The General Assemblies of the United Nations and the Organization of American States have declared 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent. During this momentous year, the U.S. Department of State will collaborate bilaterally and regionally to expand our efforts to promote full and equal participation of people of African descent in all aspects of political, economic, social, and cultural life in the countries of the Americas.
It is estimated that one third of the population in the Western Hemisphere is of African descent. They contribute to our culturally rich and racially diverse region. The largest populations are in Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. People of African descent comprise the majority racial group in the Caribbean, and are a large minority in most countries of the region. Yet they suffer deep inequalities and comprise one of the most historically excluded and vulnerable racial groups.
During the United Nations launch of the International Year for People of African Descent on December 10, 2010, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recognized that although “the international community has affirmed…the transatlantic slave trade [as] an appalling tragedy…even today, Africans and people of African descent continue to suffer the consequences of these acts.” Analyzing the origins of residual racial discrimination against people of African descent is part of our expanded efforts for 2011 and beyond to cultivate more advanced racial and social inclusion practices in the region.
Recently, Brazilian and United States law enforcement practitioners, members of civil society, and government officials toured the Word, Shout, Song exhibit at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum showcasing African historical, language, and cultural links among Afro-Brazilians and Gullah-Americans (African Americans off the Georgia and South Carolina coast with a strong preservation of their African cultural and historical heritage). The multi-ethnic group of Brazilians and Americans was captivated by the commonalities in the history of people of African descent. This kind of cross-cultural experience serves to strengthen our commitment to promote racial equality and equal access to justice through the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton affirmed that "Our nation's quest for freedom, justice, and opportunity must take place simultaneously here at home and around the world. Because our ability to stand for democracy in other countries depends, in part, on how well we fulfill the dream of democracy right here...And as we work to strengthen existing friendships, we have to demonstrate, by word and deed, our commitment to the full diversity of America, because that is one of our strongest strengths.”
In 2011, the Department of State will further explore our shared regional African Diaspora roots; create awareness of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture, and contributions of Afro-descendents; and participate in diverse forums to advance the rights of people of African descent. As we embark on the International Year for People of African Descent, we look forward to partnering with our diverse region to build a foundation for the integration of people of African descent in all political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of society.