United Nations – The Biden Administration’s Ambassador to the UNdelivered a moving and deeply personal address to world leaders at UN Headquarters on Friday in a session on “Eliminating Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” , telling disturbing chapters of his own life.
“I am a descendant of slaves. My great-grandmother Mary Thomas, born in 1865, was the child of a slave. It’s barely three generations from me,” she said.
“I grew up in the isolated south. I was transported by bus to a separate school and on weekends the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses on the lawns in our neighborhood. When I was in high school, a little girl I babysat for if I was an N-word because her father had used the word for me. ”
Thomas-Greenfield, addressing the United Nations General Assembly on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, told the assembled leaders: “I know the horrible face of racism. I have experienced racism. I have experienced racism. And I survived racism ”.
Let us expose the racism and racial discrimination endemic in all societies of the world. Let us push to eliminate this discrimination and eliminate the rot from our foundations. And let our children have a less hateful, more hopeful world. pic.twitter.com/mei64aBMNK
– Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@USAmbUN) March 19, 2021
She called on all countries to “ratify and implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” and declared that on the day “dedicated to the end of racial discrimination, as our flags fly in half the children a world less hateful and more hopeful. ”
“Let’s give them a future. A future without fear. A future without violence. This is the legacy I hope they can inherit,” she said, delivering her strong remarks in person as socially distant diplomats listened to them intently.
“Diplomats are not used to hearing personal stories in official settings and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield gave a touching speech all the more powerful as it drew on his personal experience,” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. Jamaican UN Courtenay Rattray, who was in the General Assembly Hall. for his speech, told CBS News.
“I thought about the words of Bob Marley from Jamaica as I listened to him, ‘Who feels it, knows it,'” said Rattray.
Thomas-Greenfield told the Senate during her confirmation hearings that she intended to highlight issues of diversity and racial discrimination when she took office. She said that American leadership at the UN “must be rooted in our fundamental values: support for democracy, respect for universal human rights and the promotion of peace and security”. And she made clear during the early days of Biden’s presidency that she “would focus on restoring confidence and professionalism in the State Department, with special emphasis on diversity. “
“The FBI has reported a spike in hate crimes over the past three years – particularly against Latin Americans, Sikhs, American Muslims, American Jews and immigrants,” she said in her speech on Friday. . “The most recent data shows that hate crimes have reached levels not seen in more than a decade. And that fails to capture the bullying, discrimination, brutality and violence thatfaced . “
For diplomats who often hear envoys lavish sometimes exaggerated praise on their nations, it has been unusually frank: “As scholar Isabel Wilkerson argues, humans in all contexts have ranked human worth, opposing the presumed supremacy of one group to the presumed inferiority of others. In America, it takes many forms. The main one: our heritage of white supremacy, ”she said.
“This year the senseless murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other black Americans sparked awith , a movement that has spread around the world: , “she continued.
“And because Black Lives Matter, we have to dismantle white supremacy at every turn.”
Thomas-Greenfield described the first two months of the Biden administration’s actions as it addressed racist-focused delegates. She said the administration’s priorities included redressing racial discrimination in housing; end private prisons that store young black and brown men; respect the sovereignty of the Amerindian tribes; and the fight against xenophobia and discrimination against Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“The Biden-Harris administration also recognizes how the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis has caused disproportionate damage to members of racial and ethnic minorities,” she said. “So we’ve taken steps, like providing emergency relief funds, improving access to nutritious food, and halting federal student loan payments, which we know will especially help black and brown communities.
Turning to the world, Thomas-Greenfield said: “For millions of people this is more than a challenge. It is deadly.”
“As in Burma, where Rohingya and others have been oppressed, mistreated and killed in staggering numbers. Or in China, where the government is committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, ”she said, focusing on human rights violations in Myanmar (also known as Burma) and China.
His message was personal. She spoke of her own life: “Born into poverty to uneducated parents”.
And it was optimistic: “So let me be clear: I still have hope.”
“I am hopeful because I have seen how communities and countries can embrace change. And I have experienced this progress in my own life ”.
She concluded with a plea: “Let us expose the racism and racial discrimination endemic in all societies, all over the world. Let us move forward, to eradicate this discrimination and remove the rot from our foundations.”