What the International Year for People of African Descent should mean to us all

As a black woman from the African Diaspora and a journalist, I feel a strong sense of obligation to mark the UN International year for People of African Descent (UNIYFPAD), which begins today.

The year will mean different things to different people and will most probably be largely ignored by the mainstream media – but this does not lessen its importance. There are many reasons why it is important to acknowledge the UN designated year.

In the 21st century and in developed countries like the UK and US that still retain social, political, cultural and economic control of much of the world, developed and developing, racism and discrimination are still rampant.

The US may have a Black president, but political power is still wielded predominantly by white middle class men. Unemployment in the US is highest among African Americans, who continue to be most impacted by the recession, losing their homes as well as their jobs.

And the criminal justice system continues to aggressively and disproportionately target and incarcerate African Americans contributing to the criminalization of black communities.

Meanwhile in the UK, according to Lord Parekh, chairman of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, racism is endemic at the highest levels within public institutions, from the judiciary to academia.

According to Lord Parekh (and many trade unions) 2011 will be a year of discontent, with people from black and minority ethnic communities being disproportionately impacted by public sector cuts.

The last Labour government introduced many policies and laws designed to address racial discrimination in the UK, but policies alone cannot eradicate institutionalised racism that is deeply embedded in the infrastructures within public institutions and which persist in the attitudes of decision makers.

These concerns will be addressed in articles that will be part of the yearlong editorial campaign to mark the UNIYFPAD. A large part of the campaign will focus on African history and the contributions by African civilizations to the modern world – achievements that are for the most part systematically whitewashed and attributed to western civilizations.

Take for example, Cheikh Anta Diop, the French African anthropologist and author of The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. His thesis presented historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence pointing to the black African origins of ancient Egypt, the earliest known civilization. Dr Diop wrote the chapter on the origins of the ancient Egyptians for the UNESCO General History of Africa.

Although his work was refuted by many western academics when it was first published, his findings are now widely accepted. In fact a documentary produced for the Discovery Channel, The Real Eve – has now proven through mitochondrial DNA evidence that all human life began in black Africa – and from the continent small groups of people ventured forth and populated the whole world.

DNA testing of people from all ethnic backgrounds by scientists has proven that the mitochondrial DNA of all human beings today, whether black, white, Asian or Chinese can be traced back to the DNA of black African Eve – who represents the matriarch of humankind.

So since we are all Africans, the UN International year for People of African Descent is one that everyone  should acknowledge and celebrate.

Related Links:

YouTube The Real Eve


Open Democracy – 14 Shocking Facts That Prove The US Criminal Justice System is Racist


Guardian – Racism is Institutional in Upper Tiers of British Society, says Lord Parekh