By Dr. Pamela D. Reed
Change has come to America.
Doubters of this undeniable truth need only look to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for confirmation. Or to the international stage, where President Barack Obama — along with first lady Michelle Obama — has taken the world by storm.
Let’s face it. It was nothing short of amazing to witness the Obamas deplane Air Force One in London for the G-20 Summit … and to be received by the queen at Buckingham Palace. And let me tell you, I literally wiped away tears as I watched Michelle Obama’s profoundly personal, uplifting message to a group of young immigrant girls of color at a London school.
And I smiled broadly at the decidedly soulful vibe of this year’s Easter Egg Roll, which was like no other, I’m sure.
Fast forward to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, where President Obama, with his talk of equal partnerships, seemed to begin a new chapter in relations with Cuba and Venezuela, and one finds further evidence of seismic change.
Yes, it is a new day.
One thing, however, has not changed: America will not be in attendance at this year’s United Nations World Conference against Racism (WCAR), commonly referred to as Durban II. Representatives of the Bush administration, and the Israelis, famously walked out of the WCAR in Durban, South Africa eight years ago because Zionism — the political movement advocating support for the modern state of Israel — was declared racist.
In a bit of unfortunate continuity, the Obama administration has elected to boycott this week’s historic gathering in Geneva, Switzerland — “with regret,” of course.
U. S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood says that “The United States will work with all people and nations to build greater resolve and enduring political will to halt racism and discrimination wherever it occurs.”
Just not at the UN racism conference, apparently.
Also skipping Durban II are Australia, Italy, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Israel. Other European nations are still undecided about sending representatives. Britain is reportedly sending a diplomatic delegation.
The Associated Press reports that the major stated American objection, this time, is the concern that Islamic countries will demand the denunciation of Israel and ban criticism of Islam.
Am I alone in seeing this concern as contradictory? On the one hand, the Obama administration is objecting to the critique of Israel, yet they are concerned that “free speech” will be a casualty if Islamic nations are successful at curtailing critique of Islam.
But free speech — even the incendiary rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — should be universal, shouldn’t it? After all, people are smart and the world community can think for itself, can’t it?
Meanwhile, President Obama has missed the opportunity to take his message of hope and change to Geneva. And he has disappointed and angered large swaths of his coalition — namely Blacks and Hispanics who are still subjected to random acts of racism here in America.
And surely, Black and Brown people worldwide are asking, “Don’t our struggles matter to the first Black American President?” Here’s another question: Is anyone beyond reproach? I mean, must American loyalty to its “stalwart” ally Israel mean forsaking all others — even American constituencies?
After 61 years of existence, the state of Israel is stilled locked in an existential struggle that makes any semblance of normalcy impossible. Even many Jewish people recognize that Israel is at a moral and ethical crossroads. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writes of this in his recent column “Israel, Iran and Fear.”
Cohen cites a prominent political figure’s 1999 comments: “Every attempt to keep hold of this area [The West Bank] as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a non-democratic or a non-Jewish state, because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state …”
These are not my words, nor those of former President Jimmy Carter, who is often excoriated for criticizing the Israelis, but those of Ehud Barak, the current defense minister and former Prime Minister of Israel, no less.
But I don’t want this to morph into an article on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is about an American President’s willingness to forgo the opportunity to be counted in the number of nations actively working to eradicate the cancer of racism from the face of the earth.
And I’m not saying that the President himself should necessarily be in Geneva. That’s why he has a secretary of state or a United Nations ambassador.
As it stands, though, President Barack Hussein Obama — the first African-American to hold the vaunted, so-called highest office in the land — now has the regrettable, irrevocable legacy of boycotting the World Racism Conference.
What a shame.
Dr. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.