International Year for People of African Descent Goes Unnoticed
By Ludlow Bailey
Are you a person of African descent? What do you know about The International Year for People of African Descent? (IYPAD) Should anyone really care?
In 2001, the United Nations staged a major World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa. From this conference, the idea for the creation of an International Year for People of African Descent emerged from the UN Declarations and Program of Action. The United Nations World Conference against Racism also officially recognized the Atlantic Slave Trade as "a crime against humanity for which reparations are due."
Historically -- over the last 50 years -- the United Nations has used the idea of "International Year" to draw attention and rally support around important global, social and political issues.
Concurrently, in 2001 the United Nations created the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent " which is tasked with studying the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the Diaspora and making proposals on the elimination of racial discrimination against Africans and people of African descent in all parts of the world."
The Working Group observed that "some of the most important challenges that people of African descent face relate to their representation in and treatment by, the administration of justice and to their access to quality education, employment, health services and housing, often due to structural discrimination that is embedded within societies."
Previously in December 2009, The United Nations General Assembly officially proclaimed the year beginning on January 1, 2011, the International Year for People of African Descent. (A/RES/64/169) ("IYPAD"). "The Year aims at strengthening national actions and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture".
It was also established that the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, would initiate a voluntary fund for activities of the International Year and encouraged Member States and relevant donors to contribute to this fund.
On December 10, 2010 (Human Rights Day), The UN officially launched the International Year for People of African Descent, at the United Nation's headquarters in New York. The Secretary-General made it clear that people of African descent are "among those most affected by racism, steeped in a long and terrible history of fundamental wrongs and the denial of basic rights. "The international community cannot accept that whole communities are marginalized because of the color of their skin."
Today, there are more than 200 million people of African descent living in the "the New World." The largest populations of African-Descendants live in Brazil, the United States and Colombia. Brazil has 75 million, the U.S. has 40 million and Colombia has 5 million. Additionally, some 23 million people of African descent live in the Caribbean.
The majority of people of African descent in South and Central America are for the most part living marginalized lives. During the current recession and in the age of Obama, black people in the U.S. are experiencing some of the highest levels of unemployment and are quickly being undermined by the realities of a new socio-economic and political landscape.
As of the last quarter of 2011, it seems that the world has in large neglected to make maximum use of the United Nations intentions to redouble its efforts in raising awareness of the plight of African descendants in the world.
This can be attributed mostly to the lack of funding available for governments, organizations and civil societies to make full use of the years' designation. The meager show of support speaks volumes about the level of commitment by the United Nations, member states and agencies to make the International Year of 2011 a major success.
The Obama administration has also not made the year a priority. Somehow, the UN proclamation of IYPAD appears to have been buried in the State Department's lack of support for the Third World Conference against Racism (Durban III) in New York last September.
The U.S. opted not to participate. It is a shame that the United States has allowed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to derail the importance of the year and significance it holds for highlighting the continued devastating impact of racism and slavery for African-descendant populations in the world.
The mainstream media has largely ignored the year. I have yet to see any serious coverage by U.S. television, radio or print media on IYPAD. The black press in the U.S. has also barely covered any of the issues, events and programs associated with IYPAD. Therefore, the level of the awareness of the Black Diaspora in the U.S. has also been negligible. Main stream media coverage in the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America has been equally minimal.
The United Nations clearly did not promote the year as it should. It made, in my opinion, no serious effort to raise the funds necessary to support the kind of events and programs that would align with their grandiose proclamations. The OHCHR (The Office of the High Commission for Human Rights) at most provided logos for print media. They were no radio or television spots produced. Consequently, the year has gone by quickly without much consequence.
It is fair to say that the majority of the African-descendant populations in Latin America, the United States, Africa and the Caribbean have minuscule knowledge of IYPAD and have in fact not benefited at all from the International Year for People of African Descent.
Nevertheless, the International Year for People of African Descent gives us (particularly enlightened people of African descent) a unique opportunity to examine our current strategies as it relates to the systemic socio-economic and political problems of African diaspora people in the world. It is time for African descendants to take full responsibility for creating solutions for our problems in the world and work tirelessly to create communities and societies in which we honor and respect ourselves.
IYPAD most importantly gives us another reason to reflect on our challenges and to remind the international community of the continued devastating impact that the institutions of slavery, colonialism and racism have created for millions of Africans in the diaspora.
It is also a year for black people to think about our collective histories and to figure out ways to share information and resources that contribute to our spiritual, economic and political growth. It is encouraging to see the number of online groups that have emerged to share information (IYPAD Central, IYPAD Africa, IYPAD Nigeria, IYPAD Caribbean and IYPAD-St. Thomas). IYPAD therefore clearly represents an opportunity for Afro-descendants to create new ideas to motivate people of African descent to work together to empower themselves to move beyond the barriers of nationalism and tribalism. It is time for the people of the African Diaspora to clean up their politics.
The International Year for people of African Descent is the perfect time for the continent of Africa to get involved with the African Diaspora Community. More countries -- like the Republic of Benin -- need to offer programs of citizenship and land for "qualified" people of African descent worldwide who have an interest in repatriating to the continent.
It is a year for us to continue the conversations with our European brothers about acknowledging their responsibilities for the crime of slavery.
It is time for the academic and intellectual community to triple its research on African Diaspora issues particularly as it relates to the development of the next generation of African descendants.
African-descended people have contributed significantly to the development of the modern world despite the tremendous challenges that we have had to endure.
Let's take full advantage of the UN's designation. More importantly, let us make a commitment to do something important this year to contribute to the lives of the next generation of Afro-descendants in the world.
Ludlow Bailey, a resident of St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, organizes IYPAD (International Year for People of African Descent) events in both the Caribbean and the United States. The most recent IYPAD event, produced in partnership with the Africana Studies Program at the University of Miami (Florida) on November 22, 2011, featured Dr. Verene Shepherd, a current member of the working group of experts on people of African descent at the United Nations. This article was reprinted from www.thegrio.com 11/10/2011