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Joshua Castellino: Raising voices against racism

29 March 2022

This intervention was made by Joshua Castellino, MRG’s Executive Director, during the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the 48th meeting of the Panel Discussion on Racial Discrimination during the 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 28 March 2022.

Your Excellencies, with you, the people in every part of this planet share a common heritage, the same biology, a significant part of the same lived experiences, and many of the same hopes and dreams. Yet today, at the time of grave crisis, we appear unable to act in unity and solidarity, to find imaginative solutions to common problems that affect us.

The theory that we are divided into different races was a powerful ideology, preached at a time when conquerors sought resources and lands distant from their own. When they encountered people on those lands, they deemed them inferior, expelling and relegating the custodians of those lands, treating them as objects to be overrun, not subjects to be treated with respect and empathy.

No organisation in the entirety of human history has done more on a global scale to overturn the legacies of colonisation and division, than the United Nations in its 75 years of existence. That means that you, Your Excellencies, and your predecessors, acting unanimously, effectively oversaw the emergence of the diversity of States that now exist and that are present in this room today. The time has come for you to draw on that legacy again, to show that leadership and vision to eradicate and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination from our midst. You must act to remove the barriers that divide humanity and set about the task of constructing the platform for unity that is urgently required to address the challenges that we collectively face as the human race.

George Floyd was not the first minority who died brutally at the hands of the police. Yet his murder encapsulated the challenge we face in nearly every part of this planet. The disdain towards his life that was captured so succinctly on film, germinates from a tiny seed of hate planted in our midst and nurtured by those with similar aspirations to power than those distant conquerors once had, namely, a feeling of superiority steeped in ignorance, driven by deep insecurity and a complete lack of empathy with others. Mr. Floyd’s death was yet another episode of the kinds that happen all around the world on a regular basis.

These episodes, Your Excellencies, are the inevitable consequences of ossified chronic systemic and structural injustices which routinely invisibilize, exclude and marginalise entire communities daily on the basis of whatever element of their collective personal identities are deemed unpalatable and offensive by a politically engineered and cynically constructed majority. Some of you come from States where this hate has been nurtured into political movements, with elections having been won with what seems to be a winning formula. But is that what victory should look like? Is this really the best vision you can find of a peaceful, prosperous society? Some of you have even turned your attention to your own history books, rewriting them to suit your political narratives, writing yourselves into seeming permanence and actively leading future generations into collective ignorance.

History has shown that maintaining a political stranglehold through hate requires ever increasing aggression. This inevitably drives the need to hollow out institutions while distrust grows in communities, social fragmentation escalates, attacks against communities become commonplace and ever more persistent and ever more lethal force is required to stop dissent. Meanwhile, the problems will keep mounting rapidly.

The IPCC report makes clear the kind of crisis we are in. The growth in inequality may be satiated by hate for now, but hate does not feed well and starvation will likely swallow it whole. As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, people in crisis will reach out across ethnic, linguistic, religious, and racialized boundaries to help each other. Because no matter how powerful the force of hate is and how enduring it may be to gain and hold power through this route, human empathy will try and fit eventually, and an account will be demanded and held for those who forced our societies to their knees.

The UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have raised their voices against racial discrimination. Global civil society have made their perspectives clear. Businesses are now lining up to reevaluate their role and practises in structural discrimination urged by their investors, customers and staff. Each of your States already have standards that uphold this fight and the vast majority of you have time and again expressed your deep commitment to this agenda. It is now imperative that you make your own voices heard again and follow them immediately with strong action for change.

Your Excellencies, that must include zero tolerance towards any entity no matter how powerful, that would use identity as a sword to divide populations rather than a wand to unite them in a spirit of collaboration to play a role in the existential fight for survival that we are in as one race on this planet.

Thank you.

Watch the statement