Statement of the International Working
and Advisory Group
All human beings are the same beneath the skin. There are no "inferior" or "superior" races, nor race-based differences in intelligence, character or worth among the worlds peoples. We are all part of the same human family.
Racism is the denial of our shared humanity, a violation of the human rights to which all people are entitled. It is a moral blight, source of festering injustice and serious economic problem.
Wherever racism is found, it is a divisive force. It deprives societies of unity and the cooperation of all of their people in pursuit of the common good. It wastes talent, productivity and lives and contributes to human suffering. It fuels inequality and disparities in power, encouraging abuse and exploitation of vulnerable groups and individuals. It undermines democratic governance, retards economic development, and sets conflict in motion as groups or individuals struggle either to preserve or resist an unfair status quo.
In the future, the world will be even "smaller" than it is today. The lives and well being of diverse peoples and nations will be increasingly intertwined in a global web of economic, social and political interdependence. If we are to have any measure of peace and prosperity, we will all have to adjust to living and sharing with and learning from people who may not resemble ourselves. Thus we all have a vested interest in developing rules, policies, understandings and values that can protect and affirm everyones birthright to be free from racism, sexism and other such practices.
We began the Initiatives work with the awareness that for all of their differences, the nations from which we hailBrazil, South Africa and the United States--have throughout their histories been shaped and deeply affected by "race," racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice. In each, from the beginning, people of European descent and appearance dominated and enslaved people of African descent and their progeny. They relegated their fellow human beings to the status of "property." By law (in the United States and South Africa) or practice (in all three countries), Whites resisted sharing equal rights and opportunities with Blacks. White wealth and advantages accumulated for hundreds of years through exploitation of cheap Black labor, while Black disadvantages deepened. White racism provided a ready excuse for use of repressive violence and a convenient basis for segmented compassion.
As a consequence of these practices, the three nations are now home to more than 125 million people of African descent or appearance, a disproportionately large number of whom are mired in poverty and lacking the skills needed to thrive or compete in the technology-driven workplace and global economy that are coming into being. In Brazil, a society with a complex array of color-based group identities, close to half of the population ("Blacks" and "Browns") have a degree of African descent or appearance, and the majority of these "non-Whites" are poor. In South Africa, which is less than 15 percent White, virtually all of the poor are "Black" or "Coloured." In the United States, African Americans are 13 percent of the population but fully 33 percent of the poor.
Our nations are now at a critical turning point. Buffeted by domestic and international trends and developments, they face the present and future challenge of finding ways to undo the legacy of cumulative disadvantage affecting people of African descent so diligently constructed and maintained in the past. These trends and developments present new problems. But they also can present new opportunities for these democracies to point the way to a post-racist era of progressive human relations.
The challenge of the new era will be to help individuals, institutions, societies and the world move beyond racism by systematically uprooting the attitudes, practices and policies that promote and sustain inequality. Those nations that continue to provide benefits for Whites at the expense of Blacks, women and other vulnerable groups, that fail to nurture the talents of all of their people and tolerate or even encourage deep cultural and "racial" divisions, will undermine their competitive edge with other nations and lose credibility with their own people.
It will take a substantial and sustained investment of time, energy and resources by people in Brazil, South Africa, the United States and the international community to bring about these changes. But the simple truth is that our nations and world cannot afford the soaring costs and negative consequences of prejudice.
In the course of our inquiry, we have met many remarkable people and glimpsed their reality. We have learned that, despite their conflicts and diversity, people are more alike than different. We all wish to have decent places to live, open opportunities to learn, help from others when we need it, satisfying and productive work, a measure of good health, the ways and means to care for our loved ones, a sense of protective and equal justice, and peace. These can be attainable goals if we resolve to put the angels of our better natures to work as architects of a more egalitarian, global society.
To some people the aspiration to move beyond racism may seem naïve. But without an abiding vision of where we wish to be in the future, a plan to get there, and a commitment to find our way, we will surely fail to make progress. We cannot succeed in moving beyond racism if we do not try.
One of our members, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, once described the value of a comparative lens for the study of racism and inequality with these words: "It is as if we are in a great, mirrored ballroom. We see ourselves and we see others. There is the shock of recognition. We are them and they are us."
We can learn a lot by gazing into the mirror, listening and learning and thinking about our diverse efforts to overcome racism. We can plan and work together to change what we do not like if we move with resolve and high purpose.
We do not pretend to have the capacity or wisdom alone to quiet the worlds ancient hatreds nor to reconstruct the worlds prevailing attitudes and institutions. But through study of Brazil, South Africa and the United States and sharing some of what we have learned, this work seeks to make a contribution toward a world where prosperity, justice and good will are primary terms for human liberation---and real engines for social and economic progress. The poet William Butler Yeats once wrote, "From our birthday until we die is but the winking of an eye." Let us use our time well and for good.
Peter D. Bell
Ana Maria Brasileiro
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
Franklin A. Thomas