“We need to stop denying racism and start dismantling it”


Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, a storyteller, speaker, workshop leader and performance artist, presented their poem, “I Am From.” © OHCHR/UNFPA

"I pay tribute to today's generations and young people of African descent, who have last year peacefully demonstrated to demand racial justice and on social media, called on their peers to stand up against racism," said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during a virtual event to mark the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2014-2025).

The Decade advocates for justice, recognition and development to ensure people of African descent can fully enjoy their human rights, she added.

"The implementation of the Decade encourages us to take intentional measures to end racism, marginalization and the systemic discrimination of people of African descent once and for all – all in the spirit of recognition, justice and development," said Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). "And that spirit is unwavering."

The virtual celebration, Voices from the Decade: See us, Hear us, Count us in, was a lively mix of musical performances, a mini documentary called Little Africa, and engaging conversations with experts and voices from young people of African descent worldwide.

Co-organized by the United Nations Department of Global Communications, UNFPA and UN Human Rights, the program empowers young people of African descent and highlights their contributions to the Decade's goals through personal stories, dance, poetry and music.

The artists included Mwende "FreeQuency" Katwiwa, a storyteller, speaker, workshop leader and performance artist from Kenya and the United States, who presented their poem, "I Am From," and Azueï, a band of Haitian and Dominican musicians who performed Alekba, a song that mixed traditional Caribbean music with contemporary notes of jazz and rap.

 

The program also featured engaging discussions from experts including Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of West Indies, and a native Barbadian, on the progress made now that we are at the midpoint of the Decade.

"As we entered the 21st century, it was recognized that the legacy of the crimes committed against people of African descent was still impacting every aspect of everyday life," he said. "So, here at the midpoint of the Decade, reflecting on the activities that have taken place across the world within this framework, we now have raised global consciousness. The world has been exposed to the legacies of these crimes committed against the African people and people of African descent."

 

The role of young people in the racial justice movement is essential to spark change, said Michaela Moua, the first European Union Anti-Racism Coordinator from Finland. She is also one of the five Afro-Finns that founded Finland's only annual event devoted to afro-hair called the Good Hair Day.

"Young people are hungry to talk about these issues and to create the type of world they want to live in," she said. "This is where the power lies. This was obvious last year with the global movement of Black Lives Matter."

The event included eight youth participants from all over the world. One of them, Eveline Murmann, an Afro-Descendent from the Dominican Republic said that people of African Descent have been victims of prejudice and exclusion in multiple ways.

"We have heard so many times, 'Straight hair is more formal', 'Clear skin is prettier'; 'She is pretty to be a black woman'," she said. "Being Afro descendant is embracing our heritage, loving our culture, and becoming a part of our history. It means to be proud of that beautiful skin and that hair. It is to recognize our value and highlight our contributions to the development of societies."

Eliana Martins, from Portugal was another youth participant. She said she is optimistic that discrimination will fade in her lifetime.

"There has been a wakeup call to our societies that black lives matter," she said. "Black history is more than just slavery. Racism will not be tolerated. We demand that our politicians, business leaders and society at large hear us, see us, and count us in."

Bachelet said that the world needs to recognize these voices.

"We need to stop denying racism and start dismantling it," she said. "We need to end impunity, confront past legacies, and deliver redress. We need to listen to the voices of people of African descent – and be worthy of their trust."

Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations said the Decade's success will be a tolerant and inclusive world.

"Only by constantly advocating, educating ourselves, and sharing the values of equity, openness, and fairness among ourselves, and with our future generations, can we ensure that the Decade of People of African Descent has not been in vain," she said.

Reflecting on the Decade's midpoint, Kanem urged people not to lose momentum in the fight against racism.

"A year after the death of Mr. George Floyd galvanized concerted action against racism around the world, and following Mandela Day on July 18, it is timely to declare that each and every one of us can, and must, bring to fruition the quest for a future of equality, dignity, opportunity and prosperity for all people," she said.

3 August 2021

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