21st March is celebrated annually as The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Is it just a cause for observing something, a mere day to celebrate? Certainly not! If we like to think of ourselves as people prone to critical thinking and reading behind the lines then this date is surely invested with meaning.
In fact, 21st March is a day of remembrance; Proclaimed by The United Nations, it commemorates the lives of people who fought, even gave up their lives for our inherent rights to freedom and equality in dignity and rights. In 1969, in particular, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa. Apartheid, literally “apartness”, was a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party governments of South Africa, i.e the white minority ; it was a systematic practice of denying primarily black people access to rights, representation or resources based on the false notion of “white superiority”. Racism at its very worst? Not quite! Even though the world’s largest, foremost and most prominent international organization, The United Nations was founded in 1945 precisely to prevent atrocious crimes such as the ones of racist, fascist origin that happened during World War II from ever happening again, its decisions are not shown the appropriate respect worldwide.
The very fact that we have to still talk about racism speaks volumes about its contemporary manifestations. Despite Holocaust, the brutal and systematic murder of six million Jews and the persecution of million other of Roma descent, with disabilities or different political and other viewpoints by Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945, and Apartheid having been recognized as crimes against humanity in terms of international law, racism still exists. Instead of endorsing the much desired diversity, the world is still divided into categories with one taking the lead: the privileged and the underdogs.
Migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, underdeveloped countries are constantly excluded from rights that seem self – implied for us; us and the others. But the “other” is not so far from us. Our neighbours, our friends, our fellow human beings are not only subjected to “harmless” jokes just because they are different or they do not have the same background as us but sometimes are also thrown into poverty, unemployment, social exclusion on account of this illogical basis.
Not even a week has passed since a Greek football player appeared to give a Nazi salute to supporters in celebration of a goal he had just scored. His, a supposedly role model’s (whom children look up to not just for his football skills) action, which was admittedly met with serious criticism and a life ban from all national teams by Greece’s football federation EPO, is a plain example of the light –hearted manner with which some young people in particular tend to treat serious issues.
It is simply unimaginable that young people are not informed or educated on not just their country’s history but the world’s at large. Living in the 21st century implies having a universal awareness, education and feedback. You cannot live in a world full of injustice, xenophobia, intolerance, stereotyping, prejudice / bias or hate crime and simply choose to close your eyes and ears to the images and the sounds that accompany these words. Why? Because THESE ARE NOT JUST WORDS. They are full of negative meaning, the one we have to avoid theoretically and practically too. And it is the duty of teachers and Education in general to stop these words from appearing, let alone harming people around us. It is our duty to reinforce a combative, active stance which incorporates positive words: civil rights, awareness, equality, diversity ; we are all equal in diversity. If this message is not actively put across, in the words of Manic Street Preachers, “If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next.”