United Nations’ Working Group Raises Concerns About Treatment of African Americans in Education

Friday, February 5, 2016

United Nations Working Group Raises Concerns About Treatment of African Americans in Education

The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has released a statement regarding its recent visit to the United States. The visit heavily concentrated on the criminal justice system’s treatment of African Americans, but it raised concerns regarding education several times. For instance, it wrote:

The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education and even food security, among African Americans and the rest of the US population, reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights. The cumulative impact of racially-motivated discrimination faced by African Americans in the enjoyment of their right to education, health, housing and employment, among other economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, has had serious consequences for their overall well-being. Racial discrimination continues to be systemic and rooted in an economic model that denies development to the poorest African American communities. More than ten million (26%) of African Americans remain mired in poverty and almost half of them (12%) live in what is known as deep poverty. The Working Group is particularly concerned about the fact that 48% of the households headed by African American women live under the poverty line. The zip code can determine to some extent the future development of young African Americans. People from Black poor neighbourhoods are more likely to face lower education achievements, more exposure to violence and crime, a tense interaction with the police, less employment opportunities, environmental degradation and low life expectancy rates as well.

Interestingly, it cited insufficient legal protections against discrimination and inequality:

The complexity of the organisation of the legal system with independence of federal, state, county and tribal jurisdiction and lack of direct applicability of international human rights law and federal law and policy creates gaps that impacts deeply on the human rights of African Americans.

The Working Group acknowledges that Civil Rights federal legislation, put in place in the 1960s and the 1970s, has had a positive impact redressing individual and even institutional cases of racial discrimination. However, hearing the testimonies of African American communities in different parts of the country, the Working Group is concerned about civil rights laws implementation not being sufficiently effective to overcome and transform the structural racial discrimination against African Americans.

The Working Group is concerned that African Americans do not have the possibility to bring their cases or individual complaints to regional and international bodies when they have exhausted all domestic remedies at the state and federal level as they are not party to the protocols which would allow them to bring complaints. Furthermore International human rights treaties cannot be invoked in national courts as there is no enabling legislation and they have been declared non-self-executing.

The recommendations regarding education included:

Monuments, memorials and markers should be erected to facilitate this important public dialogue. Education must be accompanied by acts of reconciliation, which are needed to overcome acts of racial bigotry and legacies of injustice. To accelerate the process of desegregation, federal and state legislation should be passed recognizing the experience of enslavement. During the International Decade for People of African Descent public forums or hearings should be held with African American communities to enter into a constructive and open dialogue in which organizations, social movements have access to share experiences and to engage with the policy makers and institutions and local state and federal government on ways to address the current crisis. Consistently, the school curriculum in each state should reflect appropriately the history of the slave trade. The Department of Education should study zero tolerance policies and its disparate impact on African American students. A Taskforce should be created to specifically focus on realigning and reengaging students who have been dismissed from educational institutions as part of a zero tolerance policy. http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2016/02/united-nations-working-group-raises-concerns-about-treatment-of-african-americans-in-education.html

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