OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

International day for the elimation of racial discriminition

The United Nations (UN) first declared March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966. Since then, countries all over the world have been working towards ending social discrimination.

Fifty-four years later, we are still a long way from where we need to be. Every year on March 21, we remember the 69 people who were killed in 1960 when police opened fire on a group of peaceful protesters in Sharpeville, South Africa. They were protesting against the state-appointed apartheid “pass laws” that limited where people can live work and travel inside the country. Designed to prohibit black people from going into white neighbourhoods. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that literary means separateness or “apart-hood.” 

Unfortunately, the end of apartheid in the early 1990s and the election of the first democratically elected government in 1994 did not end the racial divide in South Africa. The assumption was that this new government, led by Nelson Mandela, would eliminate racial intolerance and segregation. However, it did not. Many have compared this to the end of slavery, which also did not bring complete freedom or acceptance of Blacks in North America and Europe.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is proud of the union’s commitment to fighting all forms of racism, including systemic and anti-Black racism.

“We will not rest until all forms of racism are eliminated in Ontario communities and workplaces,” said Thomas.

On December23, 2013, the UN declared the 10-year period from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2024, as the “International Decade for People of African Descent.” This declaration came with a framework to help governments in their fight to end racial injustices and discrimination within this timeline.

“March 21 of this year marks the midway point for this initiative,” said Peter Thompson, Chair of OPSEU’s Coalition of Racialized Workers (CORW). “It’s alarming that anti-Black racism is alive and well in our communities. Black people continue to be subjected to racial profiling. We make up a large percentage of incarcerated individuals in our criminal justice system, and our children are being handcuffed in our schools.  

“We have a long way to go.”

The current COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, has shown how racism affects other racialized communities.  The spread of hate and violence against people of Chinese and Asian descent is an example of how easy it is to single out a group of people. Stereotypes are amplified, especially in social media, because it allows people to develop unfounded fears about a particular community.

The current state of world affairs teaches us that, as a global community, we must act together, in solidarity with one another, and push all of our differences aside. Historically, the concept of race has been used to divide groups. We are at a moment in history where that divide simply cannot infiltrate the work and progress that still needs to be made to ensure our survival.