Michael McEachrene

“It Used to Burn Inside When I Thought of It and It Still Does”

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Michael McEachrane is a Visiting Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights. He has a PhD in Philosophy and his current research focus is on postcolonial/decolonial perspectives on human rights, structural racial discrimination and reparatory justice.

Michael is a regular commentator on issues of race for international as well as Swedish media and has edited the first book in English on people of African descent in the Nordic region, Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe. He is also a seasoned universal human rights advocate who, among other things, has helped found several CSOs and served as an expert advisor to the UN around the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.

Why did you decide to focus on racial discrimination?

I have always had a strong passion for justice and fairness. Then my personal background also has something to do with it. I grew up us a mixed-race black kid in immigrant dense public housing in Malmö with friends from all across the world.

Early in life I reflected on and made observations about racial discrimination. For instance, observing the often less than positive visceral responses the mere presence of my father could evoke in people when we were in the city center.

My father grew up in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean under British colonialism. We sometimes visited Tobago where my father was born and my grandmother still lived. At one point we lived there for six months when I was six. I have many bright memories from that time, playing with kids in the neighborhood, hearing intriguing bedtime stories, prayers and songs from my beautiful grandmother.

I knew early in life that we were descendants of enslaved Africans. It used to burn inside when I thought of it and it still does. I understood early on how pervasive racial discrimination was to colonialism and to British society. 

Why is this day important?

The 21 March is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The 21 March is meant to commemorate the so-called Sharpville Massacre that took place on that day in 1960 at a peaceful protest against Apartheid in South Africa. This Day was announced in 1966 the year after the adoption of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The ICERD calls on states to ensure equal enjoyment of human rights of all its residents regardless of race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin. This includes, for instance, racial segregation. The ICERD does not focus on individual instances of discrimination the way domestic anti-discrimination law typically does. Instead, its focus is on whether or not there is racial and ethnic equality in society at large.

This is a critical view on society during these days of rising nationalism. Sweden and other European countries have to some degree integrated the value of gender equality, but it still has a long way to go to even recognise the existence in society of racial discrimination.

 What measures can we take to eliminate racial discrimination?

There are many. However, the first measure is to recognise it at least as a possibility in society and institutions, to carefully monitor it and be willing to resolutely address it. At the state level this can be done by collecting data on racial and ethnic discrimination, and being willing to resolutely address it wherever and however it occurs. Similarly, institutions can monitor themselves whether or not their awareness, culture, organization and practices promote and protect racial and ethnic equality.

Another basic measure could be to enhance public awareness of how racial discrimination functions. For instance, the societal and institutional effects of differences in how people may feel towards members of various racial or ethnic groups, who they are more likely to identify with, be friendly, respectful or affectionate towards, want to have as a colleague, friend, partner, neighbour or member of society and so on.

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