President Biden’s U.N. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, that “the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles.” She also championed Black Lives Matter, saying, “I remain hopeful in part because of the influence and the insistence of organizations like yours. Just look at the way [the] Black Lives Matter movement spread this past summer.”
Saying it was “so important to engage on a global scale,” Thomas-Greenfield called for “recommitting to multilateral institutions”:
If we go it alone and retreat from the world, then we let existing inequalities fester. But if we engage, then we can push for change and demand justice. That’s why under President Biden’s leadership, we’ve been restoring our alliances and recommitting to multilateral institutions. We rejoined the World Health Organization because we believed we can make the WHO smarter, nimbler, and more just by rolling up our sleeves and getting involved. We proudly rejoined the Paris Agreement because the only way to reverse the effects of the climate crisis is to join forces. And we know that if we don’t act, poor communities and communities of color, especially in the Global South, will suffer the most. And we immediately [reengaged] with the UN Human Rights Council and have announced our intention to seek election to that body so that we can advance our most cherished democratic values around the globe.
Then she said America was an “imperfect union” and has “been since the beginning”:
Of course, when we raise issues of equity and justice at the global scale, we have to approach them with humility. We have to acknowledge that we are an imperfect union and have been since the beginning. And every day we strive to make ourselves more perfect and more just. In a diverse country like ours, that means committing to do the work. It means learning and understanding more about each other. It means engaging trailblazing groups like yours to teach, to grow, to include, to improve. It means not forgetting our past or ignoring our present, but keeping both firmly in mind as we push for a better future.
Segueing to personal experience, she then opined that “the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles”:
I tried to do this recently in the UN General Assembly when I spoke on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. That day and commemoration was personal for me. So I told the UN some personal stories. I told them how my great-grandmother, Mary Thomas, born in 1865, was the child of a slave, just three generations back from me. I grew up in the segregated South; I was bused to a segregated school. On weekends, the Klan burned crosses on lawns in our neighborhood. I shared these stories and others to acknowledge, on the international stage, that I have personally experienced one of America’s greatest imperfections. I’ve seen for myself how the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles.
In 1852, the great orator Frederick Douglass, who had been a slave, addressed America’s founding documents like this as he spoke to the citizens of his hometown, Rochester, New York.
I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
Of America’s Founding Fathers, he stated, “How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!”
Thomas-Greenfield continued, “But I also shared these stories to offer up an insight, a simple truth I’ve learned over the years: Racism is not the problem of the person who experiences it. Those of us who experience racism cannot and should not internalize it, despite the impact it can have on our everyday lives. Racism is the problem of the racist. And it is the problem of the society that produces the racist. And in today’s word, that’s every society.”
Turning to America, she continued with a list of victims: “In America, that takes many forms; it’s the white supremacy that led to the senseless killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and so many other black Americans. It’s the spike in hate crimes over the past three years against Latino-Americans, Sikh, Muslim-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and immigrants. And it’s the bullying, discrimination, brutality, and violence that Asian-Americans face every day, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. That’s why the Biden administration has made racial equity a top priority across the entire government. And I’m making it a real focus of my tenure at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.”
“But when I say racism is a problem in every society, that means looking beyond America’s borders, too,” she asserted. “Across four decades in four continents in the Foreign Service, I experienced racism in countless international contexts. From overly invasive searches at airports to police racially profiling my son, to being made to wait behind white patrons for a table at a restaurant. Racism was and continues to be a daily challenge abroad. And for millions, it’s more than a challenge; it’s deadly. Like in Burma, where Rohingya and others have been oppressed, abused, and killed in staggering numbers. Or in China, where the government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minorities.”
Then, a paean to Sharpton’s group, as well as Black Lives Matter:
The prevalence and pervasiveness of racism and racial inequality might make the situation look hopeless, so let me be clear: I remain hopeful. I remain hopeful in part because of the influence and the insistence of organizations like yours. Just look at the way [the] Black Lives Matter movement spread this past summer. What took hold in the streets of Minneapolis made it to Monrovia and Madrid and London and Sydney and Berlin and Cape Town, Stockholm and Rio De Janeiro and Tokyo and on and on and on. Or look at Burma, where righteous protesters facing brutal violence are demanding democracy and deploying techniques like strikes and slowdowns and marches in the mold of Dr. King.
She concluded, “My point is, what we do here matters not just to our own communities but to people across the globe. Because if today our challenges are global, so too is our solidarity.”
Biden’s UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, tells the National Action Network that if America's going to join the UN’s Human Rights Council, we must acknowledge our own failures: “White supremacy is weaved into our founding documents and principles” pic.twitter.com/bYc5SyWkE1
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) April 14, 2021