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Did you know that the United Nations has declared 2011 as the year to celebrate people of African descent? Throughout the world, the UN has partnered with local government and non-profit organizations to organized conferences and cultural events that foster an awareness and appreciation of the history and human rights of people of African-descent. This is an ambitious campaign, undoubtedly, headed in the right direction, however the following statement has caused me to hold my applause:

(excerpt taken from the United Nation’s website)

Righting Past Wrongs

“This is the year to recognise the role of people of African descent in global development and to discuss justice for current and past acts of discrimination that have led to the situation today. “

Mirjana Najcevska, Chairperson,
UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Don’t get me wrong-I am not bashing the UN, nor am I opposing this declaration. On the contrary, I’d say (save the pom-poms and frilly skirt), I am one of their biggest cheerleaders, primarily because of the projects they have rolled out this year related to Afro-Hispanic communities. So, what is the issue? Despite the benevolent intentions behind this worthy cause,  I find the emphasis on “righting past wrongs,” not only misleading, but undermining the original purpose of the campaign. Perhaps this statement was a mere freudian slip stemming from a mild case of first world guilt. Perhaps I am being sensitive, brash, overreactive? Regardless, the focus is shifted elsewhere, and aside from the over-ambitiousness of remedying ‘past wrongs’–the paradox of seeking reparations from the American government for their upholding of slavery reflects a perpetuation of systemic enslavement–this statement devalues a worthy campaign, as the focus is now centered on an institutional guilt complex.

What does “righting past wrongs” entail? This has been a heated debate in the African-American community for decades, leading many to petition the government for reparationsand official apologies. How do you remedy blatant systemic oppression–is not the petitioning for financial reimbursement for the effects of slavery on one’s ancestors a subtle manifestation of this evolved systemic oppression?  Could a check suffice? Would handwritten letters from Barack Obama himself leave us half satisfied?

Rather than devaluing a respected global campaign that is transforming the ways in which the world views the African Diaspora, I seek to make an example out a statement that represents the complicated pathway to celebrating African Diasporic communities. The need to acknowledge the systemic and individual destruction caused by the transatlantic slave trade is evident; the need to remedy this historic tragedy, that is, to seek justice for an atrocity that cannot be undone, is up for debate.

(To be continued…)

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