Mon, 21 Jun 2021

As heads of state gathered for the third Paris Peace Forum to discuss what the Covid-19 recovery should look like, experts went online to give their input on how to build back better, taking inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement.

The third edition of the Paris Peace Forum, which opened on Wednesday, saw European and world leaders gather at the Elysee presidential palace to thrash out concrete solutions to global issues.

Billed as an opportunity to bounce back to a better planet, the three-day conference, partly in-person and online, sought to ease the pain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The virus disproportionately affected black people and other ethnic minorities, and in one of the many online sessions, experts grappled with the question of ensuring that racial and economic justice prevails after Covid-19.

"We have to have data on systemic racism in law enforcement," offers Gabriela Ramos, Assistant-Director General at Unesco, one of three panellists in a session earmarked building on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Naming racism

"We need evidence of racial injustice and sanctions against police officers who abuse their power," she said.

The debate was in response to the May murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, which sparked weeks of Black Lives Matter protests and a racial awakening in the US and beyond.

Conversations about race however remain sensitive in France, where it is forbidden to identify a person according to their ethnicity.

"When I visit EU countries, often there is a refrain that issues to do with race are American problems and there is a resistance to use the same frames to make sense of racial injustice," says Tendayi Achiume, UN Special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism.

The recent protests in France against police brutality belie the claim that race is not an issue, says the Zambian-born expert who lives in Los Angeles.

"There is a vibrant racial justice movement in France which has spoken out and said 'this is not the United States but that doesn't mean there aren't black people, people of Arabic descent or Muslims that aren't experiencing forms of discrimination and subordination that can't be addressed if we don't name them,'" Achiume told the panel.

Black representation

For lawyer Trisha Shetty, who is also the President of the Paris Peace Forum steering committee, black representation is also needed to dismantle systemic injustice.

"I think it is unfortunate that Assa Traore (an anti-racism activist) does not get access to the same spaces as we do. She would be better placed to speak about police brutality against people of colour in France, which is not being addressed," she commented.

For four years, Traore has campaigned and organised demonstrations after alleging that her brother Adama was killed by police, often being accused of separatism and trying to divide the French Republic.

"People who are historically oppressed, don't owe it to the oppressor to be polite when they are oppressed," Shetty added.

Affirmative action

To build back better, Unesco's Ramos calls for affirmative action and incentives for businesses that stamp out racism.

"I'm sorry guys but in financial markets you need to provide 10 percent of financing to ventures that come from minority groups."

Ramos, who is from Mexico, has spent the past decade campaigning for gender quotas for women and says they work despite criticism.

"When we managed to get the quota in the Mexican Congress, the president, who was there to celebrate, told me in public, 'Oh, I'm very worried because we're going to be full of incompetent women.' I said, 'Mr President, don't you worry, we are full of incompetent men, without a quota.'"

Black Lives spark sense of urgency

That being said, Ramos is hopeful that the momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement will confer a "sense of urgency" to address the inequalities faced by minority groups, often overrepresented in essential services and who lack access to decent health care and education.

"Black Lives Matter is having an impact because there are more calls now for diversity training and we are planning a roadmap at Unesco for diversity-based training in institutions from next February to make them less biased," she said.

Achiume says the resonance of the movement gives her hope. "We saw the biggest transnational racial justice mobilisation of our time take place in 2020 in such a challenging year and I think it is a sign of hope and shows that people are willing to fight," she said.

Shetty summarised the impact of the Black Lives movement with a children's story from her native India.

Caught between laughter and anger

"God was making humans, he put one batch in the oven and got them out too soon, hence white people, and he wasn't happy with it.

He left one batch in the oven for too long, hence black people, and he wasn't happy with it.

Then he brought it out at the right time, hence brown people, and that was the perfect race."

The moral of the story for Shetty is: "We need to laugh at how ridiculous this is, so we should not forget to laugh at the injustice of the system and then celebrate righteous anger."

You can watch the full debate on 'Racial and economic justice in the Covid recovery: Building on the movement for Black Lives, by clicking here

Orginally published on RFI

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