Obama Decision to Boycott World Racism Conference is Regrettable

By Dr. Pamela D. Reed

Change has come to America.

pamela-reed08Doubters 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.



9 responses to “Obama Decision to Boycott World Racism Conference is Regrettable

  1. Hannbal Casanova

    Hello Dr. Yaa! I will just respond by asking a couple of questions: Did President Obama use the word ‘boycott’ at anytime? Because by choosing not to attend and boycotting something are completely two different messages! A boycott suggest that the individual is working against something or event. You are the gifted English teacher and writer! But rather, our President, just made the conscious and strategic decision not to attend. It’s his right as leader! Now, do I agree? No! But I respect and understand the political and cultural complexities that he faces as President of this country.
    Furthermore, did you read Derek Bell’s ‘Faces at The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism’? If you believe that racism, like I do, is a permanent way of life here in America. Than why criticize President Obama about something that’s just going to turn into a psychological conference game, anyway? Do you actually believe that whitefolks are going to stop being racist in America based on some conference? How does that work? Racism is based on a behavior of power and control over people of color. How does a conference address or change the behavioral dynamics of whites in America? If this was the remedy, wouldn’t you think that Dr. Akbar would have already been on the case?
    I would rather my President work on tangible issues that are pragmatic to our every day living. Peace my good sister, and I hope you didn’t take any of my comments personal? You are still my favorite teacher!


      I’m sorry but I totally disagree with Obama’s decision to not attend the conference. I am a black man and I dont mind saying that I didnt vote for Obama. Infact I dont trust him. Now I know many blacks feel a since of change in America, in rightly so. Before Obama’s election black people have just come away from one of the most cruelest American decades in their social and political landscape. The Introduction drugs, The war against our hip hop muscians, The social reconstruction of the black family which makes blacks the most dysfunctional ever in American society. At best the 60’s and 90’s should best be remembered for its massive unemployment of black men while hosting the greatest immigration of labor workers second to the white flight from Europe to the antebellum south and foll0wing World War 1. Ironically, these new migrants are more of the subtle white extractions (not black) So am I suprise that my people would breathe a collective breath of appreciation, no. And I doubt most white americans are unaware of the euphoria. And this why blacks are making the biggest mistake by remaining silent. If Obama is trully a black president then he aught to act like one, and not when it is convient for him. Black men like Obama have long existed on the american political landscape. Frederick Douglas, had considerable clout, the congressional black congress was just taking shape and the repatriation of blacks had long been on the lincoln’s shelf, he just never got around to it, so monroe did. My point is this, there’s an ongong crime against black people and a massive coverup is in effect to slow down the affluence of black peoples struggle. I am not amazed with the handling of his president. In relationship to say “reparations?” Now, you have a large participation of African in this war and whether you admit it or not, America’s enemies blows from every continent on the planet. Aside from that China’s involvement in Africa Venzuela’s snub, Europe’s distrust in American policies, compounded by a lost of white wealth on a scale almost ten times as great as the great depression. In blacks only worth 10 cents of every American white dollar. It’s absurdity if not down right ignant that the black community doesnt see the economic connection between the jewish economic powerhouse and the black community. So for the sake of argument, I pray and hope to God that this president holds these Jews in agreement for economic assisstance or help with black problems. Blacks need their own economic base so that we can prepare our community. These White Americans empowered the asians to build cars and all they ever offer blacks is mosquito nets and dreams. Anything whites do for blacks is in the best interest for whites. It’s time we speak up and be on the offence and Check Obama. Because he is not checking Obama someone else is obviously.

  2. This article is right on point! I love our president but he must take the position and a stand to ensure that all are accounted for their misjustices. It is regrettable that he chose this moment to be absent from such important issues.

  3. I understand the regret you may feel about Our First Black President not attending the Racism Conference, but what aout Racism here in our own Counry FIRST? What about the state of our So-called Middle Class disappearing and the fear of jsut have the “Poor” and “Rich”. Those issue overseas do affectme, but right now, i could care less about what other people of color are going through at this point when our Public Schools are not educating our children, how Racsist acts of violence and discrimination are still taking place in our United States, how housing discrimination is still taking place. i knw this thing have little to do with him not attendig the conference, but i do not believe him not attending this conference has anything to do with his lack of concern for racism around the world. Do something about the Racism here in America, then worry about the world, everything cannot be changed at once.

  4. Thank you for this well-written and thoughtful article. True, American racism rages on, and it must be addressed. President Obama, whom I love deeply, likes to proudly assert that he can “walk and chew gum at the same time.” The author makes it clear that Obama, had he chosen to participate, didn’t even need to go himself. So, why couldn’t he send a high-level delegation to represent America at the global table? Anyway, let’s hope that the President WILL address racism in this country.

  5. Hannibal Casanova

    My query still remains: did we feel by the President’s attendence in the conference that racism would have been healed? Racism is a manisfestation of whitefolks psychopathic mentality, whom are very much responsible for its continuation towards perpetuity, not President Obama! Black folks have been attending these hybrid conferences ever since our existence in America; don’t we get the message yet? People who have been deepleted of their spirituality who are in a position of power (whites) don’t teach powerless people (Blacks) how to take power away from them! That’s Black radical psychology 101!

  6. Dr. Pamela D. Reed

    Hannibal, thanks for your questions. Your comments are always thought-provoking. For starters, I don’t know if President Obama actually used the word “boycott” in reference to the racism conference. But, isn’t that a semantic argument? And I certainly see your perspective, but tell me, was this your same position in 2001 when the Americans and the Israelis walked out in Durban?

  7. Adisa A. Alkebulan, Ph.D.

    A very thought provoking artilcel. Although Obama doesn’t give me the goose bumps he seems to give you, I enjoyed and agreed with the article. Rather he used the word boycott or not is irrelevant, the fact remains, the United States did BOYCOTT the conference. Obama made it clear that the US would not be represented at the conference. I must also say that criticism of Israel IS NOT ANTI-SEMETISM. Why can’t Israel be criticized? This, perhaps, is a topic for another day. Lastly, the role of the president of the United States is to maintain US military and economic dominance. White supremacy has been deeply imbedded in this process. Obama, therefore, is now that gate keeper even if it is painful for us to admit it. That will not be a part of any notions of change. The US’ continued boycott of this conference is exhibit A.

  8. Hannibal and Dr Reed,

    Let us not quibble about semantics.

    The rhetoric is good and the prose is excellent. All the pieces have been very eloquently written. I teach Intercultural Communication at a private university in Texas. I agree 100% with Hannibal; President Obama made the conscious and strategic decision not to attend and he has the right and, in my mind, the proper moral compass. The president is privy to information we do not have and has an insurmountable task to do the right thing.

    Considering yours and other’s disagreements, this is where you and I and Dr. Reed apparently part ways. We are truly a global society. It is no longer a question of living peaceably on our own streets; we must learn to live in peace together throughout the whole world. We have dire problems in this country that need to be addressed.

    I am teaching one student at a time. It’s not about tolerance; it’s about fairness and about equality. We just finished having a Tunnel of Oppression on our campus. Rhetoric aside, students need to see and feel oppression. “Whoever is without sin…”

    World Jewry just finished marking Yom Ha Shoah. If readers on this blog are not familiar, mere words cannot convey the enormity of what this day is set as a reminder of – one of the saddest, most horrific times in modern history. A mad man was allowed to murder 30 million people. In a short time his rhetoric turned to action and six million Jews and an estimated 5.5 million non-Jews, including hundreds of thousands of Romani (Gypsies), Polish nationals, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political criminals and countless others were systematically exterminated.

    This year’s United Nations World Conference against Racism (WCAR) gave a voice to another mad man. He not only threatens annihilation of the world, but represents the kind of evil that this country, my country, our country defeated during World War II. To that, I said “Never Again – to slavery and to injustice.

    What a wonderful country we live in. We can argue, debate and discuss matters of grave importance without fear of retaliation or heated rebuke. God Bless America and God Bless our President for be willing to make the right decisions. He is president of ALL America, not just a part. Let us take that to the streets. That is where the real healing is going to be.

    By the way, I also never heard the term “boycott” and having researched what transpired in Durban, South Africa, my position was still the same in 2001 when the Americans and the Israelis walked out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s