Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

On December 18, 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent (IYPAD). The proclamation came out of an almost 10 year process which began in 2001 at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban in 2001 (August 31 - September 7.) The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) was adopted during the conference with a commitment by member countries (which includes Canada) to work to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Paragraph 7 of the DDPA requested the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) to “consider establishing a working group or other mechanism of the United Nations to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the African Diaspora and make proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent". The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established by the UNCHR resolution 2002/68 of 25 April 2002.

The Working Group made several recommendations including a “strong” recommendation “that the international community declare an International Decade for People of African Descent to “make the challenges they face more visible, to identify solutions, and to engage in a sustained campaign to eradicate structural discrimination against people of African descent.” It seems that from that recommendation we have an International Year for People of African Descent instead of the Decade the Working Group recommended. They also recommended that: “States examine and revise laws and practices that have a disproportionate impact upon people of African descent in the criminal justice system and lead to their overrepresentation in prisons and other places of detention.” The Working Group called for: “a UN interagency global study to collect data on people of African descent in their respective areas of work and to develop concrete recommendations that address the structural racism against people of African descent.” They also called for: “a UN interagency global study to collect data on people of African descent in their respective areas of work and to develop concrete recommendations that address the structural racism against people of African descent.”

The Working Group of five people included Dr. Verene Shepherd who on April 13, at the 3rd meeting of the Working Group made a presentation on structural discrimination in education. Dr. Shepherd emphasized that racism could masquerade as “classism” even in contexts where people of African descent constituted a majority. She pointed out that in many post-colonial societies problems did not arise from the formulation of legal measures but from the occurrence of insidious practices. The professor further emphasized that contents of textbooks and curricula were important for the empowerment, self-esteem and identity of people of African descent and other racialized peoples and stressed that it was essential to ensure that textbooks and other didactic materials were free from racism and sexism that perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices. She noted that knowledge of the past played an important role for mental liberation.

Dr. Shepherd, professor of social history and Director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies (IGDS) at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) with oversight responsibility for the Mona, Cave Hill and St. Augustine Units of the IGDS is an activist scholar. In 2007 she was appointed Chair of the Jamaica National Bicentenary Committee. In 2007 Dr. Shepherd also published I Want to Disturb My Neighbour: Lectures on Slavery, Emancipation and Post-Colonial Jamaica. Thetitle of this book comes from Bob Marley's Bad Card (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk4RLyFNDi8) Dr. Shepherd is the author of several other books about the history of Africans and other racialized people in the Caribbean including: Slavery without sugar: Diversity in Caribbean economy and society since the 17th century, Emancipation and immigration: A pan-Caribbean overview, Women in Caribbean history, The ranking game: Discourses of belonging in Jamaican history, Working slavery, pricing freedom: Perspectives from the Caribbean and Africa and the African Diaspora.

Since this year is an opportunity for us to educate ourselves (or continue to) and others about our culture and history, reading some of Dr. Shepherd’s books would be a start. Involvement with organizations that are planning events for the year (attending or volunteering) is another way to celebrate/observe this year that recognizes Africans internationally.

African descendants in Nova Scotia, Canada and Linden, Guyana have already launched plans to involve their communities in a process to ensure that many of the hidden stories about Africans are publicized.

On November 19, 2010 in Linden, Guyana the Region Ten Organizing Committee for the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent launched its programme of activities which according to the chair Jonathan Adams will give effect to the UN Resolution that calls for “strengthening (of) national actions and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent.” The group is dedicated to facilitating the nurturing of a wholesome African self identity with a theme for the year of “Commemorating the African past, Acknowledging the present, Creating the future.” The launch which took place at the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN) building’s Macaw Training Room was attended by students from several area secondary schools, members of youth and sports groups, representatives of regional government, business and religious communities. The launch was also attended by Pan-African historians Dr. Kimani Nehusi and Dr. Tony Martin author of Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

In a recent conversation with Adams, chair of the recently launched Region Ten Organizing Committee in Guyana, he shared that educating about African culture is a large part of the group’s plans. He feels that bringing African culture to the people will help to educate and also address mental slavery by relocating those of us who have been dislocated from our African roots. Adams also sees the year as an opportunity for: “commencement of remedial actions necessary to cure the regressive effects of African peoples of a more than 1,500-year long genocide against Africans.”

On December 15, 2010 Percy Paris, Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs launched the International Year for People of African Descent in Nova Scotia. Representatives from the African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) Foundation and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were at Province House to help Mr. Paris and Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis with the official launch. During the launch Mr. Paris reportedly said: "In 2011, we will step up and lead the way in celebrating the International Year for People of African Descent. Not just in Canada, but in the world. I am very excited about this celebration." Mr. Edmond Moukala, a UNESCO program specialist based in Paris who attended the launch added: "It is wonderful to see Nova Scotia embrace this theme of celebrating heritage and culture of African descent. You have a rich history here that may not be well known around the world, but it will certainly become known in 2011."

As part of its celebrations, Nova Scotia will also host the ADHT Conference (September 22-24) in Halifax. The annual conference designed to educate visitors and safeguard the core values and creativity of African culture and history attracts hundreds of visitors including scholars who are focused on preserving and promoting important sites and stories throughout the African Diaspora and the movement of Africans and their descendants throughout the world.

Incidentally Dr Martin Luther King Junior would have been 82 years old on Saturday, January 15 (born January 15, 1929). His birthday will be celebrated with a National Holiday in the USA on Monday, January 17. Since January 20, 1986 his birthday has been a National Holiday in the USA on the third Monday of January. King is one of the Africans of the Diaspora whose story is well known. We need to ensure that the stories of many other Africans from the continent and of the Diaspora are heard throughout this year.

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