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Marian Douglas-Ungaro

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Western Hemisphere faces 'the problem of the color line'
by Marian Douglas-Ungaro   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Posted: Friday, August 17, 2001

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(The United Nations is now observing the International Decade for People of African Descent, from 2015 through 2024. The Decade is a human rights initiative with three themes: recognition, justice, and development. In May 2005, during a visit to the United States, Mexican president Vicente Fox remarked that Mexican immigrants to the USA were willing to do work that "not even Blacks" would want to do. The following essay appeared fourteen years earlier, on Thursday, 9 May 1991, in the Pioneer Press newspaper, St Paul, Minnesota. The essay, part of the "World of Difference" campaign for tolerance, discusses race and racism, and a particularly 'anti-Black racism' found throughout the Americas and beyond. This article appeared ten years before the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism (WCAR), which took place in Durban, South Africa (from which the USA walked out) and eighteen years before Friday, 27 February 2009, when president Barack Obama announced his decision that, yet again, the United States would not participate in the 2009 Durban Plus 8 follow-up to the Durban WCAR.)

Many years ago, the African-American sociologist William Edward Burghardt DuBois wrote that "the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line," meaning the issues of race and racism.

Race will remain prominent in the next century also, as we grapple with issues of human relationship. We will become more aware of struggles of race and color in societies other than our own, and we will think about how others’ struggles relate to our own. The international dimensions of race will become more visible and more accessible to us.

“Yo no soy ni tu negro ni tu indio.” I am not your Black or your Indian. I overheard my co-worker Raul say this a few years ago in Texas. When he said it, it struck me. As a Black American, I understood right away how that phrase neatly and dismissively summed up 500 years of what it has meant to be Black or Indian here at home in the Western Hemisphere. “I am not your Black or your Indian, so you cannot treat me that way. I don’t have to do your work for you.” The resolution of the status and hardships of the indigenous people and people of African descent in our hemisphere will be the litmus test for the development of just societies and the honoring of human rights in this part of the world.

For the past half millenium, to be Black or Indian in the Western Hemisphere has meant a hard fate: to be owned and possessed by others; to be completely vulnerable to the malevolent or benevolent whims of others; to be displaced, removed, relocated; to be pressed into doing the labor of others, ensuring life and wealth for others while dying impoverished oneself; and to be completely unable to exercise one’s own human will.

The United States is my home. I was born and raised here, as was my family for many, many generations. My family reflects the racial and cultural hybridization of the hemisphere: African, American Indian and European. In a larger sense, the Western Hemisphere is my home.

Looking at my home and family that way better encompasses the historical processes that have guided me and my communities to the present. The twin issues of land and labor are keys to understanding the concerns of the indigenous people and people of African descent.

How will the United States and every other country of this hemisphere respond to and participate in the resolution of the hardships facing indigenous people and people of African descent? Guatemala, for one, exemplifies the structure of a Caucasian (or neocolonial) national elite that continues to dictate national priorities grounded in white supremacist attitudes and actions. Will indigenous people regain their lands? Will Black people in the United States and the rest of the Americas fight for and win financial reparations for the Atlantic slave trade and centuries of African slavery?

I am optimistic that the “problem of the color line” will be resolved and that here in the Americas and the rest of the world, the next 500 years won’t be the same as the last.

- Marian Douglas. Email: marian.typepad at gmail dot com 

Copyright, Marian Douglas. 1991-2015. Originally published in "World of Difference" - Pioneer Press news, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Thursday, May 9, 1991. "World of Difference is a statewide campaign to reduce racial, religious and ethnic prejudice and encourage appreciation of cultural diversity."     







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Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse 8/6/2008
I read your article and thought of all those who are slaves today in the Middle East, North Africa and in some Asian counties. I have visited a Website that deals with the topic of slavery today and read that there are more slaves in the world today than from the past. In South America slaves work coffee and coco plantations. There are sex slaves in Thailand and other Asian countries. There are even sex slaves in the United States--young girls and boys swept off the streets and force to provide a degrading service. Slavery has been around for thousands of years. All the major ancient civilizations had slaves of all colors through the centuries. Chinese came to America during the 19th century. They built the railroads in the west and were paid little to nothing--they were not allowed to become citizens, own land or bring their families here at that time. These Chinese men came here chasing a dream only to find that the dream belonged to a limited number of citizens--even American women at that time were considered chattel or the property of their father or husband. The British Empire was the first country that I know of that abolished slavery and America fought a horrible war between the states to do away with that evil. During the Civil War more Americans of all colors (white, black and American Indians among others fought and died--one side defending slavery and the other against slavery wanting all men to be free.) The struggle will not be over until we have freed all people on the earth from being owned and exploited by others. Thank you for not letting us forget that we must stand united against this and do all that we can to free all of the world’s people that live in slavery of any kind.
Reviewed by Betty Torain 12/12/2005
Hello Marian, I am glad to visit with you. You have a beautful gift to express yourself. i enjoyed your article. Keep writing. Thank you Betty Torain
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