Back in 2001 I had one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life when I traveled to Kwa-Zululand in Azania–South Africa. There, on the Indian Ocean is Durban, and there, for two weeks, people of the world gathered to successfully address one of the world’s most vexing problems. It was the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Thanks to heroic efforts by the African Diaspora Group of diplomats and committed Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), the conference reached a monumental consensus, declaring (among other important decisions) the European Trans-Atlantic slave trade a “crime against humanity.” Together, the nations of the world reached that consensus.
There’s just one caveat however: by the time the final document was approved, after an all-night negotiating session on the final day of the meeting, the United States had already pulled out of the conference, declaring that the objective of ending racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance was not helped by the meeting’s insistence on concentrating on “the past,” rather than looking toward the future.
Prominently, and by their own insistence, world attention was focused on otherwise unheard of suffering people. The discrimination faced by tens of millions of India’s Dalit people–otherwise known as the “untouchables;” the suffering a centuries of persecution of Europe’s Roma people–otherwise known as the “Gypsies”–are classic examples of previously little-known problems which were brought to light in Durban.
In 2001, I thought the United States missed a golden opportunity to lead the world by example. Continue reading