black voters across the country, including hundreds of thousands in Florida.  The political disenfranchisement of those Blacks (and others), who were convicted of committing felonies, and the institutionalizing of policies that enhanced the number of African Americans who would be charged and prosecuted of felony violations in the first place are the thin threads of political opportunism that unraveled what may have been an easy Gore victory.

The Clinton administration's response to studies demonstrating the deleterious and disproportionate impact of state laws that disenfranchise those who have been convicted of a felony was mostly a loud silence.  A bill by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that calls for restoring those rights has been given little support by the Administration.  Nearly 4 million people are currently or, in some states, permanently disenfranchised, including an estimated 1.4 million black men (13 percent of all black males).  People are denied the right to vote not because they are in prison a faulty rationale but likely with some support.  Millions are being denied the vote because they were in prison!  Florida, the epicenter of the 2000 election crisis, has taken the vote from about 647,000 citizens about 4 percent of the state's population including over 204,000 black men.  In Florida, this amounts to 31.2 percent of the African American adult males, second only to Alabama's 31.5 percent.  Texas Gov. George W. Bush only barely trails his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in this regard; Texas has a black male disenfranchisement rate for felony convictions of 20.8 percent.  It is notable, and to the governor's benefit, that Texas does not have a law that disenfranchises because one has been convicted of committing a crime, such as drunk driving, under the influence of a legal drug alcohol. 

Affirmative Reaction and the Call for Reparations

 The battle over Affirmative Action crystallizes the racial debates being waged in the United States.  Enacted in both the private and public sectors as a remedial vehicle for addressing the wide gaps in opportunities available to qualified people of color and women, Affirmative Action became a target of the right in the 1980s as a means of mobilizing white support for a conservative agenda.  Although initiated originally by the Nixon administration, conservatives contend that it is a form of "reverse discrimination" that penalizes qualified whites, particularly males, in favor of often unqualified minorities and women.  These arguments have been sufficiently reputed and are not the focus of this paper.

 The successful political attacks on Affirmative Action in the 1990s and currently reflect the hegemony of the colorblind discourse among whites and the retrenched position of activists of color, and the progressive movement in general.  In a number of large states, California, Texas, and Florida, anti-Affirmative Action campaigns have exploited fears that demographic changes have wrought, i.e., the immigration of tens of thousands, many of whom are Hispanics, Asians, and other people of color.  In these same states, anti-immigrant campaigns have coincided with attacks on Affirmative Action. 

 Even as the assaults on Affirmative Action have escalated, the movement for reparations has grown and become more mainstream.  TransAfrica Executive Director Randall Robinson's book, The Debt, was a catalyst for bringing the call for reparations from the margin to support from black legislators, professional organizations, and even celebrities.  Black organizations, such as the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), have fought for years to place the issue before the U.S. public and even the United Nations.  It has supported Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who has for more than a decade proposed H.R. 40, a bill that would create a commission that would study the harm of slavery and Jim Crow segregation on African Americans and make recommendations about possible remedies and compensation. 

U.S. Racism and the World Conference Against Racism

Too often, racism in the United States is thought of in isolation from the rest of the world.  There are a number of reasons, however, why U.S.-based anti-racist activists should reframe their conceptions and approaches to their efforts that incorporate international experiences and views.  First, it is important to understand the many different ways in which race is conceptualized and lived.  While the historically-dominant paradigm of viewing race in the United States as primarily black and white has been broken as other people of color have effectively and correctly noted a more complex racial landscape, the notion of different concepts of "black," for instance, has not been fully grasped.  The fact that "black" means very different things in Brazil, England, South Africa, and the United States indicates not only the constructed nature of the racial concept, but also the impropriety of attempting to impose a U.S.-centric racial paradigm on other societies. 

Second, the effort to combat racism across the world has generated many models of anti-racist struggles that should be studied and shared.  Many of the issues that confront U.S. activists police brutality, racial profiling, political access, access to social services, etc. are experienced by oppressed racial and ethnic minorities and groups in other societies.  The successes and even failures of these campaigns that have occurred are important resources for the global community.

Third, new technologies and political globalization afford an opportunity to construct a progressive global network of anti-racist and human rights activists unseen in world history.  From local grassroots groups to international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Websites, email networks, and listserves allow for a rapid exchange of ideas and communications regarding issues of common concern.  Breaking the boundaries of nation creates extraordinary prospects for international collaboration as well as moral, material, and political support for localized campaigns.

There is a long history in the African American community of seeing the struggle in an international framework.  From Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois up to the present era, internationalism has been constant if not always widespread.  Despite the fervent debates regarding globalization that has exploded among progressive, many black activists and groups continue to see their issues only in local or national terms.  The WCAR is a chance to shift this strategy.

The WCAR, for the first time in history, will bring together anti-racist and human rights activists, scholars, and policy-makers to address common means by which the issue of racism can be attacked and eliminated.  U.S. groups can benefit from this process by networking with their global counterparts, and can contribute by sharing (and not imposing) an analysis of the state of racism in the United States and the movement to fight it.  More than 100 NGOs attended the UN World Preparatory Conference in Geneva in May 2000 including nearly 80 African Americans and other people of color.  About 100 are planning to attend the Americas Preparatory Conference to be held in Chile in December 2000.  Although information on the WCAR is only beginning to be disseminated broadly in the United States, the struggle by these NGOs to participate in the WCAR process is growing and will be a significant step forward in building the necessary national and international coalition to end racism and all forms of racial discrimination.  The continual efforts to outreach to the global anti-racist movement is inspiring.  I remain a firm believer that shift happens.

The Texas Death Row
(November 2000)

 

Women

Men

 

White

4
57.1%

157
35.8%

161
36.2%

Black

3
42.9%

177
40.4%

180
40.4%

Hispanic

0
0.0%

100
 22.8%

100
22.5%

Other

0
0.0%

4
0.9%

4
0.9%

TOTAL

7

438

445

                                                                                                                              
 
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