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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009) | Event: Racism and Public Policy Conference

Racism and Public Policy Conference

  • Date: 3 - 5 Sep 2001
  • Location: Durban, South Africa
  • Speakers: Alexandra Pero, Amina Mama, Angela King, Antonio Guimaraes, Benjamin Bowling, Bernard Magubane, Boo Teik Khoo, Diego Iturralde, Frene Ginwala, George Fredrickson, Glenn Loury, Guy Mhone, Hajo Funke, Hans-Georg Betz, Jane Bennett, Jeroen Doomernik, Jomo Sundaram, Kum Kum Bhavnani, Kwesi Prah, Lee Swepston, Lily Rahim, Manning Marable, Marcia Langton, Marisol de la Cadena, Mark Suzman, Mary Robinson, Neville Alexander, Njabulo Ndebele, Peter Schatzer, Pierre Sané, Ralph Premdas, Ray Jureidini, Renosi Mokate, Robert Bullard, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Sam Moyo, Sheldon Danziger, Thandika Mkandawire, Tom Lodge, Tracey Mcintosh, Vernellia Randall, Vijay Prashad
  • Project Title: Racism and Public Policy

Welcome remarks and introduction by UNRISD Director

Thandika Mkandawire

Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you all to the UNRISD conference on Racism and Public Policy. It is our hope that this conference will complement the efforts of world leaders at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance in seeking solutions to the problems of racism. Since we began preparing for this conference, our primary goal has been to provide the public with research findings, information and policy insights on some of the core issues of racism, xenophobia and intolerance as they affect different groups, countries and regions.

UNRISD is an autonomous research institution within the United Nations, which pursues multidisciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development. Over the last decade, our Institute has done considerable work on identities, social cohesion and public policy -issues which are central to the subject of this meeting.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance are worldwide problems. They affect social relations and life chances of many. They provoke violence and wars. Slavery, colonialism, genocide, the Holocaust and apartheid represent the most extreme forms of racism; but other overt and subtle forms persist in all countries. The legacy of institutionalised racism affects the development prospects of entire groups and countries, influences prospects for integration or accommodation, and hinders the efficacy of public policies for promoting equality, justice and social development.

Even though the classification of people according to distinct races has been discredited by genetic research, physical differences continue to structure perceptions and are a significant source of prejudice in human interactions. Discussions on racism can, thus, generate strong emotions as they often touch on issues of identity, honour, dignity, justice, and historical violations. It is important, therefore, that an institution such as ours should actively participate in this United Nations-sponsored World Conference by focusing on the research and policy dimensions of the problem.

In this conference, we want to examine the opportunities, problems and challenges of public policies that have been devised for combating racist and xenophobic practices. We also want to identify public policies that can effectively deal with the scourge of racism and its related vices. And we want to do this in a relatively dispassionate way.

This is why we have invited about 30 prominent social scientists, historians and legal scholars from all regions of the world to prepare papers and lead discussions at this meeting. I would like to thank them for the enthusiastic way they responded to our invitation. The abstracts of their papers, which are contained in one of the documents being circulated at this meeting, provided useful inputs into the preparatory meetings for the World Conference. The full papers are being distributed and are also available on the UNRISD web page.

I would also like to thank our 10 chairpersons for agreeing to join us and direct the various panels. Our chairpersons represent a wide range of professional backgrounds. We have an honourable speaker of parliament, a vice chancellor, a research director of gender studies, two prominent human rights advocates, and several high-level development policy analysts and advisers from the United Nations system.

Over the next three days we will be discussing a wide range of issues, which we have divided into four themes. First, we will examine how the construction of race and racism in various regions affects social solidarity and citizenship. This theme will have two panels: race, caste and citizenship; and minorities, indigenous peoples and citizenship. Countries and regions to be covered include, the United States, South Africa, South Asia, South East Asia and the Afro-Arab borderlands.

Second, we will probe the socio-economic and political forces that drive racism and inequalities. We will do this under three panels. The first will focus on global economic change and racial inequalities and will have three presentations: racial inequalities and poverty in the United States; financial crisis and race relations in Malaysia and Indonesia; and labour market segmentation and race relations in Southern Africa. The second panel will examine issues related to land distribution, race relations and conflicts in Southern Africa, Latin America and Australia; and the third will be on migration, multiculturalism and the nation state in Europe, and migrant workers, xenophobia and public policies in oil-rich countries of the Middle East.

The third theme of our conference will focus on organised responses to cultural diversity. Racism often needs mobilisers, organisations and a discourse to activate or sustain it. There will be one panel of four presentations on this subject: the civil rights movement and contemporary race relations in the United States; political parties, social movements and race relations in post-Apartheid South Africa; anti-racist movements and political parties in Western democracies; and xenophobic and far right parties in Europe.

Under the fourth theme we will examine the impact of public polices on race relations. We will discuss this subject under four panels. The first panel will focus on governance reforms for minority representation, law enforcement agencies, and language and educational reforms for social integration and accommodation. The second panel will discuss gender relations, racism and public policies in South Africa, the United States and United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The third panel will examine policies for regulating racial prejudice in health provisioning and clinical trials and environmental racism; and the fourth will discuss social justice, affirmative action policies and anti-poverty programmes in the United States, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa.