THE Special Representative for Racial Justice and Equity Desirée Cormier Smith to the United States President Joe Biden, at a briefing, spoke on her principal’s quest for racial equity and justice. Excerpts:
In June of this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appointed me as the State Department’s first-ever special representative for racial equity and justice. In this historic new rule, I am focused on advancing racial and ethnic equity and justice globally through our foreign affairs work. It is my job to ensure that U.S. foreign policy, programs, and processes advance the human rights of people belonging to marginalized racial and ethnic groups, including indigenous peoples, and that we are working to combat systemic racism, discrimination, violence, and xenophobia around the world.
This work has always been near and dear to my heart. I grew in Inglewood, California, where my grandfather, Larry Aubry, a renowned black activist in the area, dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice and equality. When I first began my career in foreign policy, he reminded me that there were problems in our own community and encouraged me to focus my energy and talents at home. But I decided to do both: pursue a career in foreign policy while never losing touch with the struggles here at home because I believe, as Maya Angelou put it, none of us is free until all of us are free.
Devaluation of black lives
Anti-black racism and the devaluation of black lives has plagued the world for centuries. From the transatlantic slave trade to the devastating colonization on the African continent, to hate crimes and predatory community violence, to blatant and institutionalized racism that codified income inequality, health disparities, and poverty into law, this distinct type of racism is one that people of African descent around the world know all too well.
The International Day for People of African Descent is an opportunity for the world to bring global attention to the various forms of discrimination faced by people of African descent everywhere. As UN Secretary-General Guterres put it, “It is a long overdue recognition of the profound injustices and systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, and continue to confront today.”
This is why the United States was proud to strongly support the creation of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent and why, as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield noted, we nominated Howard Law Professor Justin Hansford to serve on the inaugural body.
Systemic racism makes societies less stable, less peaceful, and less prosperous. So beyond it being the morally right thing to do, addressing racial inequities is in our national security interest. This is why the United States has committed to advancing equity for members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities both at here – here at home and abroad. And
to give you a sense of what that means in practice, let me offer just a few examples of what the State Department is doing around the world.
In Brazil, the United States is supporting local partners to document and report on human rights violations and abuses against Afro-descendants and to promote religious tolerance and reduce violence and discrimination against practitioners of African-based religions.
In Colombia, U.S. implementing partners work at the national and local levels to support more effective and inclusive political, truth-telling, and accountability processes to prioritize the needs of Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and campesino populations.
In Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, the United States supports improved social integration and economic empowerment for former hereditary slaves, and strengthens the local – the legal and political systems that identify and protect those vulnerable to slavery, exploitation, and re-enslavement.