Sixty-two years ago, Sharpeville, South Africa bore witness to the massacre of sixty-nine peaceful protestors at an anti-apartheid demonstration. Six years after those dreadful events, the United Nations proclaimed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the victims and as impetus for countries around the world to redouble their efforts to end all forms of racial inequality.
The horror of that day is a stark reminder to all that deep-seated prejudice and hatred easily erupts into needless violence, dispossessing others of the peace, security and human rights to which they are entitled. This truism has played out countless times in the past and continues to occur today, in various places across the globe.
We in Trinidad and Tobago are no stranger to the spectre of racial intolerance, as racism often rears its ugly head during political discourse and even everyday discussions. Social media has become a haven for people to spew vitriol, hiding comfortably behind their keyboards with little to no consequences for their unfounded and often bigoted statements.
We would do well to take pattern from the life and philosophy of one of the most influential voices of the 21st century to speak out against racism. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who once bestowed South Africa’s vaunted rainbow nation status upon us, used his voice and position to campaign against injustice and end one of the most oppressive systems on earth. He was a fierce advocate of non-violence, equality, forgiveness and reconciliation—all critical components in the eventual dismantlement of apartheid and overall healing process of South Africa.
Echoes of his strategy and philosophy can be found in the theme of this year’s observance, “Voices for Action Against Racism”, which encourages people everywhere to strengthen and consolidate their voices against racism, mobilise against all forms and manifestations of racial discrimination and injustice, and to ensure a safe environment for those who speak up.
Like Archbishop Tutu let us use our voices, positions and actions, not to perpetrate racial injustice, but to overcome it. I challenge you to speak out against racism, whether in your homes, workplaces, friendship groups and even in online forums. Counter hate-filled speech with the wisdom of the late Archbishop Tutu, and “agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another, and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other”.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, let us make real, concerted efforts to erase the stain of racial discrimination from our twin-island Republic once and for all.