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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Can we ever eradicate racism?
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The United Nations World Conference Against Racism has opened in the South African port of Durban amid disputes over the final document.

Divisions over Zionism, reparations for slavery and other issues seem insurmountable, and the United States, Canada and Israel have refused to send high level delegations.

The wider purpose of the conference, finding ways to combat prejudice and intolerance, risks being lost in the political wrangling.

Commentators say the final declaration of the summit will simply be the lowest common denominator of everyone's expectations.

But can anything be done against racism? Can prejudice ever be eliminated? Or is it part of human nature to fear and reject those who are different? Can this conference hope to achieve anything concrete?

Harry Belafonte, singer and activist, discussed these issues from Durban in a Talking Point phone-in programme broadcast on BBC World Service Radio and BBC News Online. Add to the debate.

  • Read what you have said since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

    Your reaction

    Your comments since the programme

    It is good to have a summit to discuss ways of combating this problem

    Simon Morgan, East Grinstead, England
    Racism is certainly not part of 'human nature' - anything but. It is learned at a very young age by children with bigoted and narrow-minded parents. It is good to have a summit to discuss ways of combating this problem but any measures taken have to be reasonable and relevant to the world we live in today.
    Simon Morgan, East Grinstead, England

    How tragic that a so-called anti-racism conference, with so much potential for good, has itself become a tool for racists to incite hatred and disunity. But how predictable, if you consider that some of the perpetrators of the worst abuses of human rights have been allowed the loudest voice at this conference. This summit is a disgrace and the UN should now be taking steps to end it.
    Bonnie, London, UK

    This conference seems to be a quagmire of double standards, where political interests have overshadowed the basic issues.
    Alan, UK

    Can prejudice be eliminated?

    Henry Khiat, Singapore
    Can prejudice be eliminated? To me, this is a non-question. As long as there are human beings around, prejudice will be there, be it in a covert or overt manner. Fighting racism is like fighting bush fires. We can just do whatever we can whenever it surfaces as it likes. There is no way to eliminate or even prevent it! As for the conference, I am more interested in the follow-up work done after it ends.
    Henry Khiat, Singapore

    Judging by the comments - NO.
    Ed, Brit in Italy

    I have worked in many countries in my life and generally I find that where white racism stops black/ Asian racism starts. Let's get real and really try and combat this problem.
    John, UK

    This summit is a great way to start to solve some of the problems we face with racism. When the US, Canada, and Israel trivialise such a world gathering, the condescending attitude tells you which countries refuse to face the facts the other people see clearly!
    Abdullah, Ghareeb, USA

    The fact that the conference was called was a good gesture in itself about how many people feel about the issue of racism in the world

    Geoffrey Wadulo, Uganda
    The fact that the conference was called was a good gesture in itself about how many people feel about the issue of racism in the world. But I must say racism is such a diverse subject to be able to address the multitude of the various perspectives adequately without one group misreading the intentions of the rest.
    Indeed as a number of nations have already expressed, future conferences need to be more targeted, and include the people more affected by the particular aspect of racism. It has political, economic, social and cultural variations and implications.
    Geoffrey Wadulo, Uganda

    Yes, we only can eradicate racism by awareness conference like this. Some racist countries carry out killings of it own citizens by using the latest air power and imposing embargo, even for medicines to the infants within the country. These conferences are very welcome and to raise the voice for the peoples, living under many difficulties
    Pubudu, Lanka, Nuwaraliya

    I am would like to stress that the views of one school of thought about the equating casteism in India to racism is totally out of context. People are categorised in one form or the other; this is a way of life and we have to live with it. What is being done now is that people with vested interests have successfully hijacked the issue and misused it to their narrow political gains.
    I strongly feel that no one has any business in discussing casteism in the UN conference as, a small change in attitude by the Indian government towards the economic angle will certainly change the concept of casteism.
    Vidyashankar United Arab Emirates

    Ultimately racism (as indeed all prejudice) is about fear, fear of the other, fear of difference. Perhaps a good starting point for Durban is to highlight the celebration of diversity and how each of us become better persons when we are exposed to others and the contribution they make to our lives.
    Chiwoza Bandawe Malawi

    So Zionism = racism is controversial? The fact is that the founding of the State of Israel was based on the forced expulsion of Palestinians - the majority of whose grandchildren still live in the refugee camps from 1947. This was a form of ethnic cleansing, plain and simple. In fact, the UN used to recognise Zionism as being a form of racism until 1991. With the continued building of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories (and destruction of Palestinian homes), has anything really changed since 1947?
    Mustafa, London, UK

    Multi-ethnic by all means, but multi-culture is not possible in the long term. America works because it is has a common culture - or at least has had until recently. Mutli-culturism cannot work in the long term and leads to conflict.
    Vic howard, Sweden

    Your comments during the programme

    In a global world there is no place for racism

    Mehmet, Australia
    Racism is not ingrained into human nature. I live in Australia and am originally from Turkey. I feel quite happy to be among Asians, Africans, Americans and Europeans. In a global world there is no place for racism.
    However, racism comes from upbringing and education. When a person is taught from childhood that their country and heritage is the best they start to look down upon others. Education is where we must start to address the issue and ensure that governments ARE involved and not left on the sidelines in international forums.
    Mehmet, Australia

    All too often racism is apparent and inherent in both sides of the argument, the defendant party committing racist acts and, consequently, the plaintiff party complaining. The differences in our cultures build part of our colourful human heritage, but at the same time they are the source of so much hate and injustice.
    J. Mulzer, Australia

    Racism, in my opinion, is inevitable. One day we may evolve past this ugly human characteristic. In the meantime, we need to learn to be good individuals and if we all do that, we'll someday get a peaceful planet.
    John Marra, USA

    Racism is indeed a major problem but trying to tackle it in such a politicised and divided forum such as the UN will only produce more problems that it can solve

    Isaac Garson, Gibraltar
    Racism is indeed a major problem but trying to tackle it in such a politicised and divided forum such as the UN will only produce more problems that it can solve. Six days in Durban will not achieve anything apart from letting the Palestinians let off more steam and allowing the bashing of Israel by all and sundry. It is hardly surprising that the conference has turned into a racist statement if we bear in mind that 22 Arab states will always have a major say in lambasting Israel.
    Whatever happened to the problems in Rwanda, Tibet, the Balkans, the Kurds etc. The UN is far too politicised to contribute positively to such an important debate.
    Isaac Garson, Gibraltar

    Different nationalities bring different strengths to the global forum, and these differences should be recognised and applauded. Alas, the anti-racism campaigners want a homogenous, sterile, world, in which recognition of differences between peoples is condemned.
    John Atkins, England

    Unfortunately there will always be racists in our society. Just in the same way that pain and suffering will always exist in the world. You can't, sadly, irradiate racism, but what you can do is limit it.
    You can massively limit the amount of racism in our society, but this will never be happen whilst a government simply says we are not racist but the opposition are. This doesn't solve anything and it is the lowest form of cheap point scoring in politics.
    Phillip Porteous, Cumbria

    This racism conference is purely a means for many countries to get even with the past

    Gregory, Belgium
    Nothing will be achieved for 3 reasons:
    - all the countries are just keen to stress the racist side of the other, but rarely admits its own mistakes, for example the Arab nations.
    - Racism can't be fought by some declaration that is purely symbolic.
    Alternative: send a hundred kids of every country in this world to Durban and let them send the message, without any politics. This racism conference is purely a means for many countries to get even with the past.
    Gregory, Belgium

    Racism is but a symptom of a much deeper problem. That of the ever increasing human population on this planet. As we become more overcrowded people will look to defend their territory, whether it be their personal space or their country.
    Rather than play lip service to the politically correct and moralise on the issue of race the United Nations would do better to address the question of regulating the growth of the human population.
    Wendy, Gloucester, England

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    We cannot look at each individual country and point fingers at their problems, if anything is going to be done about racism, we've got to look closer to home.

    Racism can't be solved over the short term since it has so many roots, so we're going to have to sit there like a meeting of AA and say "yes, we have a problem", and that means ALL OF US.

    England can take a look at itself and acknowledge our current problems in Bradford.. the maw of the beast has shown its ugly head there, and I don't think it will be the last we see of it either...

    It's a shame to say that racism is rife in such a modern and progressive world, but it is, UN members should take the first step to eradicate the beast and TALK.
    K Kundaiker, Bradford, UK

    He who doesn't care about his past has no future. Racism is the most shameful and most wicked act of an animal called Man. Slavery is racism, colonialism is racism etc, there is racism of any type in every nation on earth even in Nigeria where I come from. So it is in the interest of mankind to find a lasting solution to this ugly and disgusting trend if not we should all brace up to welcome the worst.

    We should learn from the evils of slavery, colonialism and the part that Adolf Hitler and Germany played in the history of mankind and agree if we should make a change or allow racism to continue. A stitch in time saves nine.
    Chinenye Ezeilo, Amsterdam, Holland/ Nigeria

    As an American, I don't understand how we can refuse to talk about an issue that a significant portion of the world wants to discuss, and still call ourselves global leaders.

    I imagine I am probably a small voice in the US, but there are at least some of us who are ashamed about our government's actions.

    And to my white brothers of European descent, the question, in my opinion, is not whether or not we are to blame for the enslavement of Africans, the question is can we help to rectify the injustice that has been done.

    As for Zionism and anti-Semitism: why can't we talk about both?
    Lucas, New York, US

    It is good that some people in the world had the heart to sit in a fully airconditioned room and discuss the misery of the world and the implications of racism and colonialism.

    But how far will this affect the billions of people out there in the world who have suffering from poverty and neglect. Isn't it possible for the rich of the world to spare just a little bit of their affluence for the poor people. Isn't it possible for the whole humanity to live in peace and with happiness.

    These questions need answers right away before it is too late.
    Ahmed Shahid, Male, Maldives

    In tackling racism, one of the first tasks must be to disband all organisations that have been set up to deal with racism!

    Dave Parker, West Yorkshire, UK
    What a farce! Some of the countries attending are some of the most racist. Racism is not confined just to whites against non-whites. Witness the treatment of the Indians and Chinese in some South-east Asian countries as shown in your case study.
    Steve, London, England

    In tackling racism, one of the first tasks must be to disband all organisations that have been set up to deal with racism! It's very ironic that these organisations, by their very existence, instill a culture of intolerance amongst the society they exist in! Remove them, and the people will see injustice in their own minds, not enforced by a group of self-appointed judges.
    Dave Parker, West Yorkshire, UK

    By approaching the conference with an 'it's all a waste of time' point of view we give credence to those who have chosen to shirk their responsiblities as active participants of global society.

    When the time comes for those to face up to the action taken today it is vital that we have on record their actions of the past - although not successful in the sense of its original intent; it has laid bare skeletons from the closet of current and past superpowers and for that alone it has been a success.
    Clayton, London, UK

    Progress can only be achieved if we have within us the capacity to forgive

    Joseph Deva Komar, Seremban, Malyasia
    Numerous wars have been fought because of race. It is going to grow, if we do not seriously address this concern. Race cannot be removed but we must take affirmative steps to deal with them. I personally believe that this historical summit in South Africa is a positive step. Of much concern about the summit is when we are suffering from "pay for the sins of the past syndrome". This in fact is going to divide us further.

    Progress can only be achieved if we have within us the capacity to forgive. Let us move forward that the past is not repeated. Racial divide is deeply entrenched within us, but that should not stop us from seeking plausible means to end this this crisis, or at least minimise it.
    Joseph Deva Komar, Seremban, Malyasia

    The only way to stop racism is to stop talking about 'them and us'... and start seeing the problem as 'all of us'

    Brenda, Southampton, England
    The only way to stop racism is to stop talking about "them and us" and all the other combinations of segregating "each side" and then start seeing the problem as "all of us". Once we are all on the same side and respect each other as human beings there is hope.

    Blaming "whites" for the past is no help and claiming "blacks" want it all now is no help. We must work together as a single body of human beings.
    Brenda, Southampton, England

    I have been involved in the UN system for the past two years, as a professional staff member. In sheer logic, I argue that the UN system must first try to clear its own stance before acting "nice and concerned" about racism.

    I argue that if the conference would help change the mentality of the staff members from the developed world towards those working in the system from developing countries, it would be a "job well accomplished".

    Here things clearly work for those from developed countries but very seldom for those from the developing countries. I hope that the outcomes or the conference would first be internalised within the organisation.
    Ben, Kathmandu, Nepal

    I don't think any UN conference or whatever has any impact on the world issues any more. It's the US that controls, or should I say bosses about the UN officials and uses them to oppress other countries.

    Back to the point, racism is a major issue and I think it should be the individual nations that face this problem, take actions of integration to tackle this problem. Can I mention that educating people should be the priority to elimenate racism from people's minds.
    Shahedul Alam, Oldham, England

    Reading the comments posted here I notice a repeated occurrence, that some of the people defending obvious racism do so by trying to say that the accusers are somehow guilty of their own racism, and thus their opinion doesn't matter. This is happening a lot with critics of Zionism being told that people like the Taleban are worse, and so no one should complain about Israel.

    Criticising Zionism does not necessarily mean that you are anti-Semitic nor does it mean that it does mean that one supports the Taleban. This response is an obvious attempt to avoid answering criticism, and to sidetrack the debate.

    On a broader note, this conference will fall short in its goals. Racism and capitalism are good friends, dependant on one another. As long as we have one, we have the other. Anything between now and the death of capitalism in the name of abolishing racism is called tokenism.
    Adam Carr, London, UK

    There have been so many wrongs done by those who are staying away, the conference won't make any difference to them any way because they control the way the world body (UN) operates. These things are never going to change.

    When will the UN ever make a decision that will affect them. In fact it is the wrongdoers that make the UN and if they feel that Zionism, racism, and oppression of people whose ideals are different from theirs are right, who is going to say it's wrong?
    Stephen Wreh, Monrovia, Liberia

    In the evolution of human society one form of domination has simply been replaced by another form, for example, replacement of territorial colonialism by industrial colonialism. The real power never came to people. Practice of democracy is in the framework of domination. This is why the UNO appears helpless and paralysed.

    The dominant power may cynically rejoice in its helplessness today, but time will come when the real power would belong to people. The UNO would ultimately win.
    Nazrul Islam, Quebec, Canada

    Will the conference be addressing white victims of racism? Probably not. The UK is riddled with anti-white racism, which of course never makes the headlines, does it?
    Andy MacDonald, UK

    It is a new historical cornerstone on the issue of racism

    Khalid A., Dubai, UEA
    It is a pure waste of time and money. Attention will only be given to selected groups and in the end nothing of any substance or truly enlightening will occur.
    Tim Kuhnert, Paderborn, Germany

    Unlike the opinions expressed here, the conference on racism is based on historical, political, and cultural facts. Many scholars and professionals are involved, thus it is a new historical cornerstone on the issue of racism. Being absent or present doesn't make a difference except for pointing out those who are deeply immersed in wrongdoings and are shy to come. Some of them can't afford not to come yet they are "present while being absent".
    Khalid A., Dubai, UAE

    What a waste of time. Racism is a major issue, but talking about it won't do any good. What possible reason is there to talk about slavery. etc? It was a terrible crime but at the same time, as a white European, I don't see why I should be made to feel responsible, I was born in 1976. How can any of the things which happened before I was born be my fault?
    Matthew, Newcastle, UK

    A racism conference will never resolve the problems of racism in the world. These ideas have to be eradicated from the very root. Differences are continually being highlighted in society. The very word tolerance implies 'accepting that someone is DIFFERENT'. Racism will not go away until the very societies in which we live are reformed. People should be taught to unite on the values that they hold about life.
    Abu Zahra, Stevenage, UK

    Nothing can be achieved by this conference

    Peter, London
    Nothing can be achieved by this conference. It is merely a forum in which political pressure groups can browbeat whites with anti-white racist rhetoric. These people fail to tap into the enormous goodwill in the world between the races. As such they are part of the problem not the solution.
    Peter, London

    If this conference does anything useful, it should be to at least start the process which will lead to a world-wide treaty on discrimination. That treaty would not be ratified by many of the world's nations, but it would give us something to work towards. Our social evolution has been far outpaced by our technological development. If we had an ideal to work towards, that would bring us a whole lot closer to being able to live together.

    We must not become one people, with one set of ideologies. Instead, we need to treasure our differences without hating those from different backgrounds or ethnicities. Our differences are what make us human, what make us individuals. We just need to realise, that while we are all different, we also have a great deal in common with one another.
    Charles, London, UK

    Do not expect any leadership from Washington on racism

    Zwelithani Mobuza, USA
    Zionism is not the only issue to talk about at the world racism conference. The USA is avoiding talking about the death penalty as a racist institution that targets blacks, immigrants and the poor. This is clearly a clever trick of avoiding talking about racism. What moral ground will the USA use when talking to China, Israel, Zimbabwe about abuse of human rights, when they cannot face their own problems? Clearly George Bush is no world leader, as the international community will soon learn. Do not expect any leadership from Washington on Kyoto, small arms ban and yes even racism!
    Zwelithani Mobuza, New York, USA

    Why is it that the Americans have so much problem facing up to the fact that racism is rife in America? Europe has the same problems, but I don't see the Europeans denying it! Maybe that is why the Americans aren't going to the conference - they think that they are not involved. I say the first step is acknowledging there is a problem, like those who are going to the conference!
    Fred, UK

    Let's really look at what this meeting in Durban, South Africa is all about. It is all about the Arabs' intolerance of Israel and the Jewish people. So a summit supposedly against racism has turned into a summit that is anti-Semitic. And it is all about how much money third world countries (which are basically anti-American) can get from the United States and Canada. This summit is not about racism at all. Let's talk about how Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in his country, or how black people kill each other in Africa or the caste system in India. Now those are real problems, not Israel which is the only real democracy in the Middle East.
    Joe Kaye, Los Angeles, California

    Racism suffers from too backward-looking a philosophy that ultimately will continue to separate the peoples of the world. It is how we treat those around us, today, that matters. Trying to use racism to derive power through accusation will never achieve the goal of bringing the races together.
    Frederick Hancock, USA

    We are a nation of action while the rest of the world is all talk and no action

    Daniel, Chicago, USA
    Everyone is quick to condemn the US for not attending the conference. The US has enacted civil-rights laws, voting rights, hate-crimes legislation, affirmative action, ended segregation, etc. etc. What other nations have concrete laws protecting equality? Everyone wants to condemn us but we are a nation of action while the rest of the world is all talk and no action.
    Daniel, Chicago, USA

    When one mixes races because of political correctness, there will invariably be long-term trouble. It is a moot point why this is so, history is proof that it does happen. Why don't we learn from history, or from countries that are experiencing these problems right now. Not everyone in society is "good" so their is no solution other then NOT to mix races in a country. Racism is Australia is on the rise because of the many criminal elements let in from Asia. The media stokes racism by denying the feelings of the man in the street on this issue.
    Bryan de Pree, Melbourne - Australia

    I see that George Milton of Washington USA says another meaningless gathering of politicians to wring their hands and to point fingers at everyone else and to try and take the spot light off the crappy job their are doing in their own country! This little exercise has cost the South African taxpayer a lot of money that could have been put to better use - like building homes for those that live in shacks! But NO the politicians want to show off by throwing taxpayers' money away, by the millions!
    R. Campbell, JHB. South Africa

    In reply to John Black of Nigeria, more black political opponents of Mugabe are being killed than white farmers and yet there has been very little coverage of this in most of the UK press. All such killings are abhorrent. As for the conference it is a pity that its worthy aims are being undermined by several nations who will not face up to their own problems or those of their allies.
    John Hopper, UK

    I have worked in a country governed by Islamic law and I would like to mention that was indeed lots of racism. The workers from Asia were treated in a very bad way whereas westerns very treated very well. This included living conditions and remuneration. Now the same Arab nations are voicing their opinion as they are at the receiving end Israel I wonder if this UN racism conference will have any impact on racism. In fact does any of the UN conferences have any significance?
    De Silva, Sri Lanka

    Surely, only good can come out of this if it is approached in a sensible way. We must look forward, starting with a clean sheet rather than become obsessed with the past. No one should be held responsible for the actions of their forefathers. If so, than as a Briton, may I claim reparations from the Romans, Normans, Vikings etc who invaded and plundered the UK, just as we did later on in the rest of the world?
    Simon, UK

    By formally apologising and making atonements for past colonialisations, will there really be any real step to progress?

    Ruston Lander, London, UK
    While I commend the importance of having a conference on racism, the failure of the US to send a delegate demonstrates which countries clearly have problems in acknowledging it within their country. The US and Europe have repeatedly refused to apologise and even condemn slavery as a crime against humanity. Australia takes a hardline stance against the Aborigines.

    Then these governments wonder why we as ethnic minorities feel they are patronising us by saying words like equality, when they are still in a phase of self denial. By formally apologising and making atonements for past colonialisations, will there really be any real step to progress? Until then super bullies (super powers) continue to pay lipservice to freedom, justice and equality.
    Ruston Lander, London, UK

    I am at a loss to understand, however, why the agenda of this particular event should have left the door open for certain nations to 'boycott' it on some principle

    Simon Cameron, London, UK
    Any meeting that with humble, dispassionate and harmonious fellowship examines the causes of racism and ways and means of uprooting them can only be of incalculable value to human society. The UN is not entirely a "toothless giant" in that its constitution disposes it, if nothing else, as a most effective instrument for the edification of the world at large.

    I am at a loss to understand, however, why the agenda of this particular event should have left the door open for certain nations to 'boycott' it on some principle. Rather, for the sake of the greater cause of eliminating racism per se, all such protests should have been brought to the discussion table, while oversized egos, self-interest or the insistence on a given opinion should be strongly censured.
    Simon Cameron, London, UK

    We should all commend the captain of the Norwegian vessel who rescued those stranded passengers near Christmas Island. Well done! Now we should ask the true inheritors of the Australians - the Aborigines - if they can land on their land on humanitarian grounds.
    Jagdish Rekhi, Kent, UK

    Racism is alive and well, pretty much everywhere. Integration will occur and progress will be made. But there will be violence and turbulence and misery over the next few generations, as the world slowly adjusts to the fact a human is a human. Our DNA says so, regardless of learned social behaviours and doctrines. Those things were tribal, and we are in the process of finding out this animal belongs to one huge family.

    The task of educating the world to the facts as they exist must be exploited to the fullest, so that all the upheavals to come will be minimalised as much as possible. God bless those attending the conference. Take a newspaper to the back of the heads of those who won't, especially the USA. It needs a wake up call. None of us alive today, nor any of our children, will see the benefits that might come out of this one meeting. But it is a page in the text of human growth, at the beginning of a very long book.
    Pete Rakowski, Ottawa, Canada

    This conference will say a lot about those nations refusing to attend

    Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico USA
    It's a great shame that my county, the US of A will not attend the UN Conference on racism. This country is perhaps the biggest export of indiscriminate mass destructive weapons in the world. It gives a new meaning to intolerance. This conference will say a lot about those nations refusing to attend. Regardless, racism is world wide and it MUST be addressed with or without the United States. There is an old saying that many nations have their ignorant, arrogant bigoted fools, but not many have them in very high places. I congratulate those nations that are attending.
    Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico USA

    Let's see - the US sends more black citizens through college than any other country does through high school. The two highest ranking cabinet members are of African descent, but the US is still inherently racist? Come on! Of course there are racists in the US, where aren't there any? Those countries that point a finger at the US should however make sure their own house is clean. Xenophobia is rampant in Europe, people are afraid of "losing their culture" to new immigrants, so immigration is tightly controlled (or it will be until Europe's declining population makes it a necessity). This isn't racist of course, or is it? What about religious intolerance, which we would just need to visit any number of Middle Eastern countries to witness on a grand and brutal scale.

    This summit will accomplish nothing, hearts of men are not changed at summits chaired by bureaucracies. The masses may be temporarily distracted by the words of demagogues who speak there though.
    Kyle, Denver, US

    I am from India. I have seen what is casteism there. About half of the population knows that it is bad. As a beneficiary of affirmative action, which has no parallel in the world, I cannot understand how this UN conference will have any impact on casteism in India. I am married to an upper caste woman. Had our parents put a block, I wonder, how would an UN resolution come to my rescue! The UN meeting is a waste if they discuss India. Here in the US too, I wonder what UN resolutions will have an impact on the common people. The UN can do better things like human rights, instead of addressing a problem that is unique in every country. To me, growth in the economy of all nations will have a better impact than in spelling a word and adding a phrase in a resolution.
    Kadavul, San Jose, USA

    It is not as clear as black and white

    Vik, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
    Nothing but talk. "Racism" when looked at seriously requires a very detailed historical assessment. If such were undertaken, the conveners will realize it is not as clear as black and white.
    Vik, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

    Shame on the United states for the stand they are taking on the Israeli issue regarding this conference. How dare the US pull out of such an important and globally significant meeting. This shows the US to be weak in resolve and too timid to take a major stand against Israel.
    Ali Fadlallah, Beirut, Lebanon

    As a non-religious gay white male Afrikaner I paid for my own education and recently acquired a small farm in South Africa with life savings. A poor black family (backed by government officials) intimidated me and let their cattle graze on the property against my will. As a gay man I have often been unwelcome and my stance on religion urged my Afrikaans grandfather to disinherit me. But I am not complaining, just saying that there certainly is a lot to talk about at conference in Durban. However, I believe spiritual poverty is the cause, racism only the effect behind the choices not only politicians but entire nations make in an ever more 'globalised' world.
    Boerseun seeking Zen, Pretoria, South Africa

    As a victim of racism and former political refugee it shocks me to read that some people put prestige ahead of equality. Shame on Mr Powell - who's side is he on anyway? - and the Indian government for not wanting to discuss racism/casteism.
    Rodney Lobo, Oslo, Norway

    It opens the door for dialogue

    Handa Siangonya, Indianapolis, USA
    The UN World Conference taking place may not necessarily solve racial or discriminatory problems in the world but it opens the door for dialogue. Other nations may not agree to now, over time they will realize that they are being left behind. It is a good platform to talk about and inform the whole world about the injustice that minorities are subjected to in their own countries. We need to start from somewhere to lay a foundation for future meetings and debates on the issues related to all forms of discrimination.
    Handa Siangonya, Indianapolis, USA

    Country(ies)that oppose to the UN Conference on Racism are simply hiding from the shame of their past ,present and future racial intolerance. Shame on them again.
    Mike Aziz, Vancouver,Canada

    We should lend our support to the conference

    William Shi, Australia
    Whatever cynicism we may have about our politicians, the role of UN on the issue of racism and the effectiveness of the conference, we should lend our support to the conference as it's important to highlight the issue as a matter of global concern, no less important than issues triggered by globalisation. While we're gaining more material achievements, it's time for us to re-examine our moral responsibilities.
    William Shi, Australia

    Once again the Bush Administration shows the world that it is indifferent and contemptuous of any point of view that might disagree with its own. How can Colin Powell work for such a regime and still maintain his integrity?
    Vinton E. Heuck, Lancaster, CA.,USA

    As a proud Hindu and an Indian, I find it extremely offensive that casteism can be compared with racism. My society and culture is the oldest advanced civilisation in the world and I am appalled that our beliefs can be insulted and degraded in this way. Our caste system does not encourage racist behaviour. It is only a small minority that abuse their high rank in the caste system. As a member of the Hindu upper cast, I feel I am being personally targeted despite the fact that I have never shown prejudice against any member of the lower caste. I judge people on their character and not social rank, and quite frankly I hope that the irresponsible people organising this pathetic 'Racism' conference are held accountable for their actions.
    Siddharth Vohra, Canberra Australia

    It is very beneficial indeed that such a conference will be taking place so long as positive action follows the discussions. Countries spend a considerable percentage of their GNP on arms and defence, so why not put away the thrift and create teams of constitutional lawyers and educationalists who can thrash out the problem and start off on an aggressive thrust all over the world to change the incumbent mentality.
    Athena C., Malta

    Racism is the underlying reason for the holocaust, the Rwandan massacre, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the caste system in India, the Irish conflict, and most of all the slave trade. Mr Colin Powell, if you would affect any change, this is your opportunity. This conference and its mandate identifies with you the most. Martin Luther had a dream for racial equality in the world, and sacrificed his life for it so that that dream can be realised. What is your dream? To protect your job in the WHITE house?
    Kwame, Toronto, Canada

    Unless the UN conference reaches the next generation, there is not much hope

    Srinivas Rangaraj, Windsor, Canada
    I'm originally from India and have seen enough casteism and religious fundamentalism to last me a lifetime. A global conference is a good place to start to air everyone's dirty laundry. Of all the people, Colin Powell - who himself is black living in a white-dominated country - should have come to the conference. India chose to not discuss caste-based discrimination, which is a shame. As far as elimination of racism/casteism goes, it will take education of one human being at a time. Regardless of all the UN resolutions passed, it's what kids hear from their parents and friends from a young age which makes the difference. So unless the UN conference reaches the next generation, there is not much hope.
    Srinivas Rangaraj, Windsor, Canada

    The UN conference on racism has given the US the opportunity to show its complete and total babying of Israel again. Instead of attending and discussing the subject at hand the US has decided to do the childish thing and not go at all if it doesn't get its way right off the bat. Racism is real in Israel. It has long been known that a Palestinian life is not worth as much as an Israeli's in certain places. This is not anti-semitism, it is a glimpse into reality.
    Rick Brunson, USA

    Those Muslims and Arabs who are comparing Israel to Nazism and accusing Israel of being racist should just keep quite. They are the worst of racists in the world. Islam is the most intolerant religion in the world. Just look at the Taleban in Afganistan. Many Arab and Islamic countries do not allow Christian religions to be represented in their lands. They should stop their hypocrisy and blindness.
    John, Namibia

    The West should examine why it gets so upset when issues of Zionism and slavery are brought to the table. Western nations would have much preferred a conference that gave the appearance of doing something without even touching on real issues. The fact that the US is boycotting the event only demonstrates what we already know: the US government is racist.
    Keith, Denver, USA

    Racism is a real global problem

    Chaacha Mwita, St Gallen, Switzerland
    Those opposed to the discussion on racism suffer from paranoia, perhaps born of an unwillingness to admit responsibility for their forefathers role in fostering an existent racist mindset. Racism is a real global problem. The media is full of sad stories on racism. History is littered with heart-rending reminders of what racism can do. The only way to stop racism is to confront it. The only logical way to start such a confrontation, is to recognise its existence in a global discussion forum such the South African conference.
    Chaacha Mwita, St Gallen, Switzerland

    I'm inclined to think that anything the UN sets out to do is a prima facie lost cause.
    Robert del Valle, Detroit USA

    There is no better place to have been brought up to understand racism than in South Africa

    Mark Pillai, Durban, South Africa
    I am from the host nation. I am Indian Origin, and I do not support the caste system and never did. My upbringing taught me that any form of oppression is illegal and inhumane. The World Conference on Racism is a brilliant idea, I think we as human beings need to be educated and understand what happens in other parts of the world, in terms of racism. There is no better place to have been brought up to understand racism than in South Africa. The Apartheid system divided. Is this the legacy that we would like to leave behind? I think not! So lets embrace this conference and give those that have put the event together a chance.
    Mark Pillai, Durban, South Africa

    Seems like the left-wingers of the world needed a new cause. For instance, the so called lower caste people in India want to equate caste with racism. While I do not argue with the history of discrimination, not a word is said about the constitutional privileges they receive in India in terms of quotas in educational institutions, government jobs and parliament. The real question should be, why have 50 years of these policies failed to produce any results? That should be the topic for discussion.
    Ashesh, USA

    Racism is ingrained in the minds of people by their upbringing, society and situation. Many racists don't even realise that their pursuits are meaningless. Politicians have always covertly fostered racism to further their ends. In India, the issue of caste is being kept alive by politicians, though in reality the common man has no time for such pursuits. It is the wastrels of society who sway to the tunes of these politicians and keep it alive. Any person with a proper vocation will not have time for such nonsense. In this scenario it is ironical that these very people are claiming to find a solution to this problem. Shun the politicians.
    Ravi Teja Seethamraju, Minneapolis, USA

    I have the feeling the problem is going to grow in Europe

    Fabrice, Munich, Germany
    I sincerely hope that this conference can achieve something because things don't seem to be getting better. I have the feeling the problem is going to grow in Europe because of the need for immigration and the fact the different political parties are having trouble accepting it. One thing that needs to be talked about is election campaigns run on anti-immigrantion platforms which worsen the situation.
    Fabrice, Munich, Germany

    What about racism against white people? Look at Zimbabwe where the white farmers are killed. If they were blacks, all the blacks around the world have cried "the racist regime is killing our brothers!" But do the non-white races respect the white race as equals? I don't think so.
    John Black, Nigeria

    Why doesn't the UN concentrate on a few other things while they're at it.

  • The systematic destruction of the world through Americanisation
  • Human rights violations by almost every country on the planet
  • Poverty on a sickening scale
  • The madness we call the Middle East
  • Terrorism
  • Illegal Immigration As for racism, we don't need a conference to tell us how brutal Israel is, ISRAEL IS BRUTAL. There you go.
    Paul Thomas, UK

    This is a conference organised by a powerless institution

    Rustam Roy, London, England
    This is a conference organised by a powerless institution, designed to allow a public airing of those limited issues which the respective attending governments feel are watered down enough so as not to be a threat to them. The amount of horse-trading that has taken place between the various attending countries means that this is nothing but a farce. Developed and developing countries alike are guilty of a great deal of cowardice and selfishness in terms of agreeing on a meaningful agenda for the conference.
    Rustam Roy, London, England

    The UN conference on racism is a good attempt on an age old important issue that is threatening to tear the modern world apart. The anarchy and civil wars that are threatening the world today because of racism will very soon bring the progress of mankind to a halt.
    Sinna Thamby, Toronto,Canada

    Go on, Mr Annan - surprise us

    Darren Oldfield, London, UK
    The UN, in its normal role of toothless giant, will no doubt pass resolutions, discuss and compare, bang the table, but ultimately melt back into the comfort of its own inadequacy - or will it force some concrete action against the likes of Robert Mugabe? Go on, Mr Annan - surprise us.
    Darren Oldfield, London, UK

    Suppose they gave a conference and nobody came? I agree with George Milton. This forum has become marginalised. In typical US fashion, Colin Powell has elected to boycott a conference that needs his presence, in order to make a point to the Palestinians about Zionism. Well done Colin! You could have been an effective presence at a conference the world needs desperately. There is a lot more to racism than bickering over agendas. Since he isn't going to the World Conference on Racism in Durban, I suggest Mr. Powell use the time to visit other parts of Africa, starting with Zimbabwe.
    John Francis, Toronto, Canada

    I'm amused by those 'thinkers' who want to solve the problem of racism. This conference is just a subversive attempt to divert attention from real issues like economic inequality and corporate domination of the world.
    Rahul Dutta, Australia

    Conferences like this one create awareness and educate people

    Wanzusi, Mississauga, Canada
    Until we all live in Utopia, racism will never disappear from the face of the earth. However, conferences like this one create awareness and educate people about the political, economic and social problems we continue to face in the world. A case in point, racism in developed countries against people from the Third World is rampant. This conference will address this issue and seriously challenge racist policies on the globe.
    Wanzusi, Mississauga, Canada

    What a farce!
    Haru, York, PA

    Another meaningless gathering of politicians to wring their hands in moral disgust while attacking their political opponents. Such forums have been marginalised through their transparent abuse.
    George Milton, Washington DC, USA/Rome, Italy

    Onyeukwu Matthew, Nigeria
    "The word racism is difficult to define"
    Mike Columbus, Jerusalem, Israel
    "Feels that conference is a waste of time"
    Denis McCormack, Melbourne, Australia
    "There has always been racial antagonism"
    P.M. Sharma, Oakland, USA
    "Visas can be used as a form of racism"
    Selva Appasawmy, Mauritius
    "There has been injustice"
    See also:

    27 Jul 01 | Middle East
    Zionism issue threatens summit
    16 Aug 01 | South Asia
    India rejects caste 'racism' debate
    11 Aug 01 | Americas
    Slavery row dogs racism conference
    01 May 00 | Europe
    UN links globalisation to racism
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