Racism is perhaps the most shameful and destructive aspect of human history. Not a recent phenomenon, racism – the belief that one particular group of people is superior to another – has existed for thousands of years. Taken to its illogical conclusion, perhaps the two most barbarous examples are the period of European Colonialism and Imperialism, spanning from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and the Holocaust during World War II, where six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis.
This week, the world will celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed annually in late March. Exactly fifty years ago this week in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people in Sharpeville, South Africa who were demonstrating peacefully against racial apartheid. The United Nations proclaimed the day in 1966 and called on the international community to strengthen its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
What was to become known as the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa acted as a turning point in the country’s history and brought about almost universal condemnation of the government and its apartheid policies. Yet it would be another three decades until people of all races in South Africa had attained free speech and the right to vote. As many in the American Civil Rights Movement used to say, “It’s a long road to freedom.”
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is remembered throughout the world with elected officials, community groups, labour unions, and non-governmental organizations working together to raise awareness about racism and build a world where, as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “people are not judged by the colour of their skin but on the content of their character.”
Our own federal government in Ottawa participates as well. Each year, it holds the popular “Racism. Stop It! National Video Competition,” which mobilizes thousands of youth across the country to create their own videos that express their feelings about eliminating racism.
What is most peculiar about racism is how profoundly illogical and unscientific it really is. Decades of genetic research illustrate that all humans evolved from one origin tens of thousands of year ago, and that any differences in skin tone or hair colour, for example, are simply a product of geographical placement. In fact, many scientists today refuse to believe that races even exist, and that only ethnic groups can be categorized within one, single human race.
During our current period of globalization, the transfer and exchange of people, cultures and knowledge are working to finally put racism into the dustbin of history, but even this won’t happen on its own. It’s going to take the same kind of efforts it took to overthrow other forms of oppression throughout history. But by working together, we can celebrate our diversity and embrace our differences, so that the “long road to freedom” might be just around the corner.
“Together We Can Make A Difference”