It’s a good time for a day dedicated to fostering tolerance and equality

Flowers and a poster are left outside Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton  REFILE - CORRECTING LOCATION? - RC29DM9RL0WD

Flowers and a poster left outside Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, March 17, 2021. Image: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

John Letzing
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is on 21 March.
  • It’s observed on the same day dozens of Black protesters were gunned down by police in South Africa 61 years ago.
  • The 2021 observance comes shortly after the killing of six Asian American women in Atlanta.

“Discrimination is not as bad as the media makes it out to be.”

That’s one of the statements prospective jurors were asked to weigh in on before the trial now under way of a police officer charged with murdering George Floyd.

Those who were inclined to reply “strongly agree” might take note of the many tangible ways racial discrimination impacts the economic well-being and health of people around the world – whether it’s Asian Americans subjected to horrific violence, or Indigenous Australians condemned to a lower socioeconomic status.

Discrimination takes many forms, some more subtle than others. For example, negative portrayals of people of colour in popular entertainment – or their complete erasure. According to a report published recently by McKinsey, Black talent is largely shut out of senior creative positions in film and TV in the US; while they make up 13% of the population, they accounted for just 6% of directors between 2015 and 2019, and 4% of writers.

Have you read?

That’s just one of many things to ponder during the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this Sunday. The annual observance is meant to help foster a global culture of tolerance, equality, and anti-discrimination.

It’s a timely notion. In addition to the killing of George Floyd, the 12 months since last year’s observance have seen an inordinate COVID-19 impact on people of colour in the UK and elsewhere, outrage over the indiscriminate beating of a Black man in Paris, efforts to suppress the Black vote in the US, racist abuse hurled at Indian cricketers in Australia, and violence directed at Black demonstrators in Cape Town.

Just five days before this year’s observance, six of the eight victims of a bloody rampage at spas in Atlanta were Asian American women. Authorities didn’t immediately determine a motive, but the killings are part of an alarming increase in violence directed at people of Asian heritage, corresponding with an uptick in racist rhetoric about the pandemic – and not just in the US.

Image: World Economic Forum

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination falls on 21 March for a reason – in 1960, that was when 69 Black South Africans protesting against being forced to carry the “passbooks” required of all non-whites were killed by police officers.

Some progress has been noted since then, and there are signs of hope for the future. “Youth standing up against racism” is the theme of this year’s international day, and there are indications that young people are increasingly less racist than their elders – and more willing to acknowledge injustice that doesn’t directly affect them.

According to a survey conducted in the US last year, 60% of white respondents aged 18 to 34 said Black people are treated less fairly in interactions with police, compared with just 37% of white respondents over 65.

And in response to a survey question put to a respondents in the UK last year about whether they’d be happy for their child to marry someone from another ethnic group, 88% of those 18 to 34 “strongly” agreed, compared with half of the respondents over 65.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing last May, Black Lives Matter protests calling attention to racial injustice multiplied in cities around the world. In Indonesia, for example, Papuans juxtaposed the image of a local man who’d been brutalized by police with those of Floyd.

Many of these protests were organized and heavily attended by young people. According to a survey conducted in the US about a month after Floyd’s death, 41% of the people who said they’d recently attended a protest focused on race were younger than 30.

Locations of Black Lives Matter protests between 25 May and 18 Nov. 2020.
Locations of Black Lives Matter protests between 25 May and 18 Nov. 2020. Image: Alex Smith/Creosote Maps

For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • Why this wave of Anti-Asian racism feels different – this piece notes that while Asian Americans are often used as a “wedge” between Black and white people, the recent surge in violence has more of them demanding attention to the particular racism they face. (The Atlantic)
  • The UK’s Home Office is institutionally resistant to learning from its past, according to this analysis. After the Windrush scandal revealed a history of denying basic rights based on race, a more recent study of migrants denied the right to remain in the country indefinitely on technicalities has found that all are people of colour. (LSE)
  • You’ve removed your Confederate statues – now what? This piece argues that jettisoning the hateful symbols isn’t enough. As one experience in Memphis has demonstrated, formerly divisive public spaces can become places that promote healing. (Next City)
  • When gang violence and structural racism collide – one Colombian city’s descent into violence and human rights abuses resulted from the racialized neglect of Afro-Colombians for decades, according to this report. (The New Humanitarian)
  • “Maybe it was her fault.” One year after the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, this piece reflects on media coverage of that tragedy and other outrages, including the recent case of Sarah Everard in the UK. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Apartheid ideologues tried to isolate Black South Africans from the rest of the continent out of a fear they’d be radicalized, according to this analysis – while that didn’t entirely succeed, it did create a sense of exceptionalism now informing “Afrophobia”. (LSE)
  • The resignation of the executive director of the Society of Editors in the UK – after he dismissed concerns about coverage of Meghan Markle – represents a welcome step in the long battle to tackle structural racism in the country’s media, according to this piece. (The Conversation)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to Systemic Racism, Human Rights and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

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