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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009) | Event: Racism and Public Policy Conference


Racism and Public Policy Conference

  • Date: 3 - 5 Sep 2001
  • Location: Durban, South Africa
  • Speakers: Alexandra Pero, Amina Mama, Angela King, Antonio Guimaraes, Benjamin Bowling, Bernard Magubane, Boo Teik Khoo, Diego Iturralde, Frene Ginwala, George Fredrickson, Glenn Loury, Guy Mhone, Hajo Funke, Hans-Georg Betz, Jane Bennett, Jeroen Doomernik, Jomo Sundaram, Kum Kum Bhavnani, Kwesi Prah, Lee Swepston, Lily Rahim, Manning Marable, Marcia Langton, Marisol de la Cadena, Mark Suzman, Mary Robinson, Neville Alexander, Njabulo Ndebele, Peter Schatzer, Pierre Sané, Ralph Premdas, Ray Jureidini, Renosi Mokate, Robert Bullard, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Sam Moyo, Sheldon Danziger, Thandika Mkandawire, Tom Lodge, Tracey Mcintosh, Vernellia Randall, Vijay Prashad
  • Project Title: Racism and Public Policy

Theme 3 Organized Responses to Cultural Diversity


Racism often needs mobilizers, organizations and a discourse to activate or sustain it. It is important, therefore, for the UNRISD conference to discuss how racist ideas enter the public domain, how different types of social groups get recruited into racist or xenophobic movements, how such movements sustain exclusionary discourses and enjoy legitimacy in sections of society, and how the agendas and activities of racist or xenophobic groups evolve over time.

In countries where liberal democracy is entrenched, it has been possible to gauge the extent of popular support enjoyed by racist, far-right or xenophobic movements. In many Western democracies, xenophobic or far-right parties are gaining electoral strength at local, regional and national levels, with some even participating in national governments or governing large cities. These parties often have strong links with neo-Nazi organizations, which attract a large number of unemployed youths immersed in a subculture of disobedience and intolerance. In addition, there has been a rise of xenophobic and racist groups in the transition economies of East and Central Europe, especially in countries with large gypsy or Roma populations. The subculture of racist groups is associated with distinct symbols, dress codes, hairstyles, tattoos, drugs and dogs. The Internet offers opportunities to attract followers and spread racist literature and hate propaganda.

However, victims and multi-racial civil rights groups have always resisted racist and xenophobic organizations. In the 1960s, a powerful African-American-led civil rights movement was instrumental in ending legalized racism in the United States. In the 1990s, a coalition of African civil rights groups, trade unions and multi-racial civic organizations, which had grown in strength in the 1970s and 1980s, forced white South African leaders to negotiate the end of apartheid. In Western Europe also, anti-racist civil rights groups have grown in leaps and bounds in recent years as immigration, multiculturalism and refugee issues influence the debate on race relations. These multi-racial movements seek to lure estranged youths away from xenophobic and racist organizations and networks through education, campaigns, rallies and use of the Internet.

In addition to a discussion of how racist or xenophobic groups organize against cultural or racial diversity, the conference will benefit from an examination of the changing character, objectives and civic engagement of the old civil rights movements in such countries as the United States and South Africa. It will also be useful to discuss the strengths, limitations and challenges of the new anti-racist or anti-xenophobic civil rights groups in Europe and elsewhere. Three or four papers from experts who have studied these movements will be commissioned. Given the growing importance of the Internet in disseminating hate literature and mobilizing youth for racist activities, it may be necessary to commission a specific paper on this subject.