Building peace in the minds of men and women

Racism: Free Nelson Mandela, brave advocate of the rights of man

It may be asked why it is necessary to pay constant andperiodically renewed attention to such an evident form of barbarity as racism. The answer is that, throughout the world, racism is forever appearing in new guises, adding new forms of oppression to the long tally that already exists and adopting new strategies, each more violent than its predecessors; we have a duty to analyse and standfirm against each ofthese new manifestations.

The "Other", the outsider, is usually perceived as a strange being, either because of his appearance (which is attributed to his race) or because of his social position, his poverty, his way of life, his privileges or his potential. But we are also coming to learn that the "Other" offers us, as though through a mirror, a vision of ourselves which frightens us. Only by overcoming this aggressive fear can we help to conquer the racism it engenders.

Studies show that this fear of the "Other" is acquired and is the result of the interplay of social structures. But it must be stressed that racism in its contemporary forms did not appearfortuitously. It is the product of- a historical phenomenon: the economic exploitation (and its ideological justification) of the labour of colonized peoples.

Pushed to the extreme and institutionalized, this colonial racism has reached its ultimate stage in apartheid, a doctrine which constitutes a danger not only for the peoples ofsouthern Africa butfor thepeace ofthe whole world. It is in every sense a crime against humanity.

This is why the struggle against racism is one of the major concerns ofliberation movements throughout the world. The emancipation of dominated peoples involves the defence oftheir cultural identity, which in turn is indissociable from their political, economic and social freedom. Fostering the cultures of the world, respecting their diversity and their equal right to development, is to speed up the spread and interplay of knowledge which will turn back the infamous tide of racism.

In this struggle science cannot remain neutral. Scientists categorically reject any claim that "races" can be defined on the basis of conclusive genetic data. As a result of thousands of years of cross breeding, genetic differences between individuals or groups of individuals can be much greater than those between the socalled "races", which have been classified as such on the basis of meaningless criteria. And science refutes even more strongly the notion that there is any link between "racial" hereditary characteristics and cultural traits.

UNESCO plays a leading role in this struggle to defend the truth against oppression and prejudice, as it is unequivocally required to do by the terms of the Preamble to and Article 1 of its constitution, adopted in London on 16 November 1945, which solemnly declares that: "Thepurpose ofthe Organization is to contribute to peace andsecurity by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule oflaw andfor the human rights and fundamental freedoms..." of all "... the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion."

Read our online article Mixed metamorphosis, by Roberto Fernandez Retamar

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Discover other issues and articles on Racism in the UNESCO Courier


November 1983

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