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World Conference Against Racism Statement
Hearing in the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Ranking Member July 31, 2001

July 31, 2001

Madam Chair, the UN Conference Against Racism taking place in Durban South Africa between August and September 2001 is the largest meeting ever specifically devoted to combating the scourge of racism.

In recognition of the importance of the Conference nearly every country has so far indicated a readiness to send delegations and hundreds of NGOs are sending representatives. The WCAR is something truly special to the world community and surely, on any view, something that our country should give complete support to.

Our attendance is especially important because we hold ourselves out to be a nation that is the champion of human rights and the preeminent democracy in the world today.

I must say Madam Chair that I am surprised that President Bush and his Administration do not share this view on the importance of the WCAR but instead have publicly adopted an intransigent, if not outwardly hostile, view of the entire Conference.

I find the Bush Administration's public criticisms of the WCAR at odds with his carefully crafted public image, created for him by his minders: that is: the "compassionate conservative," "a uniter not a divider." The WCAR is a perfect opportunity for the Bush Administration to dispel criticisms that they don't care about race issues and are more content to make empty and meaningless statements about deploring racism during "meet and greets" on the campaign trail.

The Bush Administration could use the WCAR to publicly show a commitment to ending racism in this country. Given that 30% of the US population consists of people of color and that we have all experienced racism first hand, I have to wonder if the Bush Administration's position on the WCAR is just politically dumb or if it is perhaps indicative of something more malignant. We all can understand political naivete. However, these Bush folks got together and conspired to deprive blacks in Florida of their right to vote. Naivete is not one of their more prominent characteristics.

I am compelled to ask the obvious question, then, that no one will ask: Is the Bush White House just full of latent racists? Could it be that the Bush Administration's opposition to participating in the World Conference flows naturally from his Presidential campaign?

We all remember the Bush Presidential Campaign which featured town hall events with him on stage with selected and prominently placed blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. Were they there because he wanted them there or were they there because they were strategically positioned to be with him inside contrived camera shots?

And we remember how the President spoke in Spanish to Latino audiences. Did he do that because he really cares about Hispanics or was it because the politically necessary thing to do?

I've really tried to give the new Administration the benefit of the doubt. I've reached out to them on a number of occasions, offering to work with them on issues affecting people in my district. But I am becoming concerned that they really don't care about racism. I think the Administration's opposition to the WCAR is a clear example of their indifference to racism. Madam Chair, you can tell a lot about a man by the way they act when they think no one is watching. And I'm watching President Bush's Administration closely and I've learned a lot from comparing what the Bush people say publicly and the way they act privately.

I must say that I was speechless that while President Bush said on many occasions throughout his campaign that he deplored racism and anti-Semitism; but then he chose to speak at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. An institution that is well known for its virulent racist views and homophobic statements. If Bush was at all sensitive to African Americans and our sensitivity to the racist and hateful diatribe directed at us by the Bob Jones institution, then surely he would have not gone there. Indeed, this is the same institution in which a Professor attacked GOP Presidential candidate Senator Bob McCain and his wife for having adopted a young Bangladeshi girl.

If candidate Bush really felt that he had the need to go and speak and this type of institution, then he should have gone there and taken the opportunity to publicly condemn the institution for its vile views on segregation and for sewing the seeds of hate in this country.

But he didn't do that, instead he went there and reached out to the racists because he believed that he needed to show the extreme right in his party that he was still one of them. But the cost to his credibility as being a uniter and not a divider was great.

While President Bush continued to travel around the country campaigning and continuing to call out that he deplored racism, he steadfastly refused to support Hate Crimes legislation in Texas. Not surprisingly he came under intense criticism for his refusal to intervene in the execution of Gary Graham despite the availability of evidence pointing to his innocence on the charge of murder.

And then what of the revelations that the Bush Campaign's Louisiana campaign chair, Governor Mike Foster, reportedly purchased mailing lists from the infamous David Duke. How could anyone priding themselves in being a uniter not a divider believe that no one would be shocked that a Presidential candidate was going to reach out to David Duke's base supporters?

So you see Madam Chair, I'm more than a little suspicious that President Bush is disingenuous with respect to his opposition to racism and that in truth he really doesn't care about it at all. And therefore no wonder he doesn't see the need for this country to support the World Conference Against Racism.

The recently published Henry Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University/Washington Post study on white misperceptions on the state of black America confirms that President Bush is not alone in placing little or no importance on racism and the state of black America. The central finding of the study was that 40-60% of all whites questioned believed that the average African-American is faring about as well and perhaps even better than the average white American and perhaps in some cases even better than the average white American. But as the study noted, government statistics confirm that this white view of the state of black America is misplaced and that black America actually falls way behind whites in terms of employment, income, education, and access to health.

Despite this evidence that black America still lags way behind white America, the Clinton Administration undertook to introduce a number of reforms that were extremely harmful to people of color in America. President Clinton signed a Crime Bill that increased the penal population to over 2 million, two-thirds of which are black and Latino. The Clinton Administration repealed Welfare and in so doing took away billions of dollars of subsidies from poor and minority families.

President Clinton presided over the quiet dismantling of the affirmative action policy. And he could do that because the leadership in this country doesn't really believe that black America is in dire condition, and perhaps worse still, many don't actually care.

This public misconception about the state of black America is significant and owes much of its pervasiveness today to decades of leadership figures in our society trivializing both the history and extent of racism in our society. Discussion of lynchings, police beatings, slavery, racial segregation, and poverty in inner city ghettos have all been reduced to euphemisms like racial discrimination, racial profiling, strained race relations and economically distressed communities. And today while the US press is fascinated with the treatment of people in Sudan and China and routinely describes alleged human rights in those countries in inordinate detail, the US press seems steadfastly disinterested in talking about the appalling condition and present day treatment of people color in this country. And despite the credibility and timeliness of the Kaiser/Harvard/Washington Post study it largely passed without any discussion in the mainstream press. And most importantly, I suspect that the findings of the study would not have been discussed at all in the White House.

Madam Chair, the World Conference Against Racism is a perfect opportunity for President Bush to detail a clear commitment to preserve and extend civil rights in this country. George W. Bush could use this as an opportunity to allay fears among many of us that his attendance at Bob Jones University, his refusal to intervene on Gary Graham's behalf, and his failure to sign Hate Crimes legislation in Texas are aberrations and not demonstrative of a serious personal flaw related to racism. I can tell you with some confidence that if the Bush Administration fails to provide a serious commitment to the WCAR then he will live to regret it in 2004.

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