A call to action for positive change

Liza Sekaggya, an international human rights lawyer

Sekaggya imageAs a black African woman living in Europe and like many other women, I have often been subjected to multiple forms of discrimination including gender and race. Consequently, we are often left behind in career advancement in management and leadership positions. Such inequality led me and a group of women of African descent from around the world to establish a platform, Phenomenal Women Global (PWG), aimed at sharing our challenges and experiences regarding career advancement and our professional lives. PWG is a non-profit association that supports woman-to-woman empowerment and mentoring; connects and advances women of African descent; and builds capacity in leadership.

All humans have unconscious biases and are prone to discriminating against other human beings for various reasons including race. To create a more just and equal society, we all need to work harder at eliminating our innate biases and stop negative racial stereotyping and profiling. We should judge people for the “content of their character and not the color of their skin” as the famous American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it.

While it is a positive step to hold banners and march down streets protesting systemic racism, it is not enough. Many more initiatives can be undertaken individually and collectively in communities and governments to make meaningful progress toward a better world.

To begin with, we must have an early conversation about racism with our children to prevent them from learning racist language and behavior as they grow up. Racism and hate are taught at home and school. Parents ought to teach their children to respect all races, and avoid making subtle discriminatory comments about and against other races in front of them?

My advice to non-black people is for them to try to educate themselves on racism and to put themselves in the shoes of someone who has experienced it. Let them take a moment to try to understand why people are angry about racial discrimination without being biased or afraid and to try to understand the emotional side, the history, and the various subtle and overt forms of racism. Without such understanding, people may unconsciously continue to exhibit racist behavior.

As a global community, we should work together to remove structural barriers that disadvantage not only black people, but also other minorities including immigrant communities, LGBT communities, people with disabilities, etc., from enjoying equal rights and opportunities under the law. Governments have a huge legislative and administrative responsibility to ensure that the necessary policies are not only formulated, but are also vigorously implemented. Practical, sustainable initiatives should be instituted to address inequalities and racism and provide equal opportunities in employment and representation in leadership structures based on qualifications. The UN Sustainable Development Goals give some guidance on key targets for States to address gender equality and discrimination. Action is required by governments right now, not tomorrow, but today.

The recent European Parliament resolution of 19 June 2020 on anti-racism protests, following the murder of George Floyd, stipulates, “that the fight against racism is a horizontal issue and  should be taken into account in all areas of Union policy; recalls that all citizens should be entitled to protection from these inequities, both as individuals and as a group, including positive measures for the promotion and the full and equal enjoyment of their rights”. The resolution appears promising and opens a window of hope. Another paragraph requests that all anti-discrimination policies have an intersectional and gender approach to tackle multiple discrimination. It also calls upon member states to collect desegregation data on ethnic discrimination and hate crimes, and to develop national action plans against racism, among other issues.

The resolution strongly condemns the killing of George Floyd, and calls for justice, affirms that Black lives matter, acknowledges that studies have shown that many black people in Europe experience racial profiling by police. Many recommendations have been made to check the actions of police including setting up police investigation commissions.

I encourage human rights advocate groups to take advantage of this momentum and monitor implementation of this resolution in the various European countries. Otherwise, the resolution will have no effect without its implementation.

It is important for all member states of the EU to diligently apply the resolution in their national contexts and deal with other areas that are not strongly elaborated in the resolution. These include ensuring political participation and representation for people of African descent in governance as well as reforming educational systems to ensure that African history is taught truthfully and well.

I commend the young generation for putting the spotlight on racism. As future leaders, your voices are important. You have shown us, by uniting all races as you walk down the streets in protest of the heinous acts committed, that black, white, yellow or orange, the world is indeed a rainbow of colors and people. We are all members of one race. Continue to demand that your schools create programs to teach tolerance and respect for human dignity. When all the institutions start to think introspectively and improve their structures to tackle racism, the dream will slowly but surely be realized.

To my fellow Africans, and all people of African descent, the spotlight is now on us. I have renewed hope and I am not dismayed, but cautiously excited. Do not give up or be discouraged. As with every battle, there is always an end, and a light shines out at the end of the tunnel. For real and sustainable peace to be achieved, justice must prevail. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere; let us walk in the path of truth, principles and legacy of Gandhi’s non-violence, Dr. Martin Luther King of having a dream of equality, and of Nelson Mandela who fought apartheid as well as of all other civil rights actors like John Robert Lewis who passed away.

To the family of George Floyd, our most sincere condolences and may he rest in eternal peace, as the struggle continues. He is gone but not forgotten. His name will always be remembered as the spark that ignited international outrage against systemic racism in all its forms. Regardless of race, everyone has a moral responsibility to promote racial tolerance and peace. All governments are challenged to hold people who commit racist acts against individuals or groups of people accountable.

The fight against racism is undoubtedly difficult as the late civil right icon, John R. Lewis’s life testifies. He was beaten, arrested and incarcerated many times. However, despite all the difficult challenges he had to face, he kept making what he called “good trouble” for what he believed was right and just. Thus, he earned the right to tell all advocates for human rights, “never to give up”.