Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Speech at UN

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Today Rev Jackson gives this timely speech on racism and conflict for the Racism and Conflict for the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Today we pray for the victims of violence in France.

For the Jewish children and Rabbi, and the three north African soldiers killed in France.

For Trayvan Martin, murdered and martyred in Florida; Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell in New York. For Mark Duggan shot and killed in the UK last summer.

For the children who lost their lives in the bus crash in Switzerland.

And to those victims of the devastating wars in Syria, the Congo, Sudan, Libya, Rwanda, and former Yugoslavia.

We pray for peace and an end to war, an end to racism, anti-Semitism, manifest in so many ugly ways. Give us the strength to hold on, incline us to go forward by hope and never backward by fear, and not surrender to cynicism as we seek to make this a more perfect world.

Amen.

I wish to thank the Honourable UN High Commissioner Ms Navi Pillay for inviting me to part of this commemoration.

It is a distinct honour to speak to you today on this anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Sharpsville massacre in South Africa triggered this annual commemoration. We must not betray the victims of this terrible disease of racism, by growing weary in our struggle to end this degenerative, emotional, immoral disorder called racism.

Racism is the great moral flaw of our civilization; it is a state of sin. We’ve inherited it. It’s been passed down through generations. Racism is driven by greed, the hound of hell, and accompanied by violence that is used to suppress this crime against humanity.

Where there are walls of separation that divide - for some, they inherited the sunshine; for others, the shadows. In that great division, ignorance, fear and hatred drive the agenda.

This struggle to end racism is as old or older than the ancient Biblical wars, and unfortunately remains prevalent among us today.

I watched the news last night, watching Russian fans jeering a football player, Chris Samba, of African Congolese descent. And back home in the U.S., a basketball player, Angel Rodriguez, of Latino/Hispanic being heckled, “where is your green card?”

These ugly events are taking place in the U.S. and France, two of our most blessed societies.

On some of our days of pain it is easy to be tempted to give up. A few days ago, I saw a film on President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 speaking to the U.S. Congress making the appeal that America would be free from segregated laws, and ultimately he spoke of the right for all citizens to vote.

It was an almost all white and male Congress. It looked like a 17th century textile convention. It was less than 50 years ago when President Johnson made that appeal.

But in our lifetime we’ve seen that Congress and that political culture change. Today people of African, Asian, and Latin descent serve at every level of both parties. A woman Speaker of the House.

We’ve now had African Americans and women Secretaries of State - Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and now Hilary Clinton. And now an African American president, Barack Obama, of American and Kenyan descent.

We’ve seen fruits of continuous struggle. Walls coming down and bridges are being erected out of the rubble of those walls.

President Obama’s victory was a redemptive moment for the U.S. and the world, overcoming so many years of legal and cultural separation, indifference and pain. The forces of resentment and resistance remain, but he is undaunted in his quest to lift us to a higher level of behaviour and relationships.

We’ve seen in modern history the founding of the League of Nations, which evolved into the United Nations, do a difficult thing. The UN helps take nations from merely surviving apart, to learning how to live together.

The very presence of Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan from Ghana, a nation colonized by Britain not so long ago, and Ban Ki-Moon, are sources of light and hope for the world.

High Commissioner Navi Pillay, a woman of Indian descent, carries on this tradition.

In their tradition, the UN keeps producing leaders of great substance and vision.

Many languages, but with one message - striving for an elusive peace.

We must honour the UN, and particularly the 2001 Durban Declaration.

At the time, some major nations did not participate. Others walked out; even others did not endorse the final declaration, uneasy about addressing an apology for slavery; reparations; and Palestinian/Israeli and Middle East tensions.

The Durban Declaration was reviewed in 2009, and now ten years later, it is time to assess the Durban Declaration, and review how to strengthen global infrastructures to eliminate racial discrimination.

In the 1960’s, as African nations won independence, they raised the issue of racism . . . yet it took many decades before the U.S. and the Western Powers relinquished their support for the apartheid, racist and colonial regimes.

There are no more small or limited wars. No wars of conquest. Wars are obsolete, impractical, and a non-solution to conflicts. So people of wisdom must go another way.

No matter how much we fantasize about military might, the use of drones and threats of nuclear capability, the bitter fruits of death, destruction, injury, patterns of forced migration, destabilization the neighbours of war, should be sufficient lesson to study war no war.

So many of these wars are driven by racism. Let’s lift up some lessons learned for this discussion. The UNESCO study made the case that Blacks were NOT inferior, dealing a blow to Nazism and many prevailing pseudo-scientific race superiority theories of that era. The fire of such virulent racist theories has not been totally extinguished. We must remain vigilant.

While seemingly absurd today, race superiority theories were widely accepted by scientists, legislatures, and religions throughout the world. But that study, like the Durban Conference, has had great impact.

1) Racism is immoral. It’s a sin. It assumes that God may superior and inferior people. It suggests that God supports racism, which is un-theological and untrue.

Skin idolatry is ungodly.

2) Racism is unscientific. It suggests that there are superior and inferior people based upon genetics. There are many royal blood and racial blood theories to perpetuate power, inheritance and lineage. I can assure you that if you were in a wreck and injured, and needed a blood transfusion, there is only A, B and O blood types – royal blood is in short supply in blood banks.

3) These power theories based on race give the powerful, advantaged by birth, no matter what they can or cannot do;

Others are disadvantaged, regardless of their merit. Merit, character and work don’t have a chance in “race blood” theories.

4 Because it is immoral and un-scientific, and a threat to humanity, racial discrimination must be made illegal – as a deterrent to stop racist behaviour.

In the U.S. we had to pass enforceable laws to prevent racial discrimination; to impede racist behaviour, but it remains elusive.

5) Racism limits growth – it is exclusionary. It limits talent and stifles potential. You look at the great soccer teams, and you choose uniform colour over skin colour, direction over complexion, and region over race.

We can only say that we did not know how good football could be until everybody could play.

6) The great lesson that we must learn from soccer or football or track, with winners coming often from the most obscure places and among the poorest people – it may be a Kenyan runner; Brazilian soccer player; a Jamaican sprinter; a gymnast from Asia; a basketball player from the US.

What we learn is this:

That whenever the playing field is even, the rules are public, the goals are clear, the referee is fair, the score transparent – there is fairness; we can accept the outcome with grace and dignity.

The inherent justice of these rules allows us all to be a winner. Whether winning or losing, no one ever loses their dignity. That is the key to the joy of the games.

Racism creates an UN-even playing field. It is exploitative. It is a form of violence that triggers violent reaction. It gives emotional false security; it chooses inheritance over work.

7) Racism is politically destabilizing, and distorts the human personality. It is akin to gender bias, and gender supremacy theories – by extension, when societies build laws and institutional structures on theories of race supremacy, that’s called a racist society. Inherent in such a society is the seeds sown for its eventual destruction from the inside out.

These houses of racial exploitation are built on quick sand. They cannot withstand the winds of justice.

8) Jesus dealt with race theories, when he declared that we are of One Blood. He embraced the Golden Rule – a 1:1 ratio -

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you; is a challenge to tyranny and tyrants. Jesus said you measure people by how they treat the least of these. It is your capacity to care; the choice you make, not your skin colour, the choice you did not make – that measures who you are.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the question is asked, who is my neighbour? Jesus gave this imagery:

He said a man was beaten and left to die. In his stricken state, he looked up and saw a man of his own religion, of his own ethnicity; he felt sure that help was on the way.

That man of his own religion crossed the street and kept walking. Amazing indifference.

Another man of his own ethnic persuasion – the Levite – saw him lying there. He, too, crossed the street.

But the Samaritan, a man of a different race, different complexion, who spoke a different language, from another country, who worshiped God differently, and didn’t even have a green card, stopped and helped him up.

He sought for him medical relief. He then asked the question, who is your neighbour? Obviously the one who cares, the one who comes to rescue in times of need.

In any one house is on fire, if the wind blows, we are all in jeopardy - whether the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti, or the threats of war over who has and who does not have the right to have nuclear capability.

In today’s world there are no more foreigners. In this one world house in which all of us live, where speed dwarfs distance and time, and with the click of a mouse we see each other around the world in real time – if any one room is on fire and the wind blows, we all are in jeopardy.

So security of each of us is based upon what happens in the next room.

How do you fight this disease?

The winners are invariably long distance runners who are willing to serve and sacrifice.

Mahatma Gandhi said, fight it by non-cooperation with evil, with Satyagraha – soul force.

There is a moral imperative to cooperate with the good; likewise, there is a moral imperative to resist evil and oppression – thus boycotts, sit-ins, strikes, public demonstrations, and coalitions are all necessary to fight such a formidable foe.

Even though President Obama ushered in a redemptive moment for America and the world, the lingering cultural fears and theories and structures of inequality and racial fears remain.

There are those willing to sink the ship just to destroy the captain. They are relentless in their attempt to marginalize him, using not so veiled code words – a Congresswoman says from the well of the floor,

“He is a liar. Other prominent Americans argue, he is not born here, he is not legitimate; another says he does share our religion, he is not a Christian, he is a Muslim; others argue he is a threat to national security.”

One Governor put a finger in his face, displaying ancient fears and ugliness. But through it all, President Obama’s non-reaction reciprocating these acts is evidence of his strength.

Dr King fought this moral flaw of racism – that undermines justice.

He realized that the race walls, racism and expensive race wars that stand between the people and drinkable water and health care - must come down.

Between the people and medical treatment; between the people and access to education; between the people and the fair distribution of resources. All these walls must come down. Our world remains much too entrapped in the spirit of violence.

Too much concentrated wealth; too much poverty. Too few have too much at the expense of too many that have not enough. Too many countries rich by endowment, but poor by exploitation. Rich soil and poor people should not go hand in hand.

Dr King emphasised its immorality.

We should not have been indifferent to the war in Liberia, where thousands were killed, nor the war in the Congo, where six million were killed, nor of genocide in Rwanda.

These intra-group wars – superior/inferior groups, share the same burden of toxic racism.

Dr King sought to lift us up to the lofty plane of justice, above the behaviour that leads to unnecessary wars. Ultimately, racism, beyond being immoral, unscientific – must be vanquished.

We must enforce laws that alter behaviour, and ultimately attitudes that will need to new relationships.

Racism and racial discrimination are impractical. They make all of us losers.

We never know what special genius you lose when racism blurs your vision on a neighbour’s potential.

Dr King born in a southern ghetto under segregation. Mandela born in a village in South African under occupation. Gandhi laboured under British colonialism.

Jesus was born a Jew in the lineage of the Prophets. He was born poor, an ethnic minority. He faced race discrimination under the occupation of the Roman Empire. He was born in a stable without protection from the elements.

He was born under a death warrant, with the edict of official genocide waving over his head – he was born the poorest of the poor, at the very bottom of Jewish society.

His special genius would have been lost if those who engaged in acts of genocide under Herod’s command had been successful in killing him as a baby.

A peasant from Galilee. He escaped to Egypt as an immigrant/refugee, and yet from that lowest of places he emerged as a source of salvation and healing. He turned scars into stars. He became a light of hope, committed to defending the poor, delivering the needy, setting the captives free. Rejecting corruption in the political and religious order. Rejecting class and racial exploitation.

Remember, as the world changes yesterday’s colonized living in colonial disgrace, are today’s immigrants – their children become your new neighbours, citizens, elected officials.

Let’s try something different – we’ve tried racism, war and degradation, and the pursuit of justice without mercy.

Let’s try something too often un-tried. Let’s try LOVE. Let’s try sharing. Let’s try caring. Let’s try one set of rules. Let’s try hope.

Let’s try beating our swords into ploughshares, our spears into pruning hooks and study war no more.

We tried war and racism; it is failing. Let’s give Love and peace a chance. Not simply as poetry but as a lifestyle and government practice.

The writer puts its well when he says, if my people who are called by my name, not by their race, who are called by my name, not by their class; will humble themselves and pray and seek my face; and turn from their wicked ways, God will forgive their sins and heal the land.

As we commemorate this occasion and seek the world of our dreams, let’s keep healing.

Keep Hope Alive.

Thank you very much again for this honour.

Archived Comments

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Very insightful n reflective

Very insightful n reflective words; reverend Jackson gave a comprehensive perspective of the subject matter. If only the words could be transmitted into reality.

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