UNESCO Series of Regional Expert Consultations against Racism and Discriminations. 2nd edition: North America

I would like to thank the UNESCO colleagues and our wonderful speakers for their contributions. This is what demonstrates UNESCO at its best: we do not have all the answers, but we look to the people who know more about it, and these are our distinguished speakers today.

We are very afraid of the current situation. In good times we might diminish the negative impact of racism and discriminations because we rationalize that, in any case, we are doing a little bit better than the day before. In bad times, we face the harsh reality that these issues present. In fact, the effect of the COVID pandemic is not a question of whether this terrible virus exists. It is the realization that we have these terrible vulnerabilities and we have these very asymmetric shocks. It is these unrepresented shares of populations that are suffering the death toll in much higher shares as demonstrated in Canada and in the US.  It is the same I suppose in Mexico or in Europe, where we have those groups who have been traditionally and historically discriminated against then and are less prepared to face the pandemic, and this is evident.

However, I feel that with these facts and with the uncertainties of the situation we are in: not knowing how the virus will behave, whether we will have the vaccine or not, whether people will get themselves vaccinated or not because the fear is great, and therefore not knowing what the real impact will be at the end, we have the duty and the responsibility to discuss these issues. Now. Independent of when the pandemic is over, we need to discuss now and we need to bring bright minds together to help UNESCO underscore our duty since we were created to look at the questions of racism, of peace, and of intercultural dialogue.

I just took office three months ago and I am fascinated by the potential that UNESCO can have with partners like you, to really deliver the right message. What are the specific actions that can help us to address racism and not only to demonstrate its impacts. because I think it is over diagnosed, this question of racism alongside the question of the lack of opportunities, and the question of asymmetric access to those opportunities. But what do we do about it in a coordinated and international way that could have more impact?

In 1950 Claude Lévi-Strauss was asked by UNESCO to produce the seminal work on race. Afterwards, UNESCO adopted the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice in 1978 and launched the programmatic activities such as the Slave Route Project, the General History of Africa, the Master Class Series against Racism and Discriminations and the work of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities.

We are actually also developing a recommendation on ethics in artificial intelligence. I am more aware of gender discrimination and I am always worried about how the biases that exist in the xx world are having a lot of airspace in the digital world.. This is also happening with those minorities and groups that have been traditionally discriminated.

So, we are really looking forward to using all that we have in terms of knowledge resources in looking for more meaningful actions and delivering very concrete action plans.

MLK mentioned the action plans, I think we need that. However, we need that in a very comprehensive manner: the textbooks, the way we tell the story (we teach history), the way we look at the memory, but also the way we ensure that there are equal opportunities for all. I think that equal opportunities as an issue is more important now than ever.

To conclude, I think that we will be learning from you, and whenever we come out with something that we think is useful we will also test it with you.  Hopefully, we can work together to advance a real solution for this terrible problem that we all face.

Thank you.

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