The U.S. has yet to live up to its promise of treating people equally, a top State Department official told a United Nations conference on racism and discrimination on Monday.
U.S. Representative for Racial Equity and Justice at State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Desirée Cormier Smith traveled to Mexico City this week for a meeting of the Global Forum Against Racism and Discrimination in Mexico, where she said the U.S. is still falling short of its “founding values.”
“Just a few weeks ago, I had the honor to attend the film screening of ‘Who We Are,’ a chronicle of racism in America, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, sponsored by the U.N. outreach program on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery,” Smith told the international audience.
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“This incredibly insightful and informative documentary could not be more timely and relevant,” she said. “The producer, Jeffrey Robinson, spearheaded an incredibly thoughtful and substantive analysis of the history and ongoing reality of anti-Black racism in America and how much work we still have to do to live up to our founding values in the United States.”
Smith said that documentary and others that highlight the “discrimination or the lived experience of discrimination” are under threat of being banned from some schools, and said this kind of censorship is the “enemy of progress.”
“Disinformation distorts reality, undermines trust in democratic institutions and erodes trust in facts and science,” she said. “It can chill free speech and amplify authoritarian agendas, and it attacks the most marginalized communities, women, LGBTQI+ persons, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and other marginalized racial and ethnic groups.”
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Smith said she was appointed to her position over the summer to serve as the first ever special representative on racial equity and justice in order to “ensure that U.S. foreign policy, programs and processes protect and advance respect for the human rights of persons belonging to marginalized, racial and ethnic groups, and that we are working to country systemic racism, discrimination and xenophobia around the world.”
She said COVID has made things worse for minority groups around the world.
“As growing global inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to threaten and reverse decades of advancement, the focus of this global forum today and our discussions here remain as important as ever,” she said.
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On Monday evening, the U.N. conference will hear from writers, poets and others in a forum called “Writers Against Racism,” and Smith said it’s important to hear from this group of people.
“They provide some of the most searing analysis of our complicated pasts, and the legacies of those pasts, as well as the most hopeful conceptions of who we have the potential to become,” she said. “These are our truth tellers, and we have to protect facts and truth at all costs.”
“There is no doubt that we are at an inflection point. President Biden alluded to it when he told the American people that we are in a fight for the soul of our nation,” Smith said. “And I’m here today to say to the world that we are indeed in a fight for the soul of humanity.”