Jill Dougherty BIO
U.S. Affairs Editor
After a three-week visit to the United States, a United Nations expert on racism says the candidacy of Barack Obama indicates that “something is going on in the deeper layers of U.S. society.”
Doudou Diène, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, tells CNN he believes that that “every American…has been internally confronted with the issue of racism and has been working it out.” He calls that a “very deeply internal process” that may not have been widely perceived but is now being felt with the candidacy of Barack Obama.
“In a society which has a very strong historical legacy of racism,” Diène says, “the fact that an African-American has reached that level of candidature and success mean something – and I have to assess this in my report – something profound has been going on in the U.S. society, in the mindset.“
Diène has been in the U.S. since May 18, at the invitation of the U.S. government, reviewing the state of racial discrimination. He previously has visited 25 nations, reporting on the same issue. In Washington, D.C. he briefed reporters on his initial conclusions and will issue a full report to the United Nations later this year.
While refusing to give his personal views of Obama, Diène said that political leaders in many parts of the world are watching the presidential race unfolding in the United States very closely. “There is an extreme, intense interest in this process going on, both on the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton candidatures.”
Obama’s success, he tells CNN, “is pushing leaders to reassess their own policies and programs regarding the role and the place of minorities in society, particularly in Europe, where multi-culturalism is one of the key challenges now. One of the key sources of racism in Europe is a refusal to accept diversity and multiculturalism.”
After meeting with government officials, non-governmental organization and community groups in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Omaha, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and San Juan, P.R., Diène says the U.S., “in contrast to other countries, is facing racism openly, not denying it.”
He also says the U.S., after a painful history of racism, has devised a good legal basis to combat racism. Where it has not succeeded, he says, is in failing to make headway in confronting the link between racism and poverty.
The U.S., he says, is going through a “slow process of re-segregation” with most U.S. cities now ethnically divided into white, black and Latino neighborhoods. Other problems, he says, included a weakening of the public education system, a “school-to-prison pipeline,” and the “gentrification” of inner cities.
A “fundamental source of hope,” he says, is that young people are “profoundly rejecting racism…and that means a seed has been planted.”
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