“Post-Racial” Society? Report Says U.S.Treatment of African Americans, Immigrants “Abysmal”

February 18, 2008

A new report to the to a United Nations human rights committee criticizes the U.S. government for its “abysmal” treatment of African Americans, immigrants and other racial and ethnic groups.

The report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was delivered to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in response to a ” flawed U.S. government report that underreported the state of racial discrimination in the United States.” CERD is a U.N.-sanctioned group of internationally recognized human rights experts that oversees compliance with a 2004 treaty on the elimination of racial discrimination. Since the Clinton Administration ratified the treaty in 1994, the U.S. government has used CERD to denounce racism and other discrimination in other countries.

Among the many”shortcomings” in the Bush Adminstration’s more positive report to CERD are the ACLU says, “the minor mention of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the outright omission of issues including the dramatic increase in anti-immigrant acts and practices, exploitation of migrant workers, the escalating problem of police brutality and racial profiling, and the “school to prison pipeline,” whereby the criminal justice system overzealously funnels students of color out of classrooms and on a path toward prison.”

Witnesses joining the ACLU for testimony before CERD in Geneva will include Akif Rahman, a native-born United States citizen who was detained, questioned and abused by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on five separate occasions as he re-entered the country after business or personal trips abroad.

The importance of such reports cannot be underestimated. One of the largely unwritten chapters of civil rights history is about how more internationalist and left-leaning African Americans like WEB Dubois and Paul Robeson used international forums to shame the U.S. government before its peers about Jim Crow. Declassified documents from numerous national security archives reveal that officials at the highest levels of government were, in fact, concerned about the international embarrassment brought on them by such acts of outing.

The ACLU report also provides a healthy antidote to the dangerous absurdity of the “post-racial” talk on the left and right side the Obamamania wave. For these and other reasons, it’s important for social movements to pressure Obama to use his abundant rhetorical gifts to speak about things in the report.

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