Combating Racism in the Americas

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) held a special international conference in Montgomery, Alabama, last week on legally fighting racism. Representatives from non-government organizations (NGO) from Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico attended the conference. The conference dealt with the legal methods and tactics used by the Southern Poverty Law Center and NGOs on how to best combat racism in their respective countries. While racism is universal, how it pervades society may be different. The NGO representative from Mexico explained that officially racism “does not exist” (or rather is not usually acknowledged). There is widespread discrimination against Mexican indigenous groups. There are cases where schools discourage indigenous children from speaking their own language in school, and these children can be punished by being put into special education classes for the slow to learn if they speak their own indigenous language too frequently.

In Bolivia, the majority of the people are indigenous or of mixed race. Less than 30 percent of the population is “white.” However, discrimination is widespread and non-European people cannot live in white areas, cannot go to white-dominated schools, and even discotheques are divided into white and non-white. This has been the way of life for all Bolivians, and trying to achieve equality is still a long ways off. Guatemala is a more poignant case. Even though 80 percent of all Guatemalans are indigenous or of mixed race, none of their languages are recognized by the government. Only Spanish is the official language, and almost all TV and radio programs are in Spanish. The NGO representatives from Guatemala contend that they must first fight to get their languages not only officially recognized, but protected so that their languages will be passed on to the next two generations. This in of itself may be difficult since Guatemala has barely emerged from a brutal 40 year civil war and many of the problems that plagued the country then are plaguing it now.

The SPLC shared its long history of fighting racism and violence that has accompanied it. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been one of the successful forces in demolishing legal and institutional racism. Racism is still very much a problem and hate and racist groups have grown in size and number within the last 20 years within the United States. Likewise right wing militia and “patriot groups” have grown and now threaten serious harm to all racial and ethnic minorities. Just as equally distressing is the fact that the growth of such hate and racist groups has prompted politicians to enact discriminatory laws in a number of states against racial and ethnic groups. This has become true in regards to the undocumented and Latinos. The conference representatives, in the end, realized the equal argument that no matter how different the ideas and concepts of racism may be in their own countries, racism is still racism and a force that must be combatted.

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