Individual Therapy Bethesda, MD
If I were to ask you what’s special about March 21, what would you say? Would you tell me that it’s the second full day of Spring? That’s it’s the day after the Spring Equinox? That it’s a Tuesday?
If you did, I would agree that all of those things are true. But something else makes March 21 even more unique. In several countries around the world, March 21 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD).
It’s possible that you’ve never heard of IDERD. That actually wouldn’t surprise me since the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the UK are among several countries that do not publicly observe the day. So if this is your first time hearing about it, allow me to give you a bit of background. On March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa, police officers opened fire at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws,” killing 69 people and wounding several others. This horrific event gained national and international attention and reflected a similar attitude that was gaining traction in the southern US at the time. In response to the Sharpeville massacre, grassroots organizations in the UN sprang into action and worked to ensure that awareness and prevention measures were well known and understood in an effort to prevent such a tragic occurrence in the future. In 1966, the UN General Assembly declared March 21 a public day of remembrance for all of the lives lost and forever changed on that fateful day in Sharpeville.
Apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, but the negative consequences of racism continue to reverberate around the world. Perhaps for the first time in several decades, many Americans are hyper-aware of the daily injustices that plague people of color. Here in the States, the political atmosphere is uncertain, many of us fear for the safety of our family and friends, and the average day is fraught with new revelations that seem to call to question the very humanity of the people in positions of power. Racially motivated incidents and atrocities have always been a reality; the difference now is that so many of them are playing out on the national stage.
This is precisely why the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is so important to our neighbors abroad and right here at home. The theme for 2017 is Racial Profiling and Incitement to Hatred, including in the Context of Migration. To me, the need for awareness around these issues has never been greater. As we all strive to be the most compassionate, kind, empathic, and loving people we can be, it is imperative to cast a critical eye on discriminatory acts happening on the local, state, national, and international levels. Let’s look beyond days of remembrance in the US and seek inspiration from other countries whose leaders have a clear sense of what is needed to concretize justice for all.
As an African American woman, I have certainly been impacted by institutionalized forces of racism and sexism. And as a therapist, I know that people have the capacity to not only change, but to make a significant difference in the lives of others. Although IDERD is not recognized in the US, I challenge you to make your support and participation in the mission known on March 21 and beyond. Build in your quality time with your partner by participating in an event that promotes the elimination of injustice and violence. Reach out and offer your support to loved ones who you know are often the target of hateful actions. Donate to the cause. Spread the word via social media. With your support, we can all work to make this day more powerful than ever.
And when March 21 has passed, don’t slow your momentum. Commit some of your time and energy to similar campaigns such as Together or the Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today initiative. We are living in an era that will certainly be prominent in the history books. Use this moment as an opportunity to look inward, assess what resources are available within that will aid you in the fight against racial discrimination, and give it all you’ve got. Fairness, justice, and equality for people all around the world depend on it.