Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How the world sees us

Many Americans like to think of our country as being "exceptional" - by which they seem to mean that it was divinely created and that we are outside of history and are not subject to its laws.

That's all a lot of hooey of course. We are very much a part of history and, while the people who founded this country were certainly exceptional and enlightened far beyond the times in which they lived, we seem to have fallen very far from that ideal today, to the point where we no longer even honor science and learning. We seem to be turning in upon ourselves and refusing to see the world as it really is.

But how does that world, looking back, see us?

There is a clue from a recent report from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The committee looked at seven different countries and analyzed the state of their racial relationships. One of the countries reviewed was the United States.

While the committee did find several positive things to praise about progress that has been made in the effort to establish equality of treatment in our country, they also found a number of areas in which we are falling short. This is the list of problems they found:

1. Lack of a national human rights institution
2. Persistent racial profiling and illegal surveillance 
3. Prevalence and under-reporting of racist hate speech and hate crimes 
4. Disparate impact of environmental pollution in low income and minority communities 
5. Restrictive voter identification laws leading to unequal right to vote
6. Criminalization of homelessness when homeless people are disproportionately minorities
7. Discrimination and segregation in housing
8. De facto racial segregation in education
9. Unequal right to health and access to health care
10. High number of gun-related deaths and “Stand Your Ground” laws, which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities
11. Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials
12. Increasingly militarized approach to immigration law enforcement
13. Violence against women occurs disproportionately more frequently for women from racial/ethnic minorities
14. Criminal justice system disproportionately arrests, incarcerates and subjects to harsher sentences people from racial/ethnic minorities
15. Youth from racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately prosecuted as adults, incarcerated in adult prisons, and sentenced to life without parole
16. Non-citizens are arbitrarily detained in Guantanamo Bay without equal access to the criminal justice system, while at risk of being subjected to torture
17. Unequal access to legal aid
18. Lacking rights of indigenous peoples (the report lists numerous different concerns)
19. Absence of a National Action Plan to combat racial discrimination
That's a pretty appalling list and it's impossible to refute any of it. Unfortunately, the solution to all of these problems is political and as long as one of the two major national political parties exists for the sole purpose of opposing anything that the president proposes, solutions are impossible to achieve.

It is a truly depressing state of affairs, but it seems that the image that we present to the world and how the world sees us is unlikely to become any more positive in the near future.
 

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